Ocean Springs — There wouldn’t be a three-week waiting period to have lawnmowers, chain saws, weedeaters and other small engines repaired at Terry’s Service Center on Government Street if more people recognized the importance of proper maintenance.
Most people would never think of ignoring doing oil changes as recommended on their car or truck. But a lot of folks neglect doing the same thing for their lawnmowers and other yard equipment.
“It isn’t important to them,” said Curtis Terry, owner of Terry’s Service Center. “When it cranks and runs, they don’t do anything to it. Most of the problems occur because the customer is not taking care of it. They think if they buy it new, it is supposed to last five to 10 years without trouble. They don’t get it serviced once a year, and take care of it.”
But the engine won’t last as long if it isn’t maintained properly along the way. Terry said people need to read the owner’s manual and follow the instructions for maintenance. If they don’t do their own maintenance, then they need to find someone who can do it for them.
Another reason there is a long wait for repairs at Terry’s Service Center is that it is the only business of its kind providing service in the greater Ocean Springs area. “I’m the only one in Ocean Springs right now, so that is one of the main problems,” said Terry, who started the business in 1998 after teaching small engine repair at the high school vo-tech center for 14-1/2 years. “This little town could support at least one more and probably two more small engine shops. There’s always a demand for small engine repair. All your mass merchants will sell you the stuff. But when it breaks down, you have to find someone else to work on it. It’s getting harder and harder to find someone in the small engine business because while there is a living to be made out of it, you aren’t going to get rich and make a killing.”
Another problem with getting small engines to run properly is the gasoline. Terry said the quality of gasoline isn’t as high as it was 15 to 20 years ago, and that can make engines run less smoothly.
Lawnmowers are the most popular type of equipment brought in for repair and include riding lawnmowers, push mowers and commercial equipment. There is also a big demand for repairs to weedeaters, chain saws and garden tillers.
A tip on weedeaters is that most manufacturers of weedeaters recommend getting rid of the gas in weedeaters after 30 days if you haven’t used it.
“I tell my customers 60 days maximum, and then put it in the lawnmower,” Terry said. “Weedeaters have such a small, high compression engine they have to have good gas.”
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, winterizing of lawn equipment isn’t usually necessary. While most people stop cutting their grass around November, a lot of folks like to use lawnmowers with leaf bags to clean up around Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. With cutting season starting again in March, the lawn equipment doesn’t sit around a long time in disuse. And since it is popular to plant rye grass to have that lush green look even through the winter, some people cut grass the year around.
What about electric options for lawn equipment? Women, in particular, may find the lighter weight, easier starting electric weedeaters and chain saws easier to handle and more fun to use than their gasoline counterparts. While they have their uses, Terry said electric yard equipment doesn’t have the power of gas.
“Electric weedeaters just won’t hold up like gas, and everyone uses weedeaters a lot in summer,” Terry said. “But if you don’t use a chain saw much, it is better to have electric. You can pull it off the shelf and as long as you paid your electric bill, it is going to run. Gasoline chain saws can get gummed up if they aren’t used very often.”
He adds that newer model gas weedeaters are a lot lighter than in the past and have easy start recoil systems.
“The problem women have with gas weedeaters is often they can’t pull hard enough to crank them,” Terry said. “But the manufacturers have addressed that problem, and now have something out there that can work.”
Terry has five full-time employees and one part-time worker. The business demand is there to expand, but he isn’t interested.
“You have to draw a line somewhere about how big you want to be,” Terry said. “The bigger you get, the more headaches there are. It takes more of your time.”
While being the only game in town means that Terry’s stays very busy during the warm month season, others keys to success include good organization skills and a focus on customer service.
“The main thing is to do what you say you are going to do, do it right the first time, and they’ll be back,” Terry said.
With literally hundreds of pieces of equipment in the shop, tracking each job is critical. Terry’s uses laminated tags that are numbered in the order they come in the door to be worked on. If a customer calls and gives the number, Terry’s can say, “There are 100 in front of you.”
The system works better for Terry’s than filing by customer’s names or brand names of equipment. Terry said that would require a big filing cabinet to cross reference names to work orders. Customers are warned to not lose their ticket because that makes it hard to track down their equipment.
No time off
The three-week waiting period for repairs usually lasts from March through November. In December and January, there is only a two-day waiting period. But Terry doesn’t go off on vacation during those slow months.
“We are steady cleaning up and fixing the shop to get ready for the next season,” he said. “Wintertime we clean up everything, get rid of the trash, and start over again in March.”
Finding trained mechanics is a big part of a service industry like that. Terry said he has been fortunate on two accounts. One, since he taught outboard mechanics at the vo-tech in Ocean Springs for so many years, he knows how to teach small engine repair. Second, he has had good luck retaining the mechanics for the shop. In eight years, he had one employee who wouldn’t show up to work and another who “copped an attitude.”
“There are too many people around here if you don’t have the right attitude,” Terry said. “Talking to the rest of the dealers around here, they want to know what my secret is for keeping good workers and I say, ‘I don’t have a clue.’”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.