Boxer Winds Up for One-Two-Three Punch

Morbark, a Michigan-based manufacturer of tree care equipment, acquired Oklahoma-based Boxer Equipment in late 2012 for one reason: to make Boxer a leader in the compact utility loader product category. Now a good year and a half later, progress has definitely been made—but Morbark would like to see the pace pick up a bit.

Expanded distribution is central to growth of the Boxer Equipment line. Since acquiring Boxer on December 21, 2012, Morbark has signed roughly 38 dealers in the U.S. and Canada, many of which are multi-location dealerships. Still, if Boxer is going to compete with the likes of more well-known names like Bobcat and Toro (Dingo), it will need more dealers.

"We'd actually hoped it would go a bit quicker," says Mark Rau, dealer development manager for Morbark, in reference to the signing of new Boxer dealers. "We have several different ways we are approaching this. One is through existing Morbark dealers, another is setting up new Boxer-only dealers, and the third is rental centers."

Diverse end-user appeal requires diverse dealer network

This three-pronged distribution approach is necessary because of the numerous market segments a mini loader like a Boxer can appeal to. "You have your core markets, just like you have with any product," says Jason Showers, Boxer product manager. "For a mini loader, those core markets are landscaping and irrigation, municipal and tree care. But you also get into some niche markets like agriculture, electrical and plumbing contractors, and even some homeowners with acreage. The Boxer is a multi-purpose machine that can perform like a compact tractor in some applications."

Due to this diverse customer base, Morbark is having to partner with different types of equipment dealers. Some dealers have more of a construction focus, for instance, while some have more of a landscape focus or simply rent equipment. All dealer types will likely be needed to successfully advance the Boxer brand in the marketplace.

Dave Oliger of Newtown Power Equipment in Newtown, CT, became a Boxer dealer roughly one year ago. Newtown Power could be considered a "landscape equipment" dealership, as its primary lines include Toro, Stihl, Husqvarna, Gravely and Cub Cadet. But the dealership has also created a strong tree care supply business, selling everything from ropes and pruning tools to Morbark chippers and stump grinders. Having already been a Morbark dealer for several years, Morbark's acquisition of Boxer did help persuade Oliger into becoming a Boxer dealer. However, requests from existing customers had even more to do with it.

"Many of my tree service customers were asking for a small track loader," Oliger tells, while adding that he also sees strong potential with both landscape contractors and nurseries. "It's a healthy little machine with forks, so I'm sure it can move quite a tree."

A Boxer can do much more than just lift, though. Along with its compact size, a Boxer's versatility is among its most important attributes. A variety of attachments allow it to scoop, rake, till, compact and more. "It's like a Swiss Army knife," Oliger says. "I get the majority of the attachments I sell directly from Morbark."

What Morbark is looking for in Boxer dealers

As Morbark presses on to establish a more robust dealer network that can cover both the landscape, construction and rental markets, the company is also paying special attention to certain regional opportunities.

"There are certain areas of the country where we already have pretty good coverage, but there are others we would like to build into," Rau says. "Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and western Pennsylvania are prime areas for us to expand. The Pacific Northwest is another. We're already fairly solid in New England and through the Midwest and central states. As of this spring, we were working hard to set up new dealers in the Southeast and also west of the Rockies."

Regardless of where they are located, Morbark is generally looking to set up Boxer dealers that can effectively cover a 40- to 50-mile market area. That's much different than the dealer network for Morbark-branded tree care equipment, where a given dealer normally covers an 80- to 100-mile area.

"A lot of it has to do with their geographic area, what equipment lines they are already carrying, and their stability as a company," says Showers in reference to what Morbark is looking for in a potential Boxer dealer. "It's one thing to sell equipment, but it is of even greater importance to have strong aftermarket capabilities. Also, it's really important for our Boxer dealers to have the ability to get out there and demo the equipment effectively." All of that is easier to manage when servicing a tighter market area.

Coming off the production line

Like its Morbark-branded tree care equipment, Morbark ships Boxer machines and parts directly to its dealers. The company has been doing that from its Michigan facility for several months now. Within 90 days of acquiring the Boxer line from Oklahoma-based Mertz Mfg., the first Boxer machine came off of the production line at Morbark's Winn, MI, manufacturing facility. That was late March, 2013.

"We weren't in full production that quickly, but we were rolling," Showers explains. "And we've built from that. We've since moved the Boxer line in our factory twice. Now we've just finalized and built a state of the art line to keep up with growing Boxer demand."

As demand grows, so does the Boxer line itself. The largest Boxer mini loader to date will be on display this fall, available for order in early 2015. Additionally, a new 20-hp dedicated ride-on trencher is debuting this summer. The Boxer lineup already included an 18-hp ride-on trencher, 20- and 22-hp gas mini loaders, a 32-hp diesel mini loader, and numerous attachments including buckets, augers, tillers, rakes, compactors, forks, sod layers and backhoes.

Speaking of these existing products, Showers says little has changed now that Morbark is manufacturing them. "Our engineers cleaned up some electrical and hydraulic things, and tightened up some tolerances here and there, but these were mostly minor changes. If you look at the machine now and then, you can't really tell the difference—other than the logo."

One difference Morbark is hoping the market will notice is the Boxer dealer network. It's growing, but still has a ways to go.

Nord Outdoor Power in Bloomington, IL, has been a Boxer dealer for several years, recently resigning with Morbark in the past several months. "We started handling the Boxer line back in 2007," Doug Nord says. "There have always been some issues with having competitive financing programs and good marketing to drive sales. There are some fantastic features and competitive advantages that the market needs to become aware of. We are hopeful we will see aggressive programs through the Morbark acquisition of Boxer."

That's because Nord sees great opportunity, in general, with a mini loader such as a Boxer. "A mini loader's ability to connect to many different attachments is huge," Nord says. "I had a comment from a large landscaper that a number of years ago, he couldn't get his crews to take a unit out with them. Today, he can't hardly get them to go out without it. Plus, they are able to do more with fewer people. I also feel this is a great product for farmers that raise animals in tight areas like horses, hogs and even cattle barns. The compact size, power and tracks make it ideal for working in small areas."

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