Developers building a slice of suburbia in the piney woods here have partnered with tractor-builder Deere & Co. in an unusual marketing deal they both hope will lead to improved sales.
As part of the partnership, the John Deere name will be featured on the entrance sign for the subdivision with homes ranging from roughly $375,000 to $500,000. The purchase price includes a choice of landscape designs prepared and installed by Deere. Thousands of dollars worth of riding lawnmowers, leaf-blowers and other equipment will fill one of the three garage bays.
St. Lawrence Homes Vice President Richard Ohmann said the John Deere link should amount to a stamp of approval for people who care about having a beautifully landscaped yard from the day they move in.
Word of mouth helped sell nine of the first 11 lots in about 50 days. If the remaining 51 lots sell strongly, the home builder might develop similar projects in Wilmington, N.C., Charlotte and Cincinnati.
John Deere officials look for the strategy to help them broaden their appeal among people who may associate the name strictly with tractors and lawnmowers.
"The ultimate message is to have homeowners consider John Deere as the place they can turn for all of the things they need to take care of their yard. Right now, we might only be considered as a place to buy equipment," said Tosh Brinkerhoff with Deere's consumer equipment division in nearby Cary. "We feel like this community is a way that we can showcase our abilities."
The pairing is among the latest examples of co-branding, a trend that's moving consumer markets worldwide.
It's why Coca-Cola Co. puts NutraSweet's name on its soda cans and Pizza Hut Express restaurants are in Holiday Inn motels, said Sheri Bridges, a marketing professor at Wake Forest University.
"They're borrowing from one another's associations and values and consumer interest. It's supposed to be mutually beneficial," Bridges said. "The basic idea is the companies are trying to boost interest, boost credibility and ultimately boost the bottom line."
When home buyers consider living in a new subdivision, often little beside location and price set them apart. But Duke University marketing professor Carl Mela said the subdivision marrying Deere and St. Lawrence may be different.
"It suggests to me that when I move into this neighborhood there might be a very positive aesthetic to the yards," Mela said. "John Deere is getting an endorsement that their brand of lawn equipment is desirable and used by people who want to maintain a positive appearance of their yard."
It fits into Deere's broader efforts to expand outside the slow-growing $20 billion landscaping equipment market into the much faster-growing, higher-margin $100 billion landscaping market, said Richard Wise, a senior partner at the brand and marketing consulting firm Lippincott Mercer.
Deere's Cary-based division posted operating profit of $246 million in 2004, up 8 percent from the previous year, on sales of $3.7 billion.
Deere, based in Moline, Ill., moved aggressively into landscaping by buying the two biggest companies in the landscaping and irrigation industries in 2001, combining their 200 locations and changing their name to John Deere Landscapes, Wise said. John Deere also has put its brand name on a line of high-profit products such as grass seed.
Deere now has nearly 300 wholesale landscaping locations. Last month, Deere bought United Green Mark Inc., which distributes plants, landscaping materials and irrigation equipment in California and four other states.
Lending the Deere name to a subdivision, Wise said, "would seem to be a logical extension of that approach -- and kind of an interesting and innovative one."