Last week I had the privilege of attending the Walker Family Reunion in Fort Collins, CO. Walker Manufacturing hosted the event at their company headquarters and invited the people who they attribute their success over the years to including their suppliers, distributors, dealers and customers.
During opening ceremonies Friday, Bob Walker and his brother Dean addressed the crowd. Bob delivered a “State of the Company” report giving the crowd some insight into the philosophy behind Walker Mowers and their almost three generations of business. Bob and Dean’s parents made a big leap – going from farming to manufacturing in the 1950’s. Their first products were golf cars, power trucks and cab coolers. Bob gets choked up talking about his parents and their work ethic and dedication. He feels that Walker would not be where it was today, maybe not even here at all, if not for them.
Bob and Dean got involved in the 1970’s after the company relocated to Colorado. It was around this time that the company began producing mowers with the design and development led by Dean. To this day, the family owns 100% of the company and is not beholden to any outside interests. Walker Mowers holds about 2% of the market share for commercial riding mowers in the United States and Bob and Dean are carefully planning the transition into the third generation of ownership.
Looking to the future, Walker is focused on making improvements to both their facilities and their machines. The plan to reinvest significantly into their factory with technological advances. They have a goal to build 50 machines a day and 10,000 machines a year. They also hope to increase their market share to 3%. According to Bob, their “best days are ahead.”
One key to Walker’s success has been his employees, a fact he is not shy to discuss. There are approximately 200 employees that work in the Fort Collins headquarters with an average tenure of 11 years – pretty impressive. Taking a tour of the factory, it’s evident that Walker employees love their jobs. Each person I encountered was eager to help, answer questions or tell me about their responsibilities.
In addition to their relationship with their employees, Walker also values the long term relationships with his suppliers, dealers and customers. Bob recognized several suppliers and dealers that he had been working with for over 20 years and recalled a customer who had over 6,000 hours logged on his mower! Bob also made a point that every machine purchased locally is sold by a dealer, not directly from Walker, as supporting his dealers is of the utmost important. Dealers recognize this allegiance, as evidenced by Walker’s three consecutive Gold Level Awards based on the Dealer-Manufacturer Relations Survey EDA compiles and distributes to dealers wherein they can rate their manufacturers.
A highlight of the weekend celebrations focused on the production of Walker’s 150,000th mower. A ceremony on Friday afternoon included a parade of all the vintage golf carts and trucks on display throughout the Reunion which was capped off by Bob, riding that milestone mower out into the field surrounded by family, employees and attendees. Saturday evening, after several live musical performances and completion of an awards ceremony, event sponsor Kohler Engines treated attendees to a Brat dinner, with all the fixings. Other activities throughout the weekend included hot air balloon and helicopter rides, a ferris wheel, an area dedicated to young children with crafts, bounce houses and games and fun for the big “kids” with an obstacle course and go carts! Saturday night was capped off by a fireworks display and the event ended with a prayer service Sunday morning.
It was a pleasure to spend the weekend in Fort Collins at the Walker Family Reunion. The Walker team and the people they choose to do business with are exceptional. Bob closed his opening remarks by promising to continue to stick to family and company principles and reminding us all to “live with gratitude,” something he, his family and his staff clearly strive to do every day.