Dealer Profile: Ride On Mower Sales

BUSINESS: Ride On Mower Sales
PRINCIPALS: Peter and Suzanne Sommers
LOCATION: Healesville and Lilydale, VIC

Running two dealerships in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley, owners Sue and Peter Sommers talk about supplier relationships, training new recruits, and the pros and cons of having two shops with Power Equipment Australasia reporter, Kiera Taylor.

Sue and Peter purchased Ride On Mower Sales several years ago after Peter grew tired of the daily commute from their home in the Yarra Valley to Melbourne’s CBD, where they owned a large machinery workshop for 25 years.

The shop in Healesville enjoys a prominent corner position on a busy highway, which Peter has capitalised on by displaying a large range of mowers at the front to attract plenty of attention. The second store is 22 kilometres away in Lilydale, and the couple have developed a smart way to manage the two.

“[Lilydale is] where we receive most of our mower deliveries for the shop, because our main shop is on the Maroondah Highway in Healesville, and you can’t run a forklift and all that sort of equipment on the main Highway,” Peter explained.

“That kind of works in positives and negatives for us. From a deliveries point of view, anything that comes to Healesville is classed as a country delivery. It takes that extra day or two longer to get spare parts and it costs that extra in courier charges and the like,” he said.

“We use Lilydale as the warehouse for the whole goods, like the big ride-ons,” Sue added.

“We assemble all our ride-ons and related large equipment at our Lilydale store and then we transfer it up to Healesville as required, to present it for sale,” Peter said.

The couple have lived in Healesville for 30 years, and are enjoying both living and working in the same area.

“We purchased the business and we’re growing it, but only within the confines of our relevant area – within a radius of about 80km all round from ourselves,” Peter said.

As part of those plans for growth, the couple are looking to expand the service centre and also bring on some new apprentices.
“I’ve had quite a few apprentices that have worked for us in our other machinery business,” Peter said.

“I do like training younger people – I get a kick out of it… I really stress to them that it’s very important to learn the job well and really engage themselves well, because they’ll have a job well into the future.”

It seems that teaching is perhaps in Peter’s blood, because he also trains new Jim’s Mowing franchisees; a gig he picked up from serving a customer in the shop.

“We do training for various large mowing companies for their employees and the likes, for example Jim’s Mowing Group. We engage our services at their training centre down in Mooroolbark and we venture down there with a range of the MTD mowers that we sell,” he said.

“It essentially came about from me selling a commercial ride on mower to one of the Jim’s Mowing franchisees that operates in the Yarra Valley. During that sale, I had discussions with him regarding how would I present myself to the Jim’s Mowing Group and he gave me some contacts. I contacted those people, and we basically put on an MTD mower awareness night at our store in Lilydale, and a BBQ, for about 20 of their current franchisees. We demonstrated and test drove and went through all of the services we can provide for them, and it stepped up from there. I saw Jim’s as a major customer so I thought, ‘Let’s have a look at them!’,” he explained.

Sue and Peter are proud to be working with MTD, and say that they enjoy the personable service and appreciate the ability to remain independent, which was a crucial factor in deciding which brands to stock in the shop.

“The people at MTD were surprised at how excited I am, and how fastidious I am, about their brand and presenting it. I wanted
to re-sign the shop and I wanted to make sure we all had good uniforms and that sort of stuff,” Peter said.

“Massive companies want to, for want of a better word, nearly own your business – in as much as they’ll control how much stock
you have, what you have and how you sign it; they’ll not like you to sell other brands.”

“I wanted to remain fairly independent. I don’t have a lot of influence from the suppliers as to how I set my shop up, and that’s my choice. I sign it very well but I don’t want to be locked in to one or two brands,” he explained.

Beyond building good relationships with suppliers, like most people who work in sales and service, Peter also loves building
relationships with the customers.

“For us it’s about smiling friendly service. Whatever their problem is, it’s not a problem to us. We’ll do our best to sort it
out for them and make them most comfortable with their gear,” Peter said.

“I like to engage with people. The main thing that excites me about the whole business is not the money, it’s not the this or that, its engaging with the people.”

“You need to engage with your customer. And when you do, generally you build up a confidence with the customer, and I know
the products that I sell will do the job for them beautifully,” he said.