Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deere & Webber

Any study of early wooden wagons and the associated industry will quickly show that the subject is full of twists, turns, tragedies, and confusing similarities.   When reviewing a brand’s origins, things can get especially tricky if too much attention is given to the name alone.  As I’ve shared before, jumping to conclusions by focusing on just one vehicle trait can quickly turn problematic. 

Case in point; some may know that there were multiple brands using the name ‘Whitewater.’  Others may not be aware that there was more than one Columbus brand.  Mitchell wagons may have been the “Monarch of the Road,” but ‘Monarch’ was also a label owned by another well-known firm.  These same-name challenges can also be applied to other prominent brands such as Bain, Fish Bros., Brown, Smith, and more. 

With this said, it’s not surprising to know that the firm of Deere & Webber has sometimes been mistook as a relative of the Weber (one ‘b’ versus two) Wagon Company from Chicago.  Even the legendary Weber & Damme of St. Louis as well as some local retail outlets have been confused with other brands carrying the Weber name.  For the record, those mentioned above are separate entities with each being a full-fledged competitor of the other.

As with the John Deere name itself, the Deere & Webber firm was a trusted and exceptionally competitive brand.

The Deere and Webber brand is especially interesting as its primary role was that of a branch house or wholesale distribution outlet in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  John Deere had a number of these outlets including Deere & Mansur as well as Deere, Wells and Co. and others.  While John Deere did have part ownership in these firms, they were run with some latitude from company headquarters in Moline, Illinois.  For instance, while the sales staff at Deere and Webber were encouraged to sell John Deere products, they also sold non-Deere brands including their own house brands.  Additionally, they were known to engage dealers that sold competing brands to Deere.  While this was not the preferred direction, it did happen enough that sales representatives were repeatedly reminded of the importance of establishing ‘full line’ John Deere dealers.  In time, Deere bought each of the distribution houses outright.

At over a century in age, this extremely rare leather-bound, Deere & Webber sales handbook contains the company’s strategic plans for 1910.  It was the personal copy of the company president, Charles C. Webber.  Webber passed away in 1944 after serving an amazing 67 years with the Deere organization.  He was the last surviving grandson of John Deere.

Anyone believing these early agriculture and wagon companies were unsophisticated and casual in their approach to the selling process has simply not studied enough period business correspondence.  The most prominent of brands worked hard to dog, defend, and dominate every trade area possible.  Broader product lines designed to meet the price points of competitors helped many traveling agents accomplish the quotas and directives they were given. 

Early company bulletins helped keep marketing directions and messages consistent among the company’s network of traveling sales representatives.  

In the case of Deere and Webber, 1910 was a significant year for the company.  The home office in Illinois had just purchased the legendary Moline and Fort Smith Wagon companies and was in the process of developing the first ‘John Deere’ branded wagons.  Even though Deere & Webber had beaten the main office to the punch by putting their own label on wagons several years earlier, the day was coming when the name ‘John Deere’ would stand alone as the best of the firm’s wagon offerings.  It was all part of an effort to build on the tremendous equity of the Deere name. 

Today, the John Deere legacy remains a powerful force in agriculture but also benefits significantly from its growth in the construction, turf, and forestry divisions.