Toro just joined the list of companies whose products I will avoid like a plague. Coming to this conclusion really pains me, but I just have to face the facts. Toro no longer makes good mowers. They don't last very long and their dealer network at least in our local area makes matters worse.
I am sixty-three years old, and I have never purchased a walk behind mower other than a Toro. In 1973 just after getting married, my wonderful wife, Glenda, convinced me that mowing our yard in St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia with a seven foot bush hog that I towed behind our tractor was not a good idea.
My wife and mother sneaked off to the Annapolis Valley one day and came back with a small walk behind Toro. We soon had a wonderfully manicured small yard, and I was hooked on Toro mowers.
That mower was to follow us to our farm in New Brunswick and back to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1984. We even took it back to the United States with us when we moved to Columbia, MD. It came with us to Roanoke, Virginia in 1989. While we did a lot of our mowing with a Cub Cadet when we were on the farm, the Toro got plenty of use.
After two or three years in Roanoke, I had to replace the brackets on the front wheels. They had cracked from almost twenty years of use. Finally sometime after thirty years of hard use, our first Toro mower died. There was no question in my mind about what mower to buy next, I bought another Toro. I ended up having to get a self-propelled one since straight push mowers had almost gone out of style.
That Toro still resides at our home in Virginia. For years it was often the first mower to come to life as the suburban yard wars heated up each spring. In 2006 we got a home on North Carolina's Crystal Coast. By August of 2007, we needed a mower on the coast. Without any hesitation, I bought another Toro. After using it a few times, I declared it the best walk-behind mower in the land.
I happily used my Toro for almost four years, and then it uncharacteristically died. While I was shocked, I didn't think too hard about it so I went off and bought another new Toro. I felt lucky that a dealer not far from our home in the Cape Carteret area had picked up the Toro line, so I bought from him in spite of his prices being higher than the more distant Home Depot.
I only used the new mower for a couple of months when a small piece of plastic broke on the mower. I ended up having a terrible repair experience with my local Toro dealer. It was bad enough that I planned to never set foot in his establishment again. That same summer when I bought a generator in preparation for Hurricane Irene, I deliberately bought from another dealer.
That was in the summer of 2011. On March 26, I started up my coastal Toro for the first time in 2012. I got half way through mowing my yard and the cable to the drive system broke. I managed to jury rig something that let me finish mowing my yard with a great deal of difficulty.
On Wednesday of the same week I decided to see if I could call Toro and perhaps convince them to ship me a new cable. I still had hopes that Toro cared about its customers. After a long discussion on the telephone with a service person and a supervisor, I was told that the only solution was to load my mower and drive it to a dealer who would confirm that yes indeed there was a broken cable on my mower. The dealer would then order the cable and then I would have to come back and have him install it.
I even sent the Toro service people a picture of my broken cable and a link to my story declaring my Toro the best walk-behind mower ever. They did not care. The only other choice open to me was to buy the cable on-line and have it shipped to my house.
I had a look at the cable on-line and determined just as the customer service rep had suggested, it was actually a little hard to tell which cable I needed from Toro's poorly drawn diagrams. I did finally decide it was called the "Traction Control Cable" and with shipping it would cost me $24.00.
The other possibility was to load the mower in our SUV and visit one of the Toro dealers. Then I would have to wait for a cable and after it arrived, go back and pick it up. I figured the closest dealer which I wanted to avoid anyway would cost me about $10 in gas and lots of aggravation. I did call them on the phone and after some nearly unintelligible conversation ruled them out as an option. The next closest dealer would end up costing me over $25 in gas plus a couple of hours of driving.
None of the options were very palatable, but then my ten years experience running a large commercial farm kicked in, and I decided to fix the mower myself. I determined what I needed and headed off to the closest hardware. The parts ended up costing $2.82. I spent less than $4 in gas. It took me about thirty minutes to do the repair and test that it worked as I hoped.
I installed a much heavier stainless steel cable than the original one which broke. My Toro mower is now functional, but I have had it with the company. I will never buy another Toro.
I have gone from a Toro that lasted thirty years to one which died after less than four years to this most recent one which required two repairs in less than ten months of its first year. If I were the CEO of Toro, Michael Hoffman, I would be concerned.
However, if I made over $800,000 per year like Mr. Hoffman, I likely would not be too concerned about mowing my own yard or repairing my own lawn mower.
I have seen other companies go this direction. Maytag was one of them. Circuit City was another. Quality in service and in products is a much bigger problem in the United States than most people realize.
Still there are companies which will fix the problem when they figure out how bad they have screwed up. While I had a terrible problem with Adobe customer service, to their credit they stepped up to the plate and fixed the problem. I actually got a Sunday evening call and apology from their worldwide director of operations.
We all have different experiences. No products or services are perfect. I have had very good luck with Dell and HP computer products. My luck with Apple laptops has been no so good, but I have had good luck with their desktops. I have had great luck with our Toyotas, Acuras, Subarus, and Nissans, but not so good luck with our most recent Volvo.
It used to be that a really good dealer could smooth out problems, but as we have found with Maytag, Volvo, and Toro, poor dealers can not only create problems, but they can also make them much worse.
If I were Mr. Hoffman at Toro, I would figure out how to boldly embrace the world of the Internet. If a good customer has a small part break, ship it to the customer. It might be an easy, inexpensive way to keep good customers and decrease the importance of what I have found to be a very creaky dealer network.
I would also use the Internet to start listening to my customers and find out what is happening to my brand. When you start losing customers who have never owned another product other than yours, it should be a clear sign that your brand is in big trouble.
When we sell out Roanoke, VA home, I will bring my other Toro to the coast so I will have a spare mower. Between the two machines, I might be able to finish my mowing career. However, if I end up having to buy another mower, it most certainly will not be a Toro.
Update- Toro finally called me and sent me a new cable which I received the week of April 11. I told the Toro lady that it was a nice gesture on the company's part, and I do appreciate it. However, I did mow my yard with the cable that I created. I'll keep using it until it breaks. We'll see if it lasts longer than the original Toro cable.