Pictured Above: Falls Farm & Garden Equipment, Hudson Falls, N.Y., is owned by the Havens family. The dealership recently received an Ethics in Business award from its local community. From left, Jane and Tim Havens and their sons, Tim Jr. and David.
Tim Havens started Falls Farm & Garden Equipment in 1982 in Hudson Falls, N.Y., when he was just 20 years old and still in college. He was finishing up his degree at the local community college and would close the store when he needed to leave for class.
He began as an Allis Chalmers dealer, with 3 tractors, 13 snow blowers and several Jonsered chainsaws. A year later, he became a John Deere dealer. He’s been growing ever since — while still remaining a single-store dealership — and he does what it takes to serve his customers.
“We have a proven track record of reinvesting in our business, whether it’s in our facilities, shop, tools, inventory or delivery vehicles. We do whatever we need to be professional,” Havens says.
His wife, Jane, has been working with him since 1990, and their sons, David (15 years old) and Tim Jr. (19 years old), are already handling sales and parts customer service. The dealership is celebrating 34 years in business and is known as “The Power Center of the North Country.”
In addition to John Deere, Falls Farm & Garden also carries Billy Goat, Husqvarna, Land Pride, Little Wonder, Simplicity, Stihl and Toro.
The dealership’s market is made up of about 50% homeowners and large property owners; 20% commercial customers; 20% municipal accounts; and 10% ag customers.
Falls Farm & Garden Equipment
Location: Hudson Falls, N.Y.
Lines: John Deere, Billy Goat, Husqvarna, Land Pride, Little Wonder, Simplicity, Stihl and Toro
Havens says his varied and extensive wholegoods and parts inventory has been a key factor in his success. “Any accountant would come in here and say we have way too much inventory, but no customer ever says we do. Matter of fact, they never think we have enough.
“I like investing in products for the customers to buy. I like investing in parts and taking care of them. I get the best feeling in the world at the parts counter when someone says, ‘You always have what I need,’” Havens says.
The dealership tries to be on the leading edge in terms of new products and the parts needed to support them. “Being up here in this part of the world, we’re at Mother Nature’s ‘beck and call.’ When we have snowstorms, we have to have what our customers need and take a proactive approach,” he says.
That means stocking a good supply of commonly requested items as well as repairs for complete breakdowns. “Parts inventory is a great investment. It’s insurance, even if you don’t turn it 3 or 4 times a year,” he says.
For inventory planning, Havens relies on his experience and data from his business management system from c-Systems Software. Although he carries a lot of inventory, Havens says it’s not without careful deliberation. “Wholegoods planning can be ‘a shot in the dark,’ but we’re always evaluating new products, trends and local employment. We’re located in an economically depressed area, so we have to be cautious,” he says.
Falls Farm & Garden Equipment is a single-store, family-owned dealership in Hudson Falls, N.Y. The dealership is celebrating 34 years in business.
To support his ag customers, mainly dairy farmers who are facing lower commodity prices, the dealership’s inventory includes used, good condition, higher horsepower tractors he brings in from the Midwest.
Havens says he faces plenty of competition from large retailers, but knows the strengths of his independent dealership. “You want cheap stuff, go to the cheap store. You want good stuff, go to a place that sells good stuff. We, as a dealership, don’t want to sell cheap stuff. We’ve been approached by some companies and we’ve sold some of those products. Now, we know that we don’t want to sell those kinds of products,” he says.
“We have a choice of either trying to match the price of Big Box stores — which is going to put us out of business because we don’t have a paint department or a fertilizer department to ‘cost average’ this stuff out. Or, we can sell the value and virtue of a dealership — the service, the parts and the knowledge that we’re selling the right product for their use,” Havens says. “And we demonstrate the product. We let them drive it. We take trade-ins. We arrange financing. We’re here rendering friendly assistance over the telephone when somebody forgets to disengage the power takeoff before they try to start the tractor.”
Havens says he doesn’t worry about not matching the business hours of large retailers. “When you call my store, a live person answers the telephone. And if somebody doesn’t answer, we’re closed,” Havens says.
The dealership prefers not to use its voicemail system. “Most people understand that independent businesses are not open until 9 or 10 p.m. or open 24 hours. When we’re here, we’re here to take care of our customers,” he says.
- Set and monitor metrics that give you a sense of the financial status of your dealership. Know your comfort level when it comes to taking on debt.
- Evaluate your current level of inventory. See whether it’s time to expand the amount you carry or the brands you carry.
- Establish ongoing processes for re-investing back in your business, whether it’s for employees, the shop, facilities or other ways.
- See if there are ways to be more personalized in how you work with customers.
The dealership was approached to assemble and do warranty work for John Deere tractors sold at Home Depot. Havens was considering it, but Jane raised objections about using their trained technicians so Home Depot could sell to the same customers they were trying to reach. The response from his manufacturer’s representative was that maybe some of those customers weren’t coming to the dealership anyway.
“I said, ‘Maybe they’re not. But if I set up those tractors and I give away my service to them, I’ve made it that much easier,’’’ Havens says.
Instead, the dealership is working on winning over Big Box customers. “I think our growth will be converting customers in the suburban homeowner market and turning more customers to our brands and our dealership as they upgrade equipment or when they purchase land and need a tractor,” he says.
Havens carries over his philosophy of being the best when it comes to competing with other equipment dealerships. “We have to do things better than them. We have to market better than them. We have to service better than them,” he says.
Practicing Good Business
Throughout the history of his dealership, Havens has followed several best management practices. For instance, he’s very careful about not relying too heavily on credit. “I come from an upbringing where integrity and protecting your credit is first and foremost. So, never once have I ever signed my name on something I didn’t intend to make the last payment on. We are now in a world where people make the first payment and think they’re finished. I’ve always been very, very conservative in my approach to things. You wouldn’t know it, looking at all this inventory, but we are sufficiently capitalized to meet our obligations,” he says.
One of the best practices followed by the staff at Falls Farm & Garden Equipment is to always carry an extensive inventory of parts and wholegoods. They are committed to having the parts that customers need, not just the parts that sell fast.
One financial metric he closely watches is his absorption rate, which runs about 90%. Havens says he helps keep his parts and service team operating at peak performance through a management process he calls MBWA — “Management by Wandering Around.”
For instance, he recently placed a stock order to help out the busy sales team. “It allowed me to review a line that I haven’t reviewed in a while, make some inventory changes and reestablish a few things in my mind. It was an hour well spent. You’ll find me in the delivery truck, on the showroom floor and in the office,” he says.
Havens also checks his accounts daily and monitors the number and amount of transactions each day.
Investing back in the business and his employees keeps his dealership strong, too. “As we’ve made money, we have invested in training and benefits. Our people have become familiar faces to our customers,” he says.
Some of Havens’ other business philosophies:
- Be generous to your community.
- Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.
- Answer the telephone in-person and return calls before the end of the day.
- Keep your delivery appointments.
- Never miss a cash discount with a vendor.
“We have a proven track record of reinvesting in our business…”
– Tim Havens, Falls Farm & Garden Equipment
These philosophies have earned him respect. The dealership recently received an Ethics in Business award from its local community.
Havens see an expansion opportunity with mobile service for lawn and garden customers and others. The dealership has two mobile service trucks now and one is busy throughout the year.
“People’s lack of time is a big factor; they’re just in a hurry all the time. A lot of people know what to do to repair their equipment, but it’s just easier to call us and have it done for them,” Havens says.
They promote the benefit of regular maintenance during those mobile visits, especially when they’re making seasonal visits.
Tim Havens and his family have a collection of antique toys, trucks and tractors that fill four buildings. In all, they have more than 14,000 die cast toys, 110 antique trucks and dozens of antique tractors.
“We’re not looking for something to be wrong, but want to make sure everything is right. We can forestall repairs by watching things closely,” he says.
The service team also cautions customers about overuse and resulting damage. For instance, they encourage customers to follow a schedule for checking or sharpening mower blades — Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Columbus Day. They also advise sharpening chain saw blades after 45 minutes of use and warn customers about possible engine issues related to ethanol in fuel.
“This is a very personal business and we give very personalized advice, catered to their needs. It may not be the most efficient, but we have our customers’ best interest in mind,” Havens says.
The dealership is also expanding through a new business venture, a gun shop called “Calamity Jane’s Firearms and Fine Shoes.” The “fine shoes” is a nod to Jane’s love of shoes. The business idea came together because a local gun shop owner was retiring and they already owned a building across from the dealership. They had previously used the building for displaying equipment, but it was difficult to monitor that building and the main one.
At the store, they’ll display firearms as well as related equipment for outdoors enthusiasts, such as John Deere gun safes, Gator utility vehicles and Honda generators.
Jane and the couple’s sons will manage the business initially and they plan to hire employees who have firearms knowledge. The shop is opening this summer with an inventory of 150-200 long guns and 50-100 pistols. Their brands will include Winchester, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Benelli, Beretta, Henry, Ruger, Sig Sauer and other lines of firearms.
Havens knows there’s pressure among dealerships to acquire, merge or expand locations.
“If somebody wants to come in here and buy this business for what it’s worth, maybe one day I would sell the dealership. But right now, it’s not on the market. I don’t want to merge. I have two sons that are growing up in the business, that love the business and maybe one day they’ll want to buy the business. But we have to remain independent, so that we can stay focused on our customers,” he says.
Havens sums up his business approach this way: “The thing that we do that makes us successful — and every dealer is going to tell you the same thing — is we take care of our customers. We’re in business to make a profit and some deals we walk away from because there’s no opportunity to make money.
“For the customers that choose to do business with us, we’re ‘all in’ for them, providing exceptional service, backing up everything we sell with an extraordinary parts department, well-trained service people and our personal guarantee of satisfaction,” he says.