Joe Wittrock doesn’t want to buy Walker Manufacturing. But he still has something in common with businessman Victor Kiam who once said he liked his Remington razor so much that he bought the company.
Joe, who is also a landscape contractor, operated Walker Mowers long before he became the owner of Cutting Edge Sales and Service in Milford, Iowa. He says categorically, “I loved my Walker Mowers so much that I wanted to sell them.”
That he has done very well. In three short years, his passion for the mower has translated into some very healthy sales numbers. With wife Jodi, he opened shop in 2009, and now sells roughly 30 Walker Mowers a year. The Walker Mower, his biggest seller, is complemented by Husqvarna and Toro mowers and Echo hand-held equipment.
Telling a story
Joe emphasizes his best sales tool is his own story. He started mowing lawns 14 years ago and grew Wittrock Lawn Service into one of the largest and most respected full-service landscape management companies in the area. In addition to more than 200 mowing customers, he has 400 to 500 lawn care customers, more than a 100 snow removal accounts, and an equal number of property owners who want landscapes installed, shrubs trimmed, and lawns power raked and aerated.
He operates with two three-person mowing crews, one landscaping crew, and a fertilizer/pesticide applicator.
“There isn’t a piece of equipment I haven’t tried, including every out-front mower on the market,” Joe emphasizes. “I ordered my first Walker Mower in 2002, without ever having been on one. But I was very familiar with them, having observed other contractors who mowed with them. The purchase set me back more than $9,000, which was a lot of money for a mower back then, but it quickly paid for itself.”
From that initial 26-hp GHS mower, his crews now run with five Walker Mowers: three 26-hp units with 48-inch GHS decks and power dumps, another 26-hp unit with a 56-inch side-discharge deck, and a Super B equipped with a 60-inch deck. Crews have also used the MB, which has become one of the store’s best sellers.
“I know these mowers inside and out,” Joe adds. “I know how the MB’s horsepower gives it the ability to easily operate larger decks, and nothing compares to how it handles hills. I also know first-hand how important that floating deck is.
“How many mowers will allow you to change belts in the field with no tools or pull away the deck in 15 seconds? The mower is so well thought out, to the extent you have to use it and become truly familiar with it to be able to point out all the subtle features that will easily sell it.”
One of the things this dealer enjoys most about the sales process is demonstrating, including having a potential customer asking him to mow a particularly difficult lawn. “Our distributor has sent a couple of new dealer prospects by so I could share some best practices with them,” Joe relates. “I’ve told them the key to selling is to get to know the mower first hand by operating one, and then demonstrate every chance they get.”
Location, location, location … Timing, timing, timing
A year after hanging their shingle, Joe and Jodi moved to a premier location on Highway 71, the main street through Milford.
“Having a prime location has made a tremendous difference,” says Jodi, who is office manager for both businesses. “We were busy before the move, but now, especially during the spring rush, it’s crazy.”
The new location features a 55’ x 30’ showroom, enough area to even house the lawn maintenance operation, not to mention a spacious shop for store manager and lead technician Al Kunz, along with two other technicians.
Al had been working on one of Joe’s mowing crews for four years. Just as Joe was entertaining the thought of becoming a dealer, Al told him he needed something else to do, that the mowing and running a crew were taking a toll on his body. Says Joe, “Al is an excellent mechanic and I knew having him work in the repair shop would be a perfect fit. It was. He knows equipment, and having previously operated and maintained Walker Mowers gives him a knowledge advantage.”
In addition to being a top-notch technician for Walker Mowers, Al is certified to repair Kohler and Briggs & Stratton engines, along with Echo hand-held products among other brands. He also has a passion for grilling. Hence, Cutting Edge now offers a line of Green Mountain Grills. During the dealership’s spring open house, customers are treated to a smoked pork loin, compliments of Al.
The Wittocks have three daughters, ages seven to 19. The oldest attends college in Wisconsin while the others keep the parents busy attending sporting events.
“We’re pretty much on the go all the time, but we both enjoy working,” Jodi adds. “There’s a limit though, and I’ve told Joe that two business ventures are enough. We enjoy our weekends boating and just
being a family.”
In the meantime, she claims that her husband is obsessed with Walker Mowers. “He can’t read enough about them and loves operating and selling them,” Jodi says.
Joe likely wouldn’t call it an obsession, but freely admits that the mower caught his attention as both a landscape contractor and dealer. He notes, too, that having the opportunity to actually use different mower brands gives him an added appreciation for his best seller.
With a county population of only 16,000, Cutting Edge’s market is relatively small, yet its sales numbers rival many dealers in larger metropolitan areas.
Certainly, familiarity with the mower, a great location, and being in close proximity to a vacation area has been instrumental to the store’s success. So, too, has the Clay County Fair, which Joe says is one of the largest in the country.
“Two years ago, I sold eight mowers at the fair,” Joe tells. “It’s a great venue for exhibiting equipment to area farmers and homeowners, both of whom are customers. In fact, that’s probably where I got my first close-up look at a Walker Mower and met the distributor representative who later approached me about selling the line.”
Still, operating a successful dealership is not measured in sales volume alone. Being a contractor, Joe knows that as well as anyone. “There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting parts and service and not being able to get either one,” he emphasizes. “I’ve been there.”
As Joe points out, if you want good customers, you need to sell great products. But you also have to provide excellent service. What bigger testimonial to the store’s overall success than his ability to sell not to just any customers, but many of whom are among his biggest lawn maintenance competitors.