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TORO TWISTS INTO AG MARKET
PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH HELPS TORO TARGET NEW MARKET SEGMENT
Toro, Bloomington, Minn., has been a leader in the utility vehicle business in the commercial marketplace since 1992, serving municipal, golf and industrial customers around the world. But not until 2001 did the company begin marketing products to the agriculture industry. Toro found the two markets to be quite different and relied on market research to tailor its products directly to the agriculture/consumer market.

The company divides its markets into two segments, says David Alkire, senior marketing manager, Toro Riding Products. One is the commercial market, which Toro has served since its inception, and the second segment is the consumer market. The company defines the consumer market as anything not commercial, which includes farm and ranch operations, recreation property, and hobby farms.

Alkire explains that one of the major differences in the two segments is the distribution channel. "Most commercial products are distributed directly to the industrial user, while the consumer products are distributed via outdoor power equipment dealers," Alkire says.

MARKET GROWTH

In 1999, as Toro began developing a new utility vehicle for the commercial market, it noticed considerable growth in the agriculture/consumer UV market. This was the perfect opportunity for the company to extend its reach and serve new users as well as the commercial segment. "Over the last six to eight years, many different manufacturers and brands have entered the UV market place. For the past few years at various outdoor shows, you couldn't walk thirty yards without seeing a utility vehicle. There has been a lot of activity in the market," Alkire notes. "With our expertise in the vehicle industry, we felt this expanding market offered a strong opportunity for our company."

Toro used its existing knowledge of the commercial UV market to create a unique vehicle specially designed for the agriculture/consumer segment. "We knew we had something to offer," says Alkire. "We had a strong product, which we modified to meet the particular needs of consumers, and an excellent distribution network to reach the new market."

FARM/RANCH INPUT

Before Toro blazed a new trail in the agriculture/consumer market, it relied on market research to point out the specific needs of this new audience. Two rounds of focus groups were held in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which included farmers and ranchers who owned utility vehicles. Toro presented its commercial platform, the Workman UTV, to the two groups and sought feedback on adaptations that would benefit farmers and ranchers. The key findings of the focus groups were very interesting to Toro, says Alkire.

He explains that the first feature that the farm/ranch focus group felt strongly about was the key start ignition. Pedal start is a standard feature on most commercial utility vehicles such as golf carts. In line with the traditional farm utility vehicle, Toro redesigned its new product to be a key start model.

Next, Toro found that the focus groups were very impressed with the concept of Active In-Frame Suspension, which twists to allow the front of the vehicle to adjust to terrain independently of the rear of the vehicle.

Other feedback from the groups included styling changes to the body of the vehicle. Alkire says the farmers and ranchers preferred a square design a more rugged looking vehicle versus the rounded front end found in many commercial UVs.

Lastly, Alkire explains that the farmers and ranchers identified a shortcoming of the entire category. "The focus group pointed out that a drawback of the utility vehicle category is its lack of 'creature comforts,'" he says.

Examples of this are built-in storage for the driver and passenger, such as drink holders and cell phone space, and more legroom. "These are a few of the luxuries that aren't available on our competitors' models and are features that owners really enjoy and use," Alkire notes.

THE TWISTER IS BORN

Toro's designers and engineers used the product development research provided by the focus groups to modify the existing platform and the result was the Toro Twister'. The Twister hit the market in spring 2001 boasting unique features exclusive to Toro.

One feature that sets the Toro Twister apart from the competition is the unrivaled suspension system. In front, an independent A-Arm Suspension absorbs shock from rough terrain. As mentioned earlier, the vehicle's Active In-Frame Suspension twists, which means all four wheels stay on the ground at all times. The result of the unique suspension system is better traction, improved stability and a smooth ride.

The Twister has a 14.75 cubic-foot bed capacity and a payload capacity of 1,600 pounds. The UV's sector and pinion steering and nine-foot turning radius also allow for increased agility.

Features developed specifically for the needs and wants of the consumer audience include twin bucket seats, a wide step-through operator area, increased legroom, cup holders, under-seat storage and a 10-amp accessory power plug for electrical needs. With more than 25 attachments and accessories available, the Toro Twister can be customized even more for the individual consumer. All of these features combine to create a vehicle with the hauling ability of a tractor and the go-anywhere attitude of an ATV.

Dwight Hodorff, owner and operator of an 80-head dairy operation, 100 head of steers and 250 acres of row crops in Glenbeulah, Wis., is the owner of a Toro Twister. He bought his Twister last December and, with the help of his sons and wife, already has put 200 hours on the machine. "We originally bought it for feeding calves and hauling milk, but it has done so much more," says Hodorff.

Hodorff praises the Toro Twister's independent suspension system. "The Twister's ride is so smooth," he exclaims. "I rode in other UV's, and this one definitely has the rest beat!"

He also jokes about his wife's impression of the on-farm vehicle, saying, "She gets a kick out of the Twister and that there is even a place for the cell phone. It's really handy. We would really hate to be without it," he continues.

Jan Schnarfnagel of Schnarfnagel Implements Inc., Lomira, Wis., is a dealer of Toro products. His dealership has sold several Twisters, including Hodorff's, in the past year and a half, and he says, "We'd be selling a lot more if dairy prices would improve."

Scharfnagel says all of his Twisters have gone to farm families. "The farmers are attracted to the user-friendly controls, the smooth ride, and the unique poly box that won't rust or dent meaning the Twister can last a lifetime," he says.

EXPOSURE TO AG

"Since 2001, when Toro began this new business, we have been learning more and more each day," says Alkire. "We have received positive feedback on the Toro Twister and look to gain more exposure to the market through agriculture and outdoor trade shows.

"Our biggest challenge is getting adequate exposure in the ag market as we are not traditionally thought of as an agricultural utility vehicle manufacturer," he says.

Toro may not be a traditional agriculture implement company, but we all know there is constant change in this industry. With so much to offer producers, the Toro Twister will likely be a new player in the agriculture utility market. AM


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