Jacobsen, a turf maintenance company owned by Textron, recently announced its acquisition of Dixie Chopper. Dixie Chopper has struggled publicly the last few years with layoffs and frequent management changes.
Here’s what several top Dixie Chopper dealers shared regarding the acquisition.
Geoff Blanco, co-owner of Rigg’s Outdoor Power Equipment, says, “The rumors had been out there for a while. I had been in contact with GE, our floor plan provider, so I’ve kept my finger on the pulse on what they had been hearing, so it’s not a complete shock.”
Chris Vernon is vice president of strategy for Jacobsen. We caught up with him at the 2014 National Farm Machinery Show to talk about the acquisition.
Rigg’s was one of Dixie Chopper’s Top 10 dealers in 2013, although Blanco admits their Dixie Chopper sales were down from previous years.
“Dixie has lost ground in the last 5 or 6 years. We still may have a place for Dixie, but they are not as strategically important as they had been in the past. For us, Hustler has displaced Dixie in a lot of ways and Kubota has had an impact as well,” Blanco says.
For Rigg’s, this shift in product focus is not related to the equipment, but to management. Dixie has had several senior management changes in the last few years and Blanco says their representative has switched three times in the same timeframe. One of the biggest issue for him is parts support.
“When a company falls behind in delivering parts, that’s not telling me they have a problem building mowers, that’s telling me they have problems running the company,” Blanco says.
He says concerns like this have shifted how they sell. “Our salespeople are close with the local market and they have to feel confident about the product we’re selling. If they are concerned about the stability of the company and the consistent ability to get parts, they’re not going to talk to a customer about Dixie Chopper,” Blanco says. He says this puts the dealership’s reputation in jeopardy and the relationship the salesperson has built with the customer.
Blanco says he’s not giving upon Dixie as a product line just yet, but taking a “wait and see” attitude.
“The Jacobsen/Textron acquisition gives Dixie Chopper the business structure that is needed and was missing before. Maybe this will allow Dixie to focus in on the product, which was their strength when they first came out.” He adds, “Dixie Chopper gets a much more rigorous and structured business environment and Jacobsen gets a dealership channel and another market opportunity though a general purpose commercial-grade mower.”
Brian Humphreys, president of Humphreys’ Outdoor Power, Greencastle, Ind., is another Top 10 dealer for Dixie. He started selling the Dixie Chopper line in 2005 and his dealership is just 7 miles from the plant. He sells many of his customers come in requesting the brand because they have a relative that works for the company.
“Dixie Chopper is an intricate part of our community. We just see the situation from a different scope than the average dealer,” Humphreys says. “We’re hometown loyal. They build a quality product at a competitive price.”
Humphreys says he did have the same issues as other dealers in terms of parts support and concerns over the company’s stability.
“We were in it for the long haul. We were going to stay with them as long as they were in business,” he says. “It wasn’t without some headaches along the way while we chased parts, but we worked around it. We knew it was going to get better. We knew Dixie Chopper was too big of a brand to go away.”
He says the Jacobson acquisition has already made a difference in his sales. “Our customers said, ‘Let us know and we’ll be back.’ And they’re already coming back and sales tickets are getting written again. It was truly not a moment too soon in terms of where we are in the calendar. We’re just getting ready to hit the gas.”
Here’s the information Humphreys shared with his customers on his blog.
Addressing Support Issues
Chris Vernon, Jacobsen’s vice president of strategy, says the financial backing of Textron and Jacobsen should address parts support and other concerns.
“We’re focused on getting Dixie Chopper out of the hole they’ve been in lately and getting dealers the parts and support they need. Supporting the end users through the dealers is absolutely critical in getting Dixie Chopper back to growing again.”
Vernon explains what the acquisition means for Jacobsen: “Jacobsen has been in the growth mode for several years and we’ve been looking to expand our reach beyond our core golf market and what was missing in our family of products was a zero-turn mower.”
“Once the partnership was identified, the acquisition happened fairly quickly because it was mutually advantageous,” Vernon says.
What can dealers expect in terms of how they work with Dixie Chopper?
“We’re not planning to merge the two distribution and dealer networks. We will continue to operate them separately as two separate sales teams. We know that Dixie has fallen behind in service and support and we recognize those issues as our #1 priority,” he says. Vernon is overseeing the integration of the companies.
Vernon explains Jacobsen’s philosophy in terms of the “3 Bs:”
1. Build relationships.
2. Build a great product.
3. Back it up for the life of the product.
“Our engineers and supply team are already talking and looking for opportunities,” Vernon says.
View comments from Chris Vernon about the acquisition at the National Farm Machinery Show here.