Interview with Sylvania Mower Center on Beating Big Competitors through Customer Loyalty

DHow Sylvania Mower Center drives customer loyaltyealing with competitors is never easy – especially if you own a mid-sized outdoor power equipment dealership and your competitors are big-box store chains that are known for crushing smaller businesses.

The owner of Sylvania Mower Center, Tom Oswald, is well aware of the influence big-box stores exude on the market, but he does not see them as a direct threat to his business. That’s because he can offer customers something his competitors cannot – great service that leads to return visits every time.

Find out what tactics Tom Oswald employs to keep his customers satisfied at all times in our recent interview with him.


Can you talk a little bit about how the business started and how you became involved?

Tom: “We were initially in the scooter and motorcycle business, and then we ventured into the ATV market. Because of that, we ended up becoming an engine dealer for Briggs & Stratton, Kohler and Honda. Eventually we were able to get in touch with the guys at Toro and ask them if they were interested in having a dealer in our area. They were.

So, we started with their snow removal equipment and then moved on to their garden equipment. It didn’t take long for that side of the business to really take off. Meanwhile, the scooter and motorcycle side floundered, so we dropped it entirely. Today, we mostly focus on outdoor power equipment.”


What makes a great outdoor power equipment dealership in your opinion?

Tom: “Customer service. There’s plenty of competition out there from big-box stores, and one of the items that we can provide and they can’t is service. So, once a customer buys a piece of equipment from us, we make sure that we are there for them if they have a warranty issue or if they need service down the road, which we hope they do. That’s what separates a good dealership from a bad one – superior service.”


How do you handle unhappy customers?

Tom: “We try to establish an instant communication process to identify the customer’s problem and their expectations versus what was delivered.

99% of the time, we’re successful at what we do, which means that 1% of the time we make mistakes, and it’s up to us to own them and make them right. However, there are also times when the customer’s expectations are beyond what we’re able to provide. In those cases, we try to negotiate the best solution possible.

Most of the time, our unhappy customers end up satisfied with our follow-up process.”


What skills should the dealership owner or general manager have in order to keep customers happy?

Tom: “Timeliness. The general manager should be able to provide their service or product in a timely manner. One of the biggest complaints that we have in the industry is that turnaround times take too long, which is also why it’s important to have great personnel. So, keeping everything on time should be the focus.”


When did you first implement Ideal and what was the initial reason for doing so?

Tom: “We were initially using QuickBooks for the accounting and point-of-sale portions of our business. It was okay, but it wasn’t a customized package that would satisfy all of our preferences. And as our business was growing, we were looking for a change.

There are a quite few vendors out there, so I spoke to a Toro sales rep, and he said that many of their dealers were using Ideal and were very happy with it. So, we went with it, which I believe was two years ago.”


How does Ideal help you tackle some of your biggest challenges?

Tom: “The biggest challenge is managing two of our locations. By implementing the software at each location, I can see how both of them are doing, and easily swap resources between them. For example, I can enter a work order at my location and requisition specific parts to be transferred from the second store.

Ideal makes it feel as though our second location is just another showroom under the same roof.”


How does Ideal compare to what you’ve had before and what are some of the biggest improvements that happened?

Tom: “For one, everything is tracked by its serial number, which allows us to have proper floor planning and see exactly what we have in our inventory. From the service side of it, it lets us track a piece of equipment from the point it enters the door to the point it leaves the dealership.

For the general manager, this sort of visibility is just invaluable! I can re-arrange things however I like and always see the flow of this piece of equipment or that piece of equipment, while monitoring the progress of everything that’s going on.”


What’s your favorite feature of Ideal?

Tom: “The point-of-sale system for the wholegoods is terrific because its allows us to implement pricing margins. Based on the cost, the pricing module can determine what our resale prices should be and then apply that to our pricing information, including labels. And that’s just awesome.

And the other one is the work order functionality. We can use it to track exactly what’s going on at the dealership at any given time, which includes being able to track the efficiency ratings for our mechanics as well as our timetables.”


What are your thoughts on the Ideal mobile app?

Tom: “It’s great. We started using it for taking in inventory with our iPads, which is wonderful, because you can just ping a location and automatically update all the information in the system.

And now our mechanics are using it for work orders. With the app, you create a work order, bring the iPad to the piece of equipment in question, enter its information, take its picture and have the customer sign the worker order.”


How do you like the Ideal reports?

Tom: “I look at three to four reports every day, including sales, inventory, accounts payable and cash flow reports. The thing that you should learn about the Ideal reports from the very beginning is that they’re flexible within the module, which means that you can customize them to show you only the information that you want.”


How much has Ideal contributed to the success of your dealership?

Tom: “Let me put it this way – this is the best software I have come across during my career, especially since it’s custom piece of software for our industry.

It allowed me to be a more efficient manager and it allowed us to be a better service organization to our customer base.

I don’t know what I’d do without it.”