Ariens Company’s recent announcement to begin phasing out the Great Dane and EverRide brands doesn’t come as much of a surprise. EverRide launched onto the scene with a big marketing splash in 2004, but quickly fizzled out. Aside from the valiant efforts of a couple key distributors, the Great Dane brand has floundered for years.
How long can the other floundering brands in the Green Industry—along with their distributors and dealers—continue to hang on? As demand for riding mowers settles into steady-but-modest mode for the next few years, surviving while floundering might be next to impossible. Ask yourself: Are any of my brands floundering? Then ask: How many eggs do I have in those baskets?
When exactly is a brand floundering? In a mature industry like ours, companies typically grow by stealing market share from competitors (see “The Defining Era is Upon Us” at promagazine.com/business). Strong marketing efforts which stress the uniqueness of a product are very important. While radical product innovation is rare, finding new uses for products, targeting new markets and offering new-and-improved versions are also very important.
In the case of Great Dane, the deck was stacked against it. The company had a unique product (stand-on mower) that it introduced in 1997, but the market didn’t expand much early on. After a series of acquisitions by John Deere, Auburn Consolidated Ind. and finally Ariens Company, the Great Dane brand had taken a 10-year beating. The “uniqueness” of the stand-on product was also lost as patents from the late-1990s expired; now Great Dane faced competition from not only Wright Mfg., but also Gravely, Scag, Toro and Exmark—all powerhouses in the landscape contractor market.
With fewer than 300 U.S. dealers, “stealing market share” was also going to be a challenge for Great Dane. As for “finding new product uses” and “targeting new markets”, the stand-on mower has limited appeal in the homeowner market, which is where many commercial mower manufacturers and dealers have found growth.
In a mature, over-saturated industry with tepid demand for its products, Great Dane had nowhere to go but gone. Will Great Dane dealers and distributors go with it? Some probably will, but many won’t. Many saw the writing on the wall long ago and began moving those eggs to other baskets (read Dealer and Distributor Reaction to Great Dane Phase-Out).
Will any of your brands become the next Great Dane? As a servicing dealer, are you doing what you can to help your suppliers do the five necessary things to grow in a mature, over-saturated industry? If there ever was a time when OEMs, distributors and dealers must work together to grow a brand, it is now.