It's the off-season--time to plan for preventive maintenance on equipment. That's a key step in getting a jump on the next growing season.

To encourage customers to get equipment checkups, many dealers offer discounts and other incentives. Reynolds Lawn & Leisure Inc. in Shawnee, Kan., is an example of the dealers that offer an off-season program.

"When the grass stops growing around the first of November, we send a postcard reminder," says Steve Reynolds, who has co-owned the business with his brother Mark Reynolds for 15 years. Lines they carry include John Deere, Encore, Argo, Redmax and Shindaiwa.

Van Wall Equipment in Olathe, Kan., also uses incentives during the winter and at other slow times.

"We monitor our list and if somebody is due for maintenance, we call and schedule them," says Matt Van Houweling, who co-owns the business with his brother Mike Van Houweling. "It helps customers who tend to procrastinate while also helping to fill the gaps in our schedule."

Co-founded in 1977 by their father Don Van Houweling, the company operates 12 locations in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, and carries John Deere and Polaris power equipment. Another brother, Mark Van Houweling, works at the headquarters location in Perry, Iowa.

Both Reynolds Lawn & Leisure and Van Wall Equipment offer the convenience of free pickup and delivery as an added incentive. Annual checkups usually include checking the spark plugs, air filter, oil filter, cables and belts and lubrication. They also sharpen blades.

"We especially stress cleaning the filters, because otherwise the equipment won't last long," Reynolds says. "We're finding that when people make an investment in equipment, they want to keep it up. That's especially true for the higher end equipment."

Some owners still try to do their own maintenance, but advancing technology is making that more difficult.

"More equipment has fuel injection or is managed by computer," explains Van Houweling. "Dealers have the monitors needed to interface with the equipment and do the testing needed to make sure the maintenance is done right."

Extended warranties are offered by some dealers.

"This gives owners the option of getting coverage beyond the usual two-year warranty provided by the manufacturer," Van Houweling explains.

When a purchase is made, customers receive an owner's manual with maintenance guidelines. Many dealers start promoting maintenance at the point of sale.

"Instead of just doing sales, the trend is for the dealer to become more of a day-to-day partner with the customer," Van Houweling says.

Future resale value is a also consideration for many buyers, according to Reynolds.

"It definitely makes equipment hold up longer and then it has more value to trade or sell later on," he notes. "With the right maintenance you can often get 20 years or even longer from your equipment."

Both dealers will be offering their customers coupons for $3 off the $7 ticket price to attend the Western Farm Show, scheduled for Feb. 26 to 28 at the American Royal Complex in Kansas City, Mo. They also plan to help staff manufacturers' exhibits and talk to customers during the show.

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