Hundreds of landscape contractors and dealers from across the United States and Canada have been visiting the John Deere Turf Care plant in North Carolina in recent weeks, with each “wave” spending one day at the Fuquay-Varina plant and a half-day at the company’s nearby executive offices in Cary – all on John Deere’s dime.
For Deere, the “fly-in” was more than a marketing investment: The company spent almost as much time listening to landscapers as it did pitching its products.
Naturally, the hosts were interested in hearing what the contractors thought about John Deere’s equipment and service. But they also asked their guests to talk about how they manage and grow their businesses.
What the landscapers had to say – at least during the wave visiting Dec. 2-3 – was largely positive with respect to John Deere and its commercial turf-care products. In fact, there seemed to be no disagreement among the landscapers that Deere products are well-designed and well-made. The only real sticking point was price.
In making that point, Wisconsin landscape contractor Joseph Koshick chose the word “spendy” rather than pricey, but the Deere managers on hand got the message.
With several dozen landscapers participating in each two-day visit, John Deere’s listening sessions were divided into groups, with each session moderated by one or more Deere managers. The discussions focused on business development, finance, parts and maintenance services, and SiteOne Landscape Supply (formerly John Deere Landscapes).
Asked to talk about business development during a Dec. 3 round table, several landscapers said their companies don’t depend on winning bids to obtain new work. The most reliable route to growth, they said, is building on a reputation for competence and integrity.
“It’s service, it’s reputation and it’s relationships,” said Jim Potantus of Sunrise Landscape in Tampa, Florida. He cited the example of setting aside time to email clients before Thanksgiving, “just to say, ‘Hey, I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving.’”
Sustaining long-term relationships with key clients reinforces a company’s reputation in the community, Potantus said, increasing the likelihood of attracting referral business. He said pursuing growth by adding new services – tree trimming, for instance – makes sense, but hit-or-miss marketing efforts don’t.
Cold calling, Potantus said, “is the most expensive sale” a landscaping company will ever make.
Koshick, meanwhile, who works with Blaze Landscape Contracting in Menomonee Falls, agreed that customer referral will always be a key source of growth for landscapers. The best marketing, he said, is simple: “Look at the work we do.”
But, while bringing in new business is important, Koshick said, so is controlling costs. “You’ve got to get the best price” on equipment large and small, he said, “and a blade is a blade is a blade.”
John Deere might not argue with the observation about mower blades, but the company seemed to be making a case throughout the visit that its products are worth the price.
The John Deere Turf Care plant tour focused on quality measures throughout, whether it was the 7-gauge steel in the commercial mower decks, robots in the welding areas or the many cameras along the assembly line that ensured the correct parts and labels were in place before equipment could advance to the next work area.
The round-table discussions also provided Deere an opportunity to address pricing concerns head-on by outlining its GreenFleet loyalty program, which several landscapers later described as a much better deal than they’d realized.
The company sweetened the pot by offering each landscaper in attendance a GreenFleet discount level they wouldn’t normally receive until they had bought multiple units in a single year.