The Heart of Dixie

Dixie Chopper doesn't build the most popular commercial riding mowers in the world. In fact, its U.S. market share and favorability rating among landscape contractors places it smack dab in the middle of the heavily saturated commercial lawnmower business. But one thing is for sure: Pros who are loyal to Dixie Chopper are fiercely loyal.

As the Coatesville, IN-based manufacturer has struggled over the past couple of years, though, that cult following has started to wane a bit. The main reason, parts unavailability, speaks to a landscape contractor's biggest issue: equipment uptime. Chopper dealers are hopeful that this is one of the many things that will soon change now that Jacobsen is in control.

"I'm quite optimistic," says Tom Montgomery of Central Power Equipment in Oklahoma City, OK. "Jacobsen has some deep pockets. This acquisition will be good for Dixie Chopper and the industry as a whole. I just hope everybody I know at the (Dixie Chopper) factory have jobs to go back to. My understanding is that they will. And I've heard that Art Evans (company founder) will be a consultant for Jacobsen now. I think Art has brought more to this industry, as far as a zero-turn mower goes, than anybody ever has."

Central Power Equipment has sold and serviced Dixie Chopper mowers for 25 years. Jeff Worthy of Cutting Edge Lawn Equipment in Lakeland, FL, is another longtime dealer. "I've worked on Choppers since I was 17," Worthy says. Now 35, he opened his dealership and became a Dixie Chopper dealer himself in 2003. "I've been loyal to the Dixie Chopper family because I love the mower," Worthy relates. "I had more than 70 mowers in stock by February, ready for my open house mid-month."

In the backs of their minds

Worthy was pleased to hear that Jacobsen would be sending key personnel down to his open house from the company's home base in Charlotte, NC. This signaled an understanding on Jacobsen's part that servicing dealers play a pivotal role in the making or breaking of an equipment brand in the marketplace.

"I've always been impressed by Jacobsen," Worthy shares. "They are a big company that brings a lot to the table. I'm hopeful they will make it easier for me as a dealer. I do think about whether or not, some day at least, they will get rid of the Dixie Chopper name and just turn the mowers into Jacobsen mowers. But I think Jacobsen management is smart enough to see the value in the Dixie Chopper name and will stick with it."

Montgomery agrees. "Jacobsen doesn't have a commercial mower for lawn maintenance contractors, and they don't have a zero-turn mower for homeowners either. Dixie Chopper has both. Plus, I think Jacobsen wants the brand name."

Some dealers think otherwise, though. A Midwestern dealer who will remain anonymous (for obvious reasons) doesn't see much brand equity in the Dixie Chopper name any longer. "They've fallen way off the map over the past five years or so," the dealer says. "They used to have quite a cult following, but it's much, much smaller than it used to be. And I don't see Jacobsen resurrecting it."

This dealer also has little confidence that things will get much better as a Dixie Chopper dealer now that Jacobsen is running the show. "From what I've heard, Jacobsen isn't much better-run, they just have more money behind them. And when you look at the golf market (one of Jacobsen's core markets), it seems like Deere and Toro are dominating. So I just don't know.

"Right now I'm basically hanging in there as a Dixie Chopper dealer for parts," the dealer continues. "I've been converting my landscape contractor customers over to other brands I sell for the past few years. Now, some contractors do come into my store and want Dixie Chopper, period. I'll sell them one. But for my customers that aren't sure what they want, I will sell them something else."

Other dealers, including Worthy and Montgomery, have been Chopper-loyal for years—and will remain that way. "Dixie Chopper will continue to be my main commercial riding mower line," adds Montgomery, who also sells Exmark and Toro mowers. Worthy, who also sells Exmark in addition to Gravely, will continue to place a lot of emphasis on his Dixie Chopper inventory.

And then there's Humphreys' Outdoor Power in Greencastle, IN—just 15 miles from the Dixie Chopper plant in Coatesville. Humphreys' is perennially a top Dixie Chopper dealer in the country. According to a statement on the dealership's website: "Here at Humphreys’, we are looking at this acquisition as an opportunity, with the support of the Jacobsen team, to take a great company to a new competitive level in the national marketplace of zero-turn lawnmowers. As a company, growing your resources, in terms of marketing and creating new products, is paramount to staying competitive. We believe that Jacobsen’s acquisition will allow Dixie Chopper to accomplish this, and in this way help to increase Dixie Chopper’s position in a highly competitive and growing marketplace."

At the heart of any potential resurgence of the Dixie Chopper brand will be dealers like Humphreys', Cutting Edge Lawn and Central Power—along with hundreds of others who are anxious to see what Jacobsen brings to the table.

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