Exmark Manufacturing is the premier manufacturer of professional turf care equipment in the United States and Canada. Founded in Beatrice, Nebraska in 1982, the company produces high-end lawn mowing products that are marketed with a two-step distribution system of 18 distributors and 1200 dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In 1995, Exmark introduced its Lazer Z line of mid-mount zero-turn riding mowers; that line now holds the leading share of the U.S market. In 1997, Exmark became a division of The Toro Company but Exmark's headquarters remain in Beatrice.
In 1998," explains John Cloutier, Marketing Communications Manager at Exmark, "we had a fairly primitive presence on the Internet -- a
basic literature site providing product information and a dealer locator, but not much else. Wanting to find ways to strengthen our distributor and dealer relationships while simultaneously reducing costs, we undertook an extensive exploration of the possibilities of Internet technology. The result was a strategic decision to expand our use of the web and move it
from being merely a supplemental tool to becoming a cornerstone of our marketing, customer service and dealer relations efforts."
The idea at Exmark was to piece together, one module at a time, a comprehensive on-line distributor/dealer/customer information system that would include such features as:
Guiding the development of these website capabilities were two overarching
objectives: make the web the primary means of communication
for the entire distribution channel and relieve the channel of as much
paperwork and repetitive data entry as possible.
- Automated lead fulfillment.
- Dealer locator with active links to dealer websites.
- Product information and specifications.
- Parts and service manuals with pick-ticket capabilities.
- Maintenance schedules and service tips.
- Safety tips and recall information.
- Warranty information with on-line warranty approval.
- Financing information with an on-line application.
- Sales call data collection in a searchable database.
- Multi-lingual support (English and Spanish).
- Simple interfaces to accommodate users who were
not technologically advanced.
Exmark's internal IT department had plenty on its plate already, so the company looked for an outside developer with a lot of Internet expertise. After interviewing three firms, Exmark chose Information Analytics. According to Cloutier, "We were familiar with them from some previous work and knew they had the expertise. Plus, they understood that we didn't want stock solutions and they had a real interest in developing the site to meet our specific needs and requirements.
"The biggest challenge of the project," states Cloutier, "was producing a
long-term vision of how the site would evolve and then creating a road
map that prioritized the implementation of the various features. Our
company has more than 100,000 end users, versus 1200 dealers, so our
first priority was to make the site a usable and effective communication
tool for our customers. Then, in priority order, came dealer issues, distributor
issues and, finally, internal issues."
Information Analytics began work on the site in 1999 and over the course
of the next three years most of the big pieces were put in place. As the
site has developed, the concept has continued to evolve. According to
Cloutier, "The more we do on the Internet, the more we realize what is
possible and feasible, so our list of projects keeps growing.".
Our expanded use of the web is paying off for the company in a variety of ways," Cloutier reports. "We have improved after-the-sale service to the end user; reduced-paper work chores for our dealers and distributors, provided prospects with greater convenience in obtaining financing and simplified the warranty authorization process for our dealers."
High Acceptance and Usage
"All three of the targets -- end users, dealers and distributors -- are making extensive use of the system," Cloutier continues. "We never really had a problem with acceptance because we use the web to provide real solutions to daily situations and we have made the experience very straightforward and simple for all who log on. Once people saw that our web site held the answers they were seeking, they gave it a try. And once they tried it, they discovered how easy and fast it was."
Time and Cost Savings
While it is difficult to measure the precise benefit of a general improvement in communication, there are aspects of the website where solid savings can be calculated. "Our lead fulfillment system used to require 15 minutes of internal human time per lead," Cloutier reports. "Now that
has been reduced to just one minute per lead. An outside mailing house accesses our inquiry database on a daily basis and immediately mails out the necessary materials. Meanwhile, the distributor receives automatic notification of the lead for hand off to an appropriate dealer. In its first year, this automated lead fulfillment system saved us roughly $20,000 in direct costs, even with the involvement of the mailing house factored in. Plus, the quick response helps us beat the competition in getting product materials in front of the prospect."
Searchable Call Reports
The web also allows Exmark to do things that just weren't possible before. "We built a call report database that receives uploads from our sales associates' laptops," Cloutier notes, 'and it is proving to be an information gold mine. Using key-word searches we are able to review all mentions of a particular product, a certain competitor or any specific concern. It's a big help in keeping current with market trends and competitive forces."
At the time of this writing Exmark is putting the finishing touches on a new component that will provide up-to-date product manuals on the site. According to Cloutier, Exmark has been publishing about 200 manuals a year, at a considerable expense. "Now, with electronic delivery, we will see a huge savings in our printing budget and at the same time gain great speed and flexibility in our publishing schedules."
"Overall," Cloutier comments, "the payoff of making the web an integral part of our customer service and marketing efforts has exceeded our expectations. Were still learning new things that can be done on the web and this initiative will continue to evolve and expand because we continue to see real benefits."
Visit the public portion of Exmarks site at www.exmark.com
Please also visit Information Analytics at www.4w.com