Deep in the heart of Georgia, Campbell’s Lawn Equipment (Campbell’s) has steadily been growing an outdoor power equipment retail and distribution center for almost half a century.
Started by Earl Campbell in 1974 as a paint store, the company expanded into hardware, then lawn and garden products before finally realizing its ultimate mission to sell and service outdoor power equipment. The company operates out of two locations: Forest Park, its headquarters, and McDonough, a smaller satellite location.
“Atlanta is the crossroads of the south,” said Campbell’s CEO Aubie Campbell. “Forest Park is just 8 miles south of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and we’re located near several U.S. highways and interstates. It’s a good location for us because we’re near so many people crisscrossing the area. We are convenient for both commercial landscapers travelling on the southside of the city and residential customers passing by during the rush hours.”
Both professionals and homeowners are equally important to Campbell’s business. The company sells and services Gravely zero-turn mowers to commercial landscaping crews and to residential customers that want premium outdoor equipment.
“We sell Gravely as our high-end residential product,” Aubie said. “These are people that take pride in their yards and want to invest in a quality product. What sells these machines are the reputation of Campbell’s and the reputation of Gravely.”
Campbell’s mostly sells Gravely ZT HD and ZT X zero-turn mowers. In the humid subtropical climate of Georgia, they’re cutting five types of grass in a growing season that lasts about eight months: Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Fescue. Campbell’s hosts an annual Pro Day Event on the last day of February to kick off the season a bit early, offering once-a-year deals on Gravely commercial mowers.
Campbell’s main Forest Park store is 14,000 square feet. Half of this space is a retail showroom where the company likes to show off the “wow factor” of shiny equipment, shiny hardwood floors, shiny restrooms and a knowledgeable staff that can help people navigate the consumer, professional and prosumer divides.
The company lines up the zero-turns according to their class at 45-degree angles so that customers can see all that a Gravely has to offer. Pathways take customers first through retail, then through parts and service.
“We are full service and cater our service department to commercial cutters,” Aubie said. “If you don’t turn your wrenches fast enough, they’ll find somewhere else to be. We focus on commercial service first, then residential service second.”
What started as a small retail location has continually expanded in size and scope over the last 46 years. The company is still in its original location but has overtaken several adjacent stores in the shopping center it resides in, including a grocery store, drug store and laundromat. Knocking down walls has been a growth strategy for Campbell’s, physically speaking.
The second Campbell’s location in McDonough is a 3,500 square foot retail shop that focuses on whole good sales and parts for customers in the area, leaving the service functions for the main location in Forest Park.
Campbell’s founder, Earl Campbell, passed away about a decade ago, and now the company is run by his four children: Aubie, Mike, Nicole and Clint, along with a dedicated staff.
“My dad always taught us that profit isn’t a four-letter word. We sell great products and provide great services. Profit is nothing to be ashamed of. We have 25 staff members between our two locations and we’re proud to pay our bills, support our families and enable our team members to do the same.”
Campbell’s Lawn Equipment is a “Gravely Million Dollar Dealer,” which places the company in the highest ranks of Gravely sales performers. Generating that kind of revenue is an impressive feat, and while Aubie is proud of the milestone, he cautions other Gravely dealers that the goal isn’t revenue — it’s profit. Aubie keeps a close watch on Campbell’s profitability by maintaining an eye on its daily and weekly margins.
“We use very good business and accounting systems, such as C-Systems’ Infinity software to stay on top of the daily and weekly numbers,” Aubie said. “You must be aware of trends. You can see something moving in the wrong direction and quickly take action.”
Examples of the types of adjustments that Campbell’s has made in the past include changing its shop labor rate, securing new parts vendors and buying products either up front or in bulk, which can net the company a discount.
It’s no surprise that Aubie freely gives this kind of advice to other Gravely dealers. He spent years soaking up the same kind of tutelage from other major Gravely dealers as a member of AriensCo’s Dealer Advisory Council, of which he served as co-chairman for five years from 2007 – 2012.
“You have to know what it costs you to do business,” he explained. “You have to have an idea of what it costs you to operate. Dealers like to talk sales, but they should talk more about profitability. It’s about taking responsibility for yourself and for your staff.”
Campbell’s is currently searching for an ideal spot for what will eventually become its third location in the Atlanta metro area. Aubie says the company is looking to expand its customer base, but not venture too far from the region where it has built up significant brand awareness.
“At some point when you’re in business long enough, your company becomes a brand,” Aubie said. “We want to expand the brand but build on the awareness we already have in Georgia.”
Social media is helping to expand that brand, with Campbell’s marketing efforts focused on Facebook these days. Aubie thinks that digital marketing is great for generating an immediate response among customers. In fact, Campbell’s has almost entirely cut its print advertising and is now focusing on social media and billboards. The company is also closely watching the work of other landscaping companies, including Gravely Ambassadors, and the interesting videos they are producing for YouTube.
Like AriensCo, Campbell’s intends to remain a family-owned and operated company for the foreseeable future. The third generation of Campbells is now getting involved with the business, with four of Earl’s grandchildren now working at the company, two of whom are permanent employees and two that are shuffling back and forth to college.
“Family businesses have a lot of charm and they also have challenges,” Aubie said. “My advice to other family-run companies is to departmentalize. Let them run their department and stay out of their way. Just get together for the big decisions. This helps keep those family relationships running well.”
Like all business, relationships are the key to success. In Campbell’s case, that means keeping up good relations with its customers and with AriensCo.
“I can grab my phone and call just about anyone at AriensCo and they’ll get back to me,” Aubie said. “It’s great when a manufacturer gives you the right tools to take care of your customers. The best way to do business is for the manufacturer to give the dealer the ability to tell the customer, “Yes.”