Editor’s note: This article, written by Bob Qualls, appears in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business & Politics, which you can read here.
Scott Lancaster cringes at the mention that Bad Boy Mowers started in a garage.
While the idea for the popular zero-turn mower was conceived in a garage when founders Phil Pulley and Robert Foster began tinkering with what became the prototype, Lancaster says the actual manufacture of Bad Boy Mowers began in a 20,000-square-foot facility in Batesville’s Industrial Park.
That was in 2002, when the company started out with 20 employees. Twelve years later, Bad Boy occupies an 800,000-square-foot facility and employs more than 400 people. That original 20,000-square-foot plant now houses only the parts and service departments. And those departments will soon be moving to a new 60,000-square-foot building as the company continues to expand.
Lancaster, Bad Boy’s general counsel, said the company had a record-breaking month in April, when it produced 7,020 units. It was the best month in the company’s history, and the reason why it continues to grow. Lancaster said the company had double-digit growth last year, and it has already exceeded 2013 figures in the first quarter of 2014.
“We will probably produce in the neighborhood of 30,000 [units] this year, give or take a few,” Lancaster said. “That’s a double-digit increase from last year. Since the inception of Bad Boy, each year has been a record year over the previous year.”
Bad Boy is now at production capacity, so the expansion is planned to meet the growing demand for the company’s mowers.
When the parts and service departments move to the new 60,000-square-foot building on the current Bad Boy campus, the fabrication department will expand into the parts and service area, Lancaster said. He described the fabrication area as the “bottle-neck” of the manufacturing process because it takes longer to shape the metal and weld the pieces together than it does to actually assemble all the parts.
The expansion will speed up production by adding fabrication machines, which are automated and use robotic welders. Bad Boy also will add another powder-coat paint line to speed up that process as well. The company currently has six assembly lines, and Lancaster said two more would be added with the expansion.
The expansion will cost about $8 million. Lancaster told the Independence County Economic Development Commission that the expansion would add at least 150 new jobs that would pay from $19.50 to $20 an hour.
Bad Boy is expanding its product line as well. It builds its mowers on demand and sells them through dealers around the country. One of its largest dealers is Tractor Supply Co., a large retail chain that is the leading U.S. retailer in its market. It operates more than 1,300 stores in the U.S., so its desires are important to Bad Boy. The manufacturer asked Tractor Supply to list the products it would like to see Bad Boy provide. At the top of the list was a rotary cutter, the kind that is pulled by a tractor and used to mow pastures, roadsides and even light brush.
So, Bad Boy designed and built a prototype of a five-foot model that it planned to “soft launch” in June. “Our initial feedback from showing it to dealers and other potential customers over the last few weeks is that it is going to do very well,” Lancaster said. “It’s a great combination of superior quality over its competition at a very competitive price.”
Like all of Bad Boy’s products, it will have the distinctive powder-coat orange color. Lancaster said the company manufactures everything on a Bad Boy mower that has that orange color.
Bad Boy is getting help with its expansion project from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in the form of a $2.2-million grant.
Lancaster calls the grant a “three-bank pool shot” because it will serve three purposes. For one, it is helping the transition of Bad Boy’s Melbourne facility to another company, Air Ready MRO Services, Inc., an aircraft repair company.
When Bad Boy moved its multi-terrain vehicle operation to Batesville, it no longer needed the Melbourne plant, which once housed a Boeing Aircraft plant. Bad Boy was acquiring the facility on a lease-purchase arrangement. The Izard County Economic Development Commission wanted to re-acquire the building so that the aircraft company could move into it. Part of the AEDC grant is helping accomplish that.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Lancaster said.
The second part of the “three-bank shot” is helping Bad Boy open its new rotary cutter division. The decks of the cutters will be built in the Bad Boy plant in Batesville. Assembly will take place at another elsewhere. That location is still to be decided, but it likely won’t be in Batesville because of a recent action by the Independence County Quorum Court.
Bad Boy requested a $400,000 incentive grant from the county’s Economic Development Commission. It would add at least 150 new employees with the expansion. It the past few years, that request likely would have sailed through. However, last January, voters in the county failed to renew a one-fourth-cent sales tax for economic development. Without the tax, there is no more revenue coming in to attract industries or create new jobs.
The commission has about a half million dollars that is not already committed to ongoing projects. Economic Development Director Larry Jones wants to keep that in reserve for future development of two business parks it owns – one in Batesville and another at Southside. However, a majority of commissioners wanted to create jobs quicker by providing the grants to Bad Boy and another company that also requested assistance. The commission voted 8-1 to provide a $300,000 grant to Bad Boy and a smaller grant to the other company.
The commission’s recommendation went to the Quorum Court for approval, and it was rejected on an 8-2 vote with one abstention. The majority of the court sided with Jones, preferring to finish work on the business parks. Because of this, Bad Boy is looking elsewhere for its rotary cutter site. Other cities and counties are wooing Bad Boy with plenty of incentives to attract an established industry. Newport has been mentioned as one possible location, but others are also interested.
The final element in the “three-bank pool shot” is the expansion of the mower business at the Bad Boy campus in Batesville, including the 60,000-square-foot addition to increase its production capacity.
Bad Boy, Inc., reorganized in recent months and spun off the side-by-side 4×4 utility vehicle line known as the Intimidator. Robert Foster, Bad Boy co-founder, is now the owner of that line, and Phil Pulley is the sole owner of Bad Boy, Inc. The Intimidator operation is located adjacent to the Bad Boy campus in Batesville.
What’s behind Bad Boy’s remarkable success in its 12 years of existence? Lancaster mentions two things.
“We offer a high-quality product at an extremely competitive price,” he said. And, he attributes that to the company’s workforce. “We have a very loyal group of employees. They are dedicated and good at what they do.”
To illustrate that, he said that many of those who are temporarily laid off in the fall during the company’s slow period still come to company picnics and functions. Most of them readily come back to work when called, he said, because Bad Boy offers an above-average hourly wage.
The other key to success, he said, is the company’s marketing department, led by Lenny Foree, who has been with the company almost from the beginning.
“Their innovative thinking has built the Bad Boy brand, and a strong image,” Lancaster said, that people easily identify. That includes the slogan, “Mow With an Attitude,” and the orange and black logo with the bulldog in it.
Bad Boy also has received many celebrity endorsements, including some that were unpaid and even unsolicited. They include Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Zac Brown, the late George Jones and rocker Ted Nugent. Most of them actually own and use the mowers.
“People love to mow with it,” Lancaster said with a smile. “It’s fun.”