For homeowners, October is the time of the yard equipment shuffle, when the lawn mower gets put away and the snowblower is readied for action.
In recent years, this moment — and another in the spring that’s the reverse of it, with mowers coming out and blowers packing up — has also become big business for hardware and equipment-repair stores around the Twin Cities and Midwest.
These stores began offering to store equipment in the offseason and locked in customers with a service that the neighborhood self-storage facility can’t provide: tuneups.
Customers free up garage space and get no-muss-no-fuss disposal of gas and oil. And, when the mower or snowblower comes back, it’s guaranteed to start after a long dormancy.
“In the fall, I mow until the gas runs out,” said Carly Ogata, a White Bear Lake resident who has been storing offseason equipment for three years. “Then I give them a call to come pick it up.”
National and regional retailers such as Home Depot and Menards haven’t gone into the storage or tuneup business, but it’s become a specialty at neighborhood hardware stores with extra storage.
Frattallone’s, which owns 21 Ace Hardware stores in the Twin Cities, has a 55,000-square-foot warehouse, about the size of a typical Best Buy store, that takes about 5,000 walk-behind lawn mowers in the winter and about 2,000 snowblowers the rest of the year. It charges about $80 to tune up lawn mowers and $100 for snowblowers. Storage is free with the tuneup.
“We get it out of their garage and they know when it comes back to them that it’s going to run,” said Mike Frattallone.
The company keeps mechanics employed year-round by offering the tuneup and storage service. And it will also hold bulky outdoor equipment that homeowners don’t miss in crowded garages.
“Many of our customers in the city with a one-car garage appreciate not tripping over the snowblower all summer,” said Joel Larson, logistics manager at Frattallone’s.
At a warehouse in St. Paul, Larson said each mower is tagged with the consumer’s information along with a bar code sticker identifying the make, model and serial number. Mowers are grouped by store location, easily identified with ribbons of different colors. Mowers being stored may sit untouched for months, but the tuneup must be completed by early April before being shipped back to the store for pickup. Customers get a text or a phone call when it’s ready.
Jerry’s Hardware, with five Twin Cities locations, has room for about 500 lawn mowers that get tuned and stored for the winter. “The largest portion of our repair business is fuel-related,” said Mike Rummel, director of operations at Jerry’s.
Many of the tuneups and repairs are due to consumers using old gasoline. When hardware stores get the blowers and mowers, the first order of business is to remove the fuel. Customers are reminded at pickup time not to fill the tank with old gas that’s been sitting in the garage all season.
“We remind them to use premium nonoxygenated fuel, and we can tell them the closest station to buy it,” Rummel said.
Blowers and mowers make up a large portion of the tune- and-store movement, but small businesses that sell or service bicycles and motorcycles also offer it to stay busy in the winter.
Cali Jirsa, who owns Cherry Cycles in Minneapolis, offers free storage to those who spend $225 on an overhaul. Those who only want a simpler $69 tuneup pay $5 per month. She has room to store about 50 bikes each winter. “I charge $10 a month if you just want to store it but most want a tuneup too,” Jirsa said.
Storage for motorcycles at Simply Street Bikes in Eden Prairie caps out at 125 bikes. For $375, the cycle gets a basic mechanical inspection, safety check and storage. An oil change adds $50. The bikes are kept on site so owners can see them by request. Six years ago, the shop was storing 60 bikes. Now the storage space nearly always is at capacity. “People like the peace of mind they get from the service,” said Derek Stutz, district manager at Simply Street Bikes.
Dick Enrico of 2nd Shade patio furniture in Minnetonka said he is the first in the Twin Cities to offer patio furniture storage. With a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in Hopkins, he plans to keep customers’ chairs, tables and loungers warm and dry in the winter. He just started an advertising campaign to let people know about it.
“Nobody does storage assertively,” Enrico said. “Storage lockers are no bargain, and you have to haul it there and pick it up.”
He offers vertical rack spaces that can fit a dining table, six to eight chairs and a lounger for $99 a month in a temperature controlled warehouse, plus $99 for pickup and delivery. “Some people spend a lot of money on a patio set,” he said. “You don’t want it sitting outside in a snowbank all winter.”
Enrico also plans to offer patio furniture storage to commercial businesses, such as restaurants and apartment complexes.
He also has a team that can repair wicker, stain teak, replace missing bolts, washers and torn slings. If a customer decides to buy new in the spring and wants to trade-in their old set, Enrico, the pitchman extraordinaire, said he will ask the customer to “Shoot me an offer.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633