In the four decades that Barry Allen has been in the lawn care business, there has been a common thread running through his approach to the job.
“We’re just real honest with our customers. We’re not trying to come up with any kind of gimmick or whatever just to be able to sell them equipment,” said Allen.
It was that way from the start for Barry and his father, Don, even before they formally opened for business in 1983 next door to their home on rural Highway 96 in middle Tennessee.
“Neighbors would bring their lawn mowers around, and me and my dad would fix them up and get them going,” Barry remembers. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t we open up a small engine shop?’ And I said okay.”
That shop, 96 Lawn & Garden Center in Burns, Tenn. has grown every year since into a full sales and service outdoor power equipment and lawn care business. Customers can find a full variety of popular brands such as Scag, Bad Boy, Cub Cadet, eXmark, Shindaiwa, Husqvarna, Billy Goat, Briggs & Stratton and Kohler Engines.
Sales catering mostly to residential customers is a big part of the independent dealership, Barry tells us, with the focus still on honest customer service.
“I want them to go home and be happy with their purchase,” Barry said, “not go home and then be like, ‘I wish they hadn’t talked me into this or that.’”
Expert advice is at the heart of 96 Lawn & Garden Center, although Barry has noticed that in the last ten years, customers come through his door armed with online research about the features on equipment they are interested in; but there’s more to it than that. That’s where expertise from Barry and his team come in.
“Our job is to make sure to try to find out what the customer is really needing.”
“They may say they’ve got ten acres and want a 42-inch cut mower and I’ll say that’s fine if you got all weekend to mow,” Barry said. “Customers want to mow the grass but they don’t want to spend all weekend, so you’re trying to help them figure out how to save some time along with money.”
“They listen and take our advice. Others know exactly what they want. We help everybody.”
Connected to his community
96 Lawn & Garden Center supports the community in various ways: everything from sponsoring local sports teams to helping neighbors in need.
“That’s something that’s different and special about this town. When people need help in the community, maybe they’ve had some hard times or whatever, somebody will put together an auction or something to help a family and we’ll give them products and stuff to raise money to help families.”
The joy of mowing
“When you talk about the joy of mowing, I think it’s the one time of the week that most people — I’m not going to say all, but most people — disconnect from the world,” Barry said. “No cell phone, no work. Everything is their time that they can actually spend it for themselves. So I think that some of that joy of mowing is just to unplug, let the mind relax.”
From those early days helping neighbors with small engines to now running a full service independent dealership, Barry has woven a strong thread successfully for 39 years: being honest, taking care of the customer, making sure the job’s done correctly.
“The customer appreciates that. I think they like being a person that you take time with, not just a number and check out. You know, the personal part of a business.”
And no gimmicks.
“No. They’d catch you real quick nowadays.”