Victa - how it became Australia?s number 1 mower
Victa brochure, 1955.
Mervyn Victor Richardson developed the Victa rotary lawn-mower in August 1952. It was not the first rotary lawn-mower ever developed, but it was cheaper, lighter and easier to use than the mowers that came before.
Mervyn advertised his new mowers and sold them from his home. Demand for the mowers was high with the growth of post-war suburbia. Soon Mervyn had to expand the business to a new location and Victa Mowers Pty Ltd was born.
From the early days Victa effectively used marketing to promote and sell its mowers. It pioneered TV advertising in Australia, using celebrity endorsements and combining them with extensive newspaper and print media campaigns. Victa set up a network of distributors and trained them in promotion and sales.
Within two years of setting up the business, Victa had sold 20 000 mowers and was beginning to export them. The company continued to improve the technology, design and marketing of its products by responding to customers' needs. By 2002, after almost 50 years of operation, 6.5 million Victa mowers had been sold in 30 countries around the world.
Introduction - developing the Victa
While the Victa rotary lawn-mower was not the first of its kind, the light weight and ease of manufacture were innovative. A British patent for a rotary lawn-mower exists from 1932, and Lawrence Hall built a rotary lawn-mower in Sydney in 1948.
The 'Mowhall' rotary mower developed by Lawrence Hall was made from a heavy plough disc and marine engine. It required two people (one to push and one to pull) and was never a great commercial success. Mervyn Victor Richardson saw the 'Mowhall' being demonstrated in 1948. In 1949 when Mervyn's son, Gary, started a mowing business, Mervyn decided to build two lawn-mowers for Gary to use. The mowers used imported Villiers two-stroke engines with a traditional horizontal rotating reel. Mervyn continued to build and sell these mowers after the mowing business was closed.
In August 1952, Mervyn had the idea to put one of the engines on its side to drive a blade rotating in a horizontal plane. He assembled a prototype from a few scraps of metal and a peach tin for a fuel can. The prototype was tested and worked - it cut fine grass, long grass and weeds.
Mervyn then began selling his new mower. He called it the Victa Rotomo 18 and advertised demonstrations at his own home. Within three months he had sold 30 mowers. On 13 February 1953 Victa Mowers Pty Ltd was formed. The company expanded, moved location and by 1958 had 3000 employees building 143 000 mowers a year for export to 28 countries.
Of great importance in the rapid initial success of the Victa mower was the innovative promotional methods used. Victa quickly found a niche in the market and established its name as a supplier of reliable, affordable mowers.
The beginnings of marketing and promotion
When Mervyn first developed his Victa mower, his most successful sales technique was direct demonstration. Over the summer of 1952 - 53 he demonstrated the mower at his own home. He and his family made the mowers in their garage. Mervyn placed a newspaper advertisement encouraging customers to visit his home and see the mower in action.
The advertisement resulted in an astonishing demand for the lightweight lawn-mower that could turn what had once been pasture or bush into civilised, elegant lawn. Soon Mervyn could not keep up with the demand. He gave up his old job to become full time manager of the business and moved the company to a shed in Mortlake.
Victa continued to advertise in newspapers and radio, and the demonstrations continued to sell the mowers. The mower was advertised as 'new', 'reliable' and 'revolutionary'. There was 'no lawn too fine, no growth too tough'.
Some customers used the mowers for tasks that weren't in the instruction manual: to cut down trees; power small boats; or cut gravel. Victa welcomed the surprising and unique publicity this brought.
The first big campaign
In 1958 the company moved to a new factory and developed a five-year plan. It wanted to make the best product on the market, be the first into volume production and distribution, and base the business on a low-price mower that a middle-income family could afford. It established a network of over 900 dealers around the country to promote and sell the Victa lawn-mower.
At the same time Victa began a major advertising campaign to promote the Victa lawn-mower and name. The company used an all-media approach. It ran two-page advertisements in national weekend papers. Its radio campaign covered all states and used a catchy jingle. Victa pioneered the use of television advertising in both Sydney and Melbourne. A two-minute film called 'Mowing Places with Victa' was distributed to cinemas around the country.
Up until this time, Victa's advertising had focussed on the ease of use and functional abilities of the mower. The company promoted the mower as being able to cut any height of grass and weeds and cut right up to fences and walls. The campaign of 1958 - 59 continued to highlight these features, but also promoted the mower as a labour-saving device.
Slogans such as 'Don't be the last man on your street to own a Victa' and 'Summer weekends are too precious to waste' encouraged homeowners to 'have the kind of smooth, trim lawn everyone admires' without sacrificing hours of the weekend. Promotional feature supplements were inserted in major national newspapers to inform people about lawns, how to care for them and, of course, which was the best mower to do the job!
Turning grass into lawn?
It was during 1959 that the slogans 'turns grass into lawn' and 'Australia's top selling mower' were introduced. These slogans featured in much of Victa's advertising for the next 40 years. The active print media campaign promoted Victa as Australia's favourite. In January 1959 the public were told that 'over 250 000 Australian families turn grass into lawn with Victa mowers'.
The Victa mower was promoted as an essential ingredient for a relaxing weekend. There were 'over three hundred and seventy five thousand families using Victa to bring extra hours of weekend leisure'. Families were even encouraged to buy Dad one for Christmas and help him cut that 'laborious mowing marathon into a stroll'.
A useful public relations exercise for Victa during this time was its community mowing section that provided services to charitable organisations. Victa staff visited schools, churches, cemeteries and other sites, mowing and looking after the lawn for free. This activity gave Victa free publicity in local newspapers and raised the profile of the company within the community.
Russell Jennings, the advertising manager of Victa at the time, treated lawn-mower sales as a seasonal business. He adjusted the campaign according to the peak 'mower season' in different states. After a couple of days' heavy rain followed by humid weather, sales increased as the grass grew rapidly. Dry spells, of course, subdued demand.
Jennings considered the day of the week as an important factor in achieving maximum impact for Victa advertisements. He concentrated advertising at the end of the week and the weekend 'to catch the man with a lawn during his most receptive periods - while he is contemplating with little enthusiasm the chore of cutting the grass with a hand mower, or just after he has done it in this laborious manner'.
The network of Victa agents around the country promoted the mower using point-of-sale brochures, posters and other literature. These dealers also advertised the Victa mower as part of their own press advertising campaigns. In 1959 the company's total sales rose to 142 909.
Victa introduced more innovations to the basic lightweight mower including height adjustment, automatic zip coil starting, folding handles, rear grass catcher, plastic grass catcher, the world's first plastic carburettor, 'vortex' noise reduction technologies and the 'mulch and catch' that could either catch or return the grass to the lawn. These innovations were the focus of media campaigns to promote new products. The company also encouraged people to trade in their old models for new ones by promoting the advantages of the new models over the old.
Marketing techniques used by Victa
During the first 50 years of selling the Victa lawn-mower, there have been two main avenues for promoting the product: media campaigns and promotion at the retail outlet.
Since Mervyn Richardson set up Victa Mowers Pty Ltd, the company has focussed much of its marketing efforts on influencing what happens in the shops where people buy mowers. In the beginning the company established a network of retail outlets and agents. The dealers included a rainwater tank maker, travel agent, picture theatre proprietor (who apparently turned his chocolate counter into a Victa display!), undertaker, barbershops and other diverse businesses. They all provided service and spare parts to Victa's service standards.
Victa published booklets and other literature to inform dealers about the products and encourage them to promote Victa. The company provided creative ideas for ways to promote the product. Dealers used these ideas and also came up with their own unique ways of attracting customers to buy Victa mowers from their store.
Victa offered price incentives and exclusive ranges to encourage distributors to promote its products. By 2002 there were 500 specialists and 1000 retailers distributing Victa mowers.
When the Victa mower was first developed, media advertising focussed on creating public awareness of the product. The early TV and press advertisements promoted the functions of the mower and its advantages over previous technology.
As the Victa mower became recognised in the marketplace, advertising was used to promote new models and innovations. Some campaigns focussed only on promoting the Victa brand, such as 'Victa knows Aussie lawns'.
Victa used all types of media as part of its campaigns. The company pioneered TV advertising and used newspapers, magazines, radio and cinema advertising. In 2001 Victa began using the Internet to provide information to potential and existing customers about its products and services.
Celebrities endorsing the Victa mower featured in campaigns of the 60s and 70s. Cricket players and groundsmen from Queensland and Victoria were used to give the company a local identity in these states. Formula one racing driver Allan Moffat and TV personality Noel Brophy featured in a series of TV and print advertisements in the mid-1970s as part of the Zip-Hip-Hooray campaign.
Each new product or innovation launched was accompanied by a media campaign. The most recent campaign based on a new product was the Mulch and Catch campaign in 1996 - 7. The new product was able to create mulch from the cuttings and return it to the lawn, or catch the cuttings in the grass catcher. The campaign used TV, gardening magazines and general press promotion. For examples from this campaign see http://www.metropolis.com.au/virtu/html/crident.html.
In 2002 Victa Mowers Pty Ltd celebrated its 50th anniversary. The company that began in the backyard of the inventor had grown to become an icon of a nation. Its iconic status was cemented in history when it featured as part of the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
By 2002, Victa's total sales had reached 6.5 million. The company had 75% of the Australian market share in mulch and catch mowers and was also exporting mowers to 30 countries.
Since its backyard beginnings, Victa continually improved its products in response to customers' needs. The marketing and promotion of these innovations was integral to Victa's success.
Links and references
Victa home http://www.victa.com.au/
Mason J (2003). Turning grass into lawn: the Victa story, published by John George Mason, printed by Swinburne University Press, Melbourne.
First published by the Powerhouse Museum on the Australia innovates website, 2001-2002
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