Surrounded by neat rows of weed eaters for sale, sticky notes, and a low level of hard rock, we sat down with John Fleming and Carla Winder to get knee-deep in the business of fixing mowers.
Best-kept secret? Really?! Yes! You guys should know – Central Texas Mowers, mind you, is not a lawn mowing service. They specialize in small engine repair and hand-held equipment like blowers and weed eaters, generators, water pumps, commercial equipment like shaker plates and rollers, a variety of things. (If a human put it together, they can probably fix it.)
Right, not the most exciting secret ever but – for those interested in practicality:
Folks drive up to three hours away to have this team look at their lawnmowers. It's also common for a customer when getting their ticket back, to think it’s going to cost a whole lot more than it does. Every repair comes with a complimentary wash, to what many respond, "I didn't know my [mower, weed eater, machine] could look like that again!"
Their team can do a world of good to a mower + lawn equipment: engine swaps, tune-ups, repairs, and definitely give expert recommendations.
There's more to this family business than meets the eye. We'll leave you to get to know the quaint and effective repair service you're gonna want to know about the next time your engine sputters...
How did Central Texas Mowers start?
John: I was working at Landscape Supply as their head technician. I grew up doing this stuff anyway, with my dad.
I was getting my own shop ready to open and I got hurt. Got on workers’ compensation. They cut my benefits off but I wasn’t released from the doctor to go to work so, I went for about a year without income. I was fixing to start losing stuff, selling things, and I thought, "Well, I gotta do something!" I borrowed some money from my wife, got the first few jobs, and went from there.
What was it like working with your dad?
John: I’m not going to say it was all roses! Growing up, he worked for Montgomery Ward. He was the head technician over there and he had a shop sitting over here (he points) on this little slab, forever, for 40 something years. So, he did appliances and we did lawn equipment. We were his kids so we did what he said to do!
And I hate working on appliances to this day! (Gives a hearty laugh.)
I grew up on this property, graduated from La Vega.
It's a family business. Why do you work here, Carla?
Carla: I love it. Well, considering my last job, this is laid back. I like that I just deal with people, one-on-one. I worked at an adult daycare before. We get along.
John: We’ve known each other (he pauses to count the years and concludes) ...forever, pretty much. I dated her sister, Shannon, back in high school. And when we split up, my brother, Nathan, became friends with Shannon’s brothers, Arty and Lonnie. So we were always around each other…it was always meant to be. I feel that.
Carla: He and my sister dated in high school and now they ended up getting back together and got married.
Tell me about the first few months of getting going. Where’d you work out of?
John: We used this office we're sitting in, but it was a paint booth. I worked on cars before, on the side, because – I love cars. I’m a car guy. I'd paint, do bodywork. Anything I could do to a car. I love cars.
It was hot and sweaty, trying to do paperwork. I'm not even gonna lie; it was miserable. We just built this out into an office and got A/C this year.
I still don’t take a paycheck here. Everything goes right back into this place.
What do you love about cars?
John: I love being able to put my hands on 'em, tweak 'em, listen to them. I love the way they sound, especially if it’s running right. It’s like lawnmowers – it’s got a certain sound you just have to listen for it. I don't know; I’m weird.
Engines are like people; they’ve all got their own attitude. They really do. They start by being cold to being hot. You've just gotta know your equipment. Like your weed eater, you may try it three times or it might take ten…to me, they’ve just all got their own personality in the way they run – you can hear it.
The little ticks and little sounds it makes, little exhaust sounds, and pings, the little noises it makes...they tell you a lot about it.
(He's an engine whisperer.)
Any memorable jobs that you’ve done?
Carla: (She jokes) ...You mean, like if someone brings in a mower and it's so old it doesn’t have a serial number and we don’t know who made it or what model it is to be able to order the parts to fix it?
But, we do. We go the distance to find the parts for them. If a mower comes in and the serial number is all peeled off, we do the work to find out where that thing came from to do all we can to get the parts that customer needs.
We have some very thankful customers.
John: Sometimes I put too much time into looking for parts. At this point, we have a good idea about what equipment we can locate parts for and what we won’t even try because we’ve been there, done that and believe me, if it could be done, we would be doing it. Other customers need my attention and if I know I can’t find parts for that - I’m going to tell you the truth.
But that one dude, he carried his mower to four different repair places and they kept messing it up. Finally, he brought it to us and we haven’t seen him since!
What’d you do to it?
John: I can’t even remember. I remember him but I don’t remember his mower. It was quite a bit of work that we did to it.
People come in and ask, “Is my mower ready?”
They both laugh, "Which one's yours?"
What's something special about this place that most folks don't know?
Carla: That’s a hard question because people already know he’s good at what he does. Many of them say that. People just come here to ask John's opinion… (she laughs) Because they know he’s going to tell them the truth.
John: I’m forthcoming. Some like that and some. do. not.
I asked for an example; he obliged:
If I think your equipment is a piece of junk or you're asking me about a mower across town, I’ll let you know. I try to be subtle about it but - you know, that’s why a lot of customers like coming here because I tell it like it is.
What does your business offer?
John: Good customer service, we’re friendly with people. Good work. We guarantee our work, we stand behind everything we do. All of our warranties, I make good on them. Try to treat people fair and decent. Being honest.
(The sound of a lawnmower blade being sharpened whirls and grinds in the background.)
What is your dream for Central texas mowers?
John: A big dealership: bigger building – nice building – and something a whole lot more presentable. More friendly to the eyes. I'm going to try to make a move happen, something on the highway for greater visibility. The higher end customer would probably want to go to a place that's nicer. That’s a little more presentable.
Imagine what Waco would be like if everyone bought locally?
(His eyes lit up.) Oh, it would THRIVE! It would be amazing. For everyone, for Waco.
What’s one thing you want people to know?
We’re here to help the customers in any way we can in the best way we can – in the most efficient possible way.
If your lawn equipment has been having ish-ues, let Central Texas Mowers bring that thing back to life for you. In the meantime, download the Towny app to continue to support businesses like John's and receive city-wide perks (ongoing and FREE!) once you download it. Don't miss everrrrything Waco has to offer you, locally!