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Small town Alabama venture grows from backyard roots to big business that gives back

Joe Richburg worked for 19 years at an Opp automobile dealership.

In October 1986, he and his father, Troy Richburg, began a lawnmower repair business in a single roll-up garage in the backyard of Joe’s childhood home.

Joe continued to report to his job at the dealership by day, and each evening serve the line of people waiting for him and his dad to fix their mowers in Opp.

In 1991, he and his dad erected a 30-by-70-foot metal structure on land they had purchased just up the road. By 1992, J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop opened its first showroom and Joe quit his day job for full-time business ownership.

“I love taking care of customers,” said Joe. “You can go anywhere and buy a lawnmower, even order one online, but you’re not going to get J.R. service. You’re not going to get to call old J.R., and you’re not going to get the answer, ‘Bring it on in, we’ll take care of it.’”

It is customer service that sets J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop apart.

While the original purpose of the business was strictly lawnmower repair, “I soon realized I needed to expand by offering lawn and garden products and outdoor equipment, and eventually recognized the importance of carrying a full range of parts,” Richburg said.

“Our business is stocked with the parts necessary to repair and maintain the products we sell, including lawnmowers, handheld lawn equipment, golf carts, ATVs, UTVs and most outdoor sporting units,”

Richburg said.

J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop now occupies five structures and a fenced lot on 10-plus acres in Opp, including the main showroom/repair shop/covered area for lawnmowers, an office building, three warehouses and the fenced lot for its golf cart inventory. J.R.’s began selling, servicing and renting out golf carts in 2000.

J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop in Opp has grown from a two-man backyard venture to a business with 25 full-time and part-time employees. (Brandon Robbins / Alabama Retailer)

“It was just me and my daddy for several years there,” said Joe, “but now we’ve got 22 full-time employees and three part-time employees.”

Richburg is president of J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop. Kelli Richburg, Joe’s wife and co-owner of the business, is vice president and human resources director. She handles accounts payable, payroll and insurance.

Kelli, an Opp native who began working in the office at J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop 11 years ago, has been married to Joe for a decade. “It is a pleasure to help his business and support his community activities,” she said.

Besides selling and servicing lawnmowers, outdoor equipment and golf carts, Richburg works about 200 heads of cattle with Kelli’s father. Joe is a director with the Opp Farmers’ Cooperative Market and the Cattlemen’s Association.

Opp native Joel Smith describes his friend as “a faithful pillar of his community. To Joe, his business is not just a career – it’s a passion – a passion for his employees, customers and community.”

Richburg is on the boards of the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission and Opp Utilities. He is an Opp and Covington County Area Chamber of Commerce investor and past-president. J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop is a member of the Andalusia and Evergreen chambers of commerce.

“Many of our loyal customers live in Andalusia and Evergreen, and Kelli and I feel joining these chambers is a small way to extend support to the communities that support us with their continued patronage,” said Richburg.

J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop in Opp sells a variety of outdoor equipment and services everything it sells. (Brandon Robbins / Alabama Retailer)

The Opp and Covington County Area Chamber of Commerce recognized J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop as its inaugural Business of the Year in 2012. In 2010 and 2018, the chamber honored Richburg with its Spirit of Opportunity Award, which goes to an “ambassador” for Opp, a “shining star” for the city. He once addressed the Opp Rotary Club on the topic “It Can Be Done in Opp.”

In 2018, the Covington County Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities named J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop as the Small Business Employer of the Year for working with special needs students in the Job Exploration Training, or JET, program.

In 2014 and again earlier this year, J.R.’s Lawnmower Service was recognized as a Silver Alabama Retailer of the Year, in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million and the Annual Sales $5 Million to $20 Million, respectively.

Kelly Brandin, executive administrator of the Opp and Covington County Area Chamber of Commerce, said, “J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop has had, and continues to have, a major economic impact on our city and county.”

This story first appeared in the Alabama Retailer magazine and on the Alabama Retail Association website. J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop has been an ARA member since 2001.