Versatile is back

Rostselmash company of Russia, the new majority owners of Buhler Versatile, have relaunched the Versatile brand. These 4WD tractors have been rolling off the line in Winnipeg steadily since 1966, but the past couple decades the Versatile brand has been whittled down by owners who wanted their own stamp on the hood. Ford. New Holland. Buhler.

Now Rostselmash, to its credit, recognizes there is still some good brand value — remarkably after all this time — in the Versatile name and the flying “V” logo. All tractors, including the front-wheel assist line, will be Versatile. The Genesis name is gone. So is Buhler.

Ryan Shust has been with Versatile and its myriad owners for 30 years. He is the new manager of technical publications. His division will generate the printed support materials for the tractors. He calls the new owners a “breath of fresh air.”

“It is a amazing the difference they’ve made in one year. Instead of working day by day, we now come to work with confidence in the future,” Shust says. “This is like the old Versatile.”

Versatile president Dmitry Lyubimov, a 34-year-old Russian with an MBA, says in the past few years, the company has made money on cost cutting. “Now, we want to make money through growth of the business.”

Rebranding is step one. Step two is to get the 200 or so dealers from across North America pumped up again. The brand relaunch coincided with the “first annual” Versatile dealers meeting to talk about the sales strategy, describe the latest features on the tractors, and introduce the new financing option available to Versatile customers.

Versatile also has a dedicated parts manager for the first time, and promises to deliver parts anywhere in North America within 24 hours. The company also has a service manager. “We’ve always had service people,” says director of sales, Eric Allison. “But this is the first time we’ve had a service manager.”

No doubt Lyubimov and his team have a five-year plan, but they aren’t sharing it at this time. If I were to guess, it probably includes a launch of the Rostselmash combine in North America. You’ve probably seen a Don combine somewhere in the Prairies. That’s a Rostselmash machine. In 2000, the company went from a government-owned entity to a private company. It now has 60 per cent market share in the Former Soviet Union combine market. It sold 6,300 combines last year. The combines are smallish — class 4 and 5 — but I’m sure the company has plans to build something bigger. Meanwhile, Rostselmash will gain a lot more experience through its Versatile relaunch into how to sell a product successfully in North America.

Rostselmash will be challenged to change North American impressions of Russian-made farm equipment. But its instincts about the Versatile brand suggest they are at least listening to what the marketplace tells them.

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