In an intensely competitive market, Zimmerer Kubota has prospered by serving a diverse array of markets and keeping customers as the #1 focus.
A family-owned, multi-store equipment dealership that has become an institution in north Texas came from humble beginnings.
Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment was founded in 1979 near Fort Worth, Texas, in a 10 x 20-foot portable metal building with a floor made of pallets and plywood. Some 35 years later, the company now has 5 locations in and around Fort Worth, which, along with Dallas, anchors a metropolitan area of more than 6 million people.
Zimmerer Kubota has access to varied segments that include rural lifestylers, small farmers, construction companies and government entities. Zimmerer has been a Top 10 national Kubota dealer for more than 25 years and is also a top U.S. dealer of Land Pride equipment. The dealership group eclipsed $30 million in gross equipment sales in 2013, a number that should be met or surpassed for 2014.
Zimmerer Kubota has locations in Fort Worth, Denton, Gainesville, Decatur and Cleburne, Texas. Its orange and teal “ZK” logo can be seen frequently in the countryside, on school properties, corporate terraces and construction lots.
Intense competition is also a reality due to big box stores and equipment dealerships in close proximity selling nearly every major tractor and mower brand.
The dealership stands out by working to be the “best choice” in the market, says dealer principal Sam Zimmerer, who owns 25% of the company. In his view, customers want more than just the cheapest price.
Check out the 4-part Season to Season video series featuring dealer principal Sam Zimmerer that accompanies this story. He discusses the founding and growth of Zimmerer Kubota and how the dealer network differentiates itself from the competition; how to run a top-notch rental department; and Zimmerer Kubota’s long-time association with the Fort Worth Stock and Rodeo Show.
I just say, ‘Look at who we are and how long we’ve been here. Look at my parts department. Look at my computer system. Look at my phone system. Look at my trucks. Look at the rental department,’ ” says Zimmerer, who joined the business in the early 1980s after being laid off from his manufacturing job. “It doesn’t matter to everybody. But to most people, it matters.”
Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment
Founded: 1979, with a 26,000 square-foot main store in Fort Worth, as well as stores in Denton (1989), Gainesville (2011), Decatur (1999) and Cleburne (1986)
Ownership: Brothers Sam and Larry Zimmerer, 25% each; brother Leonard, 50%
Location: Main store near the I-35/820 interchange in Fort Worth. The Denton, Gainesville and Decatur stores are north of the city. The Cleburne store is south of the city.
Lines: Kubota, Land Pride, Rhino, Bush Hog, Scag, Honda, Stihl, Houle, Shindaiwa, Terrain King and Mill Creek
Challenge & Solution: Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment uses comprehensive inventories, aggressive branding and knowledge of diverse markets to thrive in an intensely competitive market.
Zimmerer Kubota’s major brands are Kubota and Land Pride, and the company also carries and services Rhino, Bush Hog, Honda, Stihl, Houle, Shindaiwa, Terrain King and Mill Creek equipment for its varied customer segments.
Depending on the location, Zimmerer’s customers might be a rural lifestyler or small farmer with anywhere from 5-600 acres to thriving construction companies or massive school districts with multiple high schools. Zimmerer Kubota also has a robust rental business for the turf and construction industries.
Zimmerer estimates 40% of the Fort Worth store’s customer base is in construction, with the remaining 60% split among municipal, commercial lawn and turf or rural lifestyle/small farm customers, with the mix changing slightly toward more farmers in rural Gainesville, Decatur and Cleburne.
Each of Zimmerer’s locations has a store manager, as well as managers overseeing the sales, rental, parts and service departments. Each manager handles operational issues within their departments and directs questions about inventory, expenses and similar matters to the controller or office manager at the Fort Worth dealership.
Wholegoods inventory throughout Zimmerer Kubota is organized by a RIMSS computer system that displays equipment available at each store and when that piece of equipment arrived. Zimmerer meets monthly with Kubota and Land Pride representatives and handles most of the wholegoods ordering and management.
Four full-time drivers deliver equipment to customer locations or handle inventory movement between stores. The Fort Worth office also has a “driver’s board” where other dealerships can fax in requests for specific equipment models to balance their inventories or control which equipment is sold first — although if an outlying dealership is out of a model and needs it immediately, they must make a special trip to pick it up.
“These guys all get along pretty well, but there is a little ‘tug-of-war’ sometimes with some stuff, especially if it’s short,” Zimmerer says.
Zimmerer Kubota started in a portable metal building north of Fort Worth, but has grown to a multi-store dealership selling more than $30 million a year.
While Zimmerer Kubota offers a relatively healthy lineup of brands, Kubota and Land Pride form the majority of their business and the equipment lineup is carefully thought out, says Zimmerer. He frequently cites a desire to not become a “supermarket of brands.”
In fact, when Kubota signed Land Pride to a partnership agreement several years ago, Zimmerer’s management protested.
“And now, so many years later, we’ve become one of their largest dealerships in the U.S.,” he says.
The reason Land Pride and Kubota worked well for Zimmerer Kubota, boils down to financing.
“Kubota woke up and said, ‘Why are we financing all these ancillary lines at 0% interest when they don’t butter our bread?’ A customer buys a $10,000 or $15,000 Rhino Batwing mower and a Kubota tractor, and guess what? That Rhino wasn’t 0% too,” Zimmerer says. “Now, if you want 0%, you have to buy the Land Pride or Paladin/Bradco equipment with the Kubota equipment. That changed everything for us and it was financing driven.”
Zimmerer also credits Land Pride for making good equipment, as well as the company’s area representative for taking care of the needs of customers and the dealership.
Bush Hog forms a smaller part of their sales now and Zimmerer is still servicing it, even though most of their success with the line comes through municipal business.
“We have so many customers that already own Bush Hog stuff, and we try to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. I hate to get in and out of any brand. If we’re going to be a dealer for a line, I think we owe you something,” he says.
The job of paring down the list of equipment brands began many years ago. “We could be a dealer for every zero-turn mower known to mankind if we wanted to be, but what good does that do me?” he says. “Yeah, I might sell two of these or one of those. But then my guys don’t know the programs, they don’t know the product, or I can’t keep parts for them, so there’s no fun in that.
“If you knew how many times we get called to be a dealer for somebody, and I say, ‘I’m sorry, I understand, but I really don’t need your zero-turn mower. I’m sure you’ve got a fine product, but we don’t need it.’ ”
Growth Brings Change
As with any company with multiple locations, Zimmerer Kubota faces a challenge in laying out expectations and ensuring all employees, spread out over 100 miles and 5 cities, stay in tune with the company’s mission.
The stakes are high because for decades Zimmerer has been among the top Kubota dealers in the U.S. (Zimmerer carries every available Kubota contract) and Kubota itself is expanding its offerings. Kubota announced last fall it would begin making tractors in the mid-range segment at 130-170 horsepower.
Zimmerer says Kubota’s lineup of construction equipment and zero-turn mowers is also increasing rapidly, which creates a challenge in keeping salespeople educated about the different products and programs. This challenge led to some introspection and subsequent changes in management roles. Larry Zimmerer, the technically savvy one — who also owns 25% of the company — is now managing parts and service at all 5 dealerships.
His job is to make sure all paperwork is done properly, each location has the tools it needs to succeed, Kubota’s certification requirements for service technicians are being met, and the dealership’s business philosophies are adhered to by those departments.
Zimmerer Kubota stocks a large amount of tractors, mowers and other outdoor power equipment to keep its varied customer base happy, but managers began paring down the lineup years ago to focus on improving service.
“If there is a parts or service-related problem at a store or if there’s a question over prices or how to handle a billing situation, they know their first call is to Larry in service,” Zimmerer says. “We’re trying to consolidate and make sure if we do it a certain way in Decatur, we’re going to do it that way in Gainesville and in Fort Worth.”
Meanwhile, Zimmerer is overseeing sales and rental operations, as he handles inventory control and ordering and sets the pricing as well as makes the decisions on advertising, insurance and banking.
“Look at who we are and how long we’ve been here…”
He also makes the rounds with salespeople each morning in Fort Worth to ask questions like, “Where are we at? What are we doing today? What do you have working?” before going to his office to handle administrative tasks.
It’s Showtime in Winter
There’s obviously very little in the way of equipment sales or service related to snowfall in northern Texas during the winter. The crush of service usually comes in March, when the weather warms up and customers start getting to their outside work.
In early January, Zimmerer Kubota typically begins preparations to take their show on the road at the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, a 23-day event attended annually by more than 1 million people.
The Zimmerer family’s association with the show began after World War II, when Henry, Vincent and Bruno Zimmerer formed Zimmerer Bros. and began raising small grains, hay and beef cattle on 1,300 acres north of Fort Worth. They took pride in the quality of their hay and eventually became the supplier of bedding straw and feed hay for the Stock Show and Rodeo.
In addition to equipment delivery and pickups, there’s frequent shuffling of wholegoods between Zimmerer Kubota’s 5 locations that keep the company’s four full-time drivers busy. A “driver board” at the Fort Worth location was put up to prominently display requests and their degree of urgency.
Today, the dealership provides all the grounds tractors for the show and typically sets up a 40 x 50-foot booth inside the show and a 20 x 100-foot booth outside. The show is a key opportunity to spread visibility of the Zimmerer brand.
“We probably haul 15-20 units down to Fort Worth just to work the grounds, and believe me, there’s our ‘ZK’ logo on everything — in the rodeo arena and on the grounds as we haul people on trailers from the outer parking lots. That’s a big deal to us,” Zimmerer says.
Managers will usually meet to discuss how many tractors to bring to the show and from what locations, so inventories aren’t depleted in one of the stores.
Drivers and schedules must be coordinated and tractors fitted with different equipment to handle different jobs, with the whole fleet moved to Fort Worth in a short period of time before the show starts.
In the booths, equipment that is typically rented will get “Rent Me” signs attached to attract attention. Loaders are outfitted with attachments that aren’t the typical buckets, such as hay spears, pallet forks or mulchers.
“I don’t want a bucket in this booth, but a post-hole digger — anything just to give people a reason to buy the tractor because it can do this, this and this. Give them an excuse to buy it,” Zimmerer says.
“We sell a lot of product, but it’s also reinforcement,” Zimmerer says. “I can’t tell you the amount of customers who come through that booth, just to say ‘Hi, what’s new? What do you have?’ or, ‘I’m thinking about this.’
“Just to be able to visit with them is invaluable. I’ve met people at the stock show and literally, 5 years later, they’ve come by and bought something from me. You never know.”
Zimmerer usually has between two and four employees in the booths, rotating them frequently so those interacting with the public stay sharp. He asks salespeople not to be too aggressive and run customers off, but remind them Zimmerer Kubota employees are available to answer any questions.
“If they want to just look and browse and not have anyone bother them, that’s what we’ll do,” Zimmerer says. “But we also tell them if they have a question, just grab one of us. And then, almost every time, they’ll come back and ask questions.”