Serving Toro Customers Since 1946? Let Him Eat Cake!!

Green cake that says "Happy 70th Birthday" in frosting featuring a Toro lawnmower made of fondant on top

Harley Manke
Owatonna, MN

Harley Manke, proprietor of Manke’s Outdoor Equipment and Appliances, recently turned 70, and his wife, friends, and family threw him a surprise birthday he will not soon forget! Of equal surprise was the Toro® TimeCutter riding mower on his cake!! (You can watch the cake being made here).

Congratulations to this special Toro dealer, whose store has been in business since 1946. Read on to learn more about his family’s unique shop and how they go the extra mile for customers…

Q: Can you tell us how your dealership first started out?

It was started in 1946 by my dad and grandpa as a Shell station delivering gas with a bulk truck to farmers and as a filling station. In 1947, we took on Toro, and we still have the invoice from Toro for the first mowers we ever got! Starting in 1949, we started selling Packard cars and Willys Jeeps. In 1950, we started selling appliances, plus televisions in 1955, and in 1970, expanded with trailers and lawn & garden equipment. Fast-forward to 2002, when we moved across the street into our new location, the former Farm & Home building and warehouse, which is right across the street from our old location.

We have one of Toro’s largest displays, with over 40 different models of Toro lawn and snow equipment.  We are the definition of a family business. I am the third generation; my two daughters, who are the fourth generation, work here full time to keep me in line.  My wife comes along at night with me on deliveries and sometimes even gets stuck helping me push on a tractor that won’t start! Even my granddaughters, who are the fifth generation, help out! My 19-year-old granddaughter is going to college and works here part-time on her summer breaks. My 14-year-old granddaughter helps put push mowers together. And even my 2-year-old granddaughter likes to greet the customers and bring them their parts!

Q: Having a store that’s been in business since 1946, what’s your secret to success?

You snooze you lose. You can’t do business sitting on your apple. Go the extra mile for your customer, and he will remember that and tell his friends. Read those sales manuals not once, not twice, but three times to be prepared for all questions. When customers come in for parts, give them your business card and have them write the model and serial number of their mower on the back of the card and tell them to keep it in their wallet. That way, they always have that information on them whenever they need parts. If a customer comes in for one part, suggest other parts to them such as an air cleaner to help the mower save on gas, new blades so the grass doesn’t tear when it gets cut, etc.

Q: Related to that, why do customers keep coming back to your store? What kind of support/service do you deliver that other stores can’t or don’t?

We carry thousands of parts on hand and we will do overnight air to get parts here the next day if it is an emergency. We will leave parts outside for a customer to pick up after hours and they can put a check under the door. During a snowstorm, we had many customers bring in snowblowers for repair, and for those who couldn’t get theirs fixed that day, I loaned out my personal snowblower for them to use. Eight different customers borrowed it, and each just picked it up from whoever got done with it before them. By the eighth customer, I had lost track of who had it, but then it finally came back in the spring when the customer brought his lawnmower in for service!!

Q: How have you seen the power equipment industry change/evolve over your years in business?

The price of some lawn equipment costs more than the 1954 Packard car at $2600 or the 4WD Jeep at $1999!!

Q: You carry a lot of Toro equipment — what’s so special about that brand?

Toro is noted for their quality of cut and doing the finest job on mowing and snow removal. Their parts availability is the best around, with over a 98% fill rate. All of Toro’s products are designed to be user-friendly. Toro provides lots of training to their dealers, so when you visit a Toro dealer, they have many hours of Toro training to give you the support you need.

Q: What would you say are the top three things people should think about when buying a mower?

Will it mow nice to give you a nice-looking lawn? Are service and parts available after the sale? Is it user-friendly?

Q: What are the top things people should remember AFTER they’ve bought a mower – to keep it running?

Follow all the rules regarding gasoline: Only use gas that is no more than 30 days old and poured from a plastic can, not metal, and run the mower empty of gas for winter storage.  Keep the underside of the deck clean.  Change the oil and air filter every season.

Q: Congratulations on your 70th birthday! What was so special about this year’s birthday cake?!!

The cake was a copy of Toro’s famous TimeCutter, and I could not believe how it looked just like a lawnmower and how it even made its way to the Worldwide Web!

Q: Anything exciting going on in your store this season?

Last fall, we were hit by a flood. I have never seen anything like that in my whole life. We ended up with 30″ of water in our main store and in one of our two warehouses. The second warehouse luckily stayed dry, and we set up a temporary shop in there until things had gotten cleaned up. We were able to save the majority of our whole goods when we gave up on sandbagging and started emptying the store as the river behind us was getting closer and closer.

Many parts were lost, as well as our merchandising displays. The main thing is, no one got hurt. Someone could have had a heart attack working in the water or even drowned. It was just things we lost. Things can be replaced and people can’t. Everything got cleaned, the floor got a fresh coat of paint, and we have some new merchandising. We have new counters, new flooring, a new display for our trimmers and tillers, and some new wall displays. Visit our store to see what’s new – and sign up for Toro’s Go With the Pro Sweepstakes!

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