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A green outlook Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

Payne Stewart’s par putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 99th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club rolled 15 feet uphill over a new grass called G2.

That grass is owned by Lesco Inc., the leading manufacturer and distributor of golf course, lawn care and pest control products. The Rocky River-based company services nearly 9,000 of the 15,000 golf courses around the country, as well as athletic facilities such as Jacobs Field.

What’s so important about the right kind of grass?

Well, according to Paul T. Jett, CGCS, Pinehurst superintendent, “Most U.S. Open sites focus a tremendous amount of time and energy on the greens. Pinehurst No. 2 is no different. But the new G2 grass is doing so well that the greens are fourth or fifth on my worry list.”

And whether it’s Pinehurst No. 2 or your company’s front yard, there’s a good chance that the products you’re using to make your lawn lush and green were manufactured or distributed by Lesco.

Lesco’s success can’t simply be pinned on its superior product line, though that’s what drives sales. The company became the industry leader because its management devised a specific goal-oriented product development and marketing strategy, then tied the two together.

Deliver what your competitors can’t

“We go to market differently than anyone else,” says William A. Foley, chairman and CEO. “We’re the only company that sells on a direct basis. We use two vehicles to do that. First of all, we use something called Store on Wheels, which is a 35-foot tractor-trailer designed and built just for us. It looks like a store.

“We take that to the golf course, the superintendent comes on, and he gets whatever products he wants and he leaves. He’ll get material on a real-time basis.”

The company has 234 service centers, which the Stores on Wheels use as refilling stations and storage facilities.

The combination gives the company an edge over other players in the market.

“If there is a competitive sales person making a presentation to a superintendent, because these (sales reps) are on a route and their time’s limited, the superintendent will leave the other sales man there,” Foley says. “He’ll come out and get on the truck, get what he needs, while the (rival sales rep) just cools his heels.

“They want the service and they love the service, because we’re bringing them 700 products specifically selected for a golf course. Nobody else brings that stuff to them.”

Use your customers for R&D

Lesco solicits the advice of those golf course superintendents to help develop new products. And 80 percent of Lesco’s sales reps are former superintendents themselves.

“So they’ve been on the working side of the golf course,” Foley says. “They know the customers’ needs, issues, threats, concerns, and so the language they talk is very symbiotic. They just know what’s going on.”

They’re also tuned in to what the superintendents need. Few other companies can boast such insight.

The strategy works. In 1992, Lesco sales were about $142 million. This year, they will surpass $450 million, with all but about $40 million of that due to internally generated growth.

If you come, they will buy

Lesco utilizes 71 trucks, and each is responsible for between 110 and 125 courses. That provides more personalized service and a regular face for the superintendents to see.

“Beyond that,” Foley says, “nobody really has as complete a product line to service all components of the business.”

In other words, offer customers more products and easier access to them.

The company also uses more traditional methods to reach customers. Three or four times each year, it sends out the Lesco News, a glossy newsletter containing technical information.

It’s not just a public relations piece with stories about Lesco, Foley says. The company really tries to make it a useful, informative publication.

“We can teach them about the product line. We try very hard to make sure the copy is objective, in focus, addresses their concerns, and then we stay out of the ‘You buy Lesco’ in the body copy.”

The company does about 135 trade shows each year, and gets its message across through envelope stuffers in invoices. There are also plans to develop an extranet, to provide existing customers access to company news and information.

But Lesco’s greatest strength is that it is uniquely positioned between the huge agricultural companies and the smaller operations. The big companies, Foley says, have a commodity mindset; their marketing skills are basically price and they really don’t have much value added in the marketplace.

Lesco’s size allows it to compete with the smaller operations on price. Those companies can’t compete with Lesco because of economies of scale.

“In most of those cases, we can be the low-cost guy,” Foley says. “He needs more resources in a market to run his business than we do.” How to reach: Lesco Inc. (440) 333-9250, or www.lesco.com

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor at SBN. Dustin Klein also contributed to this report.

Manufacturing on the Web

You’ve been told how the Internet is going to save your business. But what good is a Web site for a manufacturer?

According to the latest round of statistics in the 9th Annual Grant Thornton Survey of American Manufacturers Report, your competition knows. Here are some results of that survey:

Percentage of midsize U.S. manufacturers with Web sites:

  • Nov. 1995 — 14 percent

  • Nov. 1996 — 25 percent

  • March 1997 — 44 percent

  • April 1998 — 66 percent

  • Dec. 1998 — 82 percent

    And how are those Web sites being used?

  • Marketing/promotion — 89 percent

  • Customer feedback — 42 percent

  • Order processing — 27 percent

  • Recruitment — 25 percent