April 21 2008 12:00 AM

Dixie Chopper


To define Dixie Chopper as a family business would be an understatement at best. In 1980, when Art and Jean Evans began the journey of building their company, little did they know that it would eventually be the lifeblood of their children, Warren, Wesley, Wendi and Macky Lynn.

Art and Jean grew up in communities within a few miles of Coatesville, Indiana, where Dixie Chopper is located. Art attended Nashville Auto Diesel College for one year, then returned to Indiana to work for IBM, but his real ?profession? for the next thirteen years was drag racing.

He attributes the knowledge he gained as a semi-professional racer to his eventual success as a mower manufacturer. "Racing is a thinking man's sport, the same as building a mower is a thinking man's business. In both cases you are never satisfied, always striving for improvement."

For relaxation, Art started flying gyrocopters. He progressed to airplanes, a hobby he shares with his sons. He has his pilot's license, and logs about 100 hours a year.

After receiving a bachelor's degree from Indiana University and a masters degree from DePauw University in education, Jean taught school until Art chose to leave the corporate world and they opened an auto parts business.

Dixie Chopper's origin began with a visit to a county fair. Art spotted a small riding mower that would spin around in circles 'within its own dimension.' He was so impressed by the concept, he became a dealer. However, that year people were not quite ready to accept the idea of mowers without a steering wheel. The following year, Art began traveling across the state with his zero-radius mowers and sales took off.

When commercial contractors, using mowers designed for home usage, experienced breakdowns, Art began re-engineering. Combining his newly-acquired knowledge of mowers and his knowledge of racing, he built five mowers to use as loaners. These prototypes made such an impression that each customer asked Art to manufacture a machine just like it for purchase.

And so, Dixie Chopper was founded to manufacture and market these first five machines. From the beginning, Jean and Art divided the work. Art handled manufacturing and sales; Jean took care of the office, and managed the financial and legal affairs.

All four of the Evans' children worked for Dixie Chopper until recently. Wendi decided to return to teaching after the promotion of her husband, Jeff Haltom, to operational manager. Childhood sweethearts, they have been married six years and have four-year-old twin daughters.

Jeff has worked for Dixie Chopper all of his life, holding every position from sweeping floors on up the ladder. "My philosophy has always been to never ask anyone to do what you won't do yourself; I have done and will do anything."

Oldest son, Warren, after graduating from high school, joined the army to become an MP. He found he preferred to sell lawnmowers instead. His parents suggested it would be good experience to manage a dealership before taking over the sales department, so he spent three years learning sales from the viewpoint of a dealer.

At first, Warren drove to every state twice a year. Today, three to four times yearly he travels to most states. The only time he doesn't enjoy his travels is when it conflicts with his children's activities.

He has a son, 13, and a daughter, 11. They enjoy camping, canoeing, fishing, and cycling. His favorite pastime is flying. As a member of the Rescue Scuba Diver team, he has volunteered the use of his plane to aid in rescues.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Warren's brother, Wesley, who is in charge of assembly. "Often people think we don't get along because we see the business from different points of view, but when we walk out the door of Dixie Chopper, we are brothers. I am sales and he is assembly; we are going to have business disagreements," says Warren.

Wesley and his wife, Lori, have two daughters, ages 13 and 10, and a son, 5. He loves horseback riding and his youngest daughter has inherited this love. They show horses together at fairs. He likes to fly Para planes when time permits.

Youngest daughter, Macky Lynn, has just received her high school diploma and currently works in data entry, keying in inbound warranty registration cards.

Art maintains that having the children join the business has been a tremendous asset. "It is one of the strengths of our business. It?s hard to separate business from family, but fortunately the boys are able to handle it."

Jean, on the other hand, says it's workable but thinks it'?s taken a toll on the family. "The last five years have been good for the business, but sometimes it is difficult having your children work with you."

The Evans have a bond that seems to run deep, intermingling family and business; they have common philosophies which include treating others as you would like to be treated; truth gets you further than anything else; and when you stop listening to the end user's opinion, it's over.