Interview with Vic Sohar on the Secret to 35-40% Annual Business Growth
When it comes to running an OPE dealership, Vic Sohar has become an expert. Although he has never planned on making it a career, his knack for business management has made Sohar’s All Seasons Mower Service and his online company, RCPW, leading OPE destinations in the Macedonia, Ohio area.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Vic to discuss his success, including how Ideal has helped manage his dealership since 1990, and how other dealers can improve the way they do business.
Tell us how you got started and how the business has progressed to what it is today.
Vic: “I got started back in 1979 working on equipment in the backyard of my father’s home. I’ve always been pretty handy, so I fixed everyone’s mowers around the neighborhood and ended up with quite a bit of work.
An opportunity came up and I was approached by Lawn-Boy. They offered a franchise in that area and I decided to take it. I was also working for Ford at the time, so I worked two jobs to see if I could get the lawn and garden business going.
After six months, the work had become so overwhelming that I decided to quit Ford. I started out as a parts and service center, and then four years later, started getting into the retail business. It’s always funny because people ask me if I ever thought I’d be here now and I’d say no. But it’s a great business.”
In addition to the dealership, you have a parts warehouse business. How much of your business comes from there and how has that contributed to your growth?
Vic: “I actually started with mail orders and then created a secondary company, RCPW, which deals in commercial parts – because I was always interested in that. We got ahold of some vendors we could get aftermarket parts from, at which point the catalog started growing and that business kept developing. That’s how we started on the Internet.
We were going after the commercial market, which was good for three or four years, but then it went more to the retail side. As time went on, manufacturers started selling directly, so we decided to put more of our effort into the end user. It’s also become a challenge, because 10 years ago, you would search for lawnmower parts and there would be about 20 of us. Now there are 20,000 of us, and you have to compete with Amazon.
Right now 45% of our business comes from the warehouse, but it used to be more. There’s more competition and products, but we’re coming back, and are in the growth cycle again. We do all of our SEO work in-house and do a lot of AdWords. We also do our own promotions on Facebook.”
When did you experience your biggest growth and what factors contributed to that growth the most?
Vic: “I’d say 2000-2007 were our biggest growth years, and that’s because of our internet business. The Internet was still way open for our line of business, so we had our way with things. We grew about 35-40% each year during that timeframe. It was outstanding!
In 2006, we actually had to cut advertising on AdWords and raise prices to slow things down because we couldn’t handle the volume. We didn’t have the people, and everything was much more hands-on then.”
What steps do you take to provide the best customer experience?
Vic: “Our dealership is probably a little different than most. If you’ve ever been to a Lexus or Cadillac dealer, the place is spotless, while the people are dressed accordingly and know everything about everything. That’s what you get when you walk into our dealership. There’s not one person here that can’t help you with everything you need. Our place – from the parking lot to the front – is spotless.
It’s not like your typical lawnmower shop. We have a waiting room, and women come in here all the time. They have no issue coming here because we sell apparel for women.
We try to make this business as user-friendly as we can, and we get complimented on it all of the time. It really sets us apart. We give you the ultimate experience.”
How do you go about hiring the right staff that provides great customer service?
Vic: “I’ve tried several different things. I’ve tried advertising in the community, and that works, but it’s not the answer. What I really try to do is go after the high school and the vocational school kids. We donate lawn and garden equipment to the school for them to work on and they have their own program.
We usually get a handful of individuals interested in a job at the dealership, and I usually hire one or two of them each year. We train them from the ground up. It’s much easier to get someone in here who is eager to learn and easy to train. We’ve tried veterans, but they are stuck in their ways, and it doesn’t work as well.”
Do you participate in any community events throughout the year?
Vic: “Our local community has food drives that we participate in. Just this last week, they had a clothing drive, so we donated to that. For the seniors in the city, we donate equipment, so they can rent from the city. We have a couple of snow plow guys on contract to go to homes to plow. That’s another feature that sets us apart.
If you’ve bought a snow blower from us and it’s in for a repair, we have the capability to send someone to plow your driveway when a snowstorm hits. These are the things that set us apart from places like Home Depot. When you buy from us, you are getting us.”
You’ve been a long-time user of the Ideal system. How long have you had Ideal and how has it helped you the most?
Vic: “It was 1990 when Ideal came into play. I believe I was the second or third individual to use the product in my business. I was always fascinated with computer products and inventory control. When I saw the product, I thought I could really use this and move forward with my business.
What set Ideal apart was that Dennis, the original owner, was open-minded – he would listen and build things to help the business move forward. It wasn’t just a canned product like QuickBooks. Even to this day, if there is something we’re looking for, there’s a strong possibility someone will look into it. As far as service and reliability are concerned, we don’t call unless we really need something, but when we do, the service is great.”
Inventory control is huge for an OPE dealership. What mistakes do you think dealers make when it comes to controlling inventory, and how has Ideal helped with your parts management?
Vic: “I’m really into inventory control. I need to have it in here, out of here and I need to know the price of it. It’s your biggest dilemma in a business, and people don’t keep track of it. You have to have the products your people want you have to know when they’re sold and when you need more. You can’t afford to have to have your stock just sitting on the shelf; you need to know when to have it for people that want it. Ideal has given us the ability to keep track of it all.”
How has Ideal helped with your service department management?
Vic: “To be honest with you, we’ve had the service module for a long time, but we really didn’t start using all the features until about three or four years ago. We’ve gotten the system to where it works best for us.
With the scheduling, we know when things are coming in, when they’re going out and the estimated cost of the work. Right now it’s December. Because of the scheduling, we have enough work in-house and scheduled to come in until the end of February, so we’re out almost two months.
Ideal also helps me because we have an email address and can shoot out emails on specials we have going on. Customers jump all over those, so I’m saving money. My service manager sends me a report every morning on what my service guys are doing, so I keep my hands on everything and make sure it’s all on the right track.”
Reporting and data analysis play a key role in business success. What are the most important reports or metrics that you review to help analyze your business performance?
Vic: “Of course, it’s inventory and gross profit margin. I use a lot of sales reports, because if there is any flutter in our profit margin, we check it right away. We look at every line item that was sold the day before to make sure it’s in line and we’re getting the right margins out of it. We look at the work order scheduling. We look at the purchase orders, so we can determine seasonal stocking levels. Right now, we have snow on the way, so we’re looking to stock items to prepare for that.”
What is the one feature in the system you couldn’t live without?
Vic: “There’s a lot of them. I would say inventory valuation reports are crucial because I do look at that every day. Gross profit margin is also huge.”
What future goals do you have for the business and how will Ideal help?
Vic: “We’re looking to enhance our online experience further than where we’re at and integrate Ideal more with our website. We’re on the upswing again with our growth cycle, so we’re working on positioning ourselves there.”
What advice do you have for other dealers looking to grow their business and improve their level of services?
Vic: “I see dealers make the mistake of worrying about what everyone else is doing all the time. You need to sit down to figure out where you want to be with your particular business. I’ve always been that way. I don’t look at what everyone else is doing. I’m not a follower, and I’ve never been that way.
My business is different than the one in Iowa or California, and I know a lot of people have copied the things we’ve done. I’m always moving forward and trying things. Some things work and some things don’t, but we’re always moving forward.”