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Confessions of a Millennial Homeowner

From left, Jerry Schmidt, parts sales manager at Tennies Ace Hardware in West Bend, Wis., points out features of a blower to Andrew Ewig, a millennial homeowner. (Photo courtesy: Briggs & Stratton Corporation)

By Andrew Ewig

We’ve all heard, ad nauseam, the classic millennial stereotype — self absorbed and entitled, we don’t want to take “traditional” steps toward becoming an adult.

Maybe a sliver of truth is in that statement for some millennials (and plenty of Boomers and Gen Xers I know, too). But us older millennials (ages 25-34) may surprise you with the opportunity that we present for outdoor power equipment dealers — if you know how to reach us.

First, let’s debunk the myth that millennials don’t have established households. I closed on my first house two years ago at age 29, and I’m not an anomaly. As of December 2016, buyers under the age of 34 represented 30 percent of all home buyers. And according to Realtor.com, first-time home buyers will purchase more than half of all homes in 2017. It’s a good bet that a lot of those home buyers were born after Bill Clinton took the Presidential Oath of Office.

So yes, many of us have homes, even yards, and with that comes a whole host of “adulting” responsibilities that many of us aren’t prepared for. That’s because the countless hours of HGTV my wife and I watched didn’t exactly prepare us for what was to come. And that’s why the dealer can become an invaluable source of information. When we needed help, I turned to the Internet, my father and my local dealer, in that order.

Jerry Schmidt, parts sales manager at Tennies Ace Hardware in West Bend, Wis., confirmed that many of his younger customers come in seeking an expert’s confirmation of something that they saw on YouTube or heard from a friend or neighbor. They check online but then verify at their local dealership with an expert. Providing consultation has made Schmidt a trusted source for many new homeowners who naturally become customers for parts and service and eventually other pieces of outdoor power equipment.

The key for dealers is to be patient, because we may ask some pretty basic questions. Remember, we’re new at this. Schmidt confirms that he’s heard some good ones, including “Where do I put the gas in (my new lawn mower)?”

And here’s something else about millennials: We’re not shy about talking to each other. I won’t hesitate to provide advice to a friend who is going through the home-buying process, right down to where to shop and who to talk to. Sometimes that’s face to face, sometimes it’s over social media; but either way, that word-of-mouth endorsement is gold for a dealer or an OPE brand.

Generation D for Digital

You’ve likely heard that my peers and I are “addicted” to our smartphones. And indeed, a 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that nearly half of millennials say they “couldn’t live without” their smartphones.

If we live on our smartphones, it stands to reason that dealers should have a space there, too, if they want to keep in touch with us. So, delivering a good mobile experience is crucial.

We use smartphones for everything from keeping up with friends; researching products, restaurants and doctors; booking travel; taking photos; and yes, shopping. If I come across a website not designed for a good mobile experience, I’m not likely to stay, browse, or buy.

A March 2017 OPE article by ARI’s Colleen Malloy on dealer-branded apps provides a wealth of support and advice for launching an app. A simple push notification on an app, sent to millennial customers in late winter or early spring, could drive them in-store to purchase spark plugs, air filters, oil and fuel stabilizer — purchases they might not have made had you not reminded them of the importance of a spring tune-up.

That, though, only scratches the surface of how you can connect with young homeowners through an app. Think creatively because our smartphone screens are the most valuable real estate to us. You need to earn a spot on that property by offering us something of value, so we’ll download — and actually use — your app.

We’re also obsessive about checking online reviews and rankings before shopping, so make sure that your website is set up so we can find ratings and reviews easily.

Predicting the future

This is one pretty safe assumption you can make about new homeowners like me: We’ll come in first to buy a lawn mower. But it won’t be long before we’re back for a string trimmer or leaf blower. If you can predict our needs, it’ll go a long way toward making you our go-to source for outdoor power equipment.

Some dealers I spoke with noted that the initial purchase may be an entry-level mower. They usually predict customers will be back in 4-5 years to upgrade those basic mowers, and in the meantime, they’ve filled their garages with other equipment from the dealer. Within months of purchasing my first mower, I was back to buy a string trimmer and a leaf blower.

That moment of initial purchase is the perfect time to educate new homeowners about the importance of things like the right fuel or fuel stabilizer. While I’d operated lawn mowers as a teenager at home and during a summer job on a golf course, I didn’t know anything about maintenance, let alone the dangers of ethanol and how I need to protect the engine with a stabilizer.

So, you can bet that when my carburetor gets gummed up after a few months and I am back in your shop, I’m not going to be a happy customer. The fact that my ignorance caused the damage may be lost on me, and I’m blaming you, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and/or the engine manufacturer.

At Tennies, Schmidt tries to get all of his new outdoor power equipment purchasers into the parts department when they buy their new lawn mowers, to try to stave off issues and unhappy customers down the road. And it’s not just limited to lawn mowers. Schmidt said he also talks to his new pressure washer customers about the benefits of pump saver. He said 75 percent of customers he talks to about the benefits, end up buying it.

Shifting priorities

When my wife and I first moved into our home, we tackled projects like finishing the basement (with help, of course) and worked hard to maintain the lawn. Now with a toddler at home, our priorities have shifted quite a bit. Like several of my “older” millennial friends, my wife and I both work full-time, and when we’re home, the last thing we want to do is chores.

We want the yard to look good, but we want it to be easy. That’s why Briggs & Stratton offers service items that make maintenance easier, like all-in-one tune-up kits and oil extractors that make changing oil easier. To take that one step further, we’re now designing lawnmower engines that never need the oil changed.

The lawn mower should start when I pull the rope. If I have to mess with it or take it to the dealer, then it’s time away from my family or friends. It’s time away from what I want to do. Yes, I take pride in having a home and yard that are welcoming and look great. I’m just not willing to sacrifice what’s most important to me.

What does that mean for the dealer? It means that you’ll earn our loyalty for a long time if you can help educate new millennial homeowners about how to properly maintain their outdoor power equipment, so we can make sure that it starts when we need it and gets the job done.

And if we’re loyal to you, we’ll not only be loyal with our wallets, but with our word-of-mouth and referrals, too, which is critical for business in the Digital Age. As I said, we millennials like to talk.

Andrew EwigAndrew Ewig is assistant marketing manager, global support, Briggs & Stratton Corporation. He is responsible for multi-channel part and accessory market strategy for North America, with a specific focus on OPE dealer support and business development. For more information, he may be reached at ewig.andrew@basco.com.

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