The more things change, the more they stay the same. A cliché, yes, but the reason such statements become clichés is because of their underlying truth. Case in point: Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products, the golf and lawn care products units of Textron Inc. This company has undergone significant changes in its management and operations in the past two years. It is now the industry leader in these product categories – just as it was prior to the onset of these changes.Jon Carlson, who became president of the division in November 2001, explains, that the company’s operational efficiency has increased, leading to better efficiency for customers, making the industry’s top supplier of golf and lawn-care equipment into an even better supplier.
Carlson now heads an organization that took shape in January of this year. The new management includes Dennis Schwieger, executive vice president of sales and marketing; Ralph Nicotera, vice president of marketing and product management; Joe Thompson, vice president of sales, and Joe Lafollette, vice president of customer service.
Even though this group has been on the job for a short time, it already can point to some positive results. Since last November, Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products has posted a double-digit increase in its sales and a double-digit reduction in its inventories. The company is now integrating Six Sigma into every aspect of its operations, and has launched exciting initiatives in marketing its varied product lines to its core customers in the golf industry. It also has relocated its headquarters and centered its operations in Charlotte, N.C. All of these changes have heightened Textron’s historic commitment to its customers, a commitment that is now in its seventh decade.
On the fairway
Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products was known as Textron Turf Care until September 2000, when it merged with E-Z-GO, the golf-car manufacturer, and changed its name to reflect the new shape of the company. E-Z-GO joined a brand lineup that includes Jacobsen for turf-care products, Ransomes for turf-care and utility vehicles, Bob-Cat and Bunton for lawn-care products, Brouwer for commercial turf products, Steiner for home lawn-care products, and Cushman and Ryan for golf turf-care equipment. These brands are still among the preferred products used by golf courses, resort communities, municipal governments and lawn-care professionals.
Textron’s parent company began implementing Six Sigma into its operations this year, and it has quickly become the core in the company’s business approach. The parent “created a customized program integrating lean manufacturing into Six Sigma’s core methodologies,” says Joe Zvanut, the golf and turf division’s public relations specialist. “It’s affecting us by improving all of our business processes, from purchasing raw materials on up, and by driving out unnecessary costs. We just started it this year and we know it’s a long-term process, but we’re seeing the benefits from it already.”
Textron operates four centers of excellence – in Charlotte (turf tractors and equipment), Johnson Creek, Wis. (commercial mowing equipment), Augusta, Ga. (commercial vehicles), and Ipswich, United Kingdom (municipal mowing equipment). As Carlson explains, “We have overlaid Six Sigma on these four centers, defining the areas of focus and improving these areas through analysis.” Referring to Six Sigma’s well-known martial-arts orientation, which recognizes increased competence in the process through colored belts, Carlson adds, “We now have 10 dedicated black belts in manufacturing, supplier opportunities, inventory, quality assessment, redundancy and the global business. When our parent launched the program, we were given the latitude to take the best and brightest in the organization for our black belts. We will also double the number of black belts in the next year.”
Aside from achieving the highest level of Six Sigma skills, Textron’s black belts have also become crucial elements in its customer strategy. “We plan on taking Six Sigma to our customers,” Carlson says. “We will provide customers with a black belt professional to analyze how they are doing with the equipment we sell to them. We take our black belts very seriously, and they are dedicated solely to their work as black belts. In the final analysis, our goal is to make our customers more productive.”
The home hole
The headquarters move to Charlotte in-volved more than just putting furniture and equipment into a van. In the past two years, Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products has doubled its work force and set up a center for technical assistance, parts ordering and operational help, which is accessible to its customers all from one telephone number. The company also invested $24 million in installing the Oracle system to tie all of its systems together. It has added 140,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 38,000 square feet of office space in Charlotte. “Putting so much of our engineering and operations in one location in Charlotte has made us more efficient and responsive,” says Carlson.
Textron also has begun a unique marketing strategy that has served to enhance its already formidable stature in the golf industry. It has relabeled all of its products and brands using the color orange. Simple as this sounds, the impact of this move has been tremendous. “Using the color orange gives our customers a visual identification for our products on the golf course,” Zvanut says. “It’s been very well received throughout the industry.”
The company also has refocused its Ransomes brand of turf-care and utility vehicles. “Ransomes is very well known outside of the U.S.,” says Zvanut, “so we are concen-trating that brand on our customers in Europe and Southeast Asia. We’ve rebranded popular Ransomes products in the U.S. as Jacobsen, which has been in the U.S. since the 1930s.” One example of this strategy is the introduction of a new version of the Ransomes 951 rotary mower for golf course roughs and large grassy areas, which has been renamed the Jacobsen HR 9510. The HR 9510 features rotary wings on both sides that lift to make it easy to store. Not only is the new version targeted at golf courses, but it is also adaptable to state parks and municipalities.
Another significant new product launch is the Super LF 1880, an extremely light-weight (less than 2,000 pounds) fairway mower that is well balanced so that it doesn’t damage the turf. The new product features 18-inch cutting wheels and a greens quality cut. “The Super LF 1880 was used at the Buick Classic golf tournament in Rye, N.Y., in June, and the results were spectacular,” Zvanut said. Size (or lack of it) also is a focal point for another Textron introduction, the Cushman Commander 4800 utility vehicle for the golf course and construction industries. It features a two-cylinder Briggs & Stratton motor and with its high ground clearance, can go just about anywhere.
Textron may have also transformed the warranty end of the industry with its new CustomerOne™ Silver two-year warranty program for the company’s brands. Effective this past May 1, the new warranty provides parts and labor coverage for two years or 2,000 hours of use. Ryan Aerators with hour meters are covered for two years or 500 hours of use. Zvanut says, “We think we’ve stepped ahead of the industry with our comprehensive CustomerOne program that includes the CustomerOne Silver Two Year Warranty and CustomerOne Gold Warranty Extension.”
The future for Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products “is real simple,” Carlson says. “It all goes back to Six Sigma.”Over the next five to 10 years, he predicts that this segment can realize compounded annual growth of 5 percent. He says, “It’s our responsibility to take the tools we provide our customers today and make them more productive, and add value to their business by using those tools to lower their costs.”