Walker Family Reunion celebrates milestone mower and more

July 17, 2018 -  By
Ryan Walker, Bob Walker, Dean Walker and Ted Walker

The second and third generations of the Walker family are transitioning the business for future growth. From left: Ryan Walker, Bob Walker, Dean Walker and Ted Walker. (Photo: LM staff)

Walker Manufacturing’s “family style” of doing business was on display July 13-15 at the Walker Family Reunion III.

The event, which celebrated the company’s 150,000th mower earlier this year, was held on Walker’s 60-acre campus in Fort Collins, Colo. The manufacturer hosted similar events in 2000 and 2008 to mark the manufacturing of the 50,000th and 100,000th mowers, respectively.

“This is not the work of a few,” said President Bob Walker at the opening ceremony on July 13. “Imagine what it takes to design, sell and service 150,000 lawn mowers. It’s a big family. Thanks to each one of you for your part in this story and the Walker family.”

The company expected more than 2,200 people to attend this year’s reunion, which included a variety 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.

Attendees included end-users of Walker products, such as landscape professionals and property owners; employees and their families; distributors and dealers; and suppliers, some of which, like Kohler and Briggs & Stratton Vanguard, sponsored the event.

During a pre-event meeting with the press, Walker acknowledged the unconventional nature of the reunion.

Walker Manufacturing's 150,000th mower

On display at the Walker Family Reunion during the factory tour was the 150,000th mower. (Photo: LM staff)

“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. We think it’s human nature to identify with something and believe you’re part of something beyond the profit-making (purpose) of a company.”

He teared up several times when talking about Walker’s family culture and being thankful for his employees; customers; his parents Max and Margaret Walker, who founded the company; and his family members involved in the business, including his brother Dean and his nephews Ryan and Ted, who are preparing to take over the business.

“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.”

Walker also discussed his company’s approach of “playing to its strengths” as a small, specialty mower manufacturer.

The strategy includes:

  • Remaining financially independent with no investors or bank debt;
  • Doing in-house product development (led by his brother, Dean Walker);
  • Manufacturing as much of the product as possible in-house rather than outsourcing; and
  • Cultivating a strong channel of independent distributors and dealers.

“Don’t compromise long-term interest to get short-term results,” is a mantra the company lives by, Walker said.

Often, he added, that means resisting the status quo. For example, Walker has continued to build front-mount mowers while the rest of the market has gone to mid-mount mowers.

“We build machines to do a job rather than to fill a market,” Walker said.

The company, which Walker said holds about 2 percent of the commercial mower market share, builds about 30 machines per day or 6,500 per year with approximately 200 full-time employees. Most of its machines are sold to the professional landscape market (65 percent) with the balance going to property owners.

Looking to the future

“We’re excited about the future,” Walker said during the opening ceremony. “We believe our best days are ahead, and you’re part of it.”

In terms of production, the company has a goal of obtaining 3 percent market share and building 50 mowers a day or 10,000 in a year.

Additionally, Walker plans to stay focused on mowers. It has no plans for line extensions.

Walker discussed the company’s transition to the third generation—his nephews (Dean Walker’s sons), Ryan Walker and Ted Walker. The process has been underway for the past six years. Ted Walker is director of engineering and shadows his father. Ryan Walker is director of business operations and trains under Bob Walker.

“Being in business isn’t easy and isn’t getting any easier, but thankfully Ryan and I don’t have to figure it out on our own,” said Ted Walker. “Trying to create a business that’s better off without them is what Bob and Dean focus on—it’s an incredibly unselfish approach to business.”

About the Author:

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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