Dealer and Distributor Reaction to Great Dane Phase-Out

It was a brutally hot, humid day in July 1997. A new line of commercial mowers was being unveiled to Green Industry media at the Huncilman factory in New Albany, IN. Great Dane Mowers, according to the ad in the Louisville EXPO Show Daily, were going to turn the industry upside down.

A few years later, Green Industry legend Dane Scag sold Great Dane to John Deere. “I remember we were really excited about that because we figured John Deere would do great things with the brand, like improve quality control,” says Bill Parsley of Carswell Distributing in Winston Salem, NC. “But it never happened.”

Fall 2007: “The transition is going very smoothly. The EverRide and Great Dane product lines are on track to meet the timeline of the upcoming lawn and garden season without missing a step,” says Dan Ariens. “I’m confident we can maintain the success of these two brands well into the future.”

Fall 2010: “We gave this decision careful consideration and looked at the impact on the entire supply chain. In the end we felt the benefit of allowing us to focus our resources and build our core brands outweighed the risks,” says Dan Ariens. “This move will also create a bit more clarity in a marketplace that frankly has too many brands of commercial mowers.”

By 2005 John Deere was looking to unload the Great Dane line, and found a buyer in Auburn Consolidated Ind. (ACI), which a couple years prior had rolled out the EverRide line of mowers. In 2007 ACI was on the verge of bankruptcy, and sold Great Dane and EverRide to Ariens Company.

“I had my hopes renewed when Ariens bought Great Dane in the fall of 2007,” Parsley relates. “My sense was that Dan (Ariens) was committed to our two-step model and helping the brand grow. Ariens did a great job manufacturing the product for the past few years, but I don’t think anyone truly embraced Great Dane.”

From Pioneers to Survivors

Carswell Distributing was Great Dane’s first U.S. distributor and sold the very first Great Dane mower (Surfer stand-on model). Nearly half of Great Dane’s roughly 290 U.S. dealers are in Carswell’s 14-state territory. No doubt, Parsley and the Carswell team had a lot invested, both monetarily and emotionally, in the Great Dane brand—but not too much.

“We strategically try to carry multiple brands in the same product category,” Parsley points out. “Now ... you don’t want so many lines that you can’t manage them all. But we also want to make sure that when a hiccup like this happens, it’s not too devastating to our business.” Carswell also carries BOB-CAT, Bunton, Dixon, Yazoo/Kees and BigDog mowers, in addition to RedMax and Robin handheld equipment, and numerous shortlines.

Dave Wood of Smitty’s Lawn & Garden in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, KS, has been a Great Dane dealer since he took over the dealership in 2001. “Great Dane was a big part of our business, but really wasn’t worth what we had to put into it,” Wood says. “My main concern is that Ariens will continue to honor warranty like they’ve said they would.”

Like Parsley, Wood has been careful not to put too many eggs in one basket. Smitty’s also sells Husqvarna, Hustler and Scag commercial mowers. Scag’s V-Ride stand-on unit fills the void left by Great Dane’s demise.

“The market for commercial mowers is not really growing right now,” Wood says. “I think Dan (Ariens) did the right thing, quite honestly. For me, as a dealer, I just want to be as important to the companies I do business with as I can be.”