What began as Steve Gegner’s after-school, part-time job will soon become his daughter Nikki’s very own small business. For more than 40 years, the Gegners have served their Longwood, Florida, community as the family behind D & J Equipment, a locally owned STIHL dealer. Now, the business is preparing to transition into a second generation, but the commitment to customer service won’t be retiring with the first generation.
Steve began working part-time at D & J Equipment during high school. During his first year of college, the store’s owner announced that he would be selling the business. At just 19 years old, Steve quickly threw his hat into the ring.
“The current owner kind of laughed at my dad because he was only 19,” says Nikki, who has heard the story many times. “But my dad sat down with my grandfather, explained what he wanted to do with the store, and my grandfather got on board to help him buy it – and here we are, 40 years later.”
For many vendors, Steve was the youngest business owner they had ever worked with. Nonetheless, he knew how to make his business successful: D & J Equipment prioritized customer service and responded to the community’s needs. While the store once focused primarily on agricultural products, like animal feed and equipment, D & J Equipment has evolved with the community to reflect today’s residential and commercial landscaping customers.
For all this hard work, Steve has built a strong foundation with his customers, many of whom return again and again to the store. “We’re all a big family around here,” Nikki says. “I have people come in all the time who say they’ve known me since I was a baby.”
Those customers can rest assured that their local store will continue to serve them for many years to come. As Steve and his wife, Teri, begin to retire, Nikki and her fiancé will take over the family business. It’s a role she has been groomed for.
“If I’ve learned anything from my dad, it’s relationships,” she says. “It’s not about making a sale because you’re making money off of it. Obviously, when you’re running a business, you have to do that. But it’s more about creating a relationship with the person you’re selling to.”
By building that relationship with customers, the D & J Equipment team can serve customers more personally than the big-box stores.
“You go into a big-box store and someone tells you this is a good mower,” Nikki says. “But most times, they don’t know the product well enough to consider your acreage or other needs. I’ve had that happen on multiple occasions: Someone comes in and they have five acres of land, but they’ve bought a mower that is not made for that.”
D & J also provides personal and expert service after the initial purchase. “We provide the full-service needs of our customers that the big-box stores can’t because we have a fully trained mechanical staff for repairs, whereas our competitors don’t,” says Nikki.
Whether they’re looking for a mower to cover their five acres or a fleet to outfit their entire landscaping or tree care business, D & J Equipment’s customers will continue to get the personal and expert service they expect under the second-generation leadership. More importantly, the Gegner family will continue to engage with and serve its local community in the way that only a family business can.
For more information about D & J Equipment, visit www.dandjequipmentinc.com.