Exmark: Comments from Daryn Walters, Director of Marketing

On criteria most proud of: At Exmark, we strive to continually learn and improve, so for us, it’s great to know our dealers understand we’re listening and responding to their needs.

On short-term focused improvement area: We’re working hard to better support our dealers in their local markets with turnkey marketing and advertising support to increase awareness and interest in Exmark and its products. We’re also investing in new training resources to better train our dealers’ sales personnel on the unique features and benefits of Exmark products.

Both of these efforts have resulted in strong retail growth for Exmark dealers across the country.

On recent changes: We launched Exmark University, our online dealer-training platform, in late 2016, and feedback from our dealer network has been incredibly positive. Exmark University gives our dealers a better way to give each employee the ongoing training they need to be a great resource for their customers.

On trends: We’re watching a number of trends, however, succession planning is one we’re paying particularly close attention to. Many successful, long-standing dealerships do not have the next generation coming back to take over the business. We’re also seeing an overall slowdown in new dealership openings across the country. While both trends underscore the challenges retailers face, we also see them as opportunities to be a better partner with our dealers and give them the tools they need to succeed.

On strategy when missing the mark: At Exmark, we’ve long focused our efforts on serving the needs of landscape professionals. While we haven’t taken our eye off the commercial market, in recent years we have adapted our product to better meet the growing demand of the home and acreage market.

We recognize that our dealers need strong, category-leading products to serve their customers in the acreage market. The successful 2017 launch of the Exmark Radius zero-turn riding mower is a recent example of our commitment. We will showcase even more innovation and product advancements at the 2017 GIE+EXPO.

On future plans: Exmark is fortunate to have the best local dealers across the country and we’re focused on helping them succeed. Based in part on the feedback of our dealers, we will continue to evolve our existing products and explore new product categories.

Our heritage serving landscape professionals has led to a dealer base that’s fairly metro-focused. As a result, we see tremendous growth potential by partnering with an increased number of dealers serving more rural focused markets.

STIHL: Comments from Chris Long, New Business & Training Development Manager

On criteria most proud of: STIHL is most proud of the fact that we had the highest overall rating among the handheld outdoor power equipment (OPE) suppliers and we landed in the top 5 in all 3 categories that the dealers said were most important to them. We continue to support the servicing dealers and we think the results of the survey reflect our positive relationship with them.

On short-term focused improvement area: STIHL dealers are growing and we need to continue efforts to ensure that we support that growth with proper forecasting of parts and inventory to ensure that dealers have the product they need to meet demand.

On recent changes: Our analysis of the survey results year-over-year shows dealers responded positively to our increased marketing and advertising efforts. Over the last year, STIHL launched the largest number of new products in our company’s history, supported by the single largest coordinated marketing effort in our history, driving new customer traffic to STIHL dealers.

On current trends: The switch from gas to battery in the homeowner segment is a trend we are seeing across the industry, but more than that, we are watching the buying habits and preferences of millennials. While 73% of millennials report they make purchases directly on their smartphones (Source: BazaarVoice), the vast majority of outdoor power equipment (OPE) sales are still done in store. Over the last 10 years, as customers — including millennials — recognize the advantages of buying local and the benefits of shopping with a knowledgeable dealer that also provides service, STIHL servicing dealers have actually taken back retailer share from big box stores. (Source: 2016 Deloitte Retail Volatility Index)

On strategy when missing the mark: We know that continued success does not come without challenges. At STIHL, we aren’t just focused on the development of new products; we are also investing heavily in all areas of the company including R&D, inventory, logistics and manufacturing, to ensure quality products are delivered on time to our dealers.

On plans for dealer network: Our plan is to continue to support independent servicing dealers through new product introductions, training, and sales and marketing support with the sole purpose of driving traffic through their doors and increasing their bottom line.

TORO: Comments from Scott Wozniak, Director of RLC Dealer Sales

On criteria most proud of: We are very proud of Toro’s standings in many of the rankings, but specifically those that relate to how well a manufacturer supports its dealer base after the sale. Many brands can make a sale, but when customers have issues, they rely on the dealer to help them. Dealer partners are the first stop for customers who have challenges with their equipment, and it’s the duty of any manufacturer worth its salt to stand by its dealers if and when there are equipment issues. Toro continues to stand behind its dealers to make sure they have all the resources, tools and support they need to best support their customers. For this reason, ranking categories such as “Parts Availability,” “Manufacturer Response to Dealer Needs” and “Overall Satisfaction” are very important to all of us here at Toro.

On short-term focused improvement area: Continuous improvement and innovation are engrained in Toro’s DNA, and there are certainly several areas of focus for Toro in the short term. From a product standpoint, we’re continuing to focus on product innovation and quality — as we always have — to deliver the best portfolio of products for our dealers. In terms of after-market support, we continue to focus on building strong relationships with our customers and simply being easy to do business with as an organization. These focus areas have been organizational goals for quite some time, but we are continually striving to be a better partner and deliver more to our dealers.

On recent changes: Most of the strategic changes we have made to our dealer channel have been a direct result of dealer feedback. For instance, we expanded the number of products that are shipped in returnable crates. We also recently streamlined some key promotional processes, making it easy for dealers to promote and sell Toro products by eliminating the need to enter a separate promotional code when products are registered. This simple change eliminated a frustrating step for the dealer and made it easier for them to do what they do best — sell. Many times, it’s small revisions that can have a big impact when it comes to working with our channel partners, and these changes are all because we do our best to listen to our dealers.

On current trends: One thing we’re really proud of at Toro is being on the forefront of the industry while balancing technological advancements with practicality. Simply put, we want to make cutting-edge products that are useful and practical for Toro users — pairing smart features with proven dependability. Specifically, Toro is watching and working on some of the same trends the industry is following — including everything from advancements in battery-powered products to contractor productivity and versatility on the job site.

On strategy when missing the mark: Most every major business decision made at Toro is done with a healthy dose of input from our channel partners and end users. We are also very lucky to have one of the best research and development teams in the industry, staffed by exceptional engineering minds. By coupling a healthy listening strategy with solid recommendations from our R&D team, we like to think we have minimized any strategic product errors over the years. With input from those who work with our machines on a daily basis out in the field, we are able to keep our fingers on the pulse of everything that’s happening in the industry and drive our product development efforts to best suit the needs of the end user.

On plans for dealer network: We’re fortunate to have the largest dealer network for full-line OPE manufacturers and many of our dealers have represented Toro for decades. Even though we know these dealers well, we’re continually working to build our relationships with them so we both can evolve to meet the needs of our customers. That isn’t just a plan; it’s who we are as a company. Specifically, we have one overarching goal of enhancing our dealer network, which can be achieved through two separate initiatives. One is to enhance the overall health, performance and perception of our existing dealers and the other is to develop new dealers in markets that are currently underserved. By continually helping to elevate our products, services and — perhaps most importantly — the dealers who represent Toro, we can make sure everyone has access to top-quality Toro equipment through a vast network of trusted dealers.

Walker Manufacturing: Comments from Bob Walker, President

On criteria most proud of: We are most proud of the high rating on “Manufacturer Response to Dealer Needs” and “Communication with Management.” We work to be a relationship-based company where we know our dealers and are accessible and responsive to them. These two categories taken together show we are achieving some good relationships with our dealers and will keep working to grow more in this area.

On short-term focused improvement area: We are working to improve our customer and technical "help desk” to be more responsive to incoming calls for assistance.

On recent changes: Our “Out Front Advantage” sales training program has been well received by dealers with 600 dealer personnel participating in our 2-day “boot camp” at the factory over the last 5 years.

On current trends: We are watching the trends/changes coming from the on-line world that we are all living in and the impact on power equipment dealers.

On strategy when missing the mark: Some of our test programs for new products have not worked well and have not given us the information we needed before launching a new product. However, we have stood behind our product and stood behind our dealers to make the product changes necessary for ultimate success in the market. At the same time, we have improved our test program protocol with good results on recent new product releases.

On plans for dealer network: We plan to continue having our products "sold with service" by dealers and are committed to the success and prosperity or our dealers.

Wright Manufacturing: Comments from Ed Wright, Director of Engineering

On proud criteria: Over the past 20 years, we have always had a focus on quality. In the past few years, we’ve had a special emphasis in quality and it’s good to know that dealers are seeing the results.

On short-term focused improvement area: We realize that dealers are independent small businesses that hang their reputation on the quality and support of the equipment they sell. Backing our dealers and providing the bests products leads to phenomenal success.

On recent changes: We recently launched a serial based parts lookup system that allows for unit-level parts accuracy.

On current trends: For us, the biggest indicators of success are the condition of the U.S. economy and the weather.

On strategy when missing the mark: We have certainly created some of our own problems over the years. But what remains true in a small company is that we have a personal relationship with many of our dealers, and we have to listen to them to be successful.

On plans for dealer network: We still have many markets that are underserved, and as the “stand on” concept continues to grow, we are looking to partner with dealers that are leaders in their market.

Bush-Hog’s Take on its Ranking in EDA Dealer Survey: Comments from Tony Marchese, vice president of sales/marketing

On proud criteria: We are most proud of either product quality or manufacturers response to dealer needs and concerns.

We strive to provide a quality product, a competitive price and support it after the sale. We pride ourselves on being a company that values relationships with our dealers and desire to resolve any issues quickly and fairly.

On short-term focused improvement area: Response to dealer needs and concerns. We are exploring the concepts of investing in the implementation of a Customer Relationship Management Tool (CRM). This will allow us to better track and monitor the resolution of issues faster with our dealers, as well as keep our sales force and everyone in the Bush Hog organization informed on issues impacting our customers.

On recent changes: We have improved on parts fill rates and strived to process warranty claims in a timely and fair manner. We have increased our communications with our dealers through quarterly promotions. We also increased our marketing and advertising support through national ad campaigns and increased spending on co-op advertising.

On current trends: We are watching commodity price trends, interest rates, farm income, new and used equipment levels and weather.

On strategy when missing the mark: Product availability is improving, but needs to continue. We need to increase communications with our dealers by having more management personnel in the field. We need to conduct regional dealer meetings, as well as possibly implement a dealer council.

On plans for dealer network: We want to continue strengthening relationships with our dealers by increasing communication, providing better product availability and continuing to provide strong “after the sale” product and parts support. We also want to continue to value the relationships we have with our dealers and treat them as partners.

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