Chippers and shredders may be an investment for rural lifestylers, but local knowledge and hands-on demonstrations can help dealers sell more equipment. And, dealers in nearly every part of the U.S. can benefit from carrying chippers and shredders in their lineup.
Chippers and shredders make short work out of subduing unruly brush and yards full of leaves, creating a useful by-product and eliminating the need to either burn the piles or transfer them elsewhere.
Finding Urban Opportunities
David Wood, one of the owners of Smitty’s Lawn & Garden Equipment in Olathe, Kan., sees sales opportunities even though much of his client base is urban.
“From our residential customer standpoint, we’re definitely in an urban setting, but within 5 miles we have acreage homeowners and we have the larger equipment for them as well. We serve a lot of people with medium-sized lots, maybe 15,000 square feet,” says Wood. “They still have a need for chippers and shredders, though. We’ve got a lot of foliage here and most trash companies aren’t taking yard refuge anymore. So how do you get rid of it? Burning isn’t an option, so mulching is the best option. That’s where we can provide a necessary product for our urban homeowners.”
Smitty’s Lawn & Garden Equipment carries chipper and shredder models from the smaller Husqvarna and Stihl hand-held models to the more advanced Billy Goat and MacKissic models. Many of their urban clients prefer the ease of leaf pickup and chipping small branches with one piece of equipment. “The Billy Goat line of walk behind lawn & litter vacuums are a top choice. The KV or TKV and the MV units are some of our best sellers for urban customers. Vacuums, chippers and the MV will pick up and shred sweet gum balls and walnuts,” Wood says.
We advertise ‘fall yard care made easy.’ Sometimes, people know exactly what they need and other times, they tell us their problem and we find a solution,” says Wood. “If they have a big corner lot with 12 oak trees, they’re bagging up to 20 bags of leaves per week. We determine their budget and what’s available. More importantly, we ask them, ‘What’s your time worth?’ When asked this, homeowners often realize the value of purchasing a higher-end piece of equipment, like the Billy Goat MV, but we can work our way up or down from there.”
Wood has found creative ways to sell even top-of-the-line commercial grade shredders to his urban customer base.
“Some people are intimidated by this big piece of equipment, especially the Billy Goat DL line. They’re not sure how often they’ll use it, and more importantly, where they’ll store it. Sometimes, we simply recommend that they rent if they’ll truly only use it once per year. Often though, we’ll have a group of guys in a particular subdivision all purchase one together, usually from the MV or TKV line. One person stores it and the others take turns using it,” says Wood.
Prepare & Promote
Urban areas may pose a challenge for dealers because of the varying customer base and more competition from other dealers. “The chipper and shredder selling season is a small window. It’s around 4-6 weeks at the most. Leaf cleanup starts typically in mid-October into early November. We have to be ready and have the right equipment in stock,” says Wood. “When people come in and are ready to buy, you’ve got to send them home with what they want.”
Rural lifestylers and urban customers can benefit from the simplicity and power of lawn and litter vacuums, like the MV line from Billy Goat.
Part of getting ready is ensuring that proper promotional materials are in place before that small window of time has come and gone. “We have a large budget to advertise the brands customers are looking for in newspaper-insert flyers, for a total of 1.7 million units inserted in the newspaper, including a full page spread on the Billy Goat line. Of course, we also have a great website with links to all our manufacturers. We give people ample resources to do research if they want, but our staff is so knowledgeable they often don’t have to,” says Wood. “We’re also a full-service dealer. We can service what we sell. You can’t get that from a box store.”
Smitty’s Lawn & Garden Equipment also increases sales by keeping in mind who makes the buying decisions. “From what we’ve seen, it makes a big difference on whether or not a wife comes into the store with her husband. Even though we carry a full line of equipment, we’re not a typical lawn and garden store in that we make our dealership comfortable to those of both genders. The show room does not smell of gas fumes like the shop. It has to be a clean and organized area so the female customers are comfortable to shop,” says Wood. “When you see a woman come in, she may be standing off to the side, but she’s the one who hands us the credit card when it’s time to buy. She wants to hear the benefits of the equipment before they commit. When it’s purchase time, they’re ready to buy together.”
Selling Seasonal Opportunities
David Kleiber, owner of Kleiber Tractor & Equipment in La Grange, Texas, carries the Woods line of chippers and shredders. He says that seasons besides just fall and weather challenges, such as drought, provide opportunities for chipper and shredder sales.
“We’re in a very dry area. Burning is getting harder and harder to do from a safety standpoint,” says Kleiber. “Chippers and shredders can be used to make mulch for flower beds, etc. It’s really been a blessing to use this tool to counteract burn bans. This is a wooded area and when droughts come through and kill trees, those limbs and branches come down, especially on hackberry and pecan trees. They lose a lot of limbs on an annual basis.”
When it comes to carrying a variety of chippers and shredders, Kleiber Tractor & Equipment believes in selling what you know and focusing on quality first.
“We’ve been in business since 1970 and there’s only been one change in ownership when dad passed along the dealership to me in 1996. We’ve been a Woods chipper and shredder dealer ever since they came out with the line 15-20 years ago,” says Kleiber. “They’re just a very good, well-rounded company that will back up their product if there’s a problem. They’re down to earth people who understand the equipment business. They know what we’re up against and are really very good to get along with.”
A solid manufacturer relationship is crucial when selling equipment, especially something as high-end as the Woods 5000 and 8000 lines, he says.
“We consider the problem first and the product second...”
“My advice to buyers is to stick with a good quality unit that’s heavy duty and trouble free. Whenever you put wood in a 5000 or 8000 chipper/shredder, it doesn’t struggle. We probably sell more of the 5000 because most of our homeowners have a small tractor to pull it and can operate it fairly easily,” says Kleiber. “But we’re selling more and more of the 8000s. The really nice thing about the 8000 series is it has a hydraulic power feed and is a lot safer to operate. You just set the material in there and then it’s hydraulically pulled in. That’s a big selling feature. They do make a gravity feed, which is nice, but hydraulic is the way to go.”
Some dealerships have found success with advertising strategies, but word-of-mouth referrals and hands-on demonstrations have been most effective for Kleiber Equipment. “You’ve got to know your product. We have a lot of expertise because we’ve been here a long time. To us, that’s more effective than actually advertising. People have come to us over the years and learned to trust us for their needs. Sure, we’ve got chippers and shredders on display at certain times of the year, but it’s more about bringing it up through conversation. You’ve got to know their needs.”
Kleiber also knows that getting customers’ hands on the equipment is crucial to making the sale. “We encourage our staff to demonstrate the chippers and shredders, especially at customers’ homes. People are much more interested to see it in use on their property than at our dealership. Once they see it in action, they want one for themselves.”
Focusing on Environment
Sometimes, doing the right thing costs more money. And sometimes, doing the right thing makes money. Roger Cann, owner of Canns-Bilco Outdoor Power Equipment can attest to this strategy. His dealership is located in Alburtis, Pa., and carries the MacKissic line of chippers and shredders. They are also an authorized distributor for many lines of equipment, serving dealerships along the East Coast.
“We’re at the southern end of the Poconos. It’s a heavily wooded area,” says Cann. “We’re also not far from the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable, organic farming. Many in this area are interested in these types of techniques and turning yard waste into mulch falls right in line with these practices.”
Smitty’s Lawn & Gardent Center, Olathe, Kan., has only a 4-6 week window of opportunity for chipper and shredder sales. They prepare by keeping their showroom stocked with models of all sizes, all the way up to this industrial strength debris loader from Billy Goat.
Canns-Bilco has used this interest as a sales opportunity by setting up a booth at the Mother Earth News Fair, a sustainable living event featuring demonstrations, vendors and workshops. “Sales have been very steady. We have a lot of sales from self-sustaining farmers, especially since the government no longer picks up yard debris,” says Cann.
Canns-Bilco serves a wide variety of customers, and while they have unique situations, their challenge is the same. Their yard or property is filled with leaves or twigs and they need them gone.
“It could be a hobby farmer or weekend farmer or someone who used to live in a condo setting and now lives on 2 or 3 acres. They don’t like the appearance of the material coming down and there’s an ongoing need to maintain the property,” says Cann.
“Today’s consumers are so well versed. They can know every spec of a product within an evening. If they go into a dealership and are simply given a piece of literature to read up on, they’ll walk out the door. They know they have a need and we want to help them fill it,” he says.
Cann encourages his sales staff to ask a quick series of questions before steering customers in one direction or another. “We’ve got everything from the industrial grade chipper/shredders to the walk-behind leaf vacuum chippers. We don’t want to ‘pigeon hole’ customers and say, ‘I have to make this machine work for you.’ We help the customer feel like we’re making the best decision for them. We consider the problem first and the product second,” Cann says.
Sometimes, the solution to a customer’s problem may be rental instead of purchase. Canns-Bilco actively partners with rental businesses to cross promote their businesses.
“While we don’t handle rentals, we do sell equipment to and partner with rental dealers. They’re business savvy and have an influence over customers who are interested in equipment. We refer business to each other. It’s just smart,” says Cann.
The Mother Earth News Fair isn’t the only place you’ll find a Canns-Bilco booth. “We set up booths all over. And we highly encourage customer interaction with the equipment,” says Cann. “Once, at a trade show, the security guard was shooing people off our equipment and asked why our stuff wasn’t taped off. We don’t operate that way. I have our business signs on our equipment and if someone wants to sit their kid up on a lawn tractor, take a picture and post it to Facebook, great! Our name and address gets out there. Sure, they might scratch it a bit, but we want them to have a good time. It’s definitely not the way everyone looks at it, but it works for us.”
The Canns-Bilco booth also features equipment, such as chippers and shredders, which help it stand apart from the competition. “Everyone has zero turns. We bring something different. It helps us start a conversation,” says Cann.
He has also found that customers respond well to hands-on demonstrations in the store, often hosting workshops to show off the abilities of many types of equipment. “People are so used to the ‘Home Depot mentality,’ where there’s a workshop for everything, like tile installation, etc. They do it all the time. It works for them and it works for us,” says Cann. “No piece of literature will get customers excited. They have to get their hands on it.”
He also knows that nothing beats taking a chipper or shredder on site to make a sale. “People are generally stunned by what it can do. And I encourage customers to let us come test it out before they ‘hit the road,’ so to speak. For instance, we’re in the ‘ice belt.’ When I learned to drive on ice, I went to the parking lot to practice on the slick spots first. It’s the same concept,” says Cann. “We run their various types of foliage through the machine. Every material you work with is different. When we hear a bad sound, we walk the customer through troubleshooting and proper usage. It makes a big difference and really boosts sales.”
Turning Excitement Into Sales
Canns-Bilco gets the entire team involved in sales, beyond just educating their sales staff and mechanics.
“Everyone from our receptionist to our mechanics to our brand new employees gets an opportunity to test out all of the equipment. It’s especially fun for them to run the chippers and shredders,” says Cann. “Then they’re more likely to tell everyone they run into, whether it’s a friend at the diner or someone calling on the phone. If someone has a question, we can answer it right away. Our employees feel knowledgeable and excited and that increases job satisfaction and sales.”
“Spouses and kids are also highly encouraged to come to demo days. We make it a family affair. After all, we want them to be excited about the products we carry and they’ll have more understanding when their spouse talks to them about what’s going on at work,” says Cann.