Broad Ripple Lawn Equipment Owners Thank Local Community, Talk 42 Years of Success & Retiring

Photographer: Belinda Russell

It’s not incredibly common for any small, independently-owned and -operated business to survive for more than four decades. Nevertheless, Steve Manning and Dan Hale, co-founders and owners of Broad Ripple Lawn Equipment (BRLE) on 64th Street, know exactly what the key has been to their long-term success.

“Honor has always been a big deal with us,” Manning says. “Customers have trusted us since we’ve done whatever we could to take care of them honestly.”

And as Manning and Hale close their doors this year after 42 years in operation, they can take comfort in the fact that they never took a single one of those customers for granted.

Their dedication has paid off too — some locals who’ve moved away from Broad Ripple through the years to satellite areas like Brownsburg and Zionsville have continued to take their mowers to Manning and Hale for service.

“We’ve had people coming to us for 20 or 30 years,” Manning says. “We had a couple women who stood in the shop and cried when they found out we were going to retire. The biggest thing we’re going to miss is our customers.”

Manning, 69, and Hale, 72, both Indy natives and Army veterans, met while working in the mid-1970s for AHM Graves, a real estate company. Manning served as a property manager while Hale worked as marketing manager and purchasing agent for construction, and during their time with the company some foreshadowing occurred.

“Any time Graves had some kind of a problem, they would get the two of us together to fix it,” Manning recalls. “Maybe that was some kind of sign of what was to come.”

Another fortuitous event would take place between Manning and Hale at a friendly lunch break during their time at AHM Graves, serving as a precursor of sorts to the company they would eventually launch together. Manning had been running a small lawn mowing company since before his stint in the Army, and while eating lunch at Manning’s house on Birchwood Avenue Hale noticed a broken impact wrench sitting on his grill.

“Dan identified what was wrong with it and got it fixed,” says Manning, a Butler grad. “He started helping with the maintenance on my equipment for my mowing company, and then we gave the owners at AHM Graves six months’ notice and decided to start our own company. We ended up using that same wrench for the first 25 years that we were in business.”

BRLE was officially open in January of 1977 on 61st Street behind McNamara Florist, with Manning as head of the accounting and finance, and Hale as head mechanic.

“We’ve both helped each other with different things, but I’ve never had to help very often in the shop and Dan has been able to stay away from the accounting stuff,” Manning says.

Manning and Hale offered mowing, landscaping and snow removal until April of 1993, when they relocated to 64th Street and streamlined into an equipment repair and service operation. Push lawn mower repair has always been the company’s bread and butter, and Hale also worked on riding mowers, trimmers, power washers and generators until a few years ago.

“We’ve also been a Toro and Echo dealer for years, and we’ve had a small retail side of the business selling mowers,” Manning explains. “The primary part of the business’s income has been our service shop though.”

And that niche has helped BRLE survive for so long. While there are plenty of big-box stores offering lawn equipment, most don’t offer repair services in-house if something goes wrong with that equipment.

Aside from Hale and Manning, BRLE never had more than two employees since becoming exclusively a repair and service business, and such a modestly-scaled approach has allowed the owners to maximize their focus on customer service.

“It’s really been an enjoyable 42 years,” Manning says. “Part of that has been that Dan’s strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are his weaknesses. It’s been a good business and we’ve made a good team.”