For a long time, the lawn mower industry has mainly concentrated on cutting-edge ways to move forward.
But after spending hours observing members of a small group of Twin Citians trim their grass, Toro Co. leaders came to realize a little-discussed landscaping fact: People actually spend a lot of time mowing their grass backward.
That nugget was key to a new lawn mower Bloomington-based Toro is unveiling this week. The self-propel feature that has made it easier in recent years for people to move their mowers forward now has the same capability backward. A new handle also limits jolting vibrations.
Toro engineers believe the new lawn mower will be a market “game changer.” Also, perhaps more than any of their past products, it signifies a marketing leap of faith as the company tests whether it can connect with consumers on a more grass-roots level with digital and experiential marketing — even before the product’s full-scale launch.
“What we could clearly see as we were watching people mow was that mowing is a difficult job,” said Wade Tollison, a Toro spokesman, who helped spearhead an observational study that started in 2015. “People were struggling with their mowers.”
Testers had to use a lot of energy to push and pull mowers around decks and playground equipment and reach under protruding tree limbs, he said.
Although those in the focus group did not realize they were going backward so often, making the job more difficult, the Toro team saw an opportunity to make its mowers more comfortable with adjustments to some of its already popular models.
Tollison described the rationale of making products easier to use to fit a person’s lifestyle as the “human factor.”
“Just like people weren’t asking for a remote control when you are getting up to turn on your TV,” he said.
Toro is betting, though, that once people try the PoweReverse Personal Pace Recycler, they won’t go back to other mowers. The Recycler models of mowers are some of the most popular that Toro sells. The new mower utilizes the “Personal Pace” technology that Toro patented almost 20 years ago that adjusts power to the rear wheels to match a person’s walking pace. Power to the front wheels drives it smoothly in reverse.
It’s not the first time Toro has concentrated on convenience. Toro’s Recycler with SmartStow allows the mower to be folded up and stored upright to save up to 70 percent of space. It is on pace to be one of the top selling lawn mowers in the world.
User friendliness has always been key in lawn maintenance, but it has become even more of a factor with all of the conveniences of the modern age. Honda recently unveiled a robotic lawn mower that resembles a Roomba for the U.S. market.
Toro in February reported record results for its fiscal 2017 first quarter, but its strongest growth was in the professional segment. Toro hopes that the PoweReverse can catch on in the residential target market, but representatives said it had the potential to also be applied in commercial products.
Toro’s experiential and digital marketing for the new Recycler mower is not part of its spring television campaign. Marketing for the new mower includes a four-day focus group and “activization” event that will start this week in the Atlanta area produced by local marketing firm SixSpeed, which helps Red Bull host its Crashed Ice event in St. Paul.
“I think this product launch represents a new level of innovation [for Toro], from the way that the ethnographic insights that led to the development of the product were gathered to the manner at which it’s going to be marketed,” said Bob Molhoek, chief marketing officer at SixSpeed.
During two of the days, customers will be able to test the new mower against competitors. For the other two days, Toro will also have an event at a festival called Lemonade Days where people can try the mower in an obstacle course. Some of the footage taken during the events will be used in a bigger digital marketing campaign.
“It’s exciting for us because it’s a marketing tactic that we’ve never done before,” Tollison said. “To us, it comes back to, this is a product that must be experienced.”
The PoweReverse Personal Pace Recycler mower will be available at Toro dealers in the United States at a suggested retail price of $469.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495