Schiller Grounds Care Inc., the parent company of Johnson Creek-based BOB-CAT Mowers, knows what its customers want — sometimes even before Pat Capuccithey realize it.

A top priority for Pat Cappucci, president and chief operating officer, is executing a strategy he calls “empathic design.” Capucci shared comments in a recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story. 

BOB-CAT’s Wisconsin roots run deep. The first machine labeled a BOB-CAT was actually a commercial snow-thrower built by Wisconsin Marine Co. in Lake Mills, Wis.

“For the BOB-CAT brand, we did what I’ve learned throughout my whole career: ask the customers what the brand means to them and then build around that,” Cappucci said. “We involve our customers in the entire breadth of the brand, from messaging to product testing, and that has helped revitalize the BOB-CAT name.”

For Cappucci, the strategy is intentional and never-ending.

“We observe them in their environment, observe them using the product,” he said. “We understand from them what they’re trying to get out of the product.”

Cappucci explains how the strategy of empathic design is executed.

Ask customers what the brand means to them: “The Bob-Cat brand promise features three pillars: quality of cut, durability and ease of ownership. That’s not just marketing-speak. We went out to the customers and asked them what the brand means to them and why they bought it,” Cappucci said.

Observe how customers use the products: “Sometimes customers are able to tell you what they want, but sometimes they can’t, and you just have to see it for yourself,” he said. “We work in the field with the customers who use our mowers so that we can help serve them the best.” This approach led the company to re-engineer its QuickCat 36-inch mower to better fit urban properties with narrow gates.

Listen to customers: “We manufacture mowers for both homeowners and commercial landscapers, but we found that the ‘professional’ message works for both. We learn a lot from homeowners, but one takeaway we’ve learned is that they look at what the pros are using. In short, if you win the pros over, you’ll win the consumers over too.”

Let customers test the products: “In the product development phase, we bring in customers to test our products against the same pillars that we built the brand on. The customer tests it, and we adjust and tweak to make sure that when the product hits the market, it can deliver on the promise, the very same promise that the customers helped with from the beginning.”