Thinking AHEAD- (of the box)
As I sat in the home office of the head honchos of one of the nation’s largest snowplow companies in the upper Midwest in early Fall of 1995 I felt as it my ship was about to come in. I’d been invited to meet the company’s leaders to discuss the upcoming licensing agreement between them and the company I’d founded five years before to market a product that I had designed and had been selling in New England with reasonable success. It was a product that would integrate perfectly with their products as my success had demonstrated. What my product needed to make it as universal as truck mounted snowplows was to have it marketed by a major snowplow manufacturer whose name was recognized by anyone living in snow country who owned a plowtruck.
Soon after the big guns joined us at the conference table someone started showing a sales video that I had produced to show the capabilities of my invention, the same video that had construction guys gathered around my booth at trade shows through New England. Those guys typically would prod each other while watching the video and say, “Boy, could we use one of those.” And many of them did purchase one and were usually more than satisfied with it what it could do to save them time and make them money.
It wasn’t long into the video, however, before I felt my ship slipping past the dock when the top guy said, “Who could ever use one of these?” Was it possible that upper mid-westerners don’t have the vision of us Yankees, or was this guy a bean counter who had risen to the highest level of his incompetence. Regardless, the outcome of this meeting spelled disaster for the product that I had labored countless hours to bring to market and thought was about to make it into the big time…
Setting the stage for invention…
I’d been operating my own small construction business for over fifteen years when I came up with the idea of using my snowplow equipped truck to push a landscape rake, the kind that usually goes behind a farm or landscape tractor. Putting an attachment on the front did not seem at all like a unique idea to me since I’d always had attachments on the front of my equipment since I was fourteen years old. That was the year that my brother suggested I plant some nursery stock on his land that could be growing up while I was and be ready for sale about the time I might be headed to college. I’d need a small machine to till up the soil and keep it cultivated around the infant shrubs. So I invested in my first piece of equipment, an old Gravely tractor, a commercial grade rig where all attachments went onto the front, including a plow and cultivator that played a key role in the eventual development of my “invention”. Note that I’m reluctant to use the word “invention” because, in fact, most inventions are simply adaptations or re-adaptations of existing ideas or technology. DaVinci, Edison and Jobs were inventors, the rest of us just moved things around to have them work a little better.
The old Gravely moved with me from Rhode Island to New Hampshire in the mid 60’s when my cousin purchased an old boys camp and started converting it to a family camping area. Lacking any heavy equipment, I stuck a board across the tines of the cultivator to see if I could push material around with it more easily than I could by hand. It did, so I set up a blade on the Gravely and learned to grade campsites with it and it was my mainstay until I purchased my first real piece of construction equipment in 1969.
My first real earthmover, though itself quite limited in size though versatile in application, was a skid-steer loader, the kind often referred to as Bobcat’s because Bobcat was the first skid steer. These loaders had recently come on the scene and were scoffed at by many old-timers, but for those of us who did specialty sitework, they were perfect. In years when other local contractors had almost no work, I always had something to do because I could get around in places where the bigger guys were limited. One local contractor used to say that all that my rig was good for was plowing sidewalks. Well, in the summer of 1984 when he was sitting home waiting for the phone to ring I had “sidewalks to plow” every day.
It was not only the maneuverability of the tiny skid-steer that made it versatile, but it was, and remains, the fact that skid-steer’s, my brand in particular, were set up to change attachments quickly, making them far more useful than if they just had a dirt bucket. I could change attachments in seconds, as I often did working on many of my jobs. But it was another factor that stuck in my head and lead me to the concept of hanging something on my plowtruck beyond just the snowplow.
Just like the Gravel tractor, almost all skid steer attachments go on the FRONT of the machine. Besides being the only place these attachments can fit, the front mounting also enhances visibility and improves the performance of many attachments.
Sidebar: I remember rear mounted fork lift that required the operator to crane his neck to get the forks under a pallet in a totally unintuitive and awkward operation that also was not always particularly safe.
The flash of genius… Thinking outside, or in front of the box, as it were
My construction business had led me to spend a lot of time grading, from campsites to houselots and to gravel road and driveways. By this time I had upgraded to a more modern skid steer that I fitted with a landscape rake that faced forward, allowing me to use it as a miniature road grader. However, I often used just my Gravely (now replaced a couple of times with newer models) to spread and level the material that I’d hauled with my small dump truck. It occurred to me that I had an untapped resource with this truck that had much more power and weight than the little walk behind Gravely, and it had a snowplow hoist on it that went unused in the summer. I just needed a way to take advantage of it.
On Easter Sunday in 1986 I decided that I would try out a scheme that had been hatching in the back of my mind. I took my snowplow apart and jury rigged the landscape rake from my skidsteer onto the truck in its place and tried it out. Sure enough, it was able to push piles of material over and level them so I could finish grade with the Gravely. But with a little further tinkering to the way it was hooked to the snowplow hoist I discovered that, not only could it push around loose material, but it could actually dig into existing road surfaces to regrade them.
The first time I drove through town with the then called “Pickup Rake” I got some curious stares. I recall one of the state truck drivers looking quizzically at the rig and within seconds, exchanging that look for one of “Well, why not?
Within a short time of demonstrating to myself and others how well the concept worked for leveling, grading and also debris cleanup, I started getting requests from local loggers and contractors to have me set up a unit on their plowtrucks. After selling several retrofitted truck mounted rakes I decided that it was time to get this idea out on a broader scale.
I remembered the time I’d had an idea when I was a kid mowing lawns and having to spend too much time edging around trees and garden beds. Because I knew that most folks never keep their lawn mower blades really sharp, yet the mower still cut grass, I realized that it was the speed of the blade that let even a dull blade chop through it. This led me to think that something fairly thin but flexible and turning at a high speed might cut grass just as easily. I envisioned a whirling piano wire doing the job, but, of course, did nothing to prove the concept. It was not long before I saw the press release for the String Trimmer in a magazine and realized that I’d been onto something with this idea.
Years later I came up with an idea for a simple device that could make it easy to level the outflow of the distribution box in a septic system to insure that flow would be equal in all pipes. After making a few of these devices and installing them on a few applications I called someone from the State to see if his office would actually approve and recommend the device for general usage. I received a shock when the voice on the other end of the phone said “Sure, I’ve got a box of these things sitting on my desk…!” After I picked the phone up off of the floor I asked him for the details of the device and found out, sure enough, someone had beaten me to the punch with something that followed the same design concept.
After a couple of other brainstorms that someone else brought to market I was determined to make this one product mine and I sought out the advice of a kindly selectman from my town who knew about product development. Percy Hill (the selectman, not the Rock and Roll group) was a retired mechanical engineer who had worked at Tufts in Boston and had several patents to his credit including the Reach toothbrush. So I went to see Percy for his advice as to how to proceed.
Percy strongly advised me to avoid going after a patent because it takes so much money to obtain one and a patent is only as good as the money the patentholder has to fight off anyone who wants to infringe on it. And, by just slightly changing the design of a device, a copy cat can get away without the original patentholder having anything to protect himself. And, by then, most of the money that he might have had to introduce his device will likely have been spent on the patent process.
This is why Percy recommended that I skip the patent and save that money for marketing. Better still, he told me, I should take my idea to a legitimate company to see if I could work out a licensing or other agreement to have them take the product and run with it.
By this time I had had my brother’s welding and machine shop back in Rhode Island making adapters that could allow a well known landscape rake to be adapted onto existing snowplow hoists with a minimum of retrofit. This landscape rake was available from almost any equipment dealer and the coupling system seemed to work out quite well. So I contacted the company and, on the day after Easter Sunday in 1989 I headed west to visit them at their headquarters in central New York.
That meeting went fine, so it seemed, as that company had been considering the possibility of offering a truck mounted rake but it took my adaptation to show them just how it could be done. Before long I had an offer of $15,000 for the idea if I would turn it over completely to them, and “considerably more money if I was able to obtain a patent”. Typical of most inventors, I did not really want to relinquish all claims, though I suppose I could always have been considered the “inventor.” With that and a buck and a half I could always get a cup of coffee. Besides, I had three kids approaching college age and fifteen thousand bucks even at that time might have paid for only a semester or a year for one of then. So I sat on the offer while, unknown to me, the landscape rake company did their own development.
Fryeburg Fair, Maine’s Blue Ribbon Classic-
The Fryeburg Fair is the biggest single event in our area the first week of October every year. I’d been a helping out at the biggest event of the Fair for several years, volunteering my tractor and time helping to set up for the Woodsmen’s Field Day. Early in the development of the Pickup Rake I introduce it to the Field Day, demonstrating its ability to clean up the debris left in the track infield after the skidder competition tore it up while pulling giant logs around in time trials through gates, like a slalom skier, but with lots more horsepower.
This gave the rake lots of exposure and had helped with the original introduction of the concept. As the Fair drew closer in early Fall of 1989, I received a call from the equipment dealer who had helped me get the truck adapter for the landscape rake on the market and had sold several adapters himself. He told me not to bother making any more adapters because the big landscape rake company had just come out with their own front mounted rake. To this day I remember just what I was doing when I received that call, much like I remember what I was doing during more monumental moments in history.
Totally discouraged by this news and with a sense of betrayal that lasts to this day, I contacted my brother and told him not to make any more adapters because we’d been beaten to the punch. It was only a short time later that he called me back and said that he would make the whole thing himself and we were off and running.
Within a couple of days I drew up complete plans for a front mounted truck rake that incorporated everything I’d learned from working with several retrofits for four years. I wanted our unit to be strong and simple and easy to maintain. I faxed the plans to his shop and he had a unit put together in time for me to introduce it at the Fair.
At that time my brother’s son who worked with him a the welding and machine shop offered to jump into the mix by putting up some money to help form a company to market the newly designed unit. And I asked local folks who had trademarked products they were manufacturing for the name of a good Patent and Trademark attorney to work with. Percy Hill had told me that a good trademark could be as useful as a patent, was easier to obtain and to protect. Hearing this from the designer of the Reach toothbrush made his advice stick.
A new New Hampshire Front Runner-
I was fortunate to connect with a Washington attorney who helped me understand what is permissible when obtaining a trademark and also what makes the trademark work for its owner. It could not describe the product too closely like the term Truck Rake, though it wanted to suggest something positive about the product without locking into just one application. While on the phone with him I rattled off several ideas and when I spurted out the term “Front Runner” he said, “That’s the kind of name that could work,” and our product got its name.
-So by the end of 1989 we had a product called the Front Runner manufactured by my brother George Lanoie’s company, Agar Machining and Welding in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I’d introduced the new product at the Fryeburg Fair and already sold one to a wood products company in Maine through a neighbor who had been watching the evolution of the FrontRunner from its start. We had formed Front Runner Corporation to sell the device with me as the president and my nephew, George’s son, Larry, as vice president. Larry’s infusion of cash allowed us to purchase a fax machine (at a cost $1100 at that time) that allowed us to send drawings, orders and other important stuff back and forth and around the country in the new electronic format. Now we, or rather, I, had to get to work getting the word out.
The first year of operation I recall doing twenty two gigs designed to expose the Front Runner to the public. These ranged from formal (and expensive) trade shows to local parades where I’d pull the town band with my truck outfitted with the Front Runner. The parades were the most fun, especially if I got to follow close behind the local Percheron horses that occasionally left road apples that I could spread out with the rake. While this spreading helped the manure dry up quickly so it could blow away, it also increased its aromatic characteristics for a short time and, if I did it just right, got approving, if not grimacing cheers from parade goers.
TRADE SHOWS AND DISPLAYS
It made sense early on that trade shows would be an appropriate vehicle to spread the word about the FrontRunner and its capabilities. What we came to learn quickly was the high cost of participating in trade shows and the time commitment it would take to do them. On top of this was the necessity of having an effective display that could be transported, assembled and disassembled easily. Lacking good video at the time, a factor that became an important component after the first year or two, my brother made a very effective mockup of a Front Runner on its own trailer that could be wheeled into a display booth and set up to show just how the device worked when set up onto a pickup truck.
The main question that I received from most folks who saw the Front Runner for the first time was, “Why do you put it on the front?” The obvious answer, at least with regards to a pickup truck, was, and remains, that this is where you likely already have a snowplow hoist and controls and you should be able to take advantage of them year ‘round. Demonstrating the Front Runner quickly helped folks understand not only this advantage but also the improvement in performance by pushing instead of pulling the device as was the norm.
Sidebar: Early promotions for the Front Runner attempted to make the public understand that the only reason that equipment operators always put rakes behind their tractors was a holdover from the old days when the “Work always went behind the horse.”
The Front Runner seemed to be a hit at these trade shows, fairs and parades. Demonstrations for potential end users as well as equipment dealers through northern New England also helped promote the product and we managed to sell sixty eight units that first year with most of the activity at the very start of the year. By June of 1990 we were confident that we had a winner and made plans to expand our marketing. I was ready to hire a marketing manager, a friend who had worked around truck equipment and was well organized and disciplined when the climate changed. Just as he was about to give his notice at his current job I called him and said to hold off, a decision that proved to be prudent, albeit frustrating,
NEW ENGLAND’S ECONOMY GOES WEST
It was just about Spring of 1990 that the recession caused by the overbuilding boom of the late 1980’s caught up with us here in New England. Although we’d had what seemed to be an outstanding launch of our new product, by summer things seemed to all but dry up. It was at this time that my brother George started noticing the explosion of skid steers occurring around the country and figured that providing units for these tractors would expand our product out of the northeast snow belt where we relied on selling to owners of snowplow equipped trucks and into the rest of the country where skid steers were making their mark in all areas of construction. After all, my own development of the Front Runner had included setting it up on a skid steer loader before the truck. And, by offering the attachment to folks that already were already used to mounting them on the front of their equipment we would have one less hurdle to overcome. It also appeared that the economy of the rest of the country was doing better than New England at that time so our ticket to success looked like it should be to connect with the skid steer manufacturers. Or so it appeared…
While the idea of mounting a landscape rake on the front of a skid steer was not new, it was novel to mount it facing forward. That well known landscape rake company already offered a skid steer unit that required backing up for its operation. This was because the current thinking was that a rake could only be used for final smoothing of a site rather than heavy duty site cleanup and grading. By working backwards an operator had to run over debris and piles to be leveled in that awkward and unintuitive manner. We set about to change all that…
The goal of working with skid steer manufacturers, of which there were and are many still, is to get the product into their sales literature and pipeline so it can be sold through their dealer network. Having it in their literature as a readily available attachment also helps to legitimize the concept rather than having it offered only through some backwoods outfit in the mountains of New Hampshire. So we set out to design a mounting system that would work with most skid steers and our existing snowplow mounted Front Runners.
Adapting a concept from a totally unrelated device we were able to get getting it to float from side to side which was critical for easy operation on a skid steer tractor. This must have been a good idea because, years later I discovered that the well known landscape rake company copied it almost exactly when they finally produced a skid steer mounted rake designed to go forward.
So George’s shop produced our first skid steer mounted Front Runner and we started contacting the skid steer manufacturers, large and small, in order to get approvals and, if possible, get it into their literature and supply pipelines.
OBTAINING APPROVALS FROM THE MANUFACTURERS
THOMAS EQUIP FIRST went to factory in Centereville, NB, just over the line from Mars Hill, Maine with their factory rep from Cape Cod. Met the president, worked out our first agreement so we could show FrontRunner on their skid steer and claim that it is an” approved attachment. While we were happy with this arrangement with Thomas, we were after the larger fish in the skid steer file.
We then hit paydirt, so to speak, when Case Corporation invited us to send a unit to their proving grounds in Arizona. Case is one of the largest equipment companies in the world and happened to be the brand of skid steer that I started with in 1969 and continued to operate so it was easy for me to get photos of the Front Runner in operation on my Case Uni-Loader. Case blessed the unit as an approved attachment and, before long it began to appear in their sales literature.
We did the same with other manufacturers and I even got to be a part of one of the largest trade shows in the country with the Thomas skid-steer company when they invited me to the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville in 1991. This is a huge show covering acres of ground with live demonstrations of all types of huge and small equipment. We demonstrated the FrontRunner set up with a laser leveling system and I took the video camera along to record the demonstrations for future sales video.
Other manufacturers followed including New Holland, John Deere and some other lesser known brands. I designed a flyer that featured a photo of our Front Runner for each of these brands and sent them off to dealers around the country.
NO LUCK WITH BOBCAT
Bobcat remained then, as it is now, the biggest name in the skid-steer field and we tried making inroads with them and even sold a few through the largest Bobcat dealer in the country just down the road in Boston. In spite of this success we never managed to get to first base with getting the FrontRunner approved as one of their “allied attachments” as approved attachments were often called. We learned over time that “You gotta bleed white in order to get in bed with those guys.” All Bobcat tractors and other excavation equipment are, and always have been, painted white.
We finished the 1991 season with only half of the sales of the first year in spite of breaking into the skid-steer market
IMPORTANCE OF THE FRYEBURG FAIR
The first trade show I ever did out of my local area was for the Campground Owners Association at Sturbridge, Mass. One of the first gentlemen to come up to my booth looked at the photos and commented that he’d seen this at the Fryeburg Fair. To my astonishment, when I asked him where he was from, he said New Jersey. That encounter prompted me to secure a booth on commercial row for the eight day run of the fair for several years. Fryeburg Fair is one of New England’s biggest, held at a time when Fall foliage is typically at its peak and folks come from all over for both Fair and foliage (and Italian sausage, johhny cakes, French fries, etc…)
OPERATING FROM A HOME OFFICE
Occasionally my wife, Joan, who served as our secretary, order taker, advertising specialist, etc., as well as domestic engineer running our household with three teenage kids might find herself on the phone with an executive of a skid steer company making some arrangements for FrontRunner. Unaware that mom might be on the FrontRunner phone one of the kids would occasionally yell out quite audibly, “Mom, where’s my clean underwear?” We only hoped that the executive also had a home life and a sense of humor about dealing with an upstart such as ourselves.
Joan was extremely patient during her tenure as our administrator and had such well developed organizing skills that she landed the Administrative Assistant’s job at our local Economic Council sometime later.
THE MARKETING CONSULTANTS
- The first experience was with a “marketing expert” who, I was told by he field representative for a New England construction magazine, put one company’s product “on the moon. This in fact was the basis for an ad that he designed actually showing the product on the moon”. This was, if fact, an excellent product that hit the market when the market was still solid. All the marketing guy had to do was announce it and it sold itself without much demonstration because the concept had been around for years and this was just a more portable version of the same device.
After our first meeting with Larry and me in New Hampshire he Fed Ex’d me a copy of our FrontRunner logo that he had somebody color with, it looked like, colored pencils. Having had a bit of experience with graphics myself and having expected something more from him than a colored logo, I was immediately turned off. At about the same time I heard a comment from a local accountant that “in good times, anybody can do the marketing.” This guy was, in reality, just an advertising salesman that had one good product to his name.
- The second marketer, who arrived through the grapevine somehow, spent weeks trying to distill the FrontRunner down to a simple phrase like “Just Do It.” I came to understand later just what he was trying to do, but the FrontRunner needed a bit more explanation of its uses and capabilities than did athletic wear.
- Finally, through a contact I made at the Fryeburg Fair we found two guys, one the former chief engineer of that large New England snowplow company and, more recently, president of a smaller start up snowplow company, and the other his buddy. Over several meetings they finally produced a list of things that seemed to mostly point to the fact that we needed a whole lot more money to market the product. With that they surely could have helped us more. This whole encounter cost us $5000 and lots of wasted time in meetings at my office and their home an hour and a half away.
However, they did have two suggestions early on in our meetings that did make sense and were adopted immediately:
MAKE THE TINES HEAVIER so that it looks the part of a grader rather than just a “rake.” His led to the design of a much heavier tine, the part that actually does the work in contact with the ground, and
DON’T CALL IT A RAKE! This came about in a brainstorming session as we debated other options of names that could be descriptive. In a flash of genius myself, I went to the whiteboard and simply crossed out the word RAKE after the word FrontRunner and, from that point forth avoided any reference to “rake” in any of our literature or correspondence. Over time this proved helpful as customers would call me for my own driveway grading business and announce that they needed to have their driveway “FrontRunnered.”
THE VIDEO, before the days of YouTube…
Any time I was called on to do a demonstration I would drag along my video camera, often along with my young teenage son who proved to be my best videographer. This allowed me to gather shots of all sorts of applications and real life demonstrations on both the truck and skid steer models. After enough compilation this gave us a video that could be mailed out to dealers and prospective customers as well as being showed at trade show and fairs. At our trade show booth I had the video screen mounted over everyone’s head so that browsers would look up to see it. I also had a video screen facing backwards in the booth that I could watch to narrate what was happening on screen, as I never kept the volume of the video loud enough for anyone to hear. I find audible music or narration extremely offensive at a trade show, especially to neighboring booths, and didn’t want to be guilty of it myself.
As it worked out, if there were twenty people in the aisle where I was located, typically ten of them would have been gathered around my booth watching the video and commenting on how they could sure use one of those.
THE FOUR “P’s” OF MARKETING not offered or considered by our any of our “marketing” consultant: PRODUCT, PRICE, PLACE, & PROMOTION
I learned these four principles over lunch at a New England Equipment Dealers show in Hyannis, Mass from the owner of an equipment marketing company from Pennsylvania who just happened to mention them in passing. For years afterward I would mull these four words over trying to think which P was the one that kept our product from taking off as everyone thought it would.
THE BIG PUSH
Early in 1995 I recommitted myself to “making the FrontRunner happen”. I purchased a slick new Dodge diesel pickup truck to take on the road for demonstrations and renewed my marketing efforts. After three trips to the Boston area to sell one unit, including the trade show where I made the initial contact, a visit to the prospect’s site, another visit when he was able to be there for a live demonstration and a final trip including an overnight in a motel to deliver the thing, I once again had second thoughts. This resulted in more soul searching, we need something more to make this happen.
UNCLE HENRY’S BUY, SELL, SWAP.
It was during a discussion with a fellow boothholder at the Fryeburg Fairground in October of 1994 that it was suggested that I advertise in a weekly publication called Uncle Henry’s. This was a Reader’s Digest size magazine that sold everything from automobiles to zithers (musical instruments) and arrived at just about every convenience store counter in Maine and much of NH and beyond every Thursday. Beyond the typical used this and that ads it also featured some ads for new equipment and my friend at the neighboring fair booth said he’d had good luck with it.
It made sense, this is a publication that’s read by anyone wanting to find a deal on tools and equipment for their home, farm, camp or business. Coincidentally, at one of the demonstration shows I did for DPW folks from Maine I offered a prize of a set of noise dampening (shooter’s style) ear protectors with a built in radio, the same type I used whenever operating my tractor. These would help protect my hearing while keeping me up on current news, weather and music.
The price of entry for the drawing was a short questionnaire that would also serve as the ticket for the drawing. This questionnaire gave me leads to follow up, some information about how many miles of unpaved roads they maintained, whether they knew about FrontRunner’s capabilities and if they were interested in a demonstration. The final question, to give me a better idea of where to invest limited advertising funds, was “What is your favorite TRADE magazine.? Sure enough, one respondent replied, Uncle Henry’s which seemed appropriate enough since it boasted Buy, Sell or Swap (or TRADE in this reader’s mind.)
Our investment in Uncle Henry’s advertising proved to be the missing link overlooked by all of the other advertising and marketing folks, as we sold a FrontRunner to EVERY OTHER INQUIRY, a return unheard of in this, or probably any other business. It soon occurred to me that it was not the ad that sold the FrontRunner, but the ad that provided the reader a reminder that this thing that they’d seen at the Fair or at a trade show was something they were ready to purchase, and there in front of them was a toll free number to contact us to make the connection.
LOOKING FOR THE BIG CONNECTION
Early in 1995 someone told me that the big New England snowplow company was planning to make their own front mounted truck rake. In spite of that letdown feeling from 5 years before quickly creping back over me, I gathered my courage and decided that I had to know what was actually happening so I called them and talked with their president who I knew through a mutual connection. This turned out not to be the case, but, I was told, that the company was on a campaign to add several products to their snowplow line to help fill up a manufacturing facility their parent company owned in Tennessee. They were testing several devices that were loosely related to small trucks and might be interested in the FrontRunner.
So I visited their facility which is just three hours from my home and talked about the possibility of licensing the product to them. This seemed to my brother, my nephew and me to be best option available to provide the boost the product needed to make it available throughout the Northeastern US so it could become as ubiquitous as the snowplows the company made famous.
I spent many hours with the company’s chief engineer who seemed to like the FrontRunner very much and told us we’d “done a good job with the product.” While this was music to our ears and encouraged us that we had something that could prove to be mutually benefical to them and us, there were a couple of stumbling blocks that needed dealing with.
The FrontRunner name…
When, on one of my visits to the snowplow factory, the fellow who was one rung above the president of this facility (there were quite a few rungs on this ladder) asked me if our licensing would include the FrontRunner trademark I hesitated for a bit because I realized that it would be impossible to license it to one company for snowplow use and another for skid steer tractors.
Coincidentally, at this same time we were in discussion with FFC, a company that produced several skid steer attachments. The company founder had seen the FrontRunner at work at the Case proving grounds in the southwestern US and liked what he saw and we started discussing a licensing agreement with them also for the skid steer units.
We had no patent, but had a great trade name and had built up a great deal of goodwill with the skid steer manufacturers and their dealers. The FrontRunner trademark had worked for us particularly well for the truck mounted units, with our big blue trademark gleaming right across the front of the device for all to see as it travelled down the road.
So I took a chance and offered the FrontRunner name to the snowplow company and suggested that the skid steer model be called the FFC grader/rake. It was counter to our marketing instinct to use the word rake once again, but the stigma on the skid steer seemed to be less of an issue that it was on the truck, particularly because skid-steers are often used for construction site cleanup.
The name and the terms seemed to agree with FFC and, by late Fall of 1995 we had an agreement that we would turn over the drawings to FFC along with all of our industry contacts, and would give them total control of the product. We had thought that they would be continuing to use my brother’s shop for manufacture of at least some of the components to provide a bit of continuity and reward for having made the product viable. And we also hoped they would continue with some of our marketing efforts.
Neither turned out to be the case, as they simply put the product in their catalogue along with the rest of their products and did all of the manufacturing themselves for the units they did sell.
Their agreement with us was to pay 5% of the wholesale cost to dealers of all units and parts for a period of ten years, payable every quarter which would be split between my nephew and myself. While a few payments were somewhat satisfying, I can remember one that amounted to about $2.50 for each of us for an entire three months. Payments did continue until 2005 but hardly rewarded us for the effort we had put into developing, introducing and marketing the product.
Just as the ink was drying on this agreement with FFC I went to a trade show in Boston, this time as an attendee so I could see if the FrontRunner had made it into any more literature that it already was. We were already featured in the Case skid-steer attachment flyer and some others. But when I stopped by the John Deere booth and picked up a flyer I discovered we were not in the attachment section, but on the cover. Because the John Deere skid-steer manager had known of FrontRunner’s impending change to FFC, they’d left it on the cover of their new brochure but faded out the FrontRunner trademark, though left it plainly visible.
This was encouraging to me, to see how well the FrontRunner was accepted by the skid-steer manufacturers, even though the name would soon be changing. However, as with so many other steps forward we experienced, this one was quickly followed by two steps back. John Deere shortly thereafter abandoned all of this sales literature when they changed the production of their skid-steer loaders.
Chasing the snowplow company
During one of the first trips to meet with the snowplow company engineers, they weighed the Front Runner very carefully and determined its weight to be within ten percent of that of a snowplow. However, because pickup trucks at this particular time in history were being sold for their comfort and ride, they were sprung so lightly that they had very little extra carrying capacity. It was this lack of “front end reserve” as it was called that necessitated my brother’s shop to stop manufacture while the snowplow company did some redesigning and weight cutting of the FrontRunner to help it meet the constraints of these new trucks. They even hired a new engineer who specialized in strength and weight of materials to work on the project.
Soon I was invited back with my own truck to test a design that they had my brother’s shop build. It wasn’t radically different and still seemed to work OK and held up to as much abuse as I was inclined to give it without hurting my truck. This newly designed prototype was destined to be the last FrontRunner that we produced until a few years later… And, ironically, within a few years trucks once again became work vehicles with regained strength and capacity.
It was about the time that all of this was happening that the snowplow company was redesigning its snowplow mounts to be easily removed along with the plow blade to eliminate everything except just a couple of flanges below the truck’s bumper. I think I heard something to the effect that this was to reduce the possibility of residual snowplow components doing damage to vehicles in a collision. At any rate, I believe this change in the snowplow mount design created a further problem for the FrontRunner down the line.
THE REST OF THE STORY
This gets us back to the start of the story, where we were in discussion with the snowplow company about the licensing agreement. While I was at the home office in the upper Midwest I got the opportunity to see several of the other products that the company was working on to add to their snowplow line. There were toolboxes undergoing hinge testing, brooms, and a lift that the company already had launched without much success to date. I was told that the brochure for this thing had cost the company more that we’d ever invested in FrontRunner marketing to date!
After finding out the name of the developer of the lift, a gentleman from the Yellowstone area, I was able to have a brief chat with him by phone to learn a bit about his development process. I can remember vividly the story he told about marketing this product himself before relinquishing his rights to it.
Apparently he travelled the country for nearly a year and sold about 25 of the units, which sold in the same approximate price range as the FrontRunner. The unit mounted in the truck body of a pickup truck and could lift approximately 1500 pounds into the back of the truck.
While this device seemed rather elegant, it apparently had a limited market. As I saw it, this would be limited to use by someone with a delivery business or a company servicing heavy hardware that needed to be loaded in and out of the back of the truck. It would have little appeal to the country handyman compared to the FrontRunner. I just could not see an ad in any local pennysaver newspaper that would say “Loads Lifted” rather that and ad that would offer “Roads & Driveways Graded.”
At any rate, it appeared that the snowplow company had invested a lot of time, money, and effort in trying to market this thing, in great part to a customer base that was not necessarily their snowplow customers. One of my biggest regrets is that, through no fault of mine, I did not get to them sooner with the FrontRunner that integrated perfectly with their snowplows and their customer base. I think this investment proved to be the undoing of the FrontRunner deal along with the lift, toolboxes and other products they were to have brought on board.
The long winter of ’96.
Late in the Fall of 1995, after we had arranged the deal with FFC for manufacturing the skid steer, we had papers ready to be signed by us and the snowplow company to seal that deal. Apparently there were enough people at the snowplow company who could see the potential for the product that the head bean counter who’d said “Who could ever use one of those things” had been overruled and the company went ahead with plans to acquire us. However, the signing seemed to lag, apparently due to the FrontRunner redesign, or so I thought. I’d given up the snowplow route that I’d developed over 25 years and bought a couple of business suits, because, as of January First, I was to become the consultant hired approximately half time to assist with the marketing and demonstration of the new FrontRunner.
The baby with the bath water…
The winter of ‘96 turned out to be one of the snowiest winters we’d had in years and also one of the longest as I sat home waiting for the phone to ring with the news that everything was ready to go. It was not until April, well into the season for marketing a device suitable for repairing Winter and Spring’s road damage, that I got a call from the president of the snowplow company saying that he was sorry, but after a lot of soul searching, the company, or at least the bean counters at the top, had decided that they “had better stay with strictly snow and ice control products.”
Once again I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I turned myself back over to my construction business, taking every job that came my way and working seven days a week when possible to get cash flowing once again. We’d given up the skid steer business and my brother’s shop hadn’t made a truck mounted FrontRunner since late the summer before except for the test unit. So with our momentum lost, FrontRunner Corporation pretty much closed its doors.
ROAD GRADER vs. FRONTRUNNER?
Sometime after this whole episode blew over someone who seemed to be in the know confided in me that the snowplow company had hired a marketing consulting firm to test the waters for the FrontRunner. I was told that the question they asked prospective customers, apparently towns due to the nature of the question, was: “Would you replace your road grader with a FrontRunner?”
While this might have been perfectly logical question for someone with no sense of construction equipment, it predestined a negative response from anyone willing to comment. When the USDA FOREST SERVICE did a demonstration project with four FrontRunners around the country they determined an overall favorable response to the device. They found it 82% less costly to operate than a road grader, and, though not able to replace a road grader, a worthwhile supplement to the grader, ready to go to work more quickly. Had the snowplow research folks asked if the FrontRunner could be used to complement the grader this story might have turned out quite differently, just as it might have if the company had started their acquisitions with the FrontRunner rather than the other products unrelated to their existing customer base. Unfortunately the Forest Service report appeared too late to help.
FRONTRUNNER PROJECT IN MAINE
Somewhere in the middle of our marketing efforts I had taken a class in nearby Maine called “Drainage, Drainage, Drainage.” Capitalizing on a play on the Realtor’s motto, this workshop for public works folks as well as unpaved camp road owners explained the importance of getting water off of and away from any road for the road’s well being.
A discussion with a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service employee led to me being invited to present a workshop showing how I was maintaining roads with the FrontRunner. I was able to do a classroom presentation as well as a demonstration next to one of the worlds most beautiful and well protected lakes I my local area. The manager for the Conservation District (the local arm of the NRCS that works with many demonstration projects) at another NRCS office heard about this successful workshop invited me to do another one, this time way Downeast in Maine, about seven hours drive away.
Word got around about these workshops and soon I was invited to participate in one near China Lake in Maine. China Lake is a bedroom community for Augusta, and development around the lake had led to a degradation of the lakewater to the point where property values were dropping. Seems folks just don’t like to swim in algae infested water. Research was showing that much of the degradation of the water was from poorly maintained dirt camp roads that were allowing soil to be washed directly into the lake, carrying unwelcome nutrients and sediments.
Seizing the opportunity and wanting to make as good an impression as possible, I dragged my FrontRunner equipped Kubota compact tractor along to give myself the best possible opportunity to rework the troublesome road. I’d given up the skid-steer style machine some years before in favor of the more traditional tractor with front-end loader and backhoe, now with four wheel drive courtesy of Kubota’s pioneering. This was still a fairly small machine but it handled the FrontRunner very well and I rebuilt the demonstration site road in short order.
Very soon after this demonstration the area received several inches of intense rain. When folks returned to the road expecting to see it washed out as it always had before, I was told that it remained just as I had left it. When members of the Maine lake community heard about this they put their heads together and came up with a plan to obtain a Federal Clean Water Grant that could purchase several FrontRunners and place one in every other southern county in the state under the jurisdiction of the County Conservation District (typically at the county NRCS office).
Soon I received an order for three FrontRunners which George & Larry Lanoie’s shop built for me and I set about delivering them to their destination and training a gentleman in Maine to be the local trainer for those wishing to borrow or rent the device for use on their own truck on their own lakefront road or driveway. This fulfilled the terms of the rental agreement between the user and the County office that required a small rental fee to cover maintenance, along with attendance at a workshop to learn what makes a good gravel road surface (Drainage, Drainage, Drainage) and how this could be accomplished with the FrontRunner on their own plowtruck.
Before long, due to the death of the original trainer, I was hired to be the official FrontRunner trainer. I soon was participating in workshops from the southern coast of Maine to as far Downeast as one could get without crossing into New Brunswick. This was a heady time for me, showing residents how to save their lake using a device that I had developed and methods that suited it, under the endorsement of the Maine Dept of Environmental Protection. There were even photos of me and my truck on their website announcing the importance of the workshops in helping to reduce storm water pollution into their surface waters. The project was going well enough that four more units were purchased and placed in the rest of the counties in Southern and midstate Maine.
Indeed, the project was quite successful for a number of years with great turnout for most of the workshops. Occasionally Joan and I would make a holiday of it, especially if a workshop was way Downeast, and we got to know several areas along the coast of Maine along with lots of wonderful people.
Traveling three to six hours each way to do these workshops did become a pain from time to time, but it was a couple of other factors that finally sank the program. One was that the program administrator at the Maine DEP believed that, once a road had been reworked with the FrontRunner it would need to be compacted with one of those vibrating rollers typically seen following a paving machine, pounding all the air out of fresh pavement to make it as condensed as possible. This is in spite of the fact that the co-presenter of the workshops from the Maine Local Roads office generally told attendees that wheels rolling over freshly placed or reworked gravel would compact up to three inches, while a vibrating roller would be needed to compact more than twice that. I tried to explain that the FrontRunner would seldom need to work at a greater depth into the road surface and that my truck wheels were generally enough to recompact the surface after grading. We even set up a demonstration near Farmington to demonstrate the effectiveness of compacting with and without extra weight in the back of my one-ton dump truck. I never heard much from the DEP about the success of that demonstration.
I believe that the real demise of the Maine FrontRunner Project, however, an another factor leading to general loss of interest in the FrontRunner itself, was the quick mount and dismount system that the snowplow company adopted just about the time we were in discussion with them. Virtually every FrontRunner was connected to their brand of snowplow headworks because of their early presence in Maine and saturation of the market. Earlier models of their snowplows left the headworks on the truck even when the snowplow was not attached. This made if extremely easy for folks to understand the concept of hooking up the FrontRunner in place of the plow blade that was already off for summer, and, indeed, was one of the premises that made the FrontRunner so appealing from the start: using the snowplow hoist you already own.
Ironically, the new quick mount and dismount snowplows followed the same geometry that all earlier plows had, but just added a connect/disconnent system to the part that used to remain on the truck. Even trades guys who I knew well would tell me that they’d like to have a FrontRunner, but that their truck had the new style plow headworks. It was not until after I explained that the setup on the mounting mechanism was identical, or nearly so, that they realized that after swapping the plow blade for the FrontRunner for the summer they’d have a quick mount FrontRunner.
But the general consensus of the public changed with the new plow design, and fewer folks were able to understand that it took only a little effort and a couple of hydraulic couplers added to the hydraulic lines to make the changeover. This is something that any farm or construction hand could readily grasp, but was mysterious enough to discourage the homeowner from making the change, so the FrontRunners ended up sitting next to the County Conservation District offices until they were sold off one by one.
At about the time the Maine FrontRunner project was winding down I contacted the state of NH Department of Resources and Economic Development. Coincidentally, this is the department that operates our state parks, two of which had purchased FrontRunners some time before and seemed to have had good luck with them. Although I don’t think this cut much ice with the gentlemen I talked with, I did get a couple of appointments to discuss the possibility of someone in the state rejuvenating the FrontRunner. It was not my goal to get back into the marketing of the device, I was over 60 by this time and I learned early on that this equipment racket was a young man’s game, with long distances, trade shows, travelling home late at night after trade shows and all that. I’d had one experience travelling to a trade show in Hartford years before in my spiffy new diesel powered ’95 Dodge pickup when I found myself in a lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike that I didn’t remember changing to.
I explained to the DRED folks that I wanted to be able to turn the whole program, design, trademark, goodwill to date, and so forth, to someone who could manufacture and market it. At most, I would have been a consultant to the project as I had would have been with the snowplow company, capitalizing on my years of having learned the market
A CHANCE AT THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET-
At the same time I was talking with the state folks I was contacted by the chief engineer for one of he largest engineering firms in the country. He explained that he stared life as a country boy and like what he saw in the FrontRunner, which he would have discovered on the internet since this was our only visible presence on a wide basis.
He explained that his company was building roads under USAID grants in Sudan, and part of the contract was to provide a simple grading tool to the local population to keep the roads in shape after the roads were built. Past experience showed that leaving a typical road grader proved to be unsatisfactory for several reasons. There were few skilled operators to run such specialized equipment and no one to keep them maintained if something went wrong. The FrontRunner, on the other hand, could fit on a truck used to patrol the roads to see where maintenance was needed and be put to work immediately and inexpensively. The purchase of the FrontRunner would have included the snowplow headworks to complete the hardware needed for setting up a truck.
The New Hampshire DRED folks got me hooked up with a fairly new outfit in south central NH that upfitted trucks for telephone and cable TV companies and private contractors. This means that they receive trucks direct from the manufacturer with no body on the back, just the cab and chassis. They install the truck bodies and hoists according to the specifications required by each utility or contractor. While they were not manufacturers themselves, they had many skilled welders and a facility that could have either manufactured the FrontRunners or served as the final painting, assembly and distribution point for the completed product manufactured by others.
The owner of the company appeared interested in taking on the product and assured me that he would be up front with me as to whether or not he would put the in the effort to make it a success. We had a couple of meetings and I set him up with a FrontRunner for him to let tradesmen in his area try out to see how they liked it. Then along came this opportunity for him to sell twenty-five FrontRunners to be shipped overseas to Africa for follow-up road maintenance.
When the engineering company’s head honcho told me he was headed to New Hampshire to check up on the progress of the Rt 93 expansion that his company was designing, he told me he’d like to head up to the mountains to see the FrontRunner at work. I told him that I could save him the trip and meet him at the truck upfitting facility which is near Rt 93. He agreed, though in hindsite I should have invited him to park his motorhome in my yard for as long as he wanted to see the FrontRunner and visit our White Mountains.
So we arranged a meeting with him at the upfitter’s. Coincidentally, the upfitter had hired several minority workers, with at least one having come from the country that the FrontRunners would have been shipped to. This was considered to be a great selling point as this young man could have accompanied the equipment back to his native land and helped show his former countrymen how to set it up and operate it in their native toung.
The meeting was held at the upfitter’s office, with an conference room discussion of the merits of the FrontRunner and an introduction of the young man who could provide the liason between manufacturer and user. This was followed by an outside demonstration on the company’s own truck. While I was prepared to do the demonstration, I’d hoped that the upfitter would have provided a more realistic site and road road material rather than the pile of rocks with a little soil mixed in that we had the company’s loader dump out for me to spread.
By this time in my career I’d operated many different trucks in many different conditions, but the combination of a poor site, terrible material and my unfamiliarity with this particular truck did not make for one of the more impressive demonstrations I’ve conducted over the years. And, while both the conference room and outside demonstrations were going on, the head of the company who’d promised to either put his heart into this project or tell me he wasn’t interested was either on his cellphone or absent altogether.
Before the engineer left, he told me that he’d also been looking at another possible piece of road maintenance equipment and that he thought he had a good idea by this time which one he would choose. I never heard another thing from him.
Shortly thereafter I had a follow up meeting with the NH DRED staffer who I had talked with originally. When he started to tell me, just as hundreds of folks had for all the years that I’d been trying to push FrontRunner ahead, that “What I really needed…” I cut him off right there. I’d heard every idea under the sun and knew what the product needed. It needed someone with the wherewithal to produce the product and get it into the distribution pipeline where it could be seen as a legitimate piece of construction and maintenance equipment on a par with snowplows.
Above all, it needed what the late David Urey, a local businessman and customer of mine who had practiced patent law had told me years before. When I sought help from SCORE (Senior Council of Retired Executives). David had met with me and instilled the notion that whatever company was to take on this product had to have a champion on board who could have the best interest of the product at heart rather than just think of it as another thing to produce and sell. Ironically, I’d had that champion in the chief engineer of that snowplow company that almost took on the FrontRunner.
Just a couple of years ago I got the urge to get the FrontRunner back into production again and approached a southern Maine equipment manufacturer who was making several attachments for construction equipment. Figuring that he was located in an area where FrontRunner had had its greatest success, he might have seen the opportunity for adding a product to his lineup that was reasonably well known. I was surprised to learn from his office manager that she was a part of the family that pioneered pickup truck mounted snowplow in the upper Midwest, the same company whose office I was in at the start of this saga. I was hoping I’d finally found my champion. After meeting with her several times, though only once having a brief encounter with the company owner, she was able to put together a price quote for manufacturing based on the engineering drawings that my nephew sent to her.
After taking what seemed like forever I finally got a figure that was at least double what it should have been to have made the product within the reach of anyone. And this was just a manufactured cost. It was far enough out of line that it appeared to me that the company owner really had no interest in producing the product. I dropped the idea and have never been back to them.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
If nothing else has come out of this for me personally, I have the satisfaction of spending most of my working hours sitting behind a FrontRunner either on my truck or on my newest tractor, Kubota’s smallest commercial compact diesel Tractor/Loader/Backhoe. This past construction season of 2012 I spread more gravel on more driveways and roads than I ever have in my career. I also finally got a chance to work behind a full size road grader on a job where I’d hired it to pull in the shoulders on a road development near me that had asked me to take over their road maintenance.
I quickly had the notions that I’ve had for years about graders reinforced by this experience- that the grader is excellent for the heavy work of pulling in the road shoulders from the ditches to the crown, but that the FrontRunner is the tool for the rest of the job, including separating out debris and working the compound grades that are difficult and slow with a grader. This is especially true on many of the roads I maintain which are below par to start with, in many cases not suitable for a grader at all.
I still maintain my contacts with many of the FrontRunner customers I’ve had over the years, as they return to purchase replacement tines, sometimes every couple of years. I still get feedback from many of them about how indispensible the tool is, especially in Spring when roads are too soft for their graders.
SPEAKING OF TINES “Them buggers’ll really do some business”
Several years ago I was able to obtain tines from our Midwestern tine supplier that would fit onto those tow behind rakes made by the original rake manufacturer that I’d gone to back in 1989 with the front mounted rake concept. I’d been told that just one of their dealers in Maine used to sell 10,000 of these tines each year. When I considered just how many small towns there are in rural Maine I figured that was entirely possible. Being able to supply replacement tines to their customers would be a way for me to cash in on the good will that I’d developed with DPW folks in northern New England and would give me a sense of satisfaction breaking into their market after them shutting me out of it years before.
I sold several sets of these replacement tines which were less expensive than the original and yet a little heavier, providing a good value that quickly began to be recognized by road crews. Gaining confidence in this effort I had several hundred flyers printed up one winter announcing these replacement tines. They offered a good price, better wear and the added benefit of the quote at the beginning of this section that sounds typical of the type of guy who gets up at three in the morning to plow snow and comes home in the Spring covered with grease and mud after doing battle with local roads.
Just before we put the preprinted (and prepaid) address labels for every New Hampshire town on the flyers I realized that it would be prudent to see how quickly I could get more of these tines when the orders started to come in. It is fortunate that I did, since my supplier told me they were no longer able to get the stock from which those tines were made so all I could sell was what I had on hand. Another step forward followed by two to the rear… And a lot of scrap notepaper saying how well them buggers worked. I wonder to this day if the supply of the tine material got dried up due to some myserious intervention beyond my control but in response to my budding selling success.
Every once in awhile I’ll receive a call about someone who has purchased a used FrontRunner who needs replacement parts, some of which I can supply and some I cannot, unfortunately. Many calls are simply tine requests which give me the opportunity to find out from folks just how the FrontRunner is working out for them. While it is gratifying to hear their satisfaction, it is indeed frustrating to know how close we came to making the FrontRunner possible as well accepted as pickup truck mounted snowplows.
I’ve left all of the information I developed for our website on line and still get an occasional call or e-mail request for a new FrontRunner. I steer the calls for tractor mounted units to the inquirer’s local tractor dealer. Unfortunately, FFC has given the GraderRake such a low profile that most dealers do not know what is being inquired about when they are asked. This brings me to the conclusion I’ve come to related to those four P’s of marketing that I learned at Hyannis.
There is no question that our PRODUCT was a good one. We continue to be told so by dozens of users as we were by the chief engineer of a huge snowplow company.
The PLACE, dealers yards around the country as well as trade shows and demonstration sites were suitable locations for introducing potential buyers to the product.
We did everything possible for PROMOTION including trade shows and demonstrations, both group and individual; trade magazine ads; approval by and individual literature for skid-steer manufacturers;
PRICE may have been our downfall. For the truck mounted units I do not think that the price was necessarily a problem, though it was expensive enough for folks to think twice about investing in one unless they were sure it was necessary and would serve their purpose. It was the failure of the snowplow company to follow through with their takeover and our loss of momentum when we ceased production while they sought to lighten the product and ultimately decided not to pursue any products that are not ice and snow control related. I think price was a larger factor when it came to skid-steer units.
In hindsight I believe that the FrontRunner, or FFC GraderRake is at a price point that puts it in a never-never land. It is too costly for a potential buyer to spend the money for on a chance that it will serve his purpose and also too costly for a salesman to throw in with the purchase price of a new skid steer to sweeten the deal. On the other hand, it is not high enough priced for a salesman to spend the time to demonstrate for the little he might make as a commission on the sale of the unit by itself. There are other devices that do seedbed preparation that sell for a lot more money.
Equipment salesmen are seldom motivated to do missionary work to promote a new product, even if someone does tell them it works great. Most I’ve met would rather be swinging a golf club.
WHERE FRONTRUNNER IS TODAY
Every once in awhile I’ll come across a custom made truck or skid steer unit that emulates what we worked to perfect and I feel a certain sense of accomplishment. I sit behind the FrontRunner on my truck or tractor and feel the pride of operating something that is proven to outperform most anything else for the intended purpose at a nominal cost. I recognize the vast market that still exists for the product on trucks, skid-steers, and the almost totally untapped market of compact tractors that are in every country gentleman’s back yard. I see many of these tractors with rakes mounted on the rear and only wish that the owner could try the same attachment mounted in front of them where they could see it and control it to actually grade with it instead of just smoothing the ground behind them.
Perhaps it’s time to approach a manufacturer of truck equipment once again and impress them with the potential for an attachment that can be used on nearly half of the public roads in the country and untold miles of private roads and driveways. Perhaps the changing weather patterns with more intense rains will make people aware that proper road maintenance pays dividends in reducing costs as well as protecting the surface waters we fish and play in. Nearing 80, I’m too old to jump back into the young man’s game of marketing and selling equipment, but I hope I’m never too old to try to get other folks in the industry to start THINKING AHEAD.