SELLING DIRECT TO THE CUSTOMER MEANS SAVINGS, SERVICE AND STRONG RELATIONSHIPS
by Barb Baylor Anderson, Contributing Editor
When it comes to marketing products to golf courses, LESCO Inc. believes in uniquely distinguishing its sales turf from the competition. The Cleveland-based professional turf care products distributor tees up convenience, expertise and customer service to drive its national Stores-On-Wheels concept toward the profitable green of success.
"The golf course turf care industry is a very competitive industry, made more competitive by the fact that all the companies sell similar products," says Bob West, director of marketing, LESCO. "In addition, the golf course market is relatively stagnant, so by setting ourselves apart, we are able to collect more market share. The Stores-On-Wheels are our competitive advantage and have helped us become the top U.S. distributor in the market."
"We are committed to the Stores-On-Wheels, which is why we made and continue to grow the investment. Golf course superintendents aren't that mobile. They are not out and about the way other business operators might be," explains West. "The Stores-On-Wheels are completely merchandised on the interior like a store would be. Superintendents and their staff can come onto the truck and shop just as they would in a store. The concept is a unique model within the industry." Through the mobile stores, LESCO sells turf care equipment, such as mowers and sprayers, as well as irrigation equipment, golf course accessories, turf grass seed, fertilizers, pest control solutions, and tools, clothes and other products for golf and lawn care professionals.
Each truck has a 50-mile radius route. The routes are established in the most densely populated golf course areas. Truck stops are set up with customers on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
Each Store-On-Wheels maintains its inventory at one of LESCO's 273 service centers in 39 states. The service centers also function as the base of operation for each truck and are supported by LESCO's customer service division.
MORE THAN JUST DRIVERS
"Another unique aspect of the Stores-On-Wheels is that each driver is also the golf sales associate," says Steve Cochran, senior vice president of sales. Cochran oversees all of LESCO's sales operations, stores and sales associates. "Our salespeople are dedicated sales professionals who just happen to have a commercial driver's license."
Cochran says associates are hired for their golf course and/or agronomic expertise. "The sales associates can talk about LESCO's products, service and value because they know the market," he says. "Associates are also responsible for their own telemarketing, which allows them to build one-on-one relationships with their customers."
Cochran says about 70 percent of customer sales to the golf course market are handled from the trucks. The rest is handled through service centers or direct shipping.
"Customers enjoy regularly buying what they need from the truck rather than buying in bulk and storing it. They only buy what they want when they want it," he says. "It helps us also because we can keep inventory in season. Customer feedback is very positive. The trucks are seen as a valued industry staple and a way of doing business."
Jay Standefer, a golf sales associate based in the Houston area, has seen the Stores-On-Wheels from both sides of the sales counter. Standefer has been involved with the golf course industry for 20 years, first as a superintendent and now as a LESCO associate. "The Stores-On-Wheels are great marketing tools. They are really convenient and offer our customers the opportunity to buy product, as well as the odds and ends they might not think about until they are on the truck and see them," he says. "We see our customers more than other companies, which allows us to develop a strong relationship. I also carry on the truck handouts that allow me to provide customers with valued and timely information on topics like disease and weed management."
"Customers like to see their LESCO representative regularly, and even involve their crews in purchasing decisions," adds West. "This is a less time-consuming and more flexible sales strategy and a good example of our desire to be unique and add value."
While the best way to market the Stores-On-Wheels is to take the trucks to the courses, West says the company does employ a mix of telemarketing and direct mail to introduce a truck to a new area. "Most potential customers have heard of it, if not already seen it around," says West. "But we supplement the introduction as necessary."
New routes opened in 2004 include an additional route in Minneapolis and a new route in Denver. "We always evaluate our routes and get input from our associates on what works and what doesn't. We need to make sure our routes don't get too large because that increases windshield time and takes away sales time," says Cochran.
"This is a unique concept. Our drivers are also our storeowners, and are paid on their profit and loss statement," he adds. "Associates have to have the right mix - be able to discuss the technical side and wear a management hat. That requires that they maintain the right SKU (stock keeping unit) mix and watch inventory closely because of the costs associated with it. When everything comes together, this is a very profitable business."
MORE ON LESCO
LESCO began in 1962 as Lakeshore Equipment and Supply Co. The now-publicly traded LESCO distributes turf and lawn care products to more than 130,000 turf and lawn care professionals worldwide through distribution hubs, more than 270 service centers, the Stores-On-Wheels and other direct sales efforts.
Customers include not only golf courses but also athletic fields and professional lawn care companies that maintain landscapes around apartments, office complexes, government buildings, cemeteries and private homes.
During its 40-plus year history, LESCO has developed and patented proprietary turfgrass seeds, equipment that includes commercial lawn mowers for golf course fairways and greens and products like Novex, a slow-release, long-acting fertilizer. Service innovations include the new Web-driven LESCO Online that allows customers to order and receive fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides. The company has grown to be a leading U.S. manufacturer and distributor, with operating facilities from coast to coast, and product distribution that reaches into Europe, Australia and the Caribbean. AM
Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer based in Edwardsville, Ill.