Killians Inc. of Hickory, N.C., is a family-owned dealership that was founded in 1963. Sharon Killian Radke and Susan Killian Kirby are the third generation owners, with the fourth generation now taking a role in marketing and sales.
Sharon says the true strength of Killians is the fact that it is part of the community. For instance, Killians provides a lawn mower to each of 10 local non-profits.
The Killians staff also strives to create a unique, family-friendly shopping experience. Yes, the showroom is clean, organized and well merchandised, but it’s the little things that make shopping at Killians extra special — and something a person cannot experience when shopping online.
“We had bought our dad a popcorn machine many years ago and we’ve had it in our showroom ever since. I’ve literally watched people grow up eating popcorn in our store. It seems like a silly little thing, but it goes a long way,” Sharon says.
Another hallmark of the Killians store is its museum. A variety of local artifacts, which Sharon’s father and grandfather had collected, are on display in a section of the warehouse. You can see things like old Wheel Horse tractors and fire trucks, along with a Mayberry squad car toy.
“You can see a lot of local heritage at Killians and people love it,” Sharon says. The museum is only open to the public several times a year. However, daily visitors to the dealership can look at a handful of items that are showcased in the main store.
Founded: 1963, current owners took over in 1997
Location: Hickory, N.C.
Employees: 17 full time, 3 part time and various interns
Business System: Blue Ridge
Website Vendor: ARI Network Services
Lines: Billy Goat, Briggs & Stratton, EdenPure Heaters, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, Kohler, Little Wonder, Maxim Tillers, Merry Tillers, Oregon Log Splitters, PECO, STIHL, Toro, Wilmington Grills
Roughly half of the dealership’s customers are homeowners with acreage, which is common given the rural nature of the dealership’s area. The other half is commercial operators. Customers come from seven counties and as far away as 60 miles. “Even some of my bigger landscape companies are driving 30 or 40 miles to shop here,” Sharon points out.
Regardless of who the customers are, proactive communication is vital. “We don’t really have an off-season or at least any downtime. During the slower winter months, we’re calling and meeting with customers to help them plan for the following year. Then, when the busy season comes, we’re just selling and servicing. That preparation makes it a lot easier,” Sharon says.
A widespread demographic trend that the Killians team is seeing in their market is the emergence of tech-savvy millennial customers.
“Millennials are smart and they want good products and service. They also value honesty and have a great appreciation for local, multi-generational businesses. So, we feel good about our opportunities going forward. We’ve never viewed any competition (i.e., box stores or online retailers) as a threat. We just continue to focus on how we are unique and what we need to do to create a great shopping experience,” Sharon says.
That said, Killians has created a strong online presence. Whitney manages a growing Facebook page and Jennifer has helped usher the dealership into the era of mobile marketing.
“We have our website through ARI,” Jennifer says. “They asked if we wanted a mobile version of our site and, of course, we said ‘yes’ because more people are using their phones to shop and research businesses and a mobile site looks a lot nicer.”
Read more about Killians and their diverse network of equipment and hardware supplies.