By Rick Carpenter
With all the discussion in retail circles of how to adapt to the purchasing habits of millennials, outdoor power equipment (OPE) dealers may also be wondering how to best cater to this particular demographic. Not to worry, because data can provide insights into the motivations of these customers and help us better understand their needs and desires. In turn, dealers have an opportunity to leverage their expertise in OPE to educate and create lifelong millennial customers.
Millennials are a group born between 1981 and 1997 (ages 21 to 37 today)*. That’s especially important for OPE dealers, because this group is in an age range that is likely purchasing power equipment for their first home, or is upgrading older equipment. Today, millennials account for about one quarter of all OPE units purchased. As older generations gradually exit the market, dealers need to seize the opportunity to capture this customer for transactions now and engagement moving forward. Understanding which features of OPE are important to millennials will be key to serving the customer base of tomorrow. I’ll explore that in more detail below.
First-time lawn maintainers represent key opportunity for OPE dealers
Younger OPE buyers tend to be first-time lawn maintainers, and, as a result, are at a perfect stage of life to build a relationship with a dealer and sales rep. At Briggs & Stratton, we surveyed first-time lawn maintainers, and found that about 83 percent of them are ages 18 to 39; 63 percent of them earn about $75,000 in income; 66 percent own their home; and 77 percent have a yard size of one half-acre or smaller. That generally would indicate interest in entry-level products for a smaller home – think a walk-behind mower instead of a riding mower, for example.
We also found that there is a lot of overlap between younger OPE owners and first-time lawn maintainers due to age (52 percent of first-time maintainers are under 30 years old). In general, millennials are in acquisition mode, with expectations of larger homes and yards in the future. They are more enthusiastic about exploring all available power sources, including gas engines and electric, and also report higher rates of renting or borrowing outdoor power equipment. At the same time, however, they are still very much oriented toward an entry-level price point.
As a result, sales reps should consider recommending a range of OPE products that tackle multiple challenges of maintaining the home, including lawn mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, pressure washers and snow blowers. A typical first-time homeowner likely won’t have a majority, or possibly any, of these maintenance essentials. While millennials will likely be more receptive to products at the lower end of the price range, dealers have an opportunity to sell multiple items per visit (that a customer may not have realized they needed) simply by pointing out home maintenance challenges that are likely to arise in the future. Then, if a sales rep has established that personal relationship with a younger customer, that customer is more likely to come back to the dealer in the future when they find these products necessary.
What does this mean for dealers? There is clearly demand for quality outdoor power equipment that will serve the needs of first-time millennial purchasers. In the second quarter of 2017, the home ownership rate among millennials moved from about 34 percent to 35.3 percent, the largest year-over-year increase since 2004. Data suggests that millennials will eventually catch up to other generations in terms of life events such as home ownership, but that their path will be delayed by about six years compared to previous generations due to financial burdens such as high levels of student debt. Millennials, however, show the strongest interest in having a lawn in the future of any generation. And, of those who already have a lawn, millennials show the strongest interest in having a bigger lawn in the future.
Millennials, like other audiences, will research online. However, they still seek confirmation from experts before they buy online. If sales reps can demonstrate that they understand the OPE needs of millennials, then those customers are much more likely to be receptive to a purchase. To do this, reps can highlight qualities of the product that speak to its reliability, durability and ease of use. Since millennials will likely be cautious about spending at an entry-level price point to begin with, dealers can help reassure them that their purchase will last a long time – and that maintenance support is always available should they ever need it. Sales reps should also understand the challenges that millennial homeowners are facing, and educate them on the fact that product innovations in the OPE category have progressed greatly in recent years. There are a range of solutions on the market today that take care of concerns customers may not have realized could be solved, such as ease of starting, quieter operation and less noise, and innovative storage capabilities. Dealers can educate millennial buyers on the challenges they are likely to face as a new homeowner, and highlight how features of the product solve those challenges.
Data suggests easy long-term maintenance may be one of the most valuable perceived benefits to millennials, and another worthwhile selling point for sales reps. Millennials are more likely to perform regular maintenance on their mower, and more likely to try and fix their mower if it breaks – but they are also more likely to have never done any maintenance at all. And as a generation, millennials are more likely to replace something if it breaks rather than fix it. In short, there are numerous features on today’s modern outdoor power equipment that appeal to this demographic, including features that make maintenance easy, and dealers can highlight all of these to encourage a sale and establish a long-term relationship.
Maintaining millennial interest in an age of apps
With the right education and relationship building, dealers can help steer away from a growing trend of consumers using lawn mowing service companies or on-demand lawn mowing services from mobile apps. We believe millennials are going to decide the future of the lawn mowing services market, especially those individuals nearing life milestones such as home ownership or parenthood.
Overall, fewer millennials intend to mow themselves in the future versus how many mowed themselves in the past. However, the good news is that about 60 percent of millennials today plan on mowing their own lawn themselves, opening an opportunity for dealers to provide relevant product recommendations and become a trusted source of information. This is another indication that the right education and personal relationships with customers will be key to maintaining business with this demographic group.
Demographic changes are altering the relationship that businesses have with consumers across the country, and much of this change is indeed driven by millennials. The OPE market is not immune to these changes. But with the right approach, dealers can offer interesting, relevant products that pique the interest of millennial buyers and create opportunities for long-term relationships as customers mature and their OPE needs evolve over the years. In reality, millennials are not much different than prior generations when they started out – dealers just have to decipher the data to better understand their motivations and how to reach them.
Rick Carpenter is vice president, corporate marketing, Briggs & Stratton Corporation. Innovation has been at the core of Briggs & Stratton’s business throughout its 110-year history. Briggs & Stratton’s mission is to make work easier and improve lives– and that means tackling parts of the home maintenance process that customers didn’t think could be improved. Take lawnmowers, for example. Younger buyers may not realize that they need to change the oil seasonally and that a lot of entry-level products still require oil changes, but that an upgrade to Briggs & Stratton’s Just Check & Add technology eliminates that hassle. Or that a lower price point mower probably still has a primer and choke starting process on a walk-behind or a choke on a riding mower. Briggs & Stratton’s ReadyStart feature eliminates that. Also, with Briggs & Stratton’s Mow N’ Stow capability, the mower folds in half and stores upright with no mess.
* Editor’s note: There are varying opinions on the timeframe that defines the millennial generation. Some experts identify this generation as those born between 1977 and 1995, although most demographers typically use the early 1980s as the starting-point birth years and mid-1990s to early 2000s as the end-point birth years.