Powering Ahead: Mansfield Power Ag

Having spent the last six years growing the business into what it is today, Mark and Ky Cronin of Mansfield Power Ag credit their success to quality products and the dedication and commitment of their staff. JACKIE JOY reports

BUSINESS: Mansfield Power Ag
PRINCIPALS: Mark and Ky Cronin
LOCATION: Mansfield, VIC
WEBSITE: mansfieldpowerag.com.au

There’s never a dull moment for the team at Mansfield Power Ag. Don’t just take out word for it. Scroll through their Facebook page and their timeline is full of action photos – from a Kioti EX50 Tractor pulling a truck out of sludge on a rain-drenched day while making a delivery run to another time helping a mate clear out storm damage. You also come across images of satisfied customers, new product launches and action-packed and fun ‘Open Days’. Having relocated to a new purpose-built facility in December 2020, Mansfield Power Ag stocks a diversified range of products, an exhaustive line-up of spare parts and a service department as well.

THE BEGINNING

“My wife Ky and I purchased the Stihl Shop Mansfield as an established business back in 2016. It had been trading since 1997. With this move came a name change and we are now called Mansfield Power Ag – the Power stands for outdoor power products and Ag for agricultural products,” explains owner Mark Cronin.

The brands they stock in the outdoor power products include Stihl, Honda, John Deere (residential Dealer only), Cub Cadet, Superaxe, Hansa Chippers, Redgum Products, Goldacres to list a few. In agricultural products, Mansfield Power Ag offers Kioti, Deutz-Fahr and Antonio Carrao Tractors; Aitchison and Mashio-Gaspardo Seed Drills, and Burder, Howard, Vicon and more represent farm implements.

Incidentally, Cronin, who has an automotive sales and management background, is the third generation to follow this line of work. “Mower shops are in my DNA. My grandfather started Croydon Mowers and my dad started Doncaster Mowers. Later, he purchased Yarra Glen Mower and Tractor Centre. I would spend a fair bit of time with him, either at work or in the car delivering machines on Saturdays and holidays…those days bring fond memories,” Cronin reminisces.

When they purchased the Stihl Shop Mansfield, Cronin had “3.5 staff” including Ky and himself. Today, they are a close-knit team of 9. 

“Customers kept requesting to purchase tractors and larger machinery, so we started to offer this service approximately three years ago. We then became dealers for Kioti tractors and other farm machinery and implements,” informs Cronin. 

When the couple purchased Stihl Shop Mansfield, it was predominantly selling STIHL products and John Deere mowers. “Other outdoor related items sold were all geared at the lower quality end of the market. We soon discovered that the Stihl and John Deere product sold well with high recommendations and minimal warranty issues whereas the cheaper brands were a constant headache,” admits Cronin. 

They decided to change tact and leverage the business to offer premium product that offered customers the warranty and peace of mind they deserved. “We have spent the last six years growing the business into what it is today; I put this down to great product and the dedication and commitment of our staff who provide exceptional customer service,” says Cronin.

INITIAL CHALLENGES

There are always challenges in business and according to the Cronins, the hardest one is staff, specifically mechanics. “There is a major shortage of both small engine and diesel mechanics, which makes it even more challenging to lure a technician when you are competing with the wages offered to FIFO workers,” says Mark. The complexity of COVID-19 had added another layer of challenge in the form of shortage of housing/rentals in the area.

“For the last 12 months, I have been focusing on building the backend of the business. It’s important that when we sell equipment, we can back it up with the after-service one would expect when you purchase new equipment. We now have one small engine mechanic and two diesel mechanics working in the workshop and this enables us to offer onsite servicing for the larger machines. We invest a lot of time and money into training our staff,” he shares.

Another challenging aspect of their business, admits Mark, is cash flow. The current pandemic has resulted in stock shortages. “We learnt that you cannot rely on stock to be available when you want it. Distributors and manufacturers are having trouble securing stock or are offered limited stock and it in turn affects the retailer. So we are finding ourselves forced to stock more than what we would normally, thus impacting our cash flow. But a wise man (AKA my dad) once said to me, ‘Son, you cannot sell from an empty wagon’.” And he’s right!

KEEPING CUSTOMERS HAPPY

Mark shares on what it takes to please customers in his area. “Offering product that people want, that has a great warranty and back-up service behind it,” he said.

He credits his “amazing and dedicated team” who like coming to work and having some fun. “Yet they know when it’s time to put their heads down and get the job done. We try to promote a family atmosphere; happy staff make a healthy and happy workplace,” Mark says.

When it comes to customer service, Mark points out that onsite and farm visits (when permitted) go a long way. So do live demos prior to someone making a purchase. “If you go the extra mile, the customer can see you are there for them and it shows them, we are assisting them in qualifying that the goods are fit for purpose, prior to the sale. It allows the consumer to see or try how the goods work especially if it’s larger machinery. Showing them that sometimes what they thought they wanted may not be their best choice can help you justify what you are suggesting.”

BUSINESS DURING A PANDEMIC 

With regular lockdowns, restrictions and irregular supplies, COVID-19 has posed challenges and the year has been a challenging one for many. “It made us extremely busy. The fact that consumers were locked down in their homes made for anything related to gardening/fire prevention in high demand.

We had to cater for staff that needed leave because they had to home-school their children. We were lucky we could offer this to our staff but unfortunately it was at a cost to our own family. I credit my children for online schooling themselves during the pandemic while Ky and I put in extra hours at work to cover the shortage in staff,” says Mark.

The constant abuse from customers, he shares, has taken a mental toll on his staff. “Many customers did not believe or understand the bigger picture of how COVID has impacted the supply of stock or how freight moves around the world. We constantly received abuse claiming we were either lying or we didn’t know what we were doing,” shares Mark.

VIRTUAL SHOPPING 

While Mark admits it is important to have online presence in the form of a website, Facebook page etc, he is yet to warm up to selling online. “The area that we live in doesn’t allow for a large following of online shopping as we still have areas where people do not get internet or telephone reception,” says Mark.

“We see it every day where someone comes into our shop to purchase something that they saw online and leave with something totally different from their initial purchase. You can guide and support the customer when they are in-store.”

LOOKING AHEAD

On a positive, Mark and Ky admit they have been fortunate to have “two cracking seasons” where “the grass is growing, and the agriculture industry (thanks to government incentives) is up as a whole”. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, there will be shortage of stock for some time.

“As retailers, we must learn how to diversify and make the most of opportunities when you see them. We have seen a recent pushback from consumers against Chinese products, especially since COVID-19. But, it won’t take consumers long to forget and it will pass with time. We continually tell our customers that we live in a global economy where products sourced can be manufactured and assembled by multiple countries all over the world,” says Mark.

Are there any new products that the team is excited about? “We have a big battery product following and we are selling to more of the commercial market now. Business and domestic consumers are looking at greener, easier to service and start options. The consumer is now seeing the benefits in these products. The battery product range is growing and will continue to grow. We are even selling battery ride-on mowers which I never thought would happen in a country town,” says Mark.