UPPER TOWNSHIP — Cody Letsinger turned his interest in engine repair into a thriving business that caters to southern New Jersey’s landscapers.
Letsinger, 49, of Upper Township, and his wife, Leigh, own Cody’s Power Equipment on Route 50 in Tuckahoe.
The business grew from a smaller space in his father’s pet and livestock feedstore that had served residents in Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May counties since 1968. Letsinger, an ASE-certified auto mechanic, opened his lawn and garden equipment business in 1988. By 2005, equipment sales had taken over the entire store.
“We were kind of shocked by the need,” he said.
Landscapers are in high demand in Atlantic and Cape May counties with their many investment properties and second homeowners. Even in a suburban place, such as Upper Township, landscapers get lots of work from busy two-income families, Letsinger said.
Cody’s Power Equipment sells several brands of heavy-duty equipment, such as Stihl, Snapper and Scag.
Letsinger said the equipment he sells is designed for heavy-duty use. His business also offers service and repair.
“We stick to the products we’d use ourselves,” he said. “Our core customers are the small- to medium-sized landscaping companies in the area. We also get consumers who are looking for a better quality product.”
At the moment, Cody’s only repairs the brands it sells, but Letsinger said he is constantly getting requests to service other brands.
“The biggest thing is managing our growth and not getting too big, too fast,” he said.
During a recession, one might think that people would cut back on nonessential services, such as lawn care. But Letsinger said his business has been steady over the past five years.
Many of his newest customers have been builders and tradesmen who saw their construction work dry up when the housing market collapsed in 2008, he said. They turned to landscaping.
“In the down economy, we’ve been up in business every year for the past five years,” he said. “People who get someone to maintain their lawn generally keep that contract.”
The landscaping industry has suffered since the recession, said Jody Shilan, director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association.
“People haven’t gone back to cutting their own grass, but they have cut back on additional services,” he said. “They might not do the seasonal color or change-outs that contractors have depended on in previous years. They’re mulching once every other year.”
His association represents about 500 companies that employ about 10,000 landscapers. Shilan said business is starting to pick back up in New Jersey.
“People are starting to go back to their regular maintenance schedules,” he said. “More people are comfortable paying for the services they had cut back on.”
Cody’s distinguishes itself with its personal service, Letsinger said. His employees have extensive training from the manufacturers to repair and maintain the products they sell.
But even small engines today are getting more complicated, Letsinger said.
“They’re becoming more technical because of emissions regulations and computer controls,” he said. “It’s come a long way with fuel injectors.”
A business that caters to landscapers is busiest in spring. But Letsinger said he is surprised by how much work he gets in the winter from companies that are getting their equipment in order.
“It’s getting less and less seasonal,” he said. “Contractors do a lot of leaf collection in the winter.”
And when he goes home, Letsinger said he still does all the lawn work around his own house.
“It gives me a chance to try out our new products,” he said.
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