A Clinic for Ailing Machines

by Heather Lauf

Personal service and customer care bring health to the “sick” at Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital.

To some, it’s merely a chore that must be accomplished. But to others, it’s a spring and summertime hobby that provides a space for relaxation, while enhancing the beauty of their homes’ surroundings. To Gary Hohulin and Phil Maher, co-owners of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital, it’s what their life’s work revolves around.

Mowing the lawn and caring for the yard has long been a responsibility of homeownership, but Hohulin notes that lawn care has become somewhat of a hobby for many customers, who rely on Wieland’s for assistance with new machines, tools, parts and equipment servicing. “Many people have gotten much more into the details of lawn and yard care,” he says. “It can be relaxing for some people, including me—even though I’m around it all the time here.”

Products, Parts and Service
With locations in Peoria, Washington and Pekin, Wieland’s offers a full lineup of lawn and yard care products and tools, including lawn tractors, walk-behind mowers, zero-turn mowers, chainsaws, trimmers, hedge clippers, air blowers, tillers, power washers and generators. Product lines include John Deere, Stihl, Echo and Toro, as well as Caterpillar’s new line of portable generators. Approached by the company to be a pilot dealer for the new generators, Wieland’s began carrying the products last September.

Parts and service are also provided for the various types of products, and customers have the choice of getting the right parts ordered for them, or simply having the “hospital” fix the equipment. “We take in sick lawn mowers and hopefully revive them,” Hohulin explains. “We basically do physicals on them, as well.”

Wieland’s service department spans general services from oil changes and blade sharpening to engine overhauls. From November through March, they offer an off-season service special as a chance to get a checkup in before yardwork season begins.

According to Hohulin, the biggest repair needs seen by their service department are fuel-related problems, as the higher alcohol content of today’s gasoline may impact some of these issues. “A lawn tractor is like a car; it needs to be serviced regularly,” he says. “It gets even dirtier and dustier than a car, so it requires good maintenance.”


Gary Hohulin and Phil Maher, co-owners of the business since 1984
 

A Motivating Comment
Hohulin’s path to business ownership wasn’t one he ever anticipated taking. Growing up in Peoria Heights, he helped his father, a sole-proprietor business owner, in his grocery store, Traub’s Market. The shop was located downtown in the Heights, in the space occupied today by A Perfect Pear Boutique.

“My dad ran that store for 45 years,” says Hohulin. “We had a weekly delivery service route that went along Grandview Drive, serving the needs of homeowners there. I learned how my dad served his customers and catered to their needs." After attending Illinois Central College to study business management, Hohulin began working at Wieland’s in 1981. The business was then owned by Wayne Wieland, who first opened it in 1974. But a number of economic factors, including high interest rates, led to Wieland’s decision to close the business in 1984. He instructed his employees, including Hohulin and Maher, to let customers know that the lawn mower hospital would soon be closing its doors.

Customers were unhappy to learn of the closing, and vocally informed the employees of their displeasure. One customer suggested to Hohulin and Maher that they consider keeping the business going themselves. The comment planted an idea in the two young men’s minds, which quickly took root.

“We started the business up again on a Thursday, after being let go on Monday of that week,” Hohulin recalls. “We started out with probably $300 each, plus an air compressor. Basically, we were out of a job, [so we] stepped in to create our own new jobs.”

The business maintained its name and Peoria location under the new ownership team. Since 1984, two additional locations have opened, with the Washington location launching in 2002, and Pekin in 2008. “I didn’t necessarily set out to own a business, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Hohulin adds.

Best Customer Service
In 2017, Wieland’s was a Best of Peoria finalist, nominated in the “Best Customer Service” category through Peoria Magazines’ annual awards program. “Knowing that’s coming from people out there voting, it’s a huge compliment,” Hohulin says of the nomination. “Without our customers, we wouldn’t be here—there are other places they could choose to do business with.”

Hohulin agrees that serving customers is at the heart of his business, as he and staff strive to offer a more personal touch to service than what’s offered at big-box stores. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and our customers are special to us,” he declares. “We know many of them by name, and they’re friends and family to us.”

Hohulin gives credit for Wieland’s high standard of service to its knowledgeable staff, which includes several longtime employees who have worked there for more than 20 years. “We’re here to diagnose any issues our customers are having with their machines,” he says. “We want to get them back out doing what they want to be doing, whether that’s trimming trees, mowing their lawn or getting a generator going again.”

The Course of Business
Over time, the Wieland’s staff has seen and responded to a number of changes and trends in the lawn care industry. Among other shifts, Hohulin notes the increase in safety features on lawn equipment was a major change in the ‘80s. More recent changes, such as emissions requirements, more overseas manufacturing, technology and the internet, have all impacted the course of business.

Currently, there’s a trend away from gas-powered lawn and yard equipment toward battery-powered equipment, Hohulin says, noting the new Stihl line of chainsaws introduced at Wieland’s this year. “We’ve already seen lots of interest,” he adds. “The equipment requires less maintenance, plus it’s more convenient, lighter weight, and easier to start and use.” As the growth at Wieland’s continues, the business has been pushed toward larger building locations to provide more space for products and service work. The Peoria location has moved three times to accommodate the need for additional space, while the Washington location made a second move to a larger location in January 2016.

An off-site warehouse also provides room to house additional inventory, and Hohulin and Maher continue to consider their customers’ evolving needs as they determine any potential future expansion. In the meantime, they’ll keep focusing on what they’ve become known for in the area: providing personalized service to their customers.

“For us, the best thing is being recognized by our customers and peers—to know that we’re exceeding their expectations,” Hohulin says. “We appreciate our customers and what they say and do for us. They’re how we know we’re doing something right.” iBi

For store locations and additional information, visit wielandslawnmowerhospital.com.

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