Local businesses can only succeed if they have the full support of their local community. But with the rise of online shopping and big box retailers, more and more people are setting them aside. Lisa Terzigni-Miller refuses to bow to the harsh competition, and her perseverance is evident as one of the owners of the 75-year-old business Do-Cut. Joining Jason A. Wood, she explains how they are making a name for themselves by offering reliable customer service and genuine value. Lisa also discusses how they keep an outstanding marketing position by sticking to their old-school yet still efficient communication channels.
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With Absolute Specificity #3 – Lisa Terzigni-Miller
In this episode, we’ve got Lisa Miller, one of the owners of Do-Cut out of Warren and Youngstown, Ohio Market. Lisa and Do-Cut have been a client of ours for a long time and are one of our very favorite clients. She’s a trip. You are going to see the fun side of Lisa Miller on this because she’s going to let her rip. Lisa, thanks for joining us.
Lisa, do me a favor for our readers of this show. I always like to start by having our guests give us a background of how they got into their business. Tell us about your business, the products that you have and how you ended up running Do-Cut.
My father started our company many years ago. In 2023, we celebrated our 75th anniversary. He started sharpening chainsaw chains and reel mowers. Those are the mowers on a golf course and the pool behind. He got into business doing that. They had five children at the time. He came home and told my mother that he quit his job.
She almost had a nervous breakdown. They dove in with both feet and started our company. We eventually had 2 stores in the late ‘70s. We built a beautiful store in Canfield, Ohio. They expanded into the hardware so we were true value hardware. At one point, we did have four stores but that was a little tough to manage. They were pretty close together. We were taking market share from the other ones and that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
Unfortunately, in 2011, we lost that beautiful store we had in Canfield to a fire. We reopened down the street and then rebuilt back on that corner. We’ve been back on that corner for several years. I have six siblings. Everyone is unfortunately passed on or retired. Here I am with two other partners who have been longstanding employees of ours for many years. It’s been a ride and we’re loving it.
Employee retention’s a real problem for you.
It’s tough. It’s getting new ones, which everybody’s experiencing. We have a very niche business where we sell outdoor power equipment like lawnmowers, chainsaws, zero-turns, tractors, snowblowers, trimmers, handheld blowers and all of those things. Not only do we sell them but we service them and we have parts for them. “Anybody can sell something,” that’s what I always say.
The easy thing is selling the shiny new stuff out on the sales floor. The tough part is behind the parts in the service counter where someone’s coming in and needs a part or something fixed. They’re not happy because what they have isn’t working. It’s our job then to service them expertly with parts knowledge or our service knowledge. Our mechanics are schooled and they have to keep up certifications and things like that for us to even have these brands.It is easy to sell the shiny stuff on the sales floor. The tough part is providing customer support. Click To Tweet
One of the core tenets of your business is the parts and services. You have a whole other side of your business that specializes in helping people, whether they bought from you or not. In my understanding, most of them have not. They can’t find the parts or service. They can’t get that expert opinion of if it’s working, here’s the sound it’s making in your mechanic store where it’s going clunk. Somebody in your company’s going, “We know what that is. Here’s what you have to do.” Tell us about that side of your business.
Hopefully, it’s a brand that we can support. We had a quick conversation about products that people buy online. Retail has drastically changed in this country. You pick up your phone and you’re like, “I want that. I bought it and it’s going to be at my house tomorrow.” Do you want a lawnmower, chainsaw or trimmer dropped off at your house and you get it but you don’t know how to operate it safely?
You don’t know how to service it or maybe make that little tweak adjustment that it’s going to need when it comes out of the box. That’s our job. That’s the message that we need to get out there. We need people to understand. You might see it at a mass merchant but they don’t fix it or take care of it. You got to look behind the wall at the outdoor power equipment dealer and see the guy in the back that’s getting greasy every day.
Lisa, I’m going to back that up with the story. I promised this guy I wouldn’t do this but I’m going to do it to him. I won’t mention his name. You and I have a mutual friend that you don’t know I’m friends with. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it. He is a Youngstown police officer. He bought a piece of property that his wife and the three kids moved onto. It’s 3 acres out in Poland. You know where I’m at. He needed a zero-turn mower.
He came and visited your store. I forget the brand he was looking at but it was like $4,000 or $5,000. He said, “Jay, we were talking about quality and this stuff with Chinese-made versus America and all that stuff.” This is the context of this conversation. He goes, “I did the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I went online and found what looked like to be the same thing. It was $2,800 instead of $4,500.” I forget the exact numbers. He goes, “I get this thing and put it together. I use it three times and parts break on it.”
Guess where that zero-turn is? I can’t find a part of it anywhere. My $2,800 is worth zero. I ended up having a ducktail go back in Do-Cut, spend the $4,500 anyway and get the quality product. I love my zero-turn. He goes, “I look at my pole barn every day. I don’t have the heart to throw it away. I’m pissed off because it’s $2,800 sitting in the corner of my pole bar. It’s rendered useless what I think is probably a $20 part but I can’t find it anywhere.”
That’s the thing. There’s rogue equipment that’s coming into this country and the consumer unfortunately is the victim. It’s hard and that’s truthfully a message that we need to get out there. It’s like shopping small for anything. I was at the mall shopping and I saw somebody I knew. They said, “Why aren’t you shopping online?” I said, “I want to support the local business.” That’s supporting our co-community. How am I going to have a storefront if I shop online continually and there are no stores in my community to keep our community going?Rogue equipment is coming into the country, and the consumers are its victims. Click To Tweet
People often miss this too. I’m guilty because I’m a geek. I’m a tech guy. I live on these devices. I’m guilty of ordering from Amazon all the time. People don’t realize that if you’ll take an extra 45 seconds when you search for a product, you got to buy. You go look at the vendors. You can find a local vendor with a local storefront that simply has an Amazon store to support them without having to go into the store if you’re a guy like me that doesn’t want to go into the store. I’m going to back up, Lisa.
I love your store, Do-Cut. For the aggressive stance, you are taking in the marketplace. I want to back up how your dad started this business. In my experience in business and I’ve been at it for years and in marketing, you get to interface with a lot of companies, it seems to me that all the good quality brands started with a statement. Your dad comes home stressed out talking to your mom. He can’t stand his job. He was like, “I’m going to go do this.” Many years later, not only is there a badass brand in the marketplace, not only is it delivering quality goods to a local economy and employing local people. It’s run by people that are participants in the local economic community.
It all starts with that statement, “I’m going to go do my thing.” I’ve seen Do-Cut since I’ve known you. You made bold moves after the fire. You’re like, “We’re not going to ducktail and go get some little tiny store.” You went big. You had a grand opening a while back and all of that. Tell us about the new location because everybody that I know back then says that it’s dope.
It’s beautiful. It’s called the Do-Cut Corner because we were there for so many years. The original store was built in ’78. We sold the corner. The developer built us a beautiful store. We have a 10,000-square-foot store that is gorgeous. We’ve already outgrown it, which is a good thing. I’m at the original store here in Warren. We warehouse everything here and transfer it down there. We not only have a beautiful store but also people working for us. We have a good team that supports our brand and helps create our brand. That is so important.
I love how you stay true to your roots because in your business, as successful as Do-Cut is, you can easily close down that flagship store that you’ve been in forever and build a brand new 1/2 mile down the strip there on 422 and show off. You know, “This is our flagship store. Our customers are going to get to come to us at the same place they came to us years ago and come see us with the same staff.” It’s a beautiful story.
Let me move on to this. One of the challenges that I know you face because we do some of your marketing, particularly the digital, is big box retailers. Companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s come in and bastardize these markets with low to no service. If you have a question, it’s some pimply face kid that clocked in 4 minutes ago and has got football practice in 2 hours. It doesn’t give him a rip about the product.
The big box model attracts many consumers for the reasons that we know. You can come in and look at a zero-turn but you can come in and buy paint. It’s a jack of all trades. How has Do-Cut managed to maintain its threshold and market position? Juxtapose all of these big boxes with big box retailers, how have you stayed successful?
A lot of it is marketing. People don’t understand that if you’re going to look at this lawnmower at Do-Cut and you look at the same lawnmower at Home Depot or Lowe’s, it’s the same price but what you get from me is value. Our knowledge is second to none in this industry. It is our job to qualify the customer to be sure that the piece of equipment that they’re looking for is going to satisfy their needs and that they’re going to be happy.
Let’s face it. We sell work. We sell for fun. We don’t sell snowmobiles, motorcycles or ATVs. When you get on a zero-turn, you’re going out and it’s got a cup holder for your beverage but you’re working for a couple of hours. We want you to be happy while you’re doing that work and satisfied. It’s like buying a car from a crappy dealer versus a good dealer.
You can’t go back into Home Depot and say, “I’m having a problem with this. I’m not sure what the problem is.” Home Depot’s going to show you a new one you can replace and buy a brand new one when you got thousands of dollars into the one you’ve already got. That’s all they know.
They give you our phone number. They say, “Call Do-Cut.” The easy part is selling it. The hard part is taking care of them when they have a problem. We register the warranty for every customer. That’s our job. If you buy something at a mass merchant and you come here for service, we have no idea if the warranty’s registered. We don’t know when you’ve got it. Do you have a copy of your receipt? We don’t know. Stay with a local dealer no matter where you are.
I’ve always been a believer in it. I don’t want to buy a coffee pot from a company that’s selling chainsaws and vice versa. To me, it doesn’t make any sense. If I’m buying something that’s $3, who cares? I don’t care where I buy my ice cream from but when it comes to a product that I’m going to put some money into that I need a return on, some value and I need it to work and last, I’m not going to buy that from a company that’s also selling hoses, washing machines and lumber.
To your point, one of the marketing challenges we have with you in marketing is explaining to the consumer that you can come to get that granular level of service and it’s the same price. You don’t have to pay double or even 5% more. A lot of these products I assume will be priced set by the manufacturer sometimes.
That’s correct. You can’t advertise below a certain price. It’s map pricing. The other thing is you’re constantly up against these big boxes and they’re selling extended warranties that they don’t even support it. They’re backed by Allstate or whoever nationwide. I sell the extended warranty that’s backed by me. You’ve got my knowledge.
You’ve got my truck picking it up. You’ve got my mechanic working on it. You’ve got my parts guy ordering your parts and helping you figure out what’s wrong with it if necessary and stuff like that. That’s me. That’s Do-Cut. That’s our brand. I’m not selling some crappy extended warranty. I’m looking for the extra $200 at the end of the sale. I’m not going to have to do anything about it. The guy’s going to forget they bought it. If you come to Do-Cut and think that Do-Cut’s going to honor that warranty, it’s not happening.
I was talking to one of our clients. He said, “I love Do-Cut. I can go in and ask for Lisa Miller. I can negotiate.” I said, “What you’re saying is you don’t know Lisa Miller.” He goes, “What do you mean?” I said, “You think you’re going to negotiate with little Italian Lisa Miller? You’re walking out of there leaving money on a table. I probably sold you four other things you didn’t need. You’re going to negotiate with Lisa Miller? Good luck with that.”
As far as marketing goes, I find it interesting for a brand like yours that’s so easy in a small market to brand when you’re many years old. You won’t come across anybody that doesn’t know who Do-Cut is, which could be an advantage. That can also be a disadvantage because you’re there and have been there forever. How do you overcome that in a small market? What are the communication channels that you see are impactful to an audience that’s known you forever? Their kids and parents knew you. How do you penetrate that in a local market like this?
It’s tough and quite honestly, when we came on board with you, I saw younger faces walking through the door. I don’t want to say they forget about us but they do. I had a super nice guy come in and he goes, “I come up here for everything. I have some friends and they won’t come into your store.” I said, “We haven’t been here for many years because we’re doing something wrong. Don’t get me wrong. We need every customer that walks through our door but I could offer to give them the money out of my pocket, the shirt off my back, my shoes and that customer may still never be satisfied.”
It’s hard. It’s my tagline. My dad used to say, “Jesus couldn’t please twelve.” It’s true. What more can I do but market in different ways? We’re talking about influencers. Toro has a whole new line of marketing going out in 2023 that’s crazy. They’ve hired these influencers. They’ve had them since 2021 but they’re going to start hitting this stuff hard in 2023. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens with an all-encompassing ad.
They’re going to have more advertising on different stations, mediums and things like that. We noticed a huge difference when we got on board with you because we’re so used to advertising and marketing with our blinders on for many years. Advertising is the world. It’s in the palm of your hand. I can do anything and find anything in these 3 inches by 5-inch phones that I have sitting right in front of me. If you’re not doing that, forget it. You might as well lock the door.Everyone is used to advertising and marketing with blinders on. These can now be done in the palm of your hand through your phones. Click To Tweet
I’m acutely aware of your whole marketing mix. One of the things that I hate about my industry is a company like ours will get its hands on technology like we have something proprietary. That’s great. It’s fantastic. They get so narrowly focused on it but then they start to believe their BS. They think this is the only marketing that you should do because there’s no silver bullet in marketing. If we were a silver bullet, then everybody else would be out of business. They close their doors.
It’s interesting to me in a market like the Youngstown market how effective certain communication channels would rail against in Tampa and remain for you. Direct mail, for example, works in Youngstown still. It drives people through the door and makes the phone ring. In Tampa, it’s a difference in markets, demographic, psychographics and all these things.
People are happier down here because there are things to do so they’re not going to sit there and read all the junk mail. Down here, everybody gets their mail over their trash cans. That’s the way it is but up there, there are communication channels like local TV shows and also direct mail. That is still wholly effective in a market like that. Talk to us about the rest of your marketing mix. What’s working for you up there?
If you can, believe it or not, the newspaper and radio still work for us. My oldest brother was eighteen years older than me. He was graduating from high school when my mom was pregnant with me in 1965. There were a lot of years there. He was a great advertiser. When we had this one store here in Warren, we put a Youngstown phone line in so people from Mahoning County could call us toll-free. That was the stepping stone for us to open the other store in Mahoning County. Not to be morbid but he would always advertise snowblowers on the obituary page.
Unfortunately and inevitably, somebody died shoveling snow. Maybe your ticket was up that day but are you going to die holding a snow shovel in 15 inches of snow? I don’t mean to be morbid that way but we still do that. We do remarketing and retargeting. We do newspaper and TV. We can buy local TV better than our manufacturers can’t. We still do all that stuff.
You go from across the country in marketing and we talk to prospects all the time. I’ll have somebody say to me in Raleigh, North Carolina, “We know direct mail doesn’t work.” I’m like, “Your demographic shifts seven years older than the median, not the average but the median. If you’re telling me that you don’t think you’re getting anything out of direct mail, you’re not tracking. Your problem is the communication channel.
It’s analytics because I guarantee you, the demographic that exists for your product and market, they’re reading your direct mail. You’re getting business from that and you got to implement something that’s going to allow you to track.” Sooner or later, to your point, that will go away. It will naturally. The younger audience will market for you too. All the rest of your marketing mix is handling the other side of your audience. They’re converting on all these traditional communication channels. You would be crazy to stop that lunacy in marketing.
The demographic we’re marketing to gets to 45, 50 or 55. That demographic that engages in those channels will die off but something else will come and backfill that and then we’ll be the traditional handling. That’s the evolution of marketing. Many companies and business owners get so monolithic in their approach to the market. “We want tech, savvy or data.” “We don’t want any of that. We want trade.” That approach is a losing strategy if you don’t take into account your local market.
We’re getting ready to send out probably 5,000 to 7,000 service flyers. Granted, they’re going to our existing customers to keep our mechanics busy all year and get the lawnmowers in the winter months. When the grass starts growing, your lawnmower is ready to go. The response that we get is phenomenal.
It’s going to continue for years to come and that is something. You take the Tampa market, which is more technology-driven and mobile-driven. Mobile adoption rates in terms of engagement are a big driver of all this. When you’re in a market where mobile adoption rates fall below 60%, if you’re not leveraging traditional communication channels, you’re missing almost half your market and that’s silly to do.
In a markup like Tampa, only 25% are not engaged in mobile engagement. You’re silly to overspend on that area. You got to take this into account with marketing. I’ve been watching how you do your marketing mix for years. You take this Sunday show and I’m like, “You’re crazy.” It’s this stupid little show with 2,000 viewers and you’re selling $5,000 zero-turns off. I’m humbled again. I’ll shut up. We’ll go up to the young.
Females make a lot of decisions. “Who told you to wear that shirt now?”
There are two types of decisions men make. One that their wives let them think they made and one that their wives told them to make.
I can’t tell you how many men come in here and say, “That should fit my wife’s hands.” I go, “You better stop and buy something in a little smaller box on the way home if you think you’re wrapping up Jane’s offer underneath the Christmas tree.”
It’s like the cliché, “Buy your wife a new vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Are you outside of your mind?” Renee would kill me. I can’t imagine the guts it takes to even think that’s a good idea. We’ve not talked about this on the show but with Specificity, we got our start in Youngstown. We were there for years. We built and cut our teeth in marketing and technology in the Youngstown market, which was a real challenge.
As you know Lisa, a lot of business owners up there are very technology averse. They’re like, “This is what’s worth.” You got to cut through that. The reason we moved to Tampa wasn’t that we didn’t like Youngstown. I love Youngstown. I love the people up there. I still have a lot of very close friends and clients up there.
Instead, I walk in the doors down here. We describe the technology and they’re like, “We’re going to move our budget from here to here. Let’s rock and roll.” There is that aversion. When you’re rolling out new models that have new features and benefits to them, do you see some pushback to the market because they’ve been buying from you for so long and they’re used to what they’re used to and that affinity to stay with what they know?
We’re going to maybe see a little bit of that with the introduction and a little bit more market takeover with battery-powered products. That’s going to be a big shift in our industry. They’re estimating half of the walk-behind mowers sold. 2023 are going to be battery-powered mowers. Fifty percent is a lot of lawnmowers.
What’s the percentage of that in 2022?
I couldn’t tell you but I bet it’s not 25%.
They’re going to double the tank rate on the battery. I’ll tell you what, I bought that Ryobi kit from you. It was battery-powered. I love that.
You didn’t buy Ryobi from me. You bought Ego from me.
I’m sorry. It’s the only battery-powered anything I have for the blower, mower and all that stuff. I love it. You have a new product and I’ve been wanting to ask you what the adoption rate of this product is because I am a customer of this. If I still lived in Youngstown, I’d have bought it from you. It’s that fenced battery-powered mower that you don’t have to do any work. You set it down. How’s the autonomous mower going?
They’re making some changes to that. Toro’s got a cool one coming out that’s going to run off the router in your house with no wires. It’s going to have to walk the yard with this perimeter tool and it’s going to map it and know where it needs to go. It can do striping which the other one can’t. It’s slowed down a little bit. We do have some people that are still crazy about it. I have a good customer that has 7 acres. He bought 4 of them. He’s got a pond and all these geese. He goes, “I don’t know how to get rid of all these geese in my yard. What am I going to do?” We put four of these lawnmowers in. There’s not one goose in his yard. It’s great. He goes, “The best thing I could ever do is to get rid of all this crap in my yard.”
Lisa, we need to create an audience of people that own a pond and market that. What a great ancillary benefit to a product.
It’s cool. As this battery stuff begins to take off, you’re going to see people more receptive to it. It’s going to start with little stuff and then get a little bit bigger with zero-turns and things like that. People are going to be dipping their toes in the water. I have some people that are like, “Nope, I want gas. Nothing else. I’m not changing.” No problem.
You mentioned something that I can imagine. I’m not going to BS our audience and pretend like I bought a yard in twenty years because I haven’t. I bought a lawnmower from Lisa, a battery power that I thought was cool. I never mowed the yard with it. I had my landscaping company use it one time because I thought it was cool. Let’s be clear about that. I remember back in the day when I lived in Cortland. I had a family and some young kids.
I didn’t have my company. I was in sales and mowed yards. The biggest thing for me when it comes to these autonomous mowers would be my turnoff. You said, “Toro’s going to solve this.” As a man mowing your yard or even a woman for that matter, one of the biggest sources of pride when you’re done is the striping, that aesthetic look. I always went diagonally so cars coming to both ways could see that I had freshly cut my yard. That was the biggest knock on the current autonomous mowers. When you’re done, you don’t get that aesthetic of a freshly cut yard, neat and clean.
It looks like you ran the sweeper instead of precise lines.
The grass is short but you don’t get that. You’re saying Toro’s coming out with a product that’s going to do striping. How cool is that?
You can have it do whatever you want but it will cut in straight lines.
Will it take my fiancée shopping so I don’t have to?
No. You could say you have to watch the lawnmower so it doesn’t go into the pond.
Lisa, I’m down here in Florida. I get a crew that comes out here every week and they do their thing and it takes them six minutes. You can have 30 acres and it’ll take them 31 minutes. It’s three trucks show up. There’s a flurry of activity and your yard is clean and cut. Trees are trimmed. They’re gone.
There’s a science behind it.
I honestly haven’t mowed a yard in many years. I’ve always said to my significant other whom I was with at the time, “I have to support the local economy.” That’s why I don’t mow the yard. It’s a sacrifice I make to support the local economy. Lisa, you already spilled the beans on the autonomous mower from Toro. What else have you got coming down the pipeline for 2023? What’s going on with Do-Cut?
We’ve finished doing our booking orders and we’re looking for decent fulfillment from the manufacturers, which is positive. We’ve had a few issues in the last couple of years as everyone has had. Toro’s new advertising is going to be big in 2023 so we’re excited to be participating in that. There are some changes. It’s like running a race. You start and you never know what’s coming around that first bend. We’re hoping the economy will support us. We’re thinking maybe we’ll have a little bit more robust service because people might not be replacing, they may be servicing but we’re poised for all of that. Our online sales are brisk.
When you’re in this industry, you have to think outside the box to survive. There’s competition from everything. I don’t think any industry is immune to the effect of online retail anymore. It used to be that the grocery industry was a little bit more resilient to that but not anymore. You can have anything delivered to your door. It’s tough. You have to have a strong will to be an independent business person. The best message I can give anybody is to support local shops and malls.
A strong will, you certainly have. Lisa, we appreciate you joining us. I got to do a little housekeeping there. Lisa is not only a personal friend or a client but she’s also an investor of Specificity. I had to do that disclosure. Lisa, thank you much for joining us. As always, we value your friendship and partnership. We look forward to kicking some ass for you in 2023. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Lisa, we love you. We’ll talk soon.