From lawn mowers to snow plows, small engine repair shops cross the seasons

HATFIELD – There are only a handful of companies in the valley equipped for the intricacies of small engine repair. Shaken by ever-changing weather, these stores stubbornly stay season after season to get into the grease with weeders and lawnmowers, snowblowers and small garden tractors, waving at regular customers and trying to fix it. themselves.

Keith Wintle is the sole owner of Jonathon’s Yard and Garden Equipment Repair in Hatfield.

“We are 100% dependent on Mother Nature,” Wintle said. “Time just raises hell.”

He said that once the weather starts to deteriorate, the demand increases dramatically. This spring, he said wait times for customers jumped to two weeks in just three days after rainy weather caused lawns to appear with new growth. His business sees a surge in September as people want to winterize their snowblowers.

Wintle said the decision to get into small engine repair dates back to elementary school when he took a career exam at school and his teachers told his parents he had better find something to do with his hands. So he went to Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, but didn’t want to put grease in his long hair working on full-size engines found in cars and the like.

Small engine repairs are very different from working on full-size engines, he said.

“They’re completely different,” Wintle said. “Each machine has its own idiosyncrasies.”

In his shop on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Wintle worked at a low table surrounded by machines awaiting repair, shelves lined with tools and chainsaws in neat rows on the floor with sharp teeth exposed. A riding lawnmower was held on his haunches behind Wintle as he disassembled small pieces of a weeder, adjusted them and secured them on a blue towel.

Wintle said he gets a steady stream of new customers – around 100 or so every year – and also has repeat customers who either return at the same time each year or reliably for repairs as they happen.

“It needs to be cleaned up, dismantled. Probably a carburetor issue,” Wintle told a customer who came in with a faulty pressure washer. “I can do it.”

He said he named the shop after his eldest son, but neither of his two sons showed any interest in taking over the family business. He’s run Jonathon since 1973, when he started out of his own two-car garage at home, and has been open in Hatfield for about five years now. Now in his 60s, he hopes to retire where he plans to do some repairs again for longtime friends and clients of his home.

Right now, he wakes up at 5:15 a.m. every morning. He orders parts – trying to place bulk orders for several different customers to reduce shipping costs – works on his repairs and talks with customers. Around 5:30 p.m. each evening, he loads up his truck and drives around the valley doing pick-ups and deliveries, then ends his work day around 7:30 or 8 p.m.

“If the snow doesn’t fall in the winter or the rain doesn’t fall in the summer, business dies,” Wintle said. “And you need snow before Thanksgiving to make sure you get through the year.”

He doesn’t sell goods in his store because he doesn’t want to absorb inventory costs by sitting around. His biggest monthly expenses are rent and buying parts, which can be an expense of $8,000 to $10,000 each spring when he orders in bulk. He is a sole proprietor to minimize payroll expenses and needs three and a half billable hours a day at $69.95 an hour to make ends meet.

He said he hadn’t paid for advertising in five years. He can’t even make a reliable budget, because he has no idea what the weather will bring this week, or next, or the season after.

Florentine shop

In Florence, Andrew Mortimer and his wife, Amanda, operate Advanced Small Engine Sales and Service LLC. Mortimer said his wife used to restore tractors as a hobby and he grew up on a farm fixing anything that broke, so their foray into small engine repair came from ” lots and lots of practice.”

“That’s what a farmer does,” Mortimer said. “Something breaks, you go in and try to fix it.”

While Wintle’s workshop only offers repairs, the Mortimers also sell machinery at 187 Locust St. They employ four full-time staff at the store, which they opened in 2014 on the site of the old workshop. Green Valley Small Engine Repair Company.

Mortimer said he noticed that some people like to buy high-quality equipment and have it tuned and repaired regularly, while others prefer to buy an inexpensive machine and replace it with a new one when it breaks down.

“But I think people are getting tired of throwing stuff away every two or three years and coming to us instead,” Mortimer said.

He said the store has seen more and more customers every year and also has a steady stream of repeat customers who come in for checks on their gear. Business is very cyclical and very dependent on the weather, Mortimer said. They drop off and pick up twice a week.

“Last month, when the weather got warmer, we were buried, absolutely buried,” Mortimer said. “You just try to play your cards close to your chest.”

A few other places also offer small engine repairs locally, such as C&A Repair and Equipment in Whately and Boyden & Perron Inc. lawn care service in Amherst. Wintle said some landscaping companies do their own on-site repairs because they have a tight schedule and can’t afford wait times during peak demand seasons. Owners with mechanical knowledge call Wintle to repair their machines themselves. Some succeed, he says, some don’t.

Both Wintle and Mortimer said they mostly rely on word of mouth or people needing a fix to Google search or pass by. The biggest problem they see, each said, is ethanol in gasoline breaking down and causing problems with small engines. Mortimer said he sells a lot of fuel stabilizers to fix ethanol issues in gasoline.

“Ethanol creates hell with everything,” Wintle said.

To stay current, small engine repairers can take online training courses or training with the brands they work with, such as Briggs and Stratton, Kawasaki and Honda.

There is also a series of small engine repair courses taught at Smith Voc High School by David Travers, the school’s machine shop teacher, for over 25 years. This year’s series runs from September 24 to November 5 and offers training on the “differences between L-Head, OHV and OHC style engines as well as vertical and horizontal configurations” and how “four-stroke theory and two-stroke is the heart of what makes a small engine work.

For those without mechanical skills, however, it’s a good thing that there are small engine repair shops like Wintle’s and Mortimer that stand up to rain, snow or sun.

MJ Tidwell can be contacted at [email protected]

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