Interview with Arco Lawn on Time-saving Features of Ideal Software
Kathy and Steve Mueller have used over 35 years experience to make Arco Lawn Equipment Inc. in Ballwin, MO, one of the most successful and well-respected OPE businesses in the area. Through focus on long-term customer service and benefitting from the time-saving features in Ideal’s business management software, the dealership continues to grow.
What steps have you and your husband taken to make the business successful?
Kathy: “Our focus has been on making Arco a place where customers know that they can come and get their needs met. We show that we’re a family-owned neighborhood business and we care about meeting customers’ needs. They’re not just a source of income. Having done this for 35 years, our customers come in knowing us, knowing our children, and they know they’re going to get taken care of in the best way possible.”
How do you set yourself apart from other retailers and big box stores?
Kathy: “I think that regardless of whether we’re family-owned or not, customers want to go someplace where they feel like you care. A lot of customers get frustrated with the big box syndrome where you have to dial 1-800… and leave a message and no one gets back to you. They want to come to a business, get their issues resolved, and get the service they’re looking for. They will even pay a little more for it as long as they’re getting what they feel is important to them.”
How do you ensure your employees have the proper training and mind-set to treat your customers like they are important?
Kathy: “We go through several different steps and it’s always ongoing. I am big on “team play” and big on the fact that it takes all of us to make it happen. I also emphasize the fact that no matter how frustrated we get, the customer is the end all. Without them, we don’t have jobs. Our employees are able to compensate the customer if they are disgruntled for some reason, but if it gets to be more than they can handle, I will take care of it. But overall, I want my employees to have the freedom to work with the customer so eventually I can get to a point where I don’t have to be here.”
What are the most important things you’ve done to attract new customers, and how do you retain current customers?
Kathy: “I think the most important thing is we do good work. People always like deals, obviously, and they’re always interested in sales, promotions and things like that. People know after 35 years that we offer certain promotions every year. However, we don’t run our business off being the ‘best price’ as much as being the ‘best service.’ We back up our service by carrying one of the longest warranties in our area. I think people go away happy and they want to come back because they can trust coming here. The industry, in general, requires trust and if a customer doesn’t trust us, we can’t move forward together amiably. Therefore, it’s important how we handle situations so that we can be trusted.”
What practices have you incorporated into your service department to make it efficient and effective?
Kathy: “We’ve done a lot of things. Ideal helps my techs tremendously because they’re not wasting time going from one program to another. It’s all integrated. That saves a lot of time, but my guys understand integrity is the utmost. What goes out under their name comes back under their name. If their stamp is on it they need to care. We invest in them, in training, and we encourage them to continue their education and take what they do seriously.”
Inventory management is hard for any dealer. How have you been able to keep the right items stocked so you don’t lose sales or carry too much inventory?
Kathy: “I think a good dealer management software program is important and that was one of the big things we wanted out of the Ideal dealer management system. But, it’s only as good as the input going in. I hired a young man and gave him my parts department. I told him ‘this is what I want it to look like, can you get me there?’ I showed him, trained him, and gave him ownership over that. To him, his parts department with over-stock at the end of season is not a good thing. It’s not a good performance as far as he’s concerned. So, he takes ownership of it. People don’t walk into his parts department and take stuff from it, because it’s like taking something of his. It’s important for him that the department is accurate. Once a month he sends me reports on their cycle counting and where we’re at. He also knows that if I go looking for a part and the system says it’s there but it isn’t, he’s going to hear from me. He takes it very seriously. I think the real key is getting people in your business that you give the right tools, and let them do their job.”
Most consultants emphasize the importance of analyzing your financials on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. How do you go about managing this aspect of your business?
Kathy: “I think that if you’re not looking at your financials, it’s like a coach trying to lead his team to the big game and not having direction. The figures are extremely important. If you’re not doing that, you’re compromising your business. If you’re not managing the money, watching where it’s being spent, and making sure the discounts are being taken in a timely manner, you’re not working smart. I’ve been working hard the last 5 years to move away from digging the ditch, and working more toward supervising the ditch diggers. The more that I can do that, the better things go. I can spend more time looking at figures and giving forecasts. That’s an area where you can always improve. I think it’s important to know your finances, and they’re only as good as your accuracy. That’s one of the reasons we got the General Ledger system in the Ideal software program. I am confident once we get everything synced, it’s going to be a tremendous help for forecasting, budgeting, etc.”
Which features in Ideal do you find most beneficial?
Kathy: “From the sales side, I think the wholegoods inventory part of the program has made my life so much easier. Tracking them, paying them, being able to see what’s there, and being able to pull it all up when the floor plan company comes is amazing. That’s key to me because I track the wholegoods. Then, of course, the General Ledger side is very important. Being able to look at those figures, know that what came in shows up on the General Ledger side, and that it’s all integrated makes my life much easier. Every day I’m learning something more. It’s a pretty intricate program. I feel confident that it will take me places I haven’t even been yet.”
What advice would you give to someone that is looking to buy software for their business?
Kathy: “I think that time is money. You need to be able to look at it and say, ‘what’s going to be the trade-off?’ With Ideal, I have more time on my hands because I’m not dinking around trying to balance a drawer or put information into another system based off what we sold for the day. And we’ve saved time because it’s all integrated and you can just pop it up and see what you’ve got. You just have to be able to see the value. Our old system was very time consuming and now it’s all integrated. I look back at all the time I wasted and now I have a system in Ideal that’s fast, easy, and well worth it. It makes things uniform across the board.”