Volume 13 | Issue 4 | Year 2010

Agri-Fab’s long history began during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when businesses in the Sullivan, Ill. community were closing their doors and unemployment was rising. What could this normally prosperous community do to turn the tide? Commitment to the unemployed became the voluntary responsibility of a collaboration of organizations called Community Industries.

Founded in 1936, the organization had three working divisions: Lucy Ellen Candies, Felicity Fashions and Creative Designs. Creative Designs ultimately became Yard Man Industries, the predecessor of Agri-Fab. The Yard Man division built and designed lawn tractors. All divisions put people back to work, saving Sullivan from a severe economic decline.

But after World War II, the businesses were rapidly losing sales. By the mid-1960s, they found themselves undercapitalized and subsequently operated under Chapter 11 status bankruptcy. All of the divisions were eventually sold. Yard Man was purchased Montgomery Ward and then resold to MTD Products (Modern Tool and Die).

The purchase by MTD ultimately resulted in the creation of Agri-Fab. Key members of the Yard Man team presented a plan to take over the Sullivan business. They promised to invest their money, lease the equipment needed for production and work night and day to make the company a success. Impressed by the determination of the Sullivan team, the previous owners went along with their plan. The initial team surpassed their promises. Everyone involved performed multiple jobs; office workers were found on the production line, on the shipping dock, or anywhere help was needed.

Initially, Agri-Fab manufactured parts for Caterpillar Tractor, International Harvester, and Lee Norse in the mining industry and Trailmobile in the trucking industry.

Fortunately, Agri-Fab was still working within the lawn care business through MTD. It also was making lawn tractor attachments with some success for Sears. At that same time, the feeling within the company turned toward heritage: lawn and garden equipment.

It took Agri-Fab four to five years to determine that it could make better lawn care products. It looked at the Lawn Sweeper category and felt other manufacturers weren’t making the best product. Agri-Fab created a better design based on team input. The prototype was submitted to Sears, who loved it. Sears tested the Agri-Fab sweeper against their current sweeper and the Agri-Fab design won and received the Sears “Best” recognition.

Agri-Fab’s expansion into the lawn care business had begun. The company enlarged its manufacturing facilities and added products to its line. A line of lawn carts, lawn sweepers, spreaders, aerators, attachments for de-thatching and other lawn care products were successfully introduced.

Today, 35 years later, Agri-Fab is stronger than ever, thanks to innovation and its determination to meet the needs of its many customers with a full line of lawn care and attachment products. Comments Agri-Fab President Mike Cohan, “Competitors typically focus on specific segments, but we provide a complete line of products for retailers and, ultimately, the end user.”

He further explains, “Our goal is to make these products simple for our customers to use and thus make proper lawn care a quicker and easier job.”

To achieve these objectives, Agri-Fab continually interacts with its retailers and their consumers, discovering what they like and dislike about a product, and what they like and dislike about competitive products. Agri-Fab knows that the only way to create better products is through satisfied customers.

As a result of this exploratory analysis, Agri-Fab constantly discovers new ways to market its products relative to consumer wants and needs. A prime example is the recent research into the advantages of the Agri-Fab lawn sweeper. It was discovered that lawn care was much easier with this product because of three factors:

  • Because of its size, sweeper bags needed to be emptied fewer times;
  • Adjustable brushes resulted in a more effective cleaning device;
  • The user could empty the load without getting off the tractor.

According to Cohan, “These consumer insights are now incorporated into our new message: ‘Agri-Fab, Lawn Care Made Easy’.”

Also, Agri-Fab constantly looks to make its products less seasonal. The company wants its products used throughout the year. For example, the sweeper has long been viewed as a product for cleaning up leaves just in the fall. New emphasis is now being placed on its all-season capabilities. The sweeper is ideal for spring cleanup and summer grass clipping removal.

Coupled with the outstanding marketing strategy is an unbeatable manufacturing facility. Agri-Fab invests much of its revenue back into the business, and it develops advanced manufacturing techniques.

Agri-Fab also helps clients by fostering better manufacturing procedures, enabling them to focus on core competencies. The company also helps them realize ways to reduce costs and experience the benefits of flexibility.

Today, Agri-Fab is a strong two-pronged corporation, as it couples its strong manufacturing capability with consumer-based marketing to meet and surpass its short- and long-term objectives. The company truly provides the best products to make lawn care easy for its current and future customers.

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