Halloran

Overview

COMPANY

Mowerworks and Halloran Power Equipment — Barrington and Palatine, Illinois

Background

Mike Halloran, owner, began selling propane mowers around 2007 at his two Chicagoland locations. Sales were slow at first, but the dealership has since created a niche in the local market by offering unique equipment solutions and unmatched knowledge.

RESULTS

  • Units of propane mowing equipment sold annually are in the triple digits.
  • Customers who purchase propane mowers return and give recommendations to others in the industry.
  • The business is poised to grow as the Chicagoland-area local governments increase air pollution restrictions.

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Details

The Halloran name has been associated with knowledge and expertise in power equipment in Chicago since 1997. That was the year Mike Halloran Sr. began serving the Chicago area out of Halloran Power Equipment in nearby Palatine, Illinois. In 2001, he and his wife bought a second location, Mowerworks, just a few miles away in Barrington, IL.

Halloran Sr. introduced propane-powered mowers to his sales floor in 2007 after several customers asked for the alternative fuel. Since then, he has created a successful niche in the Chicago market for selling machines with cleaner fuel and a lower total cost-of-ownership. Halloran shared his insights for other dealers considering adding propane equipment to their lineup.

How can a dealer get started with propane mowers?

Introducing propane mowers at a dealership isn’t difficult — there are over 150 propane-dedicated models and conversions available from OEMs likely already being sold at dealerships. Halloran had 20 years of success selling commercial Gravely, Scag, Bob-Cat, and Husqvarna mowers before he started selling propane models from each OEM and providing aftermarket conversions.

The dealership didn’t have to make any changes to their infrastructure to add propane repairs or to convert gasoline mowers in-house. Mechanics received training through a propane conversion kit manufacturer to convert mowers from gasoline to propane, and all employees have been trained to exchange and refuel propane cylinders.

Halloran sees more customers purchasing Gravely mowers, in part because the OEM has both factory-built propane options and factory-approved propane conversion kits that in-house mechanics can outfit based on customer demand. Contractors can then apply for a $1,000 incentive through the Propane Education & Research Council’s Propane Mower Incentive Program on a new propane dedicated mower versus a $500 incentive on a conversion.

How do you sell a customer on propane?

Halloran Sr. says there’s no one way to sell propane to a customer. But the first step he always takes is approaching a customer with the option of the alternative fuel.

“We make first contact, float out the idea of propane, and if they’re receptive, we head to a demo,” Halloran Sr. says.

The company learned quickly that an emphasis on selling propane as a solution was key and the alternative fuel really gains traction with customers when the financial benefits are laid out. It gets peoples’ attention, he says, when you talk about how other customers save $700 to $800 a year on fuel even with daily use. Couple that with reduced downtime due to fuel contamination, pilferage, and issues related to ethanol and a customer has definitely started to consider adding propane to their fleet. Then Halloran introduces the grants and incentives available for alternative fuel equipment.

“That’s really the one that shoves it home,” he says.

The Illinois Propane Gas Association offers incentive funds for propane mowers, and incentives are frequently available through other state propane gas associations or Clean Cities Coalitions. When the Propane Mower Incentive Program is available, he tells contractors about that, too. In total, he’s had customers save up to $2,500 on each propane mower before they even leave the dealership.

How do you set up a customer with propane?

Halloran Sr. says getting the propane equipment in front of customers helps reduce concerns they might have with converting to propane, but even before sending customers out with a demo, a member of Halloran’s team makes a visit to their location. If a contractor’s existing equipment is in good condition, they might be candidates for engine conversions, but if they have a bunch of mismatched mowers, a set of new, dedicated propane mowers will save headaches for both the contractor and the dealership.

“Probably what sets us apart is that we set up our customers with everything they need from the start,” Halloran Sr. says.

Halloran Sr. has built up partnerships with a number of propane retailers in their area to make sure that his customers get the correct tanks for their machines. Every member of a contractor’s business is then trained on swapping out and refueling propane cylinders, which helps increase a contractor’s confidence with the alternative fuel. Halloran Sr. says they have trained up to 30 people at a time, and are often invited to return for refresher training on safety.

“In the last 12 months, I’ve probably trained at least 200 operators to run propane,” he says. “That interface with users makes them more comfortable.”

He has also noticed that contractors’ employees may already be familiar with propane refueling through filling vehicles with propane autogas. Propane autogas can be used by contractors, too, in converted light- and heavy-duty trucks to transport equipment.

What questions will customers have about propane?

The majority of the questions Halloran gets are about the fuel itself — what is it, where to get it, and how to use it. If a contractor has doubts about the fuel, Halloran Sr. says that it’s the same fuel that is used in many residential and commercial applications, just in a different tank. Setting up contractors with a local propane retailer helps eliminate some of the questions they might otherwise have.

Halloran Sr. does ask about the contractor’s on-site storage capabilities. He’s seen propane work best for contractors with property that allows for storage cages or an on-site refueling station to be built. He recommends one or the other based on a contractor’s current gasoline usage.

“It’s surprising how many of the contractors we work with use more than 5,000 gallons of propane per year and see a lot of benefits from a 1,000-gallon fill station,” he says.

Contractors with smaller fleets are prime candidates for cylinder exchange cages, in which propane retailers deliver full cylinders and exchange out the used tanks based on a customer’s needs. Halloran says he’s found that the costs of leasing cylinders and installing tank storage breaks even if a contractor is running as few as three propane machines.

Halloran Sr. says he also often gets questions about how propane stands up to gasoline mowers. For the equipment he sells, efficiency is nearly the same, although it may vary based on the OEM equipment and mowing conditions. The key is working through each of their questions. With some people, getting them past fears or preconceived notions about propane could take several tries, where others jump right on the opportunity.

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

The main takeaway Halloran Sr. has for dealers considering propane is that it separates companies from their competition. Propane has become a way for the dealership to open doors to new business, especially as regional and national policies aimed at protecting the environment grow. Many municipalities in the Chicagoland area are tightening their emissions restrictions, so the dealership has seen more interest from public facilities with large fleets (think parks departments and museums) that are required to have alternative initiatives.

Additionally, Ozone Action Days are parking traditional fuel equipment altogether when the conditions outside aren’t ideal.

“In Chicago, contractors are not allowed to mow on ozone action days with gas mowers,” he says.

Propane also separates the Hallorans’ customers from other competition in the landscaping market. While restrictions in the suburbs aren’t as stringent, contractors who have purchased equipment from Halloran Power Equipment have set themselves apart for clients who want a decreased carbon footprint for their property’s landscape care.

These contractors, such as Ringer’s Landscaping and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, are receiving attention through their sustainability efforts through national media. Cook County is the dealerships’ largest customer, running 32 converted propane mowers to maintain picnic groves and recreational public spaces throughout the Chicago area. Ringer’s Landscaping sees profits of $2.5 million annually by offering their clients sustainable landscaping services.

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

For the first couple years, sales were primarily one-offs for the dealership — customers with a penchant for propane were sold the propane mower they had sought out. However, early entry into the market soon allowed the Halloran clan to distinguish themselves from surrounding competition.

“Now, it’s self-perpetuating,” Halloran Sr. says. “We probably do 40 to 50 propane mower demos a year, with a high success rate for making sales. The demos lead to more inquiries and lead to more people talking.”

Halloran Sr. says he was surprised at how they were able to build a niche in their market both within their existing customer base and to gain new customers mostly through word of mouth.

“Our propane sales growth has risen exponentially since we started in 2007,” Halloran Sr. says. “We sell well into the triple digits, on average annually, just propane mowers.”

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