Dealer Feature: Westurf Nursery in Modesto, California

Of the dozen years Westurf Nursery has been a Walker Dealer, 2023 was the most gratifying. 

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From left: Elena, Dennis Jr. and Dennis Sr.

The Best Grass Needs the Best Mower

Dennis’ parents, Dennis Sr. and Elena Welch, first took over Westurf Nursery in 2005 after the original owner passed away. Dennis Sr. was already running his own successful business, a multi-generational walnut burl veneer manufacturing company. Elena had her own business, too, a feed mill where she was co-owner. Elena was hoping to do something on her own, however, when the opportunity to purchase Westurf Nursery came about.

“I’d never thought about getting into the nursery or landscaping business,” Elena says. “But I was familiar with Westurf Nursery because I shopped there. When we’d heard about it being for sale, it was my husband’s idea to make an offer.”

Sales grew during Elena’s first few years as owner. Then the economy crashed in 2009. Demand for the plants, sod, rock, bark and irrigation products Westurf sold took a hit. Dennis Sr. and Elena knew they needed to diversify. They looked to their sons, Dennis and Jonathan, to do just that.

After having some informal discussions with the distributor for a year or so, Westurf Nursery became a Stihl dealer in 2009. Elena says the decision lit a fire under her sons. They really liked the agriculture industry and hadn’t fully embraced the nursery business. But both Dennis and Jonathan loved running tractors and other equipment, so the opportunity to spearhead the move into power equipment was exciting.

A couple years after taking on Stihl, Westurf Nursery became a Walker dealer. “We’re the biggest sod retailer around here, and we sell a really high-quality fescue/bluegrass mix,” Dennis points out. “The way I looked at it, we had to sell the best mower when we already sold the best grass. That’s why we wanted Walker.”

Westurf Nursery has also become a dealer for Exmark, Toro and Echo. Honda push mowers have been a mainstay as well, but the California horsepower requirement is forcing the Welches to discontinue that line.

Stock it, Show it, Sell it

Westurf Nursery first got involved with Walker Mowers when their Stihl customers began bringing mowers in for repair. There had always been good Walker dealers in the area dating back to the 1980s, so the market was established. Dennis and Jonathan, who oversee sales and parts, respectively, started buying parts from other dealers. Before long, the Walker distributor representative contacted Westurf Nursery to see if they wanted to become a dealer.

“We had really been on a roll with Stihl,” Dennis says. “We were winning awards. At one point, we sold the most Stihl Kombi units out of any dealer around here. That was because of all the homeowners around here, along with our strong commercial customer base. When we started fixing Walkers and ordering parts from other dealers, I guess they saw an opportunity to set us up so we could start selling Walkers, too.”

Since Walker had been prevalent in the area for so long, one of Westurf Nursery’s technicians was familiar with the machine. Dennis simply dove in head first. Elena says Dennis was always really curious about how equipment works since he was a kid. “I just like to say I’m really good at breaking stuff, so I have to know how to fix it, too,” Dennis says with a chuckle.

In reality, Elena says Dennis’ ability to help troubleshoot issues over the phone is a big reason why customers have come to value what Westurf Nursery offers. Along with building trust through service, Dennis says another key to success is to always be stocking equipment. That approach is what allowed Westurf Nursery to have a great 2023 when the cards were stacked against them.

“We always want a couple Walkers out front, and at least five or six more in our storage building,” Dennis says. “When we couldn’t get our favorite Model T23 last year, and we also couldn’t get the new Model C23i, we still had plenty of machines leftover from 2022. When we ran out of those mowers in midsummer, we had to start ordering diesels. But that has worked out really well, too.”

Demos have become an integral part of the Walker sales process for Dennis. In fact, he worked with his Walker representative, Paul Stanley, to purchase a Sprinter cargo van for hauling a Walker around.

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This fully-decaled Sprinter van is what Dennis uses to haul his demo machines all over the Modesto area.

“Customers are blown away right off the bat when they see me pull up and that Walker Mower climbs down out of the back of that van,” Dennis says. “And yes, a Walker is a more expensive mower. But once you get it on the grass and the customer sits on it, that’s when you win. Most of the time when we sell a Walker, it’s on a demo.”

To help sharpen his selling skills, Dennis has attended Walker’s Factory Sales Training, along with the Factory Service Training. For Dennis, selling a Walker comes down to a combination of three key attributes: the cut, the drive, and the serviceability.

“You also can’t beat a Walker during leaf season,” Dennis adds. “We have a lot of customers who’ll limp along with an old Walker all season long. But when fall hits and they need to make their properties look really clean, they’ll either come in to buy a new machine, or have their blower replaced so they can bag again. We actually do quite a few fall sales.

“That’s another thing I point out to customers, especially homeowners, when they’re looking at buying a Walker,” Dennis continues. “I explain how it’s common for us to have machines in our shop with 4,000-plus hours on them. The price is the price and there’s nothing we can do about that. But if you want the best mower that’s going to last a really long time, it’s an easy decision.”

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It’s common for machines with 4,000-plus hours to come in for service and go right back out to start mowing again.

Getting Creative to Stay Ahead

Power equipment represents about 25% of Westurf Nursery’s total sales. Walker is a huge part of that. The dealership is primarily selling Walkers to smaller landscape contractors with one or two machines. There are also a few large companies with eight or ten machines. Municipalities and schools have also taken a liking. In fact, one school in particular has four or five Model D21ds with the Hi-Dump®.

“We do have some customers who only want diesels,” Dennis says. “Some customers have figured out that they can run that mower at 3/4 throttle and just sip that fuel. Oil changes are like 500 or 600 hours. And I don’t think you’re ever going to have to change an engine on a diesel, at least up to 4,000 or 5,000 hours.”

That’s reassuring. Due to the new, less than 25-HP gas engine requirement, Dennis is planning to stock as many Model D21ds as possible in 2024, along with the Model T27i. He also has a couple of customers who have switched over to mulching, so he sells a few Model B27i’s each year, too. But in general, Dennis says most people want to bag, and he’s feeling good about what he can sell them in 2024. Even if he can’t get enough Model T27i’s, he’s fairly confident most customers will buy a diesel if that’s the only thing available. “Walker has a loyal following here, and a lot of customers want a Walker, period, regardless of the model.”

Rest assured, Westurf Nursery is going to do whatever it takes to sell it to them.


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