Home > Featured Articles > 2015 OPE Industry Forecasts (Part I)

2015 OPE Industry Forecasts (Part I)

What can expect to be seen in 2015?

The following is the first of a two-part series:

Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) recently surveyed several executives about the state of the OPE industry heading into 2015.

Specifically, we asked the following thought-provoking questions:

  1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?
  2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?
  3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?
  4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?
  5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

OPE received the following written responses, in order, Nov. 17-Dec. 4, 2014:

1501_OPE_CS_IF01_John Hedges-web
JOHN HEDGES
DIRECTOR OF
SALES & MARKETING
CENTRAL POWER
DISTRIBUTORS, INC. (CPD)
(ANOKA, MINN.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

John Hedges: Even though this question lends itself better to the manufacturers, Central Power Distributors, Inc. (CPD) will continue to find product and parts lines that will benefit our customers. We believe the majority of our lines offer our customers one-stop shopping with one check to write at the end of the month.

For 2015, we will be offering Columbia from MTD. This is a dealer-only line, which is what dealers who compete against the mass merchants need. They will be able to control their own destiny without outside interference from the mass merchants. We have also aligned ourselves with DR Power Equipment for 2015. This will give our customers an opportunity to offer parts and equipment with a nationally recognized leader of prosumer power equipment.

We are reorganizing our sales staff’s priorities to allow for maximum dealer assistance. In today’s market, it isn’t about going to see a dealer just to go see the dealer. It is about training, selling, teaching, and maximizing profits for their business. We plan to offer more assistance that way in 2015.

Kohler has added more sophisticated engines to its engine lineup, and CPD will need to educate the servicing dealers through live updates, online training and testing. Many more OEMs are using Kohler power, and we will help keep them trained.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

John Hedges: Why do we always get back to weather-related stories? Usually, we as an industry, are complaining about the dry weather. But 2014 was just the opposite. It was a banner year in our territory for sales, thanks to the cooperation of Mother Nature. Yes, we experienced unusually colder temperatures last winter (53 days below 0), and yes, we saw more rain in the territory all summer, but most of our dealers benefitted from it. Thanks to an early November 2014 snow, we may see much of the same this winter as we head into 2015.

There is a restructure with a major engine supplier that will go into 2015. Time will tell if it is a success, but this particular company has made bold decisions over the years.

I believe the GIE+EXPO was a huge success, and the founding fathers would be proud. Having attended this show for the last 29 years (without a miss), I think it’s fair to say this is the best in the last 15 years. The show is our industry showcase, and I don’t think many were disappointed with what they saw.

The Internet will eventually play a major role in the destruction of some weaker dealers. Will 2015 be the year we see more of that? Time will tell. With that in mind, I would remind dealers that the Internet doesn’t have to be your enemy. Make it your friend and companion for sales. If you aren’t going to be open weekends (when the mass merchants are), find ways to be open 24/7 with a Monday morning delivery service. Challenge your people to be brilliant with new ways to go to business. Empowerment is a wonderful thing, and you can have great ideas coming from the least-expected places.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

John Hedges:

a) Whether it is good or bad, weather will be a topic of high discussion.
b) Many of our industry technicians will begin to retire, leaving a real void in tribal knowledge.
c) Internet sales grow; dealer network shrinks.
d) Fuel prices dip. Saudis fear pipeline deal in U.S.
e) Obamacare hard to change for new Senate.
f) Hillary decides to run for President. What impact will that have on the 2016 OPE industry?

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

John Hedges: I would like to have advice from the dealers. Too many times, we are the ones giving advice and not listening to the ones in the trenches. So, my first item of advice is to let me know what you need!

CPD does a monthly newsletter poll. The hottest topics over the years have been freight charges and how they affect the bottom line, servicing the off-shore products making their way into the mass merchants, aftermarket vs. OEM parts, and understanding who is really the dealer’s competition. If that is the case around the country, my advice to the dealer is to look for more training. If you can’t find it, talk to your suppliers and ask for assistance.

If the mass merchants are your biggest competitor, first understand why. Is it because they are offer cheaper prices? You can overcome that with value-added services. Is it because they offer setup and delivery for a charge? You can do that. Is it because they are open at convenient hours? You can do that, but there is a price to pay. If most of your customers are consumers and you aren’t open until at least 6:30 p.m., and if you aren’t open Saturday mornings at least, you will not get that business. Somehow, you need to figure a way to be open when your customer needs you to be open.

Last, and I suggest this every year, have an Internet presence. It is not an extra part of your business; it is an absolute necessity. I challenge you to offer online appointment scheduling for your service department. This allows your customers to schedule and not have to spend time on the phone. Build your business model around the busiest person you can imagine. Think of a young person who uses their phone for everything. If you can build your business model to suit their needs, you’ll have something really special.

And, remember the power of the Internet is two ways. If you provide horrible service to just one customer, your business can be smeared in many ways online. Have a corporate understanding, and make sure everyone in your business understands it. The Golden Rule isn’t a bad business model to have: “Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.”

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

John Hedges: If our November is an indication of what is to come, it will be another banner year such as 2014 has been. It would be nice to have an early spring as we did in 2012. Seasonal business could be better if spring and fall could last a little longer than a month or two each!

1501_OPE_CS_IF02_Ron Monroe-web
RON MONROE
PRESIDENT
OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT &
ENGINE SERVICE ASSOCIATION
(OPEESA)
(ESSEX, CONN.) &
PRESIDENT
HAYWARD DISTRIBUTING CO.
(COLUMBUS, OHIO)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Ron Monroe: OPEESA members continue to support industry growth through education and best practices. We are dedicated to the OPE dealer base and their success. Dealers can contact us individually or our association office with any inquiries on services available.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Ron Monroe: The weather has been the top story in the OPE industry for the past two years. Favorable conditions for the extended period (except the West) helped spur nice growth in most regions. The timing of weather events has been odd, but it always seems that way. Distributors have been well poised to support the OPE dealer group with timely delivery of goods when needed. Consolidation of brands seems constant, and following that terrain is part of the distributor role. 2015 will undoubtedly bring some surprises, but the well-managed retailer can be very positive that the future is bright.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Ron Monroe: Industry trends vary from region to region, but it is a certainty that strong dealers position themselves with presence on the Internet as well as locally. Ever more knowledgeable consumers visit websites before they buy, and judge the retailer by the appearance and professional tone of the site. OPEESA members can help establish and maintain a dealer site with pertinent information, links, ideas and more. It’s not just about showroom displays or outdoor signage anymore. Well-rounded retailers appeal to prospective buyers from many angles.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Ron Monroe: As a distributor organization, OPEESA advises OPE dealers to focus on constantly improving their staff: more education, more performance incentives, and more of anything to positively impact/attract customers. In the end, the experience that customer has with your staff member is how your company is judged and talked about in the community.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Ron Monroe: The distributor members of OPEESA are spread all over North America, and we see many signs of improvement in the OPE industry. Interest rates remain low, gas prices are reasonable, consumer spending is up, needs for our goods remain strong, and there are no big legislative hurdles to overcome. Given decent weather, 2015 will be another growth year with opportunities for retailers that are primed and ready.

1501_OPE_CS_IF03_Fred J Whyte-web
FRED J. WHYTE
PRESIDENT
STIHL INC.
(VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Fred J. Whyte: In 2014, STIHL Inc. celebrated our 40th year of building in America, and the festivities culminated in a visit from representatives from the Stihl family in October.

There is much we can be proud of in our 40 years of manufacturing in the U.S. Recently, we were recognized with an award from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, as well as receiving the ASSEMBLY Magazine Plant of the Year award. The continued success and growth of the company are a testament not only to our commitment to quality in manufacturing, but also to our unique distribution model. However, as our friends in the Marine Corps say, “Complacency kills.” So, even as we celebrate success, it is our intention to strive even harder to provide our customers with the superior quality and service they have come to expect and deserve.

This means that we will not waver from our unique distribution strategy that relies on our network of more than 8,500 servicing STIHL dealers, without whom we could not enjoy the success we do. New merchandising systems, training programs, and an even stronger Marketing Advantage Program, will assist these dealers in not just surviving the mass merchant deluge, but help ensure that they secure an even greater share of the OPE market.

In 2015, we will continue to build on our “Real People STIHL People” campaign to highlight the shared values and common traits of STIHL customers and fans. The program celebrates the strong connection people have with STIHL products and dealers.

Of course, the lifeblood of any manufacturer is new products, and we have several new offerings in 2015. This will include further expansion of the lithium-ion battery product line and more new products with the STIHL M-Tronic engine management system, which can automatically adjust for a variety of operating conditions, including dirty filters, bad fuel, and high altitude.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Fred J. Whyte: Ethanol remained a topic of increasing concern this year, and we foresee it staying so in coming years. We continue to work with others in the industry in support of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) “Look Before You Pump” initiative, which helps educate consumers on the potential dangers to off-road engines if using fuel containing levels of ethanol higher than E10. We remain a leader in the industry in preparing for these type of changes, but it will take the industry coming together to help consumers understand what it could mean for their product investments.

The uptick in the housing market and reduced unemployment, along with job creation, will remain significant topics for the foreseeable future, as will the economic recovery, in general. Health care legislation will continue to be an issue for small businesses in the coming year, as will other regulatory concerns. The resurgence of American manufacturing will continue to be supported by less-expensive energy costs in 2015, as well.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Fred J. Whyte: We anticipate seeing increasing participation in the OPE industry by independent hardware and farm/ranch retailers who can often more easily accommodate the weekend yard care hours of the homeowner customer. A growing dissatisfaction with mass merchants will fuel the continued growth of the “buy local” movement in favor of independent dealers that offer technical service and point-of-sale assistance.

Being “retail savvy” should include integration of more technology in the showroom through online and mobile devices. I encourage dealers to take full advantage of these advances to aid in the sales process. As the industry and its customers continue to embrace social media, it will be increasingly important for dealers to become actively engaged in these platforms. Consumer expectations of service will come to include being able to post questions and concerns about products and service, and dealers need to be ready to respond in the formats of their customers’ choosing. Mobile-capable websites will also continue to grow in importance.

Dealers can also expect continued improvement and growth in alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, such as lithium-ion battery technology that will deliver longer run times and faster recharging than ever before. A significant development will be adoption of this technology by professionals who are seeing lithium-ion technology as a lucrative niche to add to their operations. STIHL is proud to offer professional tools that address ergonomics and run times with the STIHL Battery KombiSystem product line, including our STIHL AR 900 backpack battery, which provides run times up to 10 times longer than the original STIHL battery (AP 80).

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Fred J. Whyte: Dealers will face some of the familiar challenges of recent years, including profitability and competing with mass merchants, in particular. An independent dealer can struggle with gaining share of mind in a crowded marketplace with both present and future customers. Pooling resources with others through manufacturers’ programs, such as the STIHL Marketing Advantage Program, can help raise the profile of the brand and dealers.

In addition, working with other like-minded small businesses and “buy local” organizations can also benefit independent dealers and their customers. If not already doing so, all qualifying dealers (not just STIHL) should consider participating in the Independent We Stand (www.independentwestand.org) movement that continues to gain traction nationwide. By touting the economic benefits an independent business provides to the community, dealers can influence where consumers spend their hard-earned dollars when shopping locally. STIHL is pleased to be the founding sponsor of this movement.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Fred J. Whyte: Based upon the latest forecast prepared for OPEI, the industry is expected to grow 3 to 4 percent in 2015. This may be tempered slightly if unemployment remains high, even if moving in the right direction. The economy should continue to expand, possibly accelerating in 2015; and we are seeing some positive movement in the housing market. Though limited due to shortage of skilled labor, it is worth noting that the landscape industry anticipates an increase of 2.5 percent in employment opportunities. Overall, we have an optimistic outlook for the industry, STIHL, and STIHL servicing dealers.

1501_OPE_CS_IF04_Jeff Andrews-web
JEFF ANDREWS
PRESIDENT
OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT
AFTERMARKET ASSOCIATION
(OPEAA)
(ALEXANDRIA, VA.) &
DIRECTOR OF
SALES & MARKETING
DESERT EXTRUSION CORP.
(PHOENIX, ARIZ.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Jeff Andrews: The Outdoor Power Equipment Aftermarket Association (OPEAA) is a group of companies that focuses on the opportunities afforded by the outdoor power equipment parts and accessories business. OPEAA is an organization whose members’ combined strength has a major impact on the future direction of the power equipment industry. As we look forward to 2015, OPEAA will continue to educate through programs such as our Statistics Program and Dealer Surveys. We are also looking forward to our annual meeting and conference during February on the River Walk in San Antonio which focuses on up-to-date business and industry trends, direction and education — along with more than our fair share of networking (that’s code for having fun). Growing our membership and influence remains a top priority. If you have interest in joining OPEAA, visit our website at www.opeaa.org or call Jean Hawes at (703) 549-7608.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Jeff Andrews: Certainly, weather once again played a major industry role. Europe had a very short and mild winter, North America’s spring started very late, and the snow business looks like it is starting out in a major way at the end of 2014. Consolidation, mergers and takeovers seem to have become a fact of life throughout America and within the OPE business. The rapid growth of online shopping and changing consumer buying habits continue to be something to watch closely and adapt to. The ethanol wars continued to grab attention. Thankfully, new and dynamic technologies are rapidly emerging and coming to market.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Jeff Andrews: New technologies are being led by the advancement in battery-powered products. These rechargeable outdoor power tools used to be passed over as “cute” gadgets for the homeowners, with little application to the commercial arena. This is no longer the case. As battery technologies advance at a very high speed, and time to market shrinks, we are now seeing products that have found a home in the commercial industry. Manufacturers worldwide are rushing to get these new and evolving technologies and products to market. Online marketing strategies will continue to grow at breakneck speeds.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Jeff Andrews: Focus on being current by staying educated and up-to-date. Help your business evolve as opposed to resisting change. Focus on service and quality. The U.S. consumer is thirsty for service and quality that can be provided by the servicing dealer — something the big boxes continue to struggle with. Focus on anything that can improve the end user’s experience.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Jeff Andrews: While we can’t control many things such as weather, we can and should control our independent and communal interests through cooperation and education, strengthening how we all do business while creating a more profitable marketplace for the dealer and a better experience for the end user. 2015 can be a great year. Be poised to take advantage of it.

1501_OPE_CS_IF05_Bob Walker-web
BOB WALKER
PRESIDENT
WALKER MFG. CO.
(FORT COLLINS, COLO.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Bob Walker: Product sales training at the factory is a continuing initiative at Walker Manufacturing. Around 250 distributor and dealer sales representatives have attended the two-day training in the last two years, and the results have been positive. Dealers are trained to sell product value ahead of price. Walker dealers that have not had the sales training should make their reservation for 2015 by contacting their distributor. In the marketing area, we are introducing a “productivity calculator” on our website thewalkeradvantage.com. This is a tool for dealers to use with prospective customers to compare the productivity of their current equipment with the comparable Walker model. The calculator uses data collected from property studies over the last two years using 19 competitive machines versus the Walker on alternating weekly mowing cycles. New products and product improvements are a part of Walker’s culture. For 2015, we are introducing our entry-level commercial mower with an electronic fuel injection engine (MC19i). There is also a propane-powered model with a Kohler EFI engine (MB25p), a hard cab option for the MH tractor and a non-collection version of the MS14. For dealers that enjoy doing business “family style,” Walker continues to be a family-owned and family-managed company.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Bob Walker: For me, the biggest industry story was the discontinuance of the Dixon brand name. While Husqvarna made the decision, they should not shoulder all the responsibility, for there is a longer story of the brand moving from the original Dixon family through a series of corporate owners. This is a sobering reminder of how a valuable brand and the opportunity it represents for suppliers, employees, distributors, dealers and end customers can be lost. And after many years of building the brand, it can be lost in just a few years. At Walker, we are taking what happened to Dixon as a lesson to be remembered.

My prediction for the biggest story in the industry in 2015 would be concerning revision, repeal or overruling some of the more odious provisions of “Obamacare.” I believe small- to medium-sized businesses are on a collision course with this monster. As company owners, we have always believed that taking care of our employees was our responsibility and our discretion, including providing health care benefits. Business owners should let our voices be heard on this issue.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Bob Walker: The trend to use more electronic fuel injection engines in commercial-grade power equipment will continue to grow. Well over half of the equipment we are producing is now equipped with EFI engines.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Bob Walker: We believe that a power equipment dealer’s best opportunity is to be more of a specialist, concentrating on a few product lines. In contrast to the warehouse dealer or mass channel marketer, the specialist does not have something for everyone who walks through the door. Instead, the specialist dealer operates with a high level of focus that translates into high value and high service for the customers and in turn a better return on investment for the dealer’s efforts. While this model would not work for most dealers, as an example, I have seen dealers who only sell Walker Mowers, an admittedly specialty product line; amazing opportunities have been built across the years by these “specialty dealers.”

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Bob Walker: For the OPE industry, we think 2015 will be quite similar to 2014 in growth, with perhaps a little moderation at around 10 percent.

1501_OPE_CS_IF06_Rick Zeckmeister-web
RICK ZECKMEISTER
VP MARKETING &
PLANNING, ENGINES
BRIGGS & STRATTON
CORPORATION
(MILWAUKEE, WIS.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Rick Zeckmeister: In 2015, we at Briggs & Stratton are really focusing on innovation. While innovation has played a key role in our small-engine design for 106 years, today that focus is at an all-time high. Evolving our small-engine expertise in new ways through user-driven problem solving and embracing innovative technology is at the forefront of our 2015 product lineup. Our products are making it easier for consumers to use and maintain and more productive and cost effective for commercial users. Whether it is a commercial product with better fuel economy with the right-sized power level, a push mower that starts easier, or an engine that is easier to maintain, the products we will have available in 2015 are all about collaborating with customers to deliver the best experience possible. We are also increasing our global efforts by collaborating with customers to ensure that the right engine, right market, and right segment of that market get serviced. We understand customers all over the world have different preferences, and we want to be available to those diverse customers and meet their varying demands.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Rick Zeckmeister: Weather always plays a predominant role in the OPE industry. In 2014, I think we saw a difficult season that was below average due to a delayed growing season. People didn’t need to use their equipment as much or purchase new products because we had such a widespread late spring and dry summer. But, in 2015, I think we will see more products being developed that have such unique and groundbreaking features that people will be interested in upgrading their equipment. Here at Briggs & Stratton, we are introducing some of our most innovative products yet, addressing some of the biggest ease-of-use concerns customers have. Even if the predictions for a longer and snow-heavy winter are fulfilled, the outdoor power equipment industry is making such strides in innovation that customers will want to upgrade and take advantage of the new features.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Rick Zeckmeister: I think we will continue to see a trend from outdoor power equipment manufacturers developing products that address user-driven problem solving. No longer is it the tall-grass/short-grass debate. Customers are demanding higher-functioning products, and manufacturers are delivering. Here at Briggs & Stratton, we are no exception. Through our collaboration with customers, we are creating more user-driven problem-solving products than ever before. Our products are making it easier for consumers to use and maintain and more productive and cost effective for commercial users.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Rick Zeckmeister: With a marketplace that is overflowing with product choices and purchasing paths, dealers will really need to demonstrate their value to customers through omni-directional support. It isn’t enough these days to just have quality products or service; you also need to be engaging with customers in the way that best suits their needs. Today’s customer finds and buys differently than ever before. Dealers will need to diversify how they make themselves available to their customers. The dealers that differentiate themselves by providing not only superior but multi-channel service will have the most success. This is not a movement that is exclusive to the outdoor power equipment industry. Customers in every industry are expecting more opportunities for two-way communication where their opinions are solicited and appreciated, not just a one-way conversation where a product is sold to them. This macro trend presents some foundational challenges, but those who are able to adapt in the ever-changing marketplace, and engage customers how they prefer, will ensure their business’ longevity.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Rick Zeckmeister: In 2015, I believe the OPE industry will see possible medium single-digit growth. While the weather is always an uncertain influencer that we keep a close watch over, the outlook from a market perspective seems promising. I think both the walk and ride segments will be up, especially the zero-turn-radius products. I predict all will outpace the market predictions. At Briggs & Stratton, we are really excited to introduce people to our latest groundbreaking, innovative products that will not only make their lawn and garden maintenance easier, but make their outdoor power equipment maintenance easier. Our 2015 lineup will provide operators with features they didn’t know were possible and continue to ensure a great ownership experience.

1501_OPE_CS_IF07_Paul Mullet-web
PAUL MULLET
PRESIDENT & CEO
EXCEL INDUSTRIES, INC.
(HESSTON, KAN.) &
CHAIRMAN
OUTDOOR POWER
EQUIPMENT INSTITUTE (OPEI)
(ALEXANDRIA, VA.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Paul Mullet: In 2015, we will continue to bring new and innovative products to market. A good example is the new Hustler Raptor Flip-Up and the Big Dog Blackjack mid-mount mowers in which the deck can be rotated up 90 degrees with a push of a switch in less than 25 seconds. This makes it easier for the owner to change the mower blades and clean the underside of the deck.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Paul Mullet: I think one of the top stories for 2014 is the “Look Before You Pump” campaign initiated by OPEI. Educating the owners of outdoor power equipment about the use of the proper fuel is very important as they begin to see more fuel options at the gas pump. In 2015 and beyond, I think water conservation and restrictions will become more of an issue for our industry.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Paul Mullet: One of the trends will be more crossover between OPE dealers and powersports dealers. This year, we will see more OPE manufacturers providing UTVs to their dealer base, and we will see more powersports dealers take on OPE equipment to broaden their product offering.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Paul Mullet: One of my favorite sayings is: “The measurement of success is the amount of time between knowing and doing.” Change is not easy; however, when you know you need to change something, then the sooner you take action, the better off you will be. Some examples for an OPE dealer could be dealing with an underperforming employee or an unprofitable line.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Paul Mullet: I think the outlook on a whole for 2015 is great! The economy continues to improve and the weather patterns look favorable for another positive growth year.

1501_OPE_CS_IF08_Kris Kiser-web
KRIS KISER
PRESIDENT & CEO
OUTDOOR POWER
EQUIPMENT INSTITUTE (OPEI)
(ALEXANDRIA, VA.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Kris Kiser: In 2015, OPEI will be strengthening our core competencies, such as expanding standards work and market statistics reporting. We are introducing six new battery and electric categories, and will be working closely with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). We also are expanding into the true utility vehicle market — another growth area for our industry.

OPEI will be keeping a close eye on the regulatory environment around managed landscapes and turfgrass as federal agencies, such as the EPA, seem determined to diminish the value of the managed landscape. Fortunately, OPEI’s TurfMutt program helps with these critical issues by showcasing the industry’s commitment to best practices and by educating children, their parents, teachers and homeowners on the importance of properly caring for green spaces in their communities, backyards, parks, and school grounds.

TurfMutt (www.TurfMutt.com) has recently moved to a new doghouse with Scholastic Education, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a leader in educational technology and related services and children’s media. In 2015, Scholastic will grow the character-based brand and reach more consumers. We expect for TurfMutt’s reach and impact to grow exponentially in 2015 with this new partnership.

We also are coming off a very successful year with our ethanol education program, “Look Before You Pump.” The National Marine Manufacturers Association and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association formally joined as partners last year. In 2015, we hope to earn the support of the motorcycle industry. We will continue to raise awareness among consumers that they need to fuel their small-engine products with the right fuel.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Kris Kiser: Main topics that made headlines in 2014 included ethanol, water usage and the managed landscape. We expect 2015 to have a similar focus. But, we also believe we’ll reach a critical juncture with the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). In its current form, the RFS is unworkable. The mandate can’t be met. It’s a problem for the biofuels industry, a problem for the oil and gas industry, and a problem for users. It would be a dereliction of duty on the part of Congress to not right that situation.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Kris Kiser: A major trend has been the introduction of commercial lines of electric- and battery-powered products and the growing importance of the UTV market. OPEI will further develop programming to meet the needs of this evolution, as well as continue to support the established product lines and markets.

Another “trend” we’re seeing is the growing importance of GIE+EXPO (www.gie-expo.com), the largest gathering of the industry and one of the country’s largest trade shows. It has become the place to debut new product offerings. We expect for attendance to continue to rise each year. In 2014, more than 19,000 people from around the world attended GIE+EXPO, representing an 11-percent increase in registration over 2013.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Kris Kiser: OPE dealers are on the front lines. They have the ability to make the greatest impact on users of outdoor power equipment. We urge dealers to continue to remind people to fuel their equipment properly, as the ethanol fuel market continues to evolve. Dealers should become familiar with OPEI’s “Look Before You Pump” campaign (www.LookBeforeYouPump.com) if they are not already. And dealers should avail themselves of all the materials and messaging that can support them in educating their customers. (Go to www.TinyURL.com/EthanolEducation for materials.)

Also, get to the Dealer Day at GIE+EXPO! This first day of GIE+EXPO is designed just for you, and you can be the first to get a look at new product and strengthen or establish new relationships.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Kris Kiser: Our outlook for 2015 is positive. Interest rates are low, the housing market is strengthening, and the weather continues to provide many OPE market opportunities. We’ve experienced a number of snow and late-season weather events, which means our members are selling a lot of chain saws and snow products. In early 2015, we’ll expect a strong demand for snow products and, in general, snow removal; the latter helps our landscaping friends enter the spring season in a good cash position.

1501_OPE_CS_IF09_Al Keller-web1501_OPE_CS_IF10_Thomas Kim-web
AL KELLER
REGIONAL SALES
MANAGER, WEST &
THOMAS KIM
REGIONAL SALES
MANAGER, EAST
STENS CORPORATION
(JASPER, IND.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Stens will continue to find better ways to serve our customers. Always a leader in new products, as well as in keeping up with industry trends, we will look to diversify our product offering to include complementary products as they pertain to the ever-changing market in the outdoor power equipment industry. We will also constantly improve our website stens.com to provide the best tools and information for our dealers.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

One of the top stories of 2014 was the slow economic recovery, which has hindered consumer confidence. While the overall OPE market has had a strong year, this was partially the outcome of favorable weather conditions, particularly in the Midwest and other regions. Another popular topic was ethanol. With that said, we predict more engine manufacturers will trend toward EFI technology, and carburetion may be a thing of the past.

2015 looks to be an interesting year given the recent changes in Washington, D.C. Reduced, or at least slowed, government regulations should prove to be a benefit to the OPE industry.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Electric push mowers and handheld equipment will be the hottest trend in 2015. The electric-powered equipment trend will continue to rise with the advancement in battery technology. And as more companies invest in them, this will drive the prices down, allowing the manufacturers to implement them at an affordable cost to the consumer.

New technology, such as 3D printing, is also gaining popularity and becoming more affordable. We anticipate the use of this technology and others to continue to grow as prices for necessary hardware and software continue to come down.

Some whole goods manufacturers are heeding the feedback of their dealers to provide additional features to certain product lines which are currently only available through mass merchants. Specific details are being added to differentiate models that were previously identical. This should help dealers show the additional value in doing business with them over the ‘big box’ stores in terms of product quality and benefits.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

We would advise our dealers to keep up with all the new trends in our industry. Whether it’s new software to help control their inventory or new parts lookup software to cut down on time spent on the computer, being able to adapt to changes not only will make your business run better by increasing productivity, but also by increasing your bottom line. If dealers have not yet leveraged the value of the Internet, they should seriously consider making this a priority. In order to have a strong market presence, the traditional dealer needs to be both industry and technology savvy. A traditional OPE dealer that harnesses the power of the web and provides high-quality customer service has a better value proposition for customers than those who are primarily only operating on the web.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

The overall outlook for 2015 is very positive! We feel the market will continue to rise with consumer and commercial goods trending up. The housing market has been growing the past two years and will continue to grow, which will drive up equipment sales. We are fortunate to be in an industry that is still vital and growing. For dealers, providing value and service will be more important than ever before. These qualities are necessary to hedge against the growing trend of disposable products.

1501_OPE_CS_IF11_Dennis Brazier-web
DENNIS BRAZIER
OWNER & CEO
ALTOZ, INC.
(GREENBUSH, MINN.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Dennis Brazier: Altoz has a lot of exciting things coming in 2015. We recently launched new models — XE and XCSi — at the GIE+EXPO. The XE model is specifically designed for one of the largest segments of the market — discerning, multi-acre homeowners and smaller commercial operations — and the XCSi models build off our award-winning XC chassis and will be powered by the innovative Briggs & Stratton’s Vanguard 810-cc electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines. In addition to these new model launches, we’re focused on the continued expansion of our nationwide dealer network. Dealers are the backbone of our industry, so providing them with everything from quality products and unmatched customer service to competitive financing options and promotional support are key initiatives for our brand.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Dennis Brazier: In 2014, we believe one of the top stories was the rise of the Altoz brand. Granted, we’re a bit biased, but it has been a while since the market has seen a brand and a product that pushes both the performance and design elements, and the complete lineup of Altoz ZTRs does just that. For 2015, electronic fuel injection engines will likely be a focal point given the number of benefits they provide, specifically in terms of efficiency.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Dennis Brazier: Following the launch of the new Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 810-cc EFI engine, we believe the industry will start seeing more models equipped with EFI engines. The level of performance and efficiency found with EFI engines is substantial — up to 25-percent more efficient than carbureted engines. Over the course of a season, this can result in a significant amount of financial savings for residential and commercial cutters, alike. Fortunately, through strategic relationships with Briggs & Stratton and Kawasaki, Altoz has been able to offer 12 different ZTR models that come equipped with either electronic/direct fuel injection or electronic fuel management systems, so we’re ahead of the curve.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Dennis Brazier: Dealers are the backbone of our industry, and there’s no question that today’s marketplace is highly competitive. Finding ways to set your dealership apart from the competition is key, and a big component to that is the diversification of the product lines that are carried. Additionally, providing high levels of customer service and competitive financing programs will further enhance the customer’s experience and likelihood of purchasing and becoming a repeat customer at your dealership. Bringing on a product line such as Altoz can help differentiate a dealership through a mix of unique product offerings, attractive financing terms and a lineup of high-performance ZTRs that are truly innovative.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Dennis Brazier: As the economy continues to stabilize, we’re very bullish on the market and its potential for growth in the coming year. We believe the industry is going to continue to expand, and we’re confident that the diverse lineup of Altoz products and accessories will enable us to outpace the industry in terms of growth rates.

1501_OPE_CS_IF12_Stan Guyer-web
STAN GUYER
PRESIDENT
THE GRASSHOPPER CO.
(MOUNDRIDGE, KAN.)

1. What should OPE dealers know about your company’s plans for 2015?

Stan Guyer: Grasshopper continues to innovate and enhance our line of zero-turn mowers and year-round grounds maintenance systems to meet the needs of our dealers and customers in the field. We debuted two new models at GIE+EXPO 2014 — Models 125V and 225V — that expand our economical V Series line, which is a perfect introductory point for contractors stepping up to zero-turn mowers from walk-behinds. Grasshopper dealers can continue to expect timely and efficient parts availability, knowledgeable customer service and common-sense stocking programs designed to help them earn a high ROI on inventory turnover. Our QuikParts ordering software and QuikQuote configurator/price builder are just two examples of the proprietary resources provided to Grasshopper dealers that make selling and servicing Grasshopper equipment faster, easier and more profitable.

2. What were the OPE industry’s top stories in 2014, and what do you predict they will be in 2015?

Stan Guyer: Fuel issues were of particular concern in 2014, both with E15 proliferation and Tier 4 Final regulations that went into full effect this year. And, certainly the 2014 election cycle and results were of importance, although there is still the question of how health care regulations, immigration reforms and other federal policies will affect small businesses, both equipment dealers and their commercial contractor customers alike. Looking ahead to 2015, these will be dominant stories, along with continued discussions of drought and water conservation, emissions compliance and equipment fuel efficiency.

3. What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2015?

Stan Guyer: Finding more efficient, sustainable and profitable ways to do business will be a driving theme. There seems to be a renewed emphasis on vacuum collection in the industry, which is a great way to increase productivity and reduce labor by mowing and collecting at the same time. Grasshopper has focused on collection as an extension of the machine since the early 1970s, and we continue to perfect and refine the process to increase efficiency. A perfect example is our HighLift 15B collector, which can be raised and emptied into a trailer or truck bed from the operator’s seat. Furthermore, Grasshopper continues to lead the industry in productivity and efficiency with more than 10 implements that transform a Grasshopper mower into a complete grounds maintenance system, from vacuum collection to turf aeration to spray applications to snow removal. These implements contribute to a healthy bottom line for the end user, and provide year-round selling opportunities for the dealer stocking Grasshopper equipment. Implements also provide larger package sales and create longer-term customers. And, Grasshopper Clean Diesel zero-turn mowers are still the best choice for end users who are serious about curbing fuel usage and reducing fuel and fuel-related overhead costs, and for dealers who want a product that can contribute to healthy sales margins. Grasshopper’s online fuel calculator — available to anyone at grasshopperfuelsavings.com — can help dealers and customers realize just how big of an impact switching to Clean Diesel can have on the bottom line.

4. What advice do you have for OPE dealers in 2015?

Stan Guyer: It is amazing the number of equipment dealers who still have not accepted the permanence of customers researching products online. Don’t be left behind by this rapidly expanding market. There is opportunity in customer support and service after the sale. Dealers should be proactive in promoting their products and services online. Whether with a simple website or a more complex advertising campaign, the dealer who is visible and accessible online will be the winner when local customers find them for service and parts. Even equipment purchased online from another dealer or private party will eventually need service support. Building and fostering new relationships, especially with customers who purchased equipment elsewhere, can help address the challenge of finding new customers.

5. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2015?

Stan Guyer: The industry is strengthening with an economy that continues to grow. This is good for both dealers and contractors alike, and as long as the economy continues to grow and consumer confidence improves, the OPE industry is poised for a strong year ahead.

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