It isn’t much of a surprise when Versatile shows up for the annual Manitoba Ag Days. The show, after all, is just two hours from the Versatile factory, so the company’s regular attendance is pretty much a given. Local farmers expect to see the brand put in an appearance there every year, and they’re never disappointed.
Even so, for the past two consecutive years Versatile’s equipment display has managed to become the talk of the show.
It’s been a fashion show of sorts that has drawn all the attention. Last year, the company’s Legendary Limited Edition four-wheel drive tractors were decked out in a custom livery with loads of chrome trim and a host of special options to stop farmers in their tracks. These LLE tractors were part of Versatile’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and only 50 were built.
But the overwhelmingly positive response from farmers who, by and large, loved the retro look wasn’t lost on the brand’s director of marketing.
“Using the 50th anniversary and the LLE tractors as a jumping-off point, it really became well known to us through our dealers and our customers on social media that Versatile still has not only brand recognition but colour recognition as well, going back to 1966 and even earlier,” said Adam Reid, Versatile’s director of marketing, during a recent conversation with Country Guide at the 2017 Manitoba Ag Days show.
And when he said it, the equipment he was standing in front of sported an all-new, retro-inspired paint scheme that builds on that positive feedback from customers. Reid said the new look is the culmination of a sequence of events that actually started with the company’s attendance at a much earlier edition of the show. The event several years ago was the catalyst that led to a complete revamping of the company’s entire marketing approach. First and foremost, it resulted in the initial decision to drop the Buhler brand name and give the tractors back their historically significant moniker.
“In 2007, of course, Buhler Industries changed hands,” he continued. “The first show the new president came to, when he came to North America, was the Brandon show. At that time, January 2008, we had Farm King products and tractors on display. We had Farm King products at the front and tractors at the back for visibility purposes.
“He had a look around and he was livid, for lack of a better term. He said we want to be a tractor company.”
The display arrangement didn’t put the emphasis on the tractors the company was building. It made them seem secondary to other equipment. And the overall marketing approach at the time didn’t seem to lend any gravitas to the brand.
“At that time a light bulb went on,” Reid continued. “We’re already a tractor company, we’re just not calling ourselves a tractor company. We have this great historic brand name that we’re not using. We’re using Buhler instead of Versatile. And that was really what tipped off the whole sequence of events.
“In October 2008 we brought back the Versatile name. At that time we actually Photoshopped and mocked up a couple of tractors, a Genesis and a high-horsepower tractor, with the red and yellow paint scheme, and it looked absolutely terrible. It just wasn’t going to work. When I showed it to the president and owners of the company, they didn’t like it.”
But fast forward to 2015 and the LLE tractor experiment proved it was not only the name that swayed potential buyers, it was the familiar look that many still associated with early Versatile tractors from previous decades.
“Through the summer (of 2015) we started looking at the activities for the 50th anniversary,” Reid said. “And it had always been in the back of my mind we should do a retro version of a four-wheel drive. The 50th anniversary was a great opportunity to do that.
“We mocked up what became the Legendary Limited Edition and showed it to the boss. He wasn’t really crazy about it. I said, look, you’re just going to have to trust us. This is going to be huge. Customers want red, yellow and black on Versatile products.”
And they did. Versatile enthusiasts loved it.
“The response from the customers on social media and from trade shows was, ‘you should keep that colour,’” he said.
Reid and the executives at Versatile heard that message loud and clear. And now the familiar brand colours are back. The all-new red, yellow and black paint and decal styling that starts as standard treatment on all 2017 model-year equipment draws inspiration from the LLE tractors, but it isn’t the same. Those special edition models remain unique. Nor is the new look entirely a return to the past. It is, instead, a kind of modern interpretation that builds on the company’s development so far.
“The red, yellow and black paint scheme really brings back memories of Versatile in its heyday between 1966 and 1986,” explained Reid. “I think we drew on that, but it was more an evolution of what we’d done. This paint and decal scheme is more of an evolution of what we had before, just incorporating the historic company colours.”
Arguably, the red and cream paint scheme that the Buhler brand debuted with many years ago was a little bland, and there is no shortage of red tractors from other companies already out there. Now with not only a heritage name on their flanks, the new look ensures the brand’s products are distinct.
“It does a couple of things,” Reid said. “One: If you’re driving down the highway at 100 km/h and you look across the field, right now if you see a red tractor you may not be 100 per cent sure what red tractor you’re looking at. But with the red, yellow and black it really stands out.
“It also brings in all the products we’ve acquired in the last seven years. It really brings them into the Versatile family. Before they were like add-ons that we slapped a decal on. Now they look like part of the Versatile family. That’s been really exciting for us as we roll this out.
“This colour is here to stay. We’ve made the corporate decision that there is enough history in the Versatile brand and colours that it should continue to be red, yellow and black. So now that applies to the full product line.”