All in a day's work Featured

10:19am EDT September 27, 2004
If your last sales meeting was utterly forgettable, you could learn from MTD Products Inc., a Cleveland-based manufacturer of lawn and garden power equipment with brands including Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, Yard-Man, Yard Machines, Bolens, McCulloch and White Outdoor.

Roy Keating, MTD's vice president of sales, says the company hosts a semiannual two-and-a-half day national sales meeting for 150 to 200 of its employees and North American and European independent sales representatives. The first day is an introduction of new products and discussion of industry trends and sales strategies. The second day includes an event for participants to try MTD's products.

Set on the 1,000-acre "Lodge" on MTD's Valley City campus, at past events, participants wore work clothes and mowed the property's grass, but this location didn't provide the trees, fences and other obstacles consumers face at home.

"In the past, we've done Survivor-theme events," Keating says. "We talked about trying to do a home makeover, where you go to somebody's home and make over their yard, but we said, 'That's great, but it really only benefits one person. How can we do this and benefit a lot of people?'"

The answer was the MTD Community Grounds Crew concept. In June, 200 MTD salespeople, armed with four semi-trailers full of lawn power tools, cleaned the grounds of four special needs camps for children and adults -- the Achievement Centers for Children's Camp Cheerful in Strongsville; Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills; Highbrook Lodge Camp in Chardon, operated by the Cleveland Sight Center; and Camp Paradise in Medina, operated by the Society for Handicapped Citizens of Medina County. Each camp employs its own maintenance crew, but has a limited budget and facilities that needed attention. The MTD Community Grounds Crew's role was to tackle special projects.

A bus picked up participants at their hotel and took them to Camp Cheerful, where they were introduced to the event's concept. Participants received T-shirts, hats and survival kits that included insect repellent, snacks and sunscreen, which went unused because it rained half the day.

In spite of the weather, MTD crews mowed, tilled, planted flowers and shrubs and beautified overgrown river banks, using chipper-shredders to turn branches and leaves into mulch. When they were finished, the crews left $10,000 in equipment at the camps, including a $7,000 utility vehicle.

"When you have individuals who have special needs, you want them to be in the best situation possible, and I think we all felt that we were able to contribute to that," Keating says.

Many crew members had been selling MTD products for years but had never used the equipment on their own lawns.

"This was a great way for them to get some more product knowledge," Keating says. "It was definitely well-received; there was no griping whatsoever."

The company is planning to clean up other local facilities next summer and may expand the clean-up into another market.

Keating encourages executives to consider how their products can benefit people in a nonprofit-driven way as a means of educating their sales force.

"(That's) easier said than done because I personally have been doing this for 12 years, and this is really the first time we've nailed it," he says. "It's not an easy task, but we're really pumped up about it and definitely will continue it." HOW TO REACH: MTD, (330) 225-2600

Mowing down the competition

During a rainy second day of a national sales meeting in June, MTD sent its attendees on a mission called MTD Community Grounds Crew -- to use the company's newest lawn care equipment to provide much-needed outdoor maintenance at four Northeastern Ohio special needs camps.

MTD's Vice President of Sales Roy Keating says standard company meetings can be kicked up a notch with some creative thinking.

* Plan ahead. MTD organized this event two months in advance, holding status update meetings internally every two weeks.

"The marketing folks got the high-level plan together, and then we gave them the assistance they needed and delegated some folks to be team leaders for each facility," he says.

* Remember your mission. MTD's gardening culture is "our habit, but it's also our business," Keating says. The first day of the meeting was all business, but during the second day's hands-on event, participants realized the gratification customers get from using MTD products.

* Leave a lasting impression. Independent sales reps attend numerous training meetings each year, so Keating wanted to make MTD's meeting an event to remember.

"I think that you really need to ... understand what your corporate culture is, what you want your outside sales force to think about as a company."

* Encourage employee bonding. The MTD Community Grounds Crew event was so well-received that Keating plans to do it again next year.

"We probably will bring more people from our internal office who are nonsales-related ... because we thought it was a good team-building exercise to work side-by-side, hand-in-hand," Keating says.