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 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, who lives outside the Twin Cities and 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.
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.