In order to help promote our customers and show our appreciation to them, each month we put the spotlight on one of our customers and feature them on our blog, promote them on social media, and mention them in our email newsletter.
The spotlight customer for May 2016 is Carmel Welding and Supply Company, which is located in the central Indiana city of Carmel (part of the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area). The business, which has been owned by the Wiggam family since it opened in 1948, has seen the community around it grow from a sleepy farm town of less than 1,000 residents to a bustling city of 86,000 people.
The business has also grown during that time into one of Central Indiana’s largest multi-line dealers of outdoor power equipment. They serve both residential customers and commercial clients, and were recently awarded a major contract to provide propane Toro mowers to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
One thing that sets the business apart from most other local outdoor power equipment dealers is the welding services they offer. In fact, the original focus of the business was on mending plowshares and other equipment for local farmers. Even though the plowshares are long gone, the welding shop has continued to be a key part of the business, and in fact the foreman of the shop has currently been there for 46 years.
Carmel Welding and Supply Company is currently run by three generations of the Wiggam family — Bill Wiggam, his son Bill Wiggam Jr., and his granddaughter Abbey Wiggam (the business was actually started by Bill’s father F. Keith Wiggam, making Abbey the fourth generation of the family to work in the business). Bill Wiggam Jr. and his father recently spoke to Kenney Machinery about what it’s been like to witness the changes in both their community and the outdoor power equipment industry during the past half-century. Here’s what they had to say in response to our questions.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Bill Jr: “I would say I’m most proud of the longevity of our business, and the way that we’ve survived for so long even as the community around us dramatically changed. When we first opened, we were on the outskirts of Carmel. Now we’re in the middle of the city, and the area around us has completely changed, but we’ve been able to retain our identity and still be successful.
“I’m also proud of how our business has contributed to the community over the years. We used to have an excavating side of the business, and we actually built many of the athletic fields in the area used by the Carmel Dad’s Club, which is an organization that provides opportunities for kids to participate in sports outside of the school environment.”
Bill Sr: “I’m proud of the fact that we’re the oldest business in Carmel, and possibly even in Hamilton County. We’re certainly the oldest family-owned business around here, that’s for sure. Combined, our employees have close to 275 years of experience in the industry. We have many employees who have worked here over 15 years, and some for more than 30 years. To be able to retain the quality of employees that we have for that length of time is not common in this industry, and I think that it’s a sign that we’re doing something right.”
What are some of the challenges you face in running the business?
Bill Jr: “One ongoing challenge for us is to maintain the right amount of inventory, both in parts and in whole goods.
“There’s a fine line between having too many parts in stock and not having enough. Right now we have about $250,000 worth of parts in inventory. To some dealers, that may not be very much and for others it might be a lot. For us, it’s par for the course, but it doesn’t need to be. We could be more efficient, but it’s difficult, especially with how much our business is affected by the changing seasons and the weather.
“Weather patterns drive our business more so than an economic downturn. We’re more affected by a dry summer or a dry winter than we are by the unemployment rate going above five percent.”
Bill Sr: “I think that period change is the biggest challenge that we’ve had over the years. My Dad started the business as a blacksmith sharpening plowshares, which of course they don’t even have any more. One way we’ve coped with all of the dramatic changes over the years has been to focus on the service aspect of the business. No matter what equipment people are using, it’s going to break and need fixing at some point. Grass grows in a bad economy just like it does in a good economy, so by focusing on the service we’ve been able to whether many of the economic ups and downs.”
What advice would you give to other outdoor power equipment dealers?
Bill Jr: “I would advise them to diversify their products, but not to take it too far. There was a time when we used to think we needed to offer every product line, but our resources became stretched too thin. We’ve whittled it down to good, strong lines that people are familiar with, such as Toro, and we just focus on those lines. By carrying snow removal equipment in addition to lawn care equipment, we have something to offer our customers in every season, which keeps our employees busy and keeps the customers coming back year round.”
Bill Sr: “The first thing that comes to mind is to surround yourself with good people. Good people from the standpoint they know what they’re doing, that they want to work in that atmosphere, and that they’ve had their training and have good mechanical skills. If you don’t surround yourself with good people, I think you’re going to lose. I think the customer or the consumer out there, he might try you once, but then he’ll say, ‘The heck with it. There’s somebody else down the road.’ There’s someplace else that will eat your lunch if you don’t have good employees.”
What do you wish your customers knew about your Carmel Welding and Supply Company?
Bill Jr: “The one thing I wish people understood better was that they are not going to get a better price at the big box stores than they will at a small dealership. Stores like Home Depot have big advertising budgets and they love to give people the impression that they have the lowest prices, but it just isn’t true, especially with Toro products.
“Toro is very good about not giving any advantage to big box stores when it comes to price. In fact, I just had a customer come in with a flyer advertising a Toro TimeMaster at Home Depot for $100 less than we were selling it. I called up Toro to find out what was going on, and as it turns out it was an error on the part of Home Depot, so Toro went ahead and gave us a deal so that we could match the price.
“The big box stores might be open later, or open seven days a week, but other than that they don’t have anything on us. We have the same prices, our staff has much more experience, and the service is much better here that what you’ll find at a large department store.”
Many thanks to Bill Wiggam Jr. and his father for sharing the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the past half century in the outdoor power equipment industry.