Russ DeTrempe (left) and Michael Woolf (right) have a unique arrangement among neighbors — they purchase landscaping equipment together to maintain their rural properties along with sharing equipment they own separately.
A simple question across a property line, “Do you like this fence?” has led to an equipment purchasing partnership between large property owners Michael Woolf and Russ and Cynthia DeTrempe of Hartsburg, Mo.
The neighbors started their informal partnership about 10 years ago by tearing out an old barbed wire fence. The arrangement has evolved to shared ownership of equipment to maintain their respective properties as well as common property and a dam on a 13-acre lake.
“Removing that fence was the first project we worked on together. One of the things that brought us together is we both have the same idea about our properties. We like being out here in the country and in the woods, but we like to make some improvement to our properties every year,” says Woolf.
Transitioning to Rural Life
Woolf had been looking for rural property for about 8 months before finding his perfect location, which is located on a bluff between Columbia and Jefferson City, Mo. He bought the property on the first viewing before it was listed for sale. He was moving from an apartment, so he needed to buy equipment right away. His first stop was a big box store.
“I was looking at price because I didn’t really know what I was going to need. I didn’t know how rough the land was going to be, and I didn’t know how I was going to use the equipment. I just wanted to go there and get everything I needed,” Woolf says. He purchased a Yard Machine riding mower, which lasted him only a few years, along with a cart and hand tools. He then returned to the big box store to purchase a replacement, a John Deere D170 lawn tractor, knowing he could turn to a dealer for repairs.
Michael Woolf drives the Ventrac 4500Z that he purchased with his neighbor Russ DeTrempe. They needed a machine that could handle the steep hills on their properties as well as a lake dam they maintain.
Woolf did turn to a dealer, Popp’s Outdoor Equipment of Jefferson City, when he wanted to add a chainsaw and purchased a STIHL MS230C chainsaw. “Yes, I wanted the STIHL brand. That’s what my dad had and we were rough on stuff on the farm. I never considered anything but a STIHL chainsaw,” he says. Popp’s also carries Toro, Billy Goat and Trimmer Trap.
Before moving to their current property, the DeTrempes had owned a home in a Columbia, Mo., subdivision. They were one of the first to build their home, which was surrounded by woods. Two years after building, they were ready to move. “I told Cynthia, my wife, the day I heard my neighbor’s garage door go up and down, it was time to move,” he says.
They started searching for rural property and originally lost the winning bid on the property they now own. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it at the auction, but I kept bugging the guy who bought it, saying I really wanted to buy it and then about 6 months later he finally sold it to us,” DeTrempe says.
DeTrempe arrived at his new property in 2007 with a John Deere tractor mower; a STIHL chainsaw; Exmark Metro walk-behind mower and Turf Tracer wide area walk-behind mower; and hand-held tools. He bought some of the equipment from a big box store and turned to Farm Power Lawn & Leisure of Columbia, Mo., to purchase the Exmark Turf Tracer.
Farm Power also did the repairs on the John Deere mower and when its transmission went out, he decided he needed to move up to a compact tractor. Farm Power carries John Deere, Kubota, Exmark and other lines.
“It took us about 6 months to buy because it’s quite a bit more expensive than the equipment at Lowe’s. I would go there to look at it, try it out and come back. The salesperson actually came out to the property and walked around and said, ‘Here’s what I think you’re going to need,’” DeTrempe says. He also sought the advice of the mechanic who had worked on his lawn tractor and even asked people he would see working with Kubota tractors on their properties. He purchased a Kubota B2920, along with a front loader, backhoe, belly mower and a Land Pride brush mower. Package pricing and interest-free financing for 60 months influenced the purchase of the attachments.
“When researching equipment, I search out videos from owners……” –Michael Woolf
DeTrempe returned to the dealership for maintenance on the Kubota and appreciated being able to ask questions about its operation. The dealership’s hospitality extended after the sale, 2 years later, when a problem arose. While operating the tractor, DeTrempe noticed the tractor was leaking oil. He went back to the dealership and after some investigation, they realized they had not replaced the oil plug correctly. The dealership called DeTrempe to say it looked like there was some damage to the engine.
“I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I was ready to argue and say, ‘This is your fault,’ when he said they would cover everything and they actually got us a new tractor. They could have just changed the oil and I would have been good to go, but 3 years later I would have been realizing that I was just not getting the years out of the tractor that I should have been getting,” DeTrempe says.
Woolf and DeTrempe moved on from basic lawn maintenance and started taking on property improvement projects — and purchasing equipment together to stretch their dollars. For instance, they started clearing trees on the edges of their properties and built up a large woodpile. They researched chipper/shredder models online and purchased a used DR Power chipper/shredder off Craigslist.com. “We had done some pricing online and we got a very good deal. We both thought, ‘Let’s give this a try. If we’re unhappy with it, we both lost only $300,’” Woolf says.
Russ DeTrempe uses his Kubota B292 tractor and his Exmark Turf Tracer to maintain cleared areas.
They got good use out of the chipper/shredder for 6 years, eventually buying a replacement again on Craigslist and keeping the old one for parts. They split costs and repair bills and eventually started purchasing larger equipment. About 3 years ago, they bought a DR Power walk-behind field and brush mower, since they were already familiar with DR Power and liked the brand. They turned to YouTube to help them make a decision.
“The videos from the manufacturers provide some information, but I want to see videos from the homeowner, from somebody who says, ‘I’ve never had anything like this before. So, I thought I needed it and here is what I can do with it.’ And they set the camera down and they go to work,” Woolf says.
Seeking Specialty Equipment
Several years ago, Woolf and DeTrempe took over maintenance of the property around the lake, including the dam. “The area was full of thorn bushes and it wasn’t being mowed properly. The dam had a lot of trees on it, which the State Department of Conservation didn’t like at all,” Woolf says.
They used the brush mower to clear trees and the Kubota loader and backhoe to repair damage to the dam because of tree roots and muskrats. Mowing the dam and their steep properties was a difficult, time-intensive job.
“I mowed the dam with my Exmark walk-behind mower and Michael would use the brush mower on his hill. As we got older, it just got more and more exhausting and it’s something you dread doing. There is so much danger when you’re doing that kind of mowing,” says DeTrempe.
Woolf again turned to videos to help find a solution. “I went online and typed in, ‘How do you mow a hill?’ and ‘What equipment do you need to mow a hill?’ I didn’t find anything until I found the Ventrac videos and this thing is basically designed for mowing hills like this. I really didn’t think Russ would want to buy it, but I sent him some of the videos and he said, ‘Let’s go see one of these things.’”
“Not pushing, but working with the landowner goes a long way…” –Russ DeTrempe
They live halfway between a dealership in Lenexa, Kan., and St. Charles, Mo. They chose to visit the Kansas dealership, Kansas Golf and Turf, because they were the ones who returned the phone call. Jeff McDonough, dealership salesperson, talked about the capabilities of the Ventrac 4500Z on steep hills and provided contact information for other customers. “We contacted them and ran through all these questions and they sold the machine. Every time I described something, they said we wouldn’t have a problem,” DeTrempe says.
The customer videos validated what the manufacturer specifications promised. “I remember one customer was mowing next to water and he was going down into the water then backing up out of it. For us, because of the dam, those videos were very important to see what that thing was actually capable of and if people were happy with it,” says Woolf.
McDonough followed other practices that led to the sale. He answered as many questions as they had and let them test the machine at the dealership. Then, he went a step further. “We made it really clear that we were very interested, but we wanted to see it run on our property. He agreed to come out and do a demonstration and let us run it on our own property,” says Woolf.
DeTrempe adds, “We had pictures of our properties and I said, ‘It’s really simple. If it can mow these two hills, we’ll buy it. If it doesn’t, you’re going to be driving it back.’”
McDonough loaded up and headed about 160 miles east with the Ventrac, equipped with a 72-inch deck, a 60-inch blade attachment and the paperwork. The machine passed the test and DeTrempe and Woolf each wrote a check for half.
- Always answer the phone. Consider that a missed call is a missed sale.
- Do equipment demonstrations on a customer’s own property to convince them of its capabilities.
- Be willing to admit and fix your mistakes.
- Make follow-up contacts several months or even a year after the sale to uncover any issues or new sales opportunities.
Now, their mowing time is significantly reduced and the machine’s design and dual wheels provide for a safer operation. Woolf and DeTrempe also purchased a trailer to transport the Ventrac to other locations and the two are considering setting up a part-time mowing business, specializing in hilly properties.
DeTrempe says what he looks for in working with dealers is being treated as a valued customer. “When I think about buying the Ventrac and working with Kansas Golf and Turf and working with the Kubota dealership, something that stood out is that personal touch. Coming out to the property, answering a thousand questions, not pushing but just working with the landowner — that goes a long, long way,” he says.
Woolf says follow-up after a sale impresses him. Kansas Golf and Turf asked them to complete a survey and were given a maintenance kit as an incentive. “McDonough expressed a real interest in our opinion and any ideas we might have to make the machine even better,” he says.
Woolf offers this advice to dealers about maintaining a relationship and gaining customer feedback. “I told the dealership that we appreciated the chance to complete the survey, but they should really do this after a year. That way, we have a whole year to work with the machine in a lot of different situations,” he says.
Woolf and DeTrempe are planning more joint purchases, even considering purchasing a small sawmill to process the trees they cut down or trim. The partnership has worked well and offered them opportunities to invest in equipment they never would have been able to own individually.