Coast 2 Coast Plowing Up Profits

Dec 3, 2009

Not many pickup drivers think about adding accessories when it’s cold and snowy. Whether they’re concerned about the effects of winter road conditions on their pride and joy or simply saving up for Christmas shopping, it can be a slow season for many restyling shops.

That’s why we looked into snowplows. While they’re most popular on full-sized domestic pickups, there’s applications for compact trucks and SUVs, tractors, ATVs and even heavy equipment. Plows can offer not only convenience but also the possibility of winter income for your customers, and the sales, parts and service can boost your shop’s profits too. Plows are a straightforward product with a straightforward sales technique, we found when we called a few restylers across the northern part of the country. Here’s what else they had to say.

Lance Smith, sales manager
Sport Truck Specialties
Davenport, Iowa

Basically, snow plows are a pretty large percentage of our winter business, from October through March.

Snow plows supply traffic that would purchase other accessories. We tell the snow plow guys that we have mudflaps, floor mats, bugshields, all the things they need to go along with plows that they put on their trucks. It ends up being a one-stop shop for them.

The customers are always male, the age range from late 20s to probably late 40s. They mostly drive full-size trucks; we do a few compacts. The guys with compacts usually want the residential, light-duty plow because they have enough driveway or property they don’t want to shovel or snow blow. SnoWay offers a wide variety so we can fit everything from a Jeep Liberty or Ford Ranger all the way up to F 550s and dump trucks.

We also offer parts and maintenance, and service is definitely what supplements winter sales; guys that plow snow for a living expect you to have the parts on hand and readily available. When their plow breaks they want it fixed now, they want the parts now, because it costs them large amounts of money to not service their contracts in a  timely manner. They do require some maintenance, because they go through a lot of abuse for guys with multiple accounts.

Our plow sales are 75 to 85 percent commercial. There’s quite a big selection of business owners who need plowing done like restaurant owners, car dealers, grocery stores-anything with a parking lot. We’ve sold quite a few to people who have Jeeps, or small or midsize SUVs and trucks that they drive on a daily basis. With gas prices what they are, they use smaller blades to do their own driveways, maybe the parking lots of businesses.

ATV plows are growing in popularity. The part we see growing a lot is plows for skidsteers, like a Bobcat, and tractors, for people who already own a tractor or skidsteer, like companies that do construction or landscaping. Construction-based companies often take a break during winter, and since they already have the equipment, why not utilize it? Salt spreaders hook right up to a Bobcat’s hydraulics, too.

Plows are not cheap, so it’s harder to sell than a $300 bedliner or $400 cover or something. Our technique with customers who are doing it themselves, is to tell them it’s easy to justify when they pay $250 to $300 per snowfall, and they have nothing left but a clean parking lot. We tell them they can’t predict the weather.

For customers who already plow, my technique to sell to them is  simply to have a high-quality product to sell. You have to be able to sell the product, display it, talk about the features and benefits, warranty structure. It’s definitely a matter of knowledge and information on the salesperson’s part to know what’s being sold

Harry Nelson, owner
Nelson Bros. Repair
Lansford, N.D.

Plows are [relatively] new for us, within the last six or seven years. Do I sell a lot? The answer would be yes.

Customers are usually any farmer or resident of a rural area where snow is a bothersome thing, like getting in and out of country roads. The new plow for four-wheelers is popular because it becomes almost a pleasure to use them.

Right now we’re setting up for a three-day show; the factory rep tells me they sold nine units in Nebraska. The market is absolutely growing. ACI is great; we’ve been with them for many years.

We have handed out hundreds of brochures and DVDs that people take home from the state fair. Word of mouth is best- you have one satisfied customer, you’ve got lots of them.

To effectively sell plows, tell an honest story about an honest product-honest, and trouble-free. This is usually an educated customer.

John Kurszewski, installer
Mike’s Auto & Truck Accessories
Schofield, Wis.

Typically by this time of year [late winter] we’ve done 20 to 30 plows on an average. Through the summer, you’ll sell a couple here and there, if someone buys a new truck, but the bulk of our season starts when the first snow flies.

Usually the customers are either business owners or rural residents who buy plows, and people who live in the suburbs who have longer driveways. We serve commercial accounts as well; they might buy a plow or two every couple of seasons.

It’s difficult to take an old plow and put it on a new truck; the mounts and wiring change. Snowplows’ lifespan averages 10 years. It’s the maintenance along the way that determines how long they last: we clean the electrical connections, grease and change the fluids in the plow.

Typically most of the plows we sell go on fullsize vehicles; maybe a quarter of our sales are for downsized vehicles like Jeeps and Tacomas.

Sales are going to be different season to season; typically they recommend taking last year’s sales and add 10 percent as a goal.

We do some parts sales too, including headlights, wiring system and repairing corrosion. The lift cylinders, pit, corrode and wear seals out. A-frames also get run into, and crack or bend.

If you present what you’re trying to sell as simply as possible and cover all the features, explain each feature. They don’t want something with many pieces to fail. Keeping customers means getting them something that will work for a long time to come; we know what comes back and what we have to repair on a regular basis.

Rich Andol, vice president
General Welding
Elma, N.Y.

We sell probably anywhere from 400 to 600 per year. We do America’s Fair, which used to be called the Eerie County Fair, and starts in early August. That’s when we kick off the preseason snowplow sales. We go there and set up a 60-by-40-foot tent, with an open area where we display trailers and other products. The fair draws about 1 million people over 12 days. It’s quite a large venue. The selling season normally goes until Christmas.

For us, customers for plows range across the board; we get both residential and commercial. There are a lot of landscapers and contractors who plow during winter, and we get residential customers, since we’re out in suburbs. A lot of customers have a driveway too big to shovel, too much for a snowblower. We sell plows for full-size pickups mostly; the brands are across the board. Now we’re starting to see more on SUVs and smaller pickups, but that is still a small portion of sales.

We start at the fair, and we do a couple of shows per year, but basically the fair is the kickoff. Then we do radio ads, we run advertisements in local papers and we do local magazines. Our big push is probably the radio. In years past I’ve run on cable TV on the Weather Channel-”we’ll run a crawl, we tell a little bit every 30 seconds about the Boss snowplow.

We’ve done some plows on tractors for the gas company; you have to adapt the plow to fit different vehicles, but since we’re a welding shop we can do that. We do some custom applications too.

I think basically when we’re selling the Boss plow, we never go into the negative side of other brands, but focus on the quality and features of the Boss, like the warranty and Smart Hitch. The track record of it and how easy it comes on and off the vehicle is a big selling feature, and maintenance is a big selling feature. We push those more than everything else. We promote the features of the plow.

We service all makes and models, not just Boss. We sell parts, and we have subdealers set up. We stay open 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, so we’re able to take care of commercial customers, which is huge. We are able to take care of commercial guys at 3 a.m. Being open 24 hours is key, plus we are a family business. We don’t shut door at 5 p.m.-if there are customers, we stay.

Jerry Dottavio, equipment salesman
Littleton, Colo.

When I started here 8 years ago when Horizon moved into this market, we went from 20  to 200 per year.

Basically, I’ve conditioned my customers to start buying in August. Here in Colorado we’ve had snowstorms in September that have just buried us. August has worked out really well. We offer early incentives, and our customers have really received the Boss name brand well. Doing shows has paid off tenfold. Most of our business comes from word of mouth and show and tell. Ninety percent are landscape contractors. I get some retail, and I get the guys down from the mountains. They’ll sticker shock on you, but once they do some shopping they come back, especially with v-plows, the only plow that really works in deep snow.

Boss introduced the Sport Duty a couple of years ago, and we’re selling those plows for small pickups like Rangers and Colorados, and now the Toyotas and Jeeps are in there, too. We’re selling plows for small pickups up to dump trucks; we see the full range of vehicles out here in Colorado, and they work great.

Basically it’s about superior service and the product you’re selling. If you believe in your product, the customers buy because they trust you. Once they’ve compared you to others, and then add in service and parts, it just works. Also you can take advantage of a bad experience. If they go to somebody else and have a bad experience, it’s a nice way to gain a new customer.

We do a lot of parts and service. I do a year’s worth of history, and bring in a year’s worth of parts early, so I have the parts availability. We provide early service for plows and offer discounts; also for large contractors and municipalities, we offer discounts on product because we respect their business and want them to keep coming back.

Having a good tech is key too. The work he does has a lot to do with if the customer is going to come back or not.

The main thing is availability; I can’t get anything right now. We usually early order, and it pays off, but you can’t predict the weather. I gear up for August through December. After that you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the manufacturer.

A lot of times during a show we hand out flyers, or if they have seminars, we put advertisements in the program magazines. We’re constantly planting seeds, but the best thing is a guy who has one and loves it, and he tells a friend who tells another friend. Forty percent of our business is from word of mouth, if not more.