INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY
The ZRATOR a New Way to Aerate
Distribution grows for front-mount, steerable, core-plug aerator
Q:Mr. Carl Bottom, what is your title and what are your main responsibilities with UTECO, Inc., which offers the ZRATOR lawn aerator?
A: I am vice president of sales and marketing. I manage the dealer network for all lines that we handle. I also have oversight of all aspects of the development and marketing of ZRATOR. This includes vender procurement, manufacturing and the establishment of a two-step distributor network for the aerator.
Q: As readers may not be familiar with UTECO, headquartered near Richmond, Va., would you please share its history?
A: In 1952, my grandfather became the Ford tractor distributor for Virginia and eastern North Carolina doing business as Universal Tractor Equipment Corp. In 1981, we decided to change our focus from the agricultural industry to outdoor power equipment. We shortened our name to the acronym UTECO, Inc. At that time and up until now we have served as a two-step distributor for several major brand-name manufacturers. In 2009, we began developing a business plan to bring the ZRATOR to market.
Q: I am curious to find out about how you got into the business of manufacturing the ZRATOR, a commercial lawn aerator.
A: Part of the decision to change our focus to outdoor power equipment was not to handle a major line of mowers, but to focus strictly on attachments and other product offerings, such as aerators. Over the course of several years we watched the demand change from spiker-type aerators to core plug aerators. We also saw landscapers began to offer aeration as a regular part of their service. The downside for landscapers was that it was very labor-intensive and slow with the products that were in the market. Over the years aerating products made some improvements, but we still fell short of solving the labor and time problem. Having equipment that needed to be operated in straight lines when lawns usually can't be mowed or aerated in straight lines made the process slow. And walk-behind products just plain wore you out. By eliminating both obstacles we would have a product that would encourage landscaper to offer this necessary service to the customers.
Q: When and why did your team come up with the idea of the ZRATOR?
A: I wish we could take credit for the original idea, but we cannot. I was calling on a dealer and saw a strange looking aerator attached to a Z-mower. It was the prototype of the ZRATOR. After seeing it work, I knew that this was the product concept the industry needed to make core aeration fast and efficient while also eliminating operator fatigue. At our next company meeting we discussed the possibilities and the direction that we wanted to go. We then partnered with the inventor through the patent process and acquired worldwide distribution rights.
Photo courtesy of UTECO.
Q: Please describe the timeline and the development process of the ZRATOR.
A: 2009 was spent redesigning and testing the product on many different types of mowers and soil conditions. In February of 2010 we sold the first production unit. We immediately began establishing a dealer network in the territory we served for our other product lines. To get exposure outside of our territory we leaned heavily on Turf magazine and Lawnsite.com. We began selling units on a direct basis outside of our dealer network. In October of 2010 we exhibited for the first time at the GIE show in Louisville in hopes to establish a dealer network nationwide. The acceptance of the ZRATOR at the show was overwhelming. This confirmed our belief in this product's potential. In 2011, we introduced two new models of the ZRATOR: one for stand-on mowers and one for Walker mowers. In 2012, we were ready for the next step and brought the manufacturing in house here in Richmond. This was necessary for our long-term business plan to establish two-step distributors to help increase our dealer base on a nationwide basis. Today we have four U.S. distributors and one Canadian distributor. We will continue to seek additional representation in areas of the country where we do not have coverage.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in developing and getting the ZRATOR into production and into distribution?
A: With most new products, the biggest challenge was the capital investment that we knew it would take to jumpstart the product in the marketplace. Another major challenge was having no experience in manufacturing, learning how to manufacture this product in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This education continues to this day.
Q: In your opinion, what features and benefits does the ZRATOR offer to professional users that other lawn aerators do not and cannot offer?
A: It is the only front-mount, steerable, core plug aerator in the industry. You can turn left, right and forward, and you even go in reverse without raising the tines out of the ground. This delivers non-stop core aeration at a high rate of speed, while also eliminating operator fatigue. It utilizes the weight of the mower by raising your front wheels off the ground transferring the weight of the mower to the top of the tine clusters. Thus no additional weights are required.
The power to drive the attachment comes from a piece of equipment the landscaper already has giving them a new income stream for their mower beyond cutting grass. The simplicity of the ZRATOR stands out as well, made of nothing lighter than seven-gauge steel. There are no belts to break, no chains to pop and no sprockets to wear.
Q: Will you be bringing other new products to market this year or in the foreseeable future?
A: Due to requests, we are working on a new model of the ZRATOR for hydro walk-behind mowers that we hope to introduce into the market sometime this year. Also, you can look for a dethatcher attachment to mount to our main frame sometime in the near future.
Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf Magazine. He is approaching his 30th year reporting on the green industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.