Editor’s Note: Walker ways

Headshot: Marisa Palmieri
Marisa Palmieri

Have you ever visited a company and instantly knew that everyone who worked there was on the same page—and wondered how they got there?

That’s the feeling I got when I visited Walker Manufacturing in July for the Walker Family Reunion III. The event, which celebrated production of the company’s 150,000th mower, was held on Walker’s 60-acre campus in Fort Collins, Colo.

More than 2,200 people attended the reunion, which included a variety of activities to learn about Walker’s history and its products—including a factory tour, skills challenge, obstacle course and vintage vehicle show—and lots of opportunities for family fun, like a Ferris wheel, hot air balloon rides, go-carts, live music and more.

During a pre-event press briefing, President Bob Walker acknowledged the unconventional nature of the reunion.

“This kind of a gathering is not the everyday way of doing business,” he said. “Most of the industry is corporate and would analyze something like this for ROI and would have a hard time justifying it.”

During the two days I spent at Walker, I observed a genuine sense of gratitude and an emphasis on people and relationships I haven’t seen in other corporate settings. I noted just a few of the company’s practices that any business—from a small landscape firm to a larger corporation—could learn from.

1. Set goals and celebrate achievements. In fact, celebrating met goals—mower production milestones—is the Walker Family Reunion’s reason for being. “For a company of our size to be able to manufacture, sell, service and stand behind 150,000 machines, we think it’s a big achievement and worth celebrating,” Bob Walker said.

2. Think long term. The Walkers produced their first mower in 1977, but it was a decade before they made a profit. “You have to be a long-term thinker,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll give up.”

3. Follow your customers’ needs—not your competitors’ moves. Walker builds front-mount mowers it says its customers prefer rather than the mid-mount style most common today. “We build machines to do a job rather than to fill a market,” Bob Walker said.

4. Foster a great workplace. Walker practices “level manufacturing,” meaning it runs year-round, so it can provide steady, full-time careers for its employees—not a given in manufacturing. All team members receive a “What We Believe” card, which outlines the company’s 18 guiding principles, including taking Sundays off and reminders like “Keep your word, tell the truth, be honest in all things.”

5. Embrace who you are. The company doesn’t apologize for being a Christian, family-run business. For instance, Walker has hosted an annual hymn sing on its grounds since 2004, and scripture dots the firm’s messaging.

Bob Walker explained the company intends to remain family-run with the third generation—his nephews (Dean Walker’s sons), Ryan Walker and Ted Walker—transitioning into leadership roles over the past six years.

6. Give thanks. Bob Walker says, “We think living with gratitude is part of our culture, and being grateful for who you work with and what the Lord has given you are important.”

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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