Jeff Smith is a man with vision. He’s the owner of Twin City Outdoor Equipment (Twin City) and no physical building has ever been able to contain his retail ambitions… until now.
Twin City has opened a new superstore in West Monroe, Louisiana, that transcends the norms of traditional retail power equipment dealerships. It has become much more than a place to buy and service equipment — it’s a town center, where people gather to begin their work days, break bread together and learn something new.
“I wanted to recreate Twin City as an experience,” Smith said. “I’m totally aware of the changes in the market from online shopping and the Amazons of the world, and we strive to create a better retail environment where everyone feels welcome to come in and look, feel and touch. The feedback from the community has been unbelievable. People are stopping in to tell us how proud they are.”
The new Twin City is a 45,000 square foot megastore that sells Gravely and Ariens zero-turn mowers, a wide array of outdoor power equipment, apparel, kayaks, grill cookers, fishing gear and sailboats. There are nearly a dozen 75-inch TVs mounted around the store with informational videos playing. A large tree grows in the center of the store, merging the inside and outside worlds. A giant “G” continuously spins on top of a particularly eye-popping Gravely display, and a PROTURN MACH 1 is suspended in mid-air so that customers can walk under it and look up at its construction.
But what truly makes Twin City unique are the amenities that draw people to the store, not to shop, but to hang. There is a dedicated coffee bar for customers to have drinks and refreshments. Customers can lounge in seats fashioned from the same model of seats used on Gravely mowers. A huge ice machine provides free ice for workers to fill up their coolers before work. Out on the grill, employees cook up sausage and biscuits, offering up breakfast for the local landscape crews. Country music beams through the air.
“Twin City is becoming the place that people come to start their day,” Smith said. “They grab a coffee and a biscuit for breakfast and they fill up their coolers with ice. It’s a place where people can come to talk to each other and get pumped up for the day ahead. It’s much more than your average dealership.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in all of the attractions, Twin City also means business. The company has been steadily growing for 60 years. Jeff Smith’s father, Donald, opened the first location just behind a sea wall on the banks of the Ouachita River. It was a small, 900 square foot shop that focused on selling and servicing saws for the local logging industry.
Jeff took over the company in 2000, just as it was outgrowing its small footprint. Since manning the helm, Twin City has outgrown not one, but three separate facilities. He started the expansion by adding to the company’s product and service offerings, diversifying into several types of outdoor power equipment. The company began selling Gravely and Ariens zero-turn mowers in 2005, and now sells them exclusively. “
“We have been doing our own branding and advertising for 15 years, building up the Gravely and Ariens brands in this region through local TV and social media,” Smith said. “Now we’re kind of over the top. Most of the commercial lawn care companies here are using the zero-turns, and it feels like all your neighbors and friends have them.”
Twin City also concentrated on building a local following through top-notch service and support. In the mold of auto dealerships, the company separated into three buildings to house dedicated retail, parts and service operations. This enabled employees to specialize in their roles — a strategy Smith says has enabled the company to provide the highest levels of support to customers, in terms of expertise, efficiency and communications.
In 2018, Smith sat down with a team of architects to design a store that could house his retail ambitions. Six hours later, a basic plan was hatched, and finally, having outgrown several buildings along the way, Twin City opened its new supercenter in December of 2019.
“I’ve been fortunate and worked hard. This wasn’t an easy road,” Smith said. “My advice to other dealers is to put yourself in the best position. Get yourself debt free and financially prepared to expand. We have been planning this supercenter for 10 years, it’s not something you can do overnight.”
Smith’s plan is coming to fruition. Twin City sold more zero-turns in 2019 than in any year in its six-decade history. Smith said the company just had its busiest holiday season, and the outlook for 2020 is “record breaking.” As more people from the region become aware of the store and its community feel, Smith thinks it will only drive more business at Twin City.
Twin City is also looking at providing educational and training opportunities at the store for its landscapers. That way, when traffics slows down in the winter, workers in the region can continue their studies, investing in themselves for a payoff when the work picks back up in the spring. Classes could include technical knowledge and business acumen, which can help local lawn and garden companies grow their own companies.
Much like AriensCo, Smith says that having a family owned and operated company enables Twin City to provide a personal touch that online shopping can’t provide.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years and along the way I have learned that we must concentrate on our customers’ experience,” he said. “We have to go the extra mile. We have to communicate well and we have to be sure that our customers are comfortable doing business with us. We develop long-term relationships, which isn’t only good for our company, it’s good for the community as a whole.”