Bad Boy Mowers Moves From Garage to High-Tech Factory

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 12:00 am  

Robert Foster didn't want to build a better mousetrap; he wanted to build a better lawn mower. So in 1998 he headed to the garage at his home in Diaz (Jackson County) and started tinkering. By the end of a couple of months, he had built his first mower.

Fast-forward 14 years and Foster is co-owner with longtime business partner Phil Pulley of Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville, manufacturer of the Bad Boy brand of zero-turn commercial lawn mowers. What once took two months now takes about three minutes, Foster said. And from manufacturing four or five mowers in 1999, when Foster built his first manufacturing facility, a 1,200-SF shop by his house, Bad Boy now makes 160 mowers and other vehicles a day.

Foster believes in listening to his customers, particularly professional lawn care workers, "people who mow every day," he said. To that end, the company conducts annual surveys, using a third-party firm "because we don't want a biased opinion."

"We'll bring people in and they'll call like 2,500 people who have Bad Boys and ask them, would they buy another Bad Boy product?," Foster said. "Let's say that Bad Boy came out with a utility vehicle, would you purchase a Bad Boy utility vehicle? Would you tell your friend to buy a Bad Boy? Have you had any problems with your Bad Boy?"

Bad Boy heeds the responses to these surveys of lawn care pros. "They basically give us a blueprint and we build off that," said Foster, who was interviewed while he was traveling to an industry trade show. "No matter what anybody thinks at Bad Boy, we try to listen to what the people want."

The company, which now employs about 330 people, makes zero-turn mowers with either gasoline or diesel engines. (Zero-turn lawn mowers' ability to pivot in their tracks makes them highly maneuverable. They can cut right up against obstacles such as trees, eliminating the need to trim around such yard features.) The mowers range in price from about $3,000 for the MZ Series, which features either Briggs or Kawasaki engines, to $13,000 for the Cat Daddy, a four-cylinder diesel model with a Caterpillar engine.

Bad Boy's strategy of listening to customers has led it into manufacturing products other than zero-turn mowers. Bad Boy started making four-wheel-drive utility, or multi-terrain, vehicles about four years ago, Foster said. The market is hunters, farmers and others who use these vehicles to venture into rough, sometimes forested terrain.

The company's utility vehicles feature either gasoline or electric motors. This product line includes the two- and four-passenger LSV Series - LSV stands for low-speed vehicle - an electric model legal to drive on roads posted 35 mph or less. Bad Boy, on its website, calls the LSV model a "popular alternative to getting around your neighborhood or just running errands."

Next up, Foster said, are "ultra-terrain" vehicles. This three-quarter-ton vehicle will accommodate three adults; a planned "double-cab" will accommodate six. It will be "the most popular thing that I think we've ever built at Bad Boy," Foster said.

The market for ultra-terrain vehicles includes hunters, trail riders and farmers who will use them in place of their pickups, he said. "It's a really, really cool machine," an enthusiastic Foster said. "It will have blinkers, turn signals, flashers, backup lights. It will be a real advanced vehicle."

Estimated launch of the vehicle is September or October, he said.

"We come out with several new models every year," Foster said. "And I think this new big rig that we're coming out with, the new three-quarter-ton utility vehicle, I think it's got the opportunity to double Bad Boy."

 

 

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