In an Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) exclusive, Stan Guyer, president of The Grasshopper Company in Moundridge, Kan., recently shared his thoughts on the state of the industry.
OPE: What is new and exciting about your company?
SG: We are going on the offensive to promote the environmental benefits of well-maintained lawns and the value of productive grounds maintenance equipment. We will continue to focus on product development and expansion of our domestic and international markets while offering production solutions for contractors, government and institutional grounds managers, as well as large acreage owners. Look for new models and continued emphasis on clean diesel power in ergonomically designed power units. One of our recent developments is rear-discharge decks for FrontMount and MidMount models that overcome general rear-discharge drawbacks like windrowing and engine problems caused by excessive debris thrown around the engine. This is an important new offering for applications like roadside mowing where keeping discharge on the turf is more important than a pristine appearance. We’re celebrating 55 years of manufacturing and building on the momentum of our 40th year of Grasshopper mower production with an eye to the ever-changing future.
OPE: What impact will the federal government make on the OPE industry during the remaining three years of U.S. President Barack Obama’s current term?
SG: New health care programs and rising wage baselines will affect small business across the board. Compliance with EPA, CE and CARB standards increase the cost of power equipment while accomplishing the goal of lowering emissions and reducing noise exposure. Demands to meet new regulations requires more engineering time be spent on meeting the requirements, leaving less time for developing as many innovative new products. Creativity will have to parallel government regulations.
OPE: How will the environmental and energy-independence movements impact the OPE industry during the next five years?
SG: Landscapers are looking for mowers that run cleaner, that use less fuel, and that won’t burn a hole in their pockets. Fuel efficiency and reduced emissions are desirable achievements that are underway in OPE, as well as in the auto industry. However, there are some misperceptions regarding alternative energy usage that have developed by not taking into account all the costs in engine life and costs per BTU of the various fuel sources being promoted. The Grasshopper Company has researched fuel alternatives and developed a pamphlet for contractors and other managers who are considering how to reduce their fuel usage and looking at alternative fuels.
The Grasshopper Web site, www.grasshoppermower.com, also has an informative section on fuel considerations. We are working to make sure that diesel fuel is included in any discussion of fuel alternatives for the outdoor power market. Diesel is the fuel of choice for hard-working applications across industries from transportation and construction to agriculture and turf maintenance. Grasshopper MaxTorque diesel models use engines certified by the California Air Resources Board as having dramatically lower CO (carbon monoxide) and NOX (oxides of nitrogen) emissions than comparable gasoline or LP models. Low-sulfur diesel is the norm these days, so particulates from new diesel engines are no longer a concern. We want to make sure that purchasing decisions are made based on current facts and not on perceptions formed in years past.
Environmental concerns underscore the need for developing and implementing the most efficient means of maintaining our green spaces. It will also force the OPE industry to articulate the benefits of lawn and landscape and make sure the general public is well aware of the importance of well-maintained parks, lawns, gardens and public areas. We must engage local government and be ready to promote the best practices and equipment to minimize fuel use and maximize the use of low-polluting methods for grounds maintenance.
OPE: What are your top-five OPE dealer survival tips for the next five years?
1) Position yourself with an outstanding brand and know your product. Don’t try to be all things to all people: specialize.
2) Become known for superior service. Don’t compete with big box stores. But you can learn from the big retailers and be open when your customers can come in.
3) Build on your strengths. Go after the business and let customers know what you can do for them. If they’re not coming through the door, get them on the phone or call on them face to face.
4) Know your customers and become a resource to help them succeed. Find your customers’ needs and fill them.
5) Know your costs.
OPE: What will be the biggest trends to emerge in the OPE industry during the next five years?
SG: Diesel will be recognized as the best fuel for the industry due to its high power density and low-emission characteristics. Replace high-polluting equipment with lower-emission models and more-efficient methods. Rear discharge and diesel.
Government will be doing more of the development of products, which will be more spin than fact and will present a lot of misdirection.
OPE: What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2010?
SG: It will continue to be a tough business climate, and the year will be greatly affected by how much government intervention comes into play, in addition to the weather. Those who have positioned themselves to be ready for the inevitable upturn may need to be patient, but there is business out there. Grass keeps growing, and while 2009 was the year of repair and maintain, that can only go on for so long before the replacements must be acquired.