In just 15 years, the Law family of Cortland, N.Y., has built a family of dealerships that includes CNY Farm Supply, CNY Power Sports, CNY Rental and CNY Storage. The dealerships, with their complementary equipment and services, beat the competition by meeting as many needs as possible for area farmers, rural lifestylers, homeowners, landscapers and others.
Their reputation is behind their success. “People buy from people. People like our family and believe in us, so we had no problem starting the businesses,” says Dave Law, owner. His son, Eric, now manages CNY Farm Supply and another son, Tim, manages CNY Power Sports while his wife, Lori, handles administration.
Entering the Power Sports Business
Dave worked his way up in the dealership business, starting as a salesperson and then opening his own dealership, New Holland Cortland, in 1996. He opened a second store in Binghamton, N.Y., a few years later. The developing trend for larger, multi-store locations wasn’t a path Dave wanted to take, so he took advantage of an opportunity to sell the dealership to Empire Tractor in 2001, which now has 5 locations in the area. “When I sold the farm equipment business, it was very large. I had great managers, but it was getting to be a little bit overwhelming and I was going to need to bring in additional help,” Dave says.
He leased out his dealership building and worked with Empire Tractor for a year. The decision to retain ownership of the building helped establish CNY Farm Supply 10 years later. In the meantime, Law found a new business opportunity when the local power sports dealership was looking for a new owner. He jumped at the chance to get back into a smaller dealership. The power sports store was less than 1 mile from the site of the original equipment dealership and on 20 acres that the Law family owned.
“When I had the New Holland dealership, I had a staff of 38 who had years and years of experience. When I started the power sports store, it was a younger group and I had to start all over again. I thought we’d sell it after 5 years, but that little business went berserk,” Dave says.
CNY Farm Supply
Location: Cortland, N.Y., off Interstate 81
Lines: Ag equipment lines include Massey Ferguson, New Holland Construction, Penta, Kuhn, Claas, Sunflower, Land Pride, Meyers, ROC, Anderson, Valmetal, GEA Farm Technologies and Alamo Industrial. Turf and outdoor power equipment lines include Ferris, Honda Power Equipment, Husqvarna, Simplicity, Stihl, Snapper, Snapper Pro, SnowEx, Toro and Ventrac.
Management tools: Keystone dealer management system and Commercial Web Services
Revenue: $17 million combined for the CNY Farm Supply and CNY Power Sports dealerships
“In those years, the power sports market was hot. Everybody was buying power sports,” says Eric, who began working as a salesperson for CNY Power Sports. The dealership already carried Honda and Arctic Cat power sports and they soon added the full line of Yamaha ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, dirt bikes and UTVs.
“Our strategy was to build slow and not get overloaded with inventory. We took on lines that had been around for decades and had great reputations,” says Dave. In addition to Honda, Yamaha and Arctic Cat, CNY Power Sports now carries Kawasaki, KTM, PJ Trailers, Blizzard trailers and California sidecar trike kits. They soon outgrew the facility and in 2003 built a new 30,000 square foot facility — just 200 yards from the original New Holland Cortland farm equipment dealership.
Eric says that as good as the power sports business was, his dad missed selling farm equipment. “He has agriculture in his blood. Everybody was shocked when he sold the ag business and kept asking him when he was going to get back into ag,” he says.
Returning to Farm Equipment
In 2003, Dave did return to selling ag equipment and started selling Massey Ferguson tractors at the new power sports store. The farm equipment business continued to grow over the next few years and it was time for the family to consider the next stage. “We had the cat by its tail and we didn’t know where it was going to take us. We made a family decision to take over the store when the lease was up. It was an exciting time,” says Eric, referring to the original New Holland Cortland building. “We took over the building on March 1, 2011, Dad’s birthday, so it was two birthdays in one. We spent the whole month of March renovating. We gutted the whole building and poured half a million dollars into renovating it, making it more of an open floorplan to match our power sports building.”
CNY Farm Supply opened just a month later. Eric took over manager duties and his brother, Tim, became manager of CNY Power Sports. CNY Farm Supply carries Massey Ferguson, New Holland Construction, Penta, Kuhn, Claas, Sunflower, Land Pride, Meyers, ROC, Anderson, Valmetal, GEA Farm Technologies and Alamo Industrial. Their turf and power equipment lines include Ferris, Honda Power Equipment, Husqvarna, Simplicity, Stihl, Snapper, Snapper Pro, SnowEx, Toro and Ventrac. They also added an extensive inventory of farm and home hardware, hand tools, plumbing and electrical supplies and much more.
“We wanted to be another version of Tractor Supply, Country Max and Lowe’s. We looked at bringing in whatever we could to fill the store ‘from head to toe,’ ’’ Eric says. “I want people to literally walk in and say ‘Wow.’ I want everyone to think we have everything. Our lineup includes all name brands and companies that stand behind and support their customers. They must believe in themselves first before our sales guys can believe in them. When we’re taking on a line, price doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s all in the customers’ perception.”
CNY Farm Supply is 30,000 square feet and they have a separate warehouse building that is about 8,000 square feet. The original power sports location serves as additional storage for all three of their businesses.
Working the Countryside & Counter
Eric says they want customers to be impressed, but don’t wait for them to come to the store. The dealership has two full-time salespeople that sell in the field and he and another full-time salesperson handle inside sales. He’s hoping to add a third and fourth salesperson soon.
CNY Farm Supply’s success strategy includes well-stocked outdoor and indoor display areas to help them compete against big box stores and other dealerships. They also have an extensive inventory of hardware supplies and tools.
“If they’re driving down the road and see a tractor, they stop. If they see a fence, they stop. If somebody is in their yard working, they stop. If they see somebody that should have a tractor, they stop,” Eric says.
Back at the dealership, the parts counter is staffed by 5 full-time employees. The service department is made up of a shop manager, shop foreman and 4 full-time technicians. They also have 1 full-time and 1 part-time truck driver. The shop is about 15,000 square feet, making them one of the largest service departments in New York, says Eric.
The shop is split, with one side handling rural lifestyle and homeowner equipment and the other side handling ag equipment. “When one side is slow, they help the other side out. Farmers need their equipment day in and day out, while any one of our landscapers could pull in at any second with a ‘down’ mower and that’s affecting their business. Every customer is important and everybody has their emergencies,” he says.
Branding by Phone
The CNY family of dealerships includes CNY Farm Supply, CNY Power Sports and CNY Rental. The farm equipment dealership establishes separate, but supporting branding on its website as well as in messaging that customers hear while they are “on hold” on the phone. Here’s one of the branding on-hold recordings for CNY Farm Supply:
“Thank you for calling CNY Farm Supply, Cortland’s number 1 choice for farm and construction equipment, as well as your full line of lawn, garden and power equipment. CNY Farm Supply is the whole package under one roof, parts, sales, service and rentals with one of the largest showrooms and service centers in Cortland County.”
An on-hold message that rotates promotes the power sports and rental stores. “Be sure to visit our sister store CNY Power Sports for all your recreational needs and our newest CNY Rentals and Sales, Cortland’s rental center for everything from party supplies, lawn and garden equipment to heavy machinery, located just across town on McLean Road. We look forward to serving you at all our locations.”
Eric Law, manager of CNY Farm Supply, says each store supports the other, but maintains its own identity. “Neither one of our stores sells the same brand. That way our customers don’t get confused, nor do they get different prices,” he says.
Diversifying with Rental & Storage
In 2013, the Laws continued their expansion, this time into the rental segment when they purchased a rental business about 3 miles away. “A week after we bought it, we had an auction and sold about 90% of the equipment. When we do something, we do it right and we do it quick,” Eric says, but they also do their research. “Shortly after we purchased the business, we visited two or three rental businesses and sat behind closed doors. We were able to sit down and talk as friends and as business partners.
“We brought in a lot of nice stuff that was recommended we should add — the popular stuff — and we continued adding more, like tables, chairs, tents, bounce houses, excavators, tractors and skid steers. We have about a dozen bounce houses that are rented out every weekend through the fall,” Eric says.
“I want everyone to think we have everything…”
They kept several of the employees that had worked at the store on staff and added their own store manager, who came from another rental store.
Last year, the family entered into yet another new business venture, self-storage. “We had the land, it was commercial ground, so we thought, ‘Why not?’ ” Eric says. “We gathered ideas from storage companies in Cortland, Ithaca and Syracuse and built off of that. We already had good relationships with local building companies, who also gave their recommendations. We dealt with a company to get the software and legal documents.”
They built 2 facilities of 150 units each and every unit was rented within the year. “The storage facilities were also a great addition to our Penske truck rentals that we added to CNY Power Sports back in 2009. It added a convenience for customers and another revenue opportunity,” Eric says. CNY Power Sports is now one of the biggest Penske dealers in the Northeast.
The equipment sales, rental and storage businesses offer natural cross promotions. “We have customers who buy motorcycles or equipment and need to store it for the winter. If they have bought from one of our stores, we give them a deal, such as ‘pay for 3 months and get a month of storage free,’ ” Eric says.
CNY Farm Supply is now established and Eric is comfortable in his role as manager, but there have been challenges along the way. “It was a big adjustment for a lot of employees to take orders from a 22-year-old when we first started CNY Farm Supply and it’s been a huge learning curve for me. You never know what it takes to run a business unless you are sitting behind the manager’s desk. I’ve grown up a lot in the last 4 years,” he says.
Being a new manager at a new store posed a special challenge. “Opening up a farm store is just like opening up a restaurant. How do you get enough people to choose your restaurant?
“We’ve always done tons of advertising at all of our locations. Whatever there is, we’ve tried it all to keep our customers and gain new ones. We spend close to $200,000 a year on all forms of advertising. We even own our own billboards. The most effective advertising for our store, besides word of mouth, is the Internet. Most customers know what they want and will look up equipment and know more about it before they contact a dealer. As long as you have an up-to-date and attractive website, you will get the calls for quotes,” Eric says.
The CNY dealership group includes CNY Farm Supply, CNY Power Sports, CNY Rental and CNY Storage. Complementary lines help the dealership capture a wide range of customers.
Their websites promote the group of dealerships, with each site easily accessible from the other. Commercial Web Services designed their sites about 3 years ago and continues to update the sites and provide reports and customer lead generation.
Dave oversees all the businesses and regular communication helps keep everyone on track. “We call them our corporation meetings, with my dad, me, my mom and my brother. Our family meetings make it all come together. We have a lot of late night and early morning meetings,” Eric says.
He says one of the biggest challenges they face now is hiring and retaining employees. They now have 39 employees across the dealerships. “We’re trying to become more competitive in the workforce. That’s a challenge because even though we have multiple stores, each store is small. It’s hard to compete on things like pay and benefits,” says Eric. “Good help is hard to find, and when you finally have them, they are even harder to keep. We have great personnel at all locations and we are always looking to make sure we are utilizing them in the best way. We don’t like losing employees. We hire for long-term employment those people who are looking to make a career with us and help us grow and adapt to the never ending changes in our markets,” Eric says.
What’s ahead for the dealerships? “These businesses we have now are set for the long term. We are just the right size and don’t want to be too big to handle and lose control. With Tim and I both growing more and more into these businesses, I see us perfecting what we have and possibly bringing on lines that may better suit our customers and we always have our eyes wide open for anything that will keep us ahead of the competition,” says Eric.
Here’s what’s ahead for the family. Dave says, “I have something most businesses and families would die for. I have a succession plan. We are in year 1 of a 10-year plan and giving it all to the kids.”