Leading the way with Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs

Having evolved from years of backyard repairs, Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs led by Wayne Sanders follows a simple albeit winning approach to customer satisfaction – building trust, reports Jackie Joy

BUSINESS: Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs
PRINCIPALS: Wayne Sanders
LOCATION: Warrnambool, Victoria

Hearing about a day in the life of Wayne Sanders, the owner of Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs, will leave even the most hard-working of us in awe. A one man army, Sanders, who works 15 hours on most days, wears many hats as he steers one of the leading dealerships in his area. Being a sole trader, he’s also the manager, receptionist, service manager, accounts manager, in-charge of the parts department and social media content creator! It’s no surprise that when we ask him what is the most challenging aspect of his business, his answer is: “Time.”

Sanders is someone who “really enjoys making sure customers get the right information and products” even if Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs doesn’t have it. “I like to not only understand what the customers’ needs are but also help them with what they should be looking to purchase. It helps build trust and when they need something else, we are their first port of call,” says Sanders as he takes a moment’s breather to share his journey with us.  

How it all began

As a teenager, reminisces Sanders, he enjoyed modifying motorbikes and doing repairs. He also was in admiration of his father. “I always felt he could fix anything,” says Sanders whose first full-time job was at a John Deere dealership. “Attending my first interview I knew very little about how agricultural equipment was assembled but managed to look up an oil filter for a John Deere 8450 without error and I was offered the parts manager position the next day. I spent six months learning in the workshop when the machines came in and speaking with the mechanics. Next thing I know, customers were asking for me and I learnt how to advance my skills,” reminisces Sanders.

After moving to Warrnambool in 2012 from Horsham, he eventually found himself working as a service manager at a Honda dealership. “I realised I could offer a better service to customers but my position was made redundant eight weeks later after five of the seven mechanics resigned,” says Sanders. 

Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs evolved from years of backyard repairs, starting with a few Honda second hand mowers to be repaired for resale in 2015. “My partner encouraged me to advertise them on the local ‘buy, swap and sell’ and it all snowballed from there. She sometimes regrets encouraging me to start the business but she has been very supportive and I always appreciate her touches when it comes to the gardens and her flair for making areas nice for the customers to enjoy,” Sanders says fondly.

A local mowing contractor who lived around the corner from him approached Sanders after being disillusioned by his current repairer and seeing people arrive to drop off mowers. From there on, word of mouth spread and Sanders began working with half a dozen contractors within a few months. “I found myself not having enough room in my rental property garage, so I purchased two 3mx3m garden sheds and soon I had strangers literally knocking on my door out a few times a week,” shares Sanders.

The business expanded soon after with an aftermarket supplier Stens and then DMC Mowers. “My business had a new home and I was operating from two double garages which at the time I thought would suffice for the next few years. Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs was doubling in sales each year. When my part-time job was terminated in 2020, I focussed solely on the business,” says Sanders. 

In September 2020, he approached Parklands Power Products looking for a range of equipment. “After a short call with Paul, the area manager, I placed my first product order. A showroom was completed and I put a few open flags out the front and within two weeks I was a month behind in repairs. After a few conversations with one of my neighbours, Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs had its first apprentice who started at the end of November 2020,” informs Sanders who is now looking at a brand new workshop to open a new chapter for Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs. 

Overcoming the initial challenges 

According to Sanders, Warrnambool Garden Equipment Repairs is still experiencing the same challenges that it faced in the beginning – storage and sufficient space. “Cash flow is still a challenge with the need to have stock on display for customers as well as funds to expand the business and wages,” says Sanders who studied accounting at TAFE after completing Year 12. “I understand that there always needs to be a contingency plan for the tough times and working work with creditors to keep them informed while expanding the business. Sometimes you have to use plan B when finding a solution. So the storage was assisted by a 40ft shipping container, although anther one would be helpful at this point in time,” he tells us.

COVID-19 has had its impact on the business as well. “It’s been a challenging 18 months with regular closed doors to the public and irregular new equipment sales. Even spare parts have been challenging to source, specifically parts from original suppliers taking up to six months to arrive. Fortunately, with Stens, Parklands, JakMax, MTD, DMC and other aftermarket and OEM suppliers, we have been able to supply parts in most cases within the week,” says Sanders.

Looking at the future 

Despite the challenges, the business keeps growing every year and as an owner, Sanders shares, he always works towards an annual goal. “Sometimes it’s signing-off on a new construction; sometimes it’s employing an apprentice. I aim to have a new workshop in two years with all the tools needed and the current workshop will become our display rooms. In years to come, I hope our three children will consider being part of the business and continue what has been started,” says Sanders. 

As the principal of the business, Sanders tells us how he’s always relied on word of mouth to expand his business. His new apprentice, Brendan, is following in his footsteps with exceptional customer service skills. “Brendan is studying his Certificate IV in Outdoor Power Equipment Technology. Has excellent customer skills and customers regularly express how welcome they feel when dealing with Brendan. Brendan’s got a keen interest in this field and he’s learning quickly,” says Sanders. 

He agrees that outdoor power equipment industry is changing rapidly too. “The addition of battery power equipment and online ‘cheap’ equipment shows you need to keep your finger on the pulse. As a society, we are time poor and mowing the lawns can be a task. People could choose to outsource to a contractor or it can be the two hours of therapy (mowing the lawn) after a demanding week, either way the industry is expanding,” says Sanders.

Secret to running a successful business 

“Warrnambool is such a friendly place and people appreciate good old-fashioned customer service and value for money,” informs Sanders who believes having a good stock level and machine knowledge goes a long way. “I have over 15 years experience with parts which is in addition to my passion to help people. It leads to more than just telling a customer to go order the original part, it means finding a part to get them going,” says Sanders who follows a simple approach to customer satisfaction – building trust.

“Anyone can have a welcoming and polite customer experience but if the customer does not feel their best interest is at heart from that business, the satisfaction level drops. It’s not uncommon for us to tell one of our customers that the item we stock is not suitable for their job. We value the reputation of our products and refuse to just make a sale that will end with a customer unhappy with a product that doesn’t perform or breaks down. Assisting the customer to purchase the right machine and most of the time, the customer asks us to source one for them. We may only make a spotters fee for the sale, but the customer will always come back for the maintenance and they know the next item they need something, we will be their first place to look,” explains Sanders. 

Post COVID-19, the way business is conducted and the manner in which customers shop is already changing. Would Sanders be looking to integrate ecommerce into his work? “There is no doubt that the way people purchase items these days is changing. However, this can work in favour of walk-in businesses. A majority of online purchasers end up disillusioned with the promises made and eventually learn from their mistakes. Since our business is still in its infant stage, we have little online presence. In time, we will branch out to online sales. However, for now we are focussed on establishing our necessary infrastructure to allow the ability to store a larger range and stock level,” sums up Sanders.