From the Desk of Lynn Woolf: March 11, 2014
Rural lifestyle equipment manufacturers selling in big box stores is not a new marketing strategy. However, that doesn’t lessen the blow when it’s one of your manufacturers entering the large retailer arena for the first time — as Hustler has done recently with its Raptor zero-turn mower.
Excel Industries, makers of the Raptor, recently announced to dealers that they will now offer the Raptor and Raptor SD for online sales at participating Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, with the Raptor SD 60 in a small number of test stores. Hustler dealers shared their concerns with us and we asked Adam Mullet, Excel’s director of marketing, to address those concerns — especially why he thinks this is an opportunity for dealers.
Adam Mullet is Excel Industries' director of marketing.
Mullet explains the reasons why the company is pursuing large retailers instead of expanding its dealer network. He says Hustler is relatively new to the residential or large property owner segment, having only started marketing to them since about 2000. Rapid growth meant it was time to adapt strategies. “We’ve had a plan to pursue national retailers for several years and we hired a national sales manager a year and a half ago.” He says that just expanding the dealer network becomes an issue in terms of proximity of dealers and maintaining their market separation. Awareness is another factor.
“A percentage of customers don’t even know that the dealers exist. They think, ‘I need a mower’ and they go to Home Depot or Lowe’s.”
Mullet also says this about why they need to be in big boxes: “Our main competitors like John Deere and Ariens are there. If we’re not there, we lose sales to competitors and our dealers don’t get any opportunities.”
So, how can a dealer compete?
“Dealers have a lot more ammunition than retail stores. They do not service the product, but dealers do. If customers are shopping at both and the price is equal, dealers can say they offer service,” Mullet says. “The concern is that dealers say they don’t make money on servicing warranties, but the big thing is that it’s a sales driver.”
Dealers had questions about whether those prices really were equal because retailers can win sales by discounts through store cards or free add-ons. Mullet says the company’s financing programs for dealers, 0% for 48 months for instance, is better than any retailer’s credit or deferred payment options. And, Hustler is soon coming out with a military discount to match retailers’ offerings.
Finally, dealers shared their pride in the quality of the brand and thought the strategy would lessen the brand’s quality reputation. Mullet says, “As long as we keep the quality of the product, not cheapen up the product, our reputation will stay the same. If dealers are worried about things like less expensive bearings, that’s not the case.”
Mullet says the best case scenario is this: “Dealers see benefit from increased visibility and increased sales and overall our brand is growing.”
This point/counterpoint could continue on and on — and we hope it does. It’s the only way dealers and manufacturers can co-exist for the long haul and grow their businesses. These tests for dealers, be it big box or online stores, are not going away. Those dealers who can come up with their own ways of adapting have the best chance to succeed, especially if their branding is not only defined by the equipment lines they carry.