Oct. 18 2007 12:00 AM

If you’re in the lawn mower business, you’ve probably heard of Tegtmeier, one of the most respected names in the business, and rightly so. Both Dick and his son Doug Tegtmeier learned the lawn mower manufacturing business from the ground up.

Dick Tegtmeier was born in Kansas and in 1956, at the age of 17, he left home. He couldn’t afford to go to college so he moved to Witchita, Kansas, and got a job working in construction. I guess you could say he wasn’t comfortable when he had to work outdoors in the wintertime. He had been working in Kansas and Nebraska when, four years later, he took a job with Dempster and moved to Beatrice, Nebraska.

Tegtmeier had taken drafting in high school and while with the construction company had taken correspondence courses in drafting. Part of his job at Dempster involved drafting. In 1966, Dick Tegtmeier went to work for Keyes, a company that did contract manufacturing, and it was during this time that he learned the lawn mower manufacturing business. Keyes did not have a propriety product, and by 1972 ownership felt it needed its own product. In those days, cutting-edge mowers were walk-behinds.

Dick worked at home developing a walk-behind lawn mower; by 1975, he was ready to introduce it to the market. Keyes had been in business for more than 100 years, but had never reached sales of one million dollars annually. With the introduction of their new propriety product, they hit the ground running and by 1981, just six years later, the company had reached the $5 million mark in sales. They brought in Bob Martin, who came from Bunton, to do the sales and marketing. Back then, Bunton was a top name in the market.

Dick and a few others weren’t too happy with the company. He began working at home, nights and weekends, developing a new mower. With some investment partners, in May 1982, Dick Tegtmeier started a new company called Exmark. But starting a new company requires a whole new approach to marketing, a new plant facility and all the other little things that go into establishing a new business. Exmark started off good, but hit a slowdown in early 1987.

Things weren’t going so well and some of the partners had a difference of opinion. By August 1987, sales began to pick up; however, the damage was done and in February of 1988, Dick Tegtmeier left Exmark and started Encore Manufacturing. On the personal side of his life, Dick was raising a family. He has two children, his son, Doug, and a daughter, Julie. Doug loved baseball and played in college while attending the University of Nebraska. He was a pitcher, and upon graduation he went on to play professionally. After kicking around the minor leagues for a number of years, Doug realized his limitations and felt it was time to move on. But what would he do? Ever since he was a kid, he’d heard about the lawn mower business. As a pre-teen, he worked in the factory after school, doing janitorial work. When he got a little older, he worked on the assembly line, and of course at the dinner table he would hear all about what went on in the business that day.

Doug Tegtmeier knew this business from the inside out. At the age of 25, a sales position opened at Encore; Doug applied for it, and got the job. It was a good time to enter the business. “It was the best move I’ve made,” said Doug Tegtmeier.

“The people involved in this industry are great.” After all these years, he could finally put together the names that he’d heard with the faces. Doug proved his ability. Both father and son set out on a path to grow the company. As Doug focused on domestic sales and working closely with their distributors, Dick put his energies on overseas markets, and private label products.

Doug Tegtmeier had rounded out his experience. With his background of working in a factory and now his proven sales and marketing ability, Doug was named president of Encore about three years ago.

Dick became chairman. About a year and a half later, the international business began to pay off. Encore started making mowers for Ferrari. The Ferrari mowers are now sold through the Ferrari Company in about 30 countries. While this was happening overseas, the domestic market seemed to be having its problems. More than 50 different companies were marketing lawn mowers. There didn’t seem to be enough sales to warrant so many companies. A shake-out was inevitable. Over the past few years, consolidations, roll-ups, and tuck-ins had taken place, with more to come. One of the reasons for the sluggishness of the sales of commercial lawn mowers is that contractors buy a piece of equipment and keep it until it falls apart.

They generally don’t plan on a replacement until their old unit is worn out. Because the weather has not been very favorable both last year and this (it rained into early June) a number of contractors felt they could hold on and get another year out of their old equipment. Dick Tegtmeier predicts sales to increase substantially next year. From a guy who’s been around for all these years and has experienced these slowdowns at least three times in his career, I’ll bet on him. There are many father and son teams in our industry—this one is a winner.