Hollinger

Overview

Company

Hollinger and Sons, Inc.

Background

R.S. Hollinger & Son, Inc. has been supplying lawn and garden equipment to contractors in rural Pennsylvania since the mid-1980s. Brothers Lynn and Leonard Hollinger, who co-own the company, see a future in offering more environmentally-friendly landscape services. They took measures to help their customers prepare by adding propane mowers to their commercial sales.

RESULTS

  • One customer has entirely converted to propane mowers.
  • A relationship with three primary OEMs and a local propane retailer helps the company ensure their customers’ success with the alternative fuel.
  • The company is well-positioned locally as more communities and states restrict emissions from the landscaping industry

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Details

Since 2013, R.S. Hollinger & Son, Inc., in Mountville, Pennsylvania, has sold propane mowers, among other commercial landscaping equipment. Lynn Hollinger, co-owner of the company, shared his insights for other dealers considering adding propane equipment to their show floor.

How can a dealer get started with propane mowers?

R.S. Hollinger first learned about propane mowers from their Exmark distributor in 2012. The company also sells commercial mowers from Scag and Walker, both of which offer propane models, but the dealership has a unique relationship with Exmark. The distributor, for one, is located only 10 miles away — an easy drive to get replacement parts that the company may not otherwise have on hand at their in-house repair shop.

“Exmark is our big seller,” Hollinger says. “That’s how we got started with propane. They were a great partner for us and even helped set us up with a local retailer.” That local propane retailer, Rhoads Energy, in Lancaster, works with R.S. Hollinger to consult with customers in recommending services. They also help bring customers interested in propane mowers to the dealership and ensure Hollinger’s customers have a trusted, knowledgeable refueling partner and a positive experience operating propane equipment.

What’s the benefit of offering propane equipment for dealers?

For Hollinger, selling propane equipment is an opportunity to differentiate his dealership from local competitors focused solely on traditional fuel mowers. It’s a way to position the business as an early adopter in a market segment he believes will only grow as more environmental regulations affect landscape contractors.

“I think we have a leg up on the surrounding competition that way,” he says.

Mountville and surrounding areas don’t currently face ozone action days that limit gasoline and diesel mower use, but propane mowers are typically exempt from similar local emissions regulations if contractors travel to sites in Philadelphia, Maryland, or New Jersey, where emissions regulations are more common practice. For contractors, too, customers are increasingly interested in organic, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly landscaping. Dealers like Hollinger can set themselves apart from other dealerships and offer a unique selling point to their customers for their clients by offering propane.

Adding propane equipment is also an easy process for dealers. It didn’t take long for R.S. Hollinger to incorporate propane equipment into their sales and service repair offerings. The company doesn’t do propane conversions at their dealership, but no changes need to be made to repair shops or maintenance facilities as long as it’s already code-compliant for repairing gasoline and diesel machines.

“Getting up and running with propane only took two hours of training from Exmark,” Hollinger says, for all 18 shop and sales employees. “We’re well-versed in the engines so all we needed to know was how to hook it up and learn about the regulators.”

How do you sell a customer on propane?

Hollinger says his customers don’t always ask about propane when they come in for new equipment. But it’s part of every customer conversation. He has one propane zero-turn model and one walk-behind model on his floor that help spur discussion, as well as a demo machine that can be loaned out to a customer if they send a mower in for repairs. Making a sale is all about showing the savings contractors can have with propane, Hollinger says.

“Maintenance and service guys are no longer running to gas stations, there’s no possibility of gas being taken by employees, and there’s very little downtime,” he says. “We’re trying to show the value of that to the customer, and we always mention the incentive from PERC, too.”

The Propane Education & Research Council’s Propane Mower Incentive Program offers a rebate of $1,000 toward the purchase of a new propane mower or $500 toward a propane mower conversion. For Hollinger, the incentive encouraged several of his customers to purchase propane equipment, including Trump Lawn and Land Company, which purchased 10 new mowers with the incentive.

Propane mowers also have a quick return on investment. Working with a propane retailer to lock in a fuel contract, the cost of fuel is less than gasoline and the costs of maintenance are typically less because the fuel burns clean in the engines.

What questions will customers have about propane?

Customers often have some degree of skepticism regarding propane, from stories they’ve heard or past experiences. Hollinger himself says he was skeptical of propane at first.

“But the more I learned about it, the more confident I was,” he says, and uses his experience to help answer customer questions.

Propane mowers use a closed-loop fuel system, so fuel won’t spill onto a lawn, street, or hot exhaust pipes. Eliminating the need for gasoline altogether is a big sales point for contractors, from taking away time wasted at gas stations to removing the possibility of mower damage from ethanol blends in fuels. Contractors also ask about power — if propane machines can run as long over terrain and up hills.

That’s an easy answer for Hollinger.

“It’s been doing everything we thought it would do,” Hollinger says. “They can’t tell much difference between gas engines and propane.”

How will adding propane mowers affect a dealership’s sales?

In three years, Hollinger has sold around 20 propane mowers. But he is investing the time now to be prepared as sales of propane mowers continue to gain momentum. At the outset of the 2016 cutting season, more than 20,000 propane mowers were in operation. Hollinger is optimistic that sales will continue to grow as more people hear about the benefits of propane mowers.

“I think it’s the future,” he says.

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