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Bottom Line: Lawn care equipment business stays within the family tree

  • Spencer Powers, right, owner of Joe’s Equipment, helps Sarah LaBombard find information about an item in the computer system at the store in West Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, March 25, 2022. Powers hopes to become more involved in the community by joining the Chamber of Commerce and by creating an environment for customers that feels more like visiting old friends than running an errand. “I want to be accessible to people,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Spencer Powers, owner of Joe’s Equipment, moves a shipment of lawnmowers in the business’ parking lot in West Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, March 25, 2022. Powers, who recently took over ownership of the business from his father, Duane Powers, and his business partner, Mark Houston, grew up working at Joe’s and started full time in the 1990s. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • David Strout, left, and Spencer Powers check serial numbers on a shipment of leaf blowers at Joe’s Equipment in West Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, March 25, 2022. Powers hopes to modify the building to create separate service and sales entrances so that customers don’t have to wait in a line that extends out the door on Saturday mornings. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2022 7:23:08 AM
Modified: 4/3/2022 7:22:04 AM

Spencer Powers knows lawn mowers. He knows chain saws, too. After all, he points out, he’s been selling, servicing, fixing and talking about them for as long as he can remember.

Or, as the 46-year-old of Joe’s Equipment in West Lebanon puts it, he’s been hanging around lawn equipment “since I was in diapers.”

“There’s a photo of me as a baby crawling on a lawnmower,” Powers says.

Powers began working at Joe’s Equipment full time once he graduated from Lebanon High School in 1994 and recently acquired the equipment dealership from his father, Duane Powers, 68, and minority partner Mark Houston, 65.

Duane Powers began working at Joe’s Equipment in 1972 — named after its founder, Joe Zea, who opened the business in 1946 just as gas-powered chain saws were coming on the market — when it was located where the Hannaford supermarket is now on Route 12A. Joe’s Equipment passed through another owner before Duane Powers bought it in 1991 and moved the dealership and repair shop to Interchange Drive, with Houston joining later as a partner.

Duane Powers and Houston are still coming in to the shop, but they are “getting to retirement age and looking to take a step back,” Spencer Powers told me when I made the grueling 25-yard walk from my Valley News desk to Joe’s Equipment next door for the interview.

Tucked behind McDonald’s and set between Brown’s Furniture and New England School of Hair Design on Interchange Drive, Joe’s Equipment deals in the Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis of lawn and tree care equipment: Stihl chain saws; Echo trimmers; Shindaiwa blowers; Exmark, Toro, Honda and Cub Cadet lawnmowers.

This is not the equipment you’ll find in the home and garden aisle at Walmart. These machines are for the pros.

“I have about 80% of the commercial lawn-care market in the area,” Powers estimates, referring to the lawn and tree-care businesses that purchase his equipment and rely on him and his team for service.

“Really, there’s not a ton of independent dealers anymore,” Powers says, noting that the market is now dominated by consolidation, as has happened among car dealerships and farm equipment distributors.

“We’re still part of the community, not a big box store,” Powers says with satisfaction.

He describes the lawn-care business as “huge” and growing as fast as well-watered grass. “Everyone wants their weekends off,” he says, and increasingly hiring professionals for summertime mowing.

Powers says he plans on expanding Joe’s Equipment.

He is going to create separate doorway entrances for sales and service to free up the wait times at the counter, especially during the peak business time in spring and summer when customers can be waiting outside until room clears inside the store. He’s also putting in a new wash bay and adding tree-climbing equipment, and he’ll be carrying bark mulch.

He’s also hired two new mechanics and another person behind the counter, bringing his team to 12 employees.

Unlike car dealerships, Powers said he hasn’t lost much to online sales. One reason, he explains, is that many of the brands he sells only go through dealers.

But another reason is “people want to come in and see and touch the equipment.”

“They are coming in more knowledgeable about what they want because they read about it online but they still want to come to buy it,” Powers says.

So not a lot changes in the lawn care and chain saw equipment business, then?

Well, not exactly. Powers said battery-powered lawnmowers, trimmers and leaf blowers are coming on the market fast.

“They got battery packs you wear on your back that will last the day, and they are just going to get better,” he says.

But what about the roar of the mower, the smell of gasoline, the exhaust fumes and screaming buzz of a two-cycle chain saw motor in your hands that bring so much satisfaction to the professional lawnman and lawnwoman?

As someone who has been around lawn and gardening equipment since he could crawl, Powers says he understands the preference.

“But you have to embrace the future,” he says. “Battery power is where things are heading.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.


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