Why customers are a valuable resource when it comes to success

Ed Wright shares the vital role customers play in product development. (Photo courtesy of Wright Manufacturing)
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Ed Wright shares the vital role customers play in product development. (Photo courtesy of Wright Manufacturing)
Ed Wright shares the vital role customers play in product development. (Photo courtesy of Wright Manufacturing)

Ed Wright, CEO of Wright Manufacturing, and J.W. Washington, senior director of customer learning and development at Ariens Co., talk to Landscape Management about how dealing with customers has become a two-way street.

Ed Wright.
Ed Wright

LM: Wright often gives landscaping companies long-term loans of mowers that you’re developing. What are you looking for?

Ed Wright: We’re very dependent on real-world testing. At the early stages, we’re not looking at durability testing. We’re more interested in how they’re using it. We learn a lot about controls and where to place things. Sometimes, we run into issues we hadn’t thought about, like how multiple mowers fit on a trailer. If they don’t fit together as well as they should, you can’t get as many on a trailer, and you won’t be able to use that mower if you need to get a bunch to a job site.

LM: What do you do when you run into that problem? Do you try to fix the design or is it back to the drawing board?

Wright: We have no problem going back to the drawing board if it means adding a feature or making a change that customers absolutely need. We don’t believe in patching something to maybe make it work. If a critical feature isn’t part of the design, it’s really difficult to add that function later.

LM: What sorts of landscape pros make the best test-product candidates?

Wright: Smaller operators can be better. If the person who’s going to be buying equipment also gets some experience on the mower, that makes a big difference in the type of feedback we get. But, we can’t go too small. Sometimes, we have to pull a mower out of circulation to study it or write a report. If the user is too small, he or she might not be able to give up a mower that day (for Wright to study).

Training resources

Ariens has expanded its learning and development division and plans to double staff to more than eight people in the coming year to produce more training materials for dealers, technicians and customers. Washington says boosting training brings vital feedback to Ariens that it can use when designing its mowers.

“Part of the expansion was creating interactive electronic training manuals (IETMs) on some products, and that’s an online document, so we can track use,” Washington says. Using standard web-traffic tracking software, “we can see, dealership-by-dealership, where technicians are spending their time. If the dealers keep pulling up the same error codes, looking for instructions on how to fix those problems, that can be a sign that there’s something we need to address in the (mower) design.”

As technicians get more used to using the online documents, Washington expects a steady stream of valuable data that design teams can use to spot potentially faulty components or parts of mower designs that might need more reinforcements.

“Our IETM traffic can be that canary in the coal mine, letting you know there’s something going on that we can’t see,” Washington says. He adds that the online manual project began with the Gravely Pro-Turn EV commercial ride-on electric mower earlier this year.

Because the electric model was so different than gasoline-powered mowers, qualifying technicians was critical, Washington says. “For most of them, this is all-new technology. Instead of talking about fuel filters, we’re talking wiring harnesses.”

Robert Schoenberger

Robert Schoenberger

Robert Schoenberger is Landscape Management's former senior editor. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Houston. He has worked in magazines and newspapers since the late 1990s.

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