The Lawn & Garden Center in Gulfport, Miss., displays its Briggs & Stratton pressure washers as part of a tractor/trailer combination.

Rural lifestylers can use pressure washers in many ways, including cleaning cars, equipment, driveways, siding, gutters, animal pens, decks, patios, trash bins — and just about anything else that gets dirty. Some rural lifestyle dealers serve the market with low-end models, but other dealers have found opportunities by selling higher quality models and backing up those sales with service expertise.

More Good Brands than Good Dealers

J & S Equipment serves customers from 3 locations covering Northern California (Concord, Stockton and Sacramento). They carry several lines of pressure washers including Alkota, AaLadin, HydroTek, Karcher and Pressure Pro.

Howie Ditkof of J & S knows the risks and rewards that come with entering the pressure washer market. He bought J & S Equipment in 2001 after losing his job in another industry due to economic turmoil.

“The pressure washer industry is still young with dealership owners now retiring. The second and third generation may not want to take over which, along with the economy over the past 7 years, is starting to drive a consolidation of the dealers,” says Ditkof. “It seems like there were many dealers in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the industry was forming. However, many of these companies have disappeared or changed directions. There aren’t as many outlets as there once were for good manufacturers, with fewer and fewer dealers covering very large geographies.”

Fewer dealers may mean less competition and better opportunity to expand in the pressure washer market or enter new markets. Ditkof offers this advice to dealers considering taking on the product: “There are lots of opportunities but lots of risks if you don’t know what you are doing.” He adds “if you can’t service something, you probably shouldn’t be selling it, at least with this type of equipment.”

J & S Equipment has a large and diverse customer base with industrial companies driving the business in the Bay Area and agricultural related companies driving the business in California’s central valley.

Howie Ditkof of J & S Equipment in Northern California entered the pressure washer market from another industry because he believed in its potential. He’s had success selling several lines of washers and his dealership is expanding, thanks to a solid product lineup and great customer service.

“We serve small and large farms and vineyards along with many companies who support the farming industry,” he says.

Relationships Rule

Ditkof’s advice for success lies not in some industry trade secret but in good, old-fashioned customer service.

“One of the reasons we sell a lot of Alkota is because it has world class components, it’s put together well and they rarely break. And if they do? They’re easy to fix,” Ditkof says. “We pride ourselves on our service response time. The customer never notices you until they need you and they remember how fast you can help them. It’s all about relationships, not trade secrets. It’s still the people. Equipment is important, but it really boils down to customer service,” he says.

Ditkof credits the positive attributes about each of the product lines he carries and says relationships also factor into which manufacturer’s product he sells.

“Our great relationship with Alkota helps when there is a rare quality problem. We are able to give them quick feedback and they can help figure out what caused the problem and make certain it does not happen again. This has happened with a component they were buying, which turned out to be defective,” he says.

Ditkof also says that just because a piece of equipment may seem easy to use and fix, that isn’t always the case. “Make certain you can repair what you sell. The stupidest things can happen — and they will. We sold a machine 2 weeks ago to a large retail store. It was a 13 horsepower Alkota unit. We got a phone call a week and a half later and they said it wasn’t working. It turns out someone had put diesel in the gasoline engine, so we had to go pick it up and clean it out. Now, it’s running fine. We’re well equipped to handle any repair that may come up, but not everyone is. For example, I once received a call from an electrician who was trying to fix one of our units. He spent a day and a half and didn’t know what he was doing. We could have done it in a few hours. That’s why I caution people against selling something they can’t service. You’ll upset major customers and they’ll go elsewhere,” Ditkof says.

Promote the many uses of power washers to rural lifestylers, including cleaning equipment, fences, homes, sheds and more. Shown is the Briggs & Stratton Professional Series OHV Gas Model.

So what does Ditkof suggest if you’d like to enter or expand in the pressure washer market, but you’re not sure if you have the proper repair resources? “Find someone to deal with as a ‘sub dealer.’ Make sure you partner with the right person. Check out their reputation and product lines. We’ve got several sub dealers who sell for us, which helps us cover a huge geography. Ideally, we put displays in dealerships where they’re already selling tractors, etc. We can be a great partner because we know how to fix them and we’ll keep their customers happy,” he says.

Service Over Sales

Roy Schwartz at Swiss Perfection in Syracuse, Ind., echoes Ditkof’s sentiments about the importance of being able to service what you sell. Swiss Perfection is a manufacturer and equipment dealer and carries Water Cannon pressure washers.

“We’re mostly a welder/steel fabricator and manufacturer. We make livestock containment equipment. When our customers need a way to keep those containment systems clean, we’re here to help,” says Schwartz. “A lot of residential units, or direct drive units, are sold through big box stores. We carry the Water Cannon line, the belt drive kind with a serviceable pump. It’s more of a commercial grade unit. So many hog and duck producers around here were trying to buy the cheap ones and they don’t last. They needed a better product line to get the job done.

“It’s not fair to the consumer if you don’t provide service. We actually used to make our own model, but it was more economical to sell one made by a large manufacturer. Over the past 5 years, our business has been steady. We sell 30-50 a year,” he says.

Swiss Perfection relies on customer retention and relationships to grow its company. “To be honest, we don’t spend much time promoting. We sell to people we deal with already. We just focus on taking care of them,” Schwartz says.

Paths to Sales Success

Lawn & Garden Center in Gulfport, Miss., carries a full line of outdoor power equipment, including chainsaws, mowers, blowers, pressure washers and more. Butch Richmond founded the company in 1974 and assumes many roles at the dealership, including being a Briggs & Stratton master technician.

“We serve a lot of weekend warriors, people who own 15-20 acres. We’ve also got a lot of customers who have boats they need to clean off. Those of us in the lawn and garden business are like farmers. We purchase products and if we have rain and sunshine, our crops grow. We make sales. If we have drought, we fail,” Richmond says.

Business has been good for Richmond and Briggs & Stratton pressure washer sales are steady. “Pressure washers are the next greatest invention since running water. It’s a heck of a way to clean equipment. Our top selling models are anything that’s 3,000 psi and above,” he says.

Butch Richmond, owner of Lawn & Garden Center in Gulfport, Miss., isn’t concerned about competition from big box stores because he says the lesser quality models they generally sell fail to hold up. Customers then come to his dealership for a better product and his service expertise.

Richmond says the Briggs & Stratton product line is one of the reasons he’s had such success and another is his ability to find opportunities where others might see challenges.

“Let the big box stores sell the small end stuff. It’s not competition. It’s a stepping stone. People have an interest in pressure washers, buy one from there and then find out they’re not going to last. They’ll have it maybe 6 months to a year and then the repair costs are more than it’s worth. They’ll come to us looking for expertise,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of commercial pressure washer dealers. You’ve got to have population to support the sales, but more importantly, you’ve got to service what you sell. Customer retention is the ‘dog wagging the tail.’ After you’ve captured their business, you’ve got to keep them. Service is the most intricate piece of the puzzle,” Richmond says.

Power in Presentation

So how does Richmond make the sale once he gets an unsatisfied big box customer in his store? It’s all about presentation, both of the product and its benefits. “We display our Snapper tractor with a wagon attached and a pressure washer in the wagon. Customers see that and say, ‘Wow, I can put a wagon on the back of the lawnmower’ and ‘Hey, I can put a pressure washer in there.’ It’s a great way to showcase how it can operate and be efficient for the homeowner,” he says.

Another way Richmond presents his pressure washers is through logic. “Our biggest challenge is converting people from a price mentality to a quality mentality. In order to start that off, I remind them that while they can go buy one cheaper, and maybe they already have, it’s not going to be efficient. It takes longer to get the job done and you use more water, fuel and time. You could be out fishing or golfing with all that extra time. And here on the coast, water is billed as sewage for every gallon used. So if you use 30 gallons to wash your home, it’s charged as 30 gallons of sewage. You’ve got to know your community. That bit of information right there is enough to seal many deals. I tell them to go big and get it done,” he says.

Don’t rule out commercial-grade pressure washers, like this Alkota model. They may be more expensive, but necessary for certain types of cleaning jobs.

Visit the Customer

Rod Wertz of M&M Pump in Clinton, Ill., takes his dealership to his customers. His business sells and services Alkota pressure washer products. While the dealership does have a showroom, Wertz prefers to demonstrate pressure washers right in his customers’ backyards.

“We sell from 150-170 units per year. Ideally, we like to demo the product on site, so customers can get a feel for what they’re trying to accomplish. I find out how much equipment they have, ask about what kind of water resources are available and show them their options from low to mid to high end. Once people see it in action, once their tractor is cleaned quickly and efficiently right before their eyes, it’s hard for them to turn it down,” Wertz says.

For some dealers, hands-on equipment demonstrations may not be feasible, but Wertz feels it’s worth the time investment. “It used to be that everyone was price shopping, but we have a reputation of servicing what we sell. That factors in big with these customers. I get to meet just about everyone who buys the unit and we form a relationship. I take pride in my units and if I take care of everyone I sell to, it’ll mean more sales down the road. That’s something that we strive to do all the time. We have repeat customers. I’ve seen customers’ kids grow up and buy them when they have their own farm,” he says.

Don’t Rule Out Hot Water

Wertz says that some dealers may have difficulties selling the more expensive hot water models, but that type is the majority of what he sells.

“I’ve noticed over the years that people do a lot of research on the Internet before contacting us. Our average sale is $3,500-$4,500, but it’s a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the investment they’ve made in all of their property and equipment. If this machine can keep it all clean and help remove oil, grease and other harmful contaminants, it’s well worth it,” says Wertz. “With grain prices where they’ve been the past few years, people are investing. Even smaller farmers are looking to upgrade to smaller hot water pressure units, like a 110 volt, 3 gallons at 1,100 psi,” he says.

Wertz increases sales by taking trade-ins and selling refurbished units. “We’re one of the few that will take trade-ins. Some we will tear apart completely and rebuild. People really want the hot water units and if this is something we can do to help them get one in their budget, we will. I had a hobby farmer sell out and semi-retire. He sold his pressure washer and came back to me a year later and said ‘I can’t believe I sold my washer. Now I’m collecting antique tractors and I need something to get the grease, paint and oil off.’ We knew he didn’t want to sacrifice quality, so we hooked him up with a used unit,” Wertz says.