First article in a two-part series
Outdoor Power Equipment’s sister publication Landscape and Irrigation recently asked a wide range of equipment manufacturers and suppliers to share their insights about the equipment market, and how the trends they are seeing will impact your equipment decisions.
Their observations were as follows:
What trends are you seeing with regard to equipment for the professional landscape and lawn care markets?
Everybody is looking for the best possible product with the most features, but under tight budgets, pricing is very sensitive.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries
Trends in term of design for small manufacturers like Turf Teq are the need to listen and understand customer demands, and design only the products they are willing to spend their money to purchase. Listening closely to what your customers are willing to spend money on is more important than ever. A trend in manufacturing is an increase in the use of technology. As technological advances become more affordable, manufacturers are implementing it into their production as a way to become more efficient and reduce labor costs. In terms of sales, we are seeing customers purchasing items that will show a quick ROI — no more wish lists. If it will pay back in less than a year, buy it: if not, it is not a necessary purchase.
— James R. Day, managing partner, Turf Teq
I think one important trend in play across the industry is the concept of doing more using fewer resources. This is manifesting itself in the innovative new power plant options available, both in gasoline- and propane-fueled models. The widespread adoption of Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) on our zero-turn models has dramatically increased fuel economy for contractors — a critical concern in this time of $4/gallon gasoline. And we have been selling as many of the new propane-EFI Lazer Z S-Series zero-turn riders as we can build. Now that we have engines built specifically for propane, such as the new Kohler EFI engine we’re using, the performance is virtually indistinguishable from a gasoline-powered unit. And with much greater fuel economy than converted, carbureted propane engines, this new engine can run for more than seven hours on one tank of fuel — a significant benefit for contractors. Factor in the cost of propane fuel, which is relatively lower than gasoline, and the value proposition of this new model is especially compelling.
— Daryn Walters, Exmark director of marketing
The latest equipment trend is all about productivity. More than ever, landscape and lawn care professionals are willing to pay a little extra for equipment, as long as they can prove a strong return on investment. To address this trend, we’ve been developing products in our SnowEx and TurfEx lines that help our customers save on material, labor and maintenance costs. Dependability is another key factor, since downtime in this industry can be very costly.
— James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing for SnowEx and TurfEx products
1. Value. The professional customer is looking for performance, service life and ROI. All are important criteria that help add to the bottom line in a very competitive market. Margins are typically tight because of competition. Downtime is not acceptable, and this type of customer is usually willing to pay for the extra quality, performance and ROI that is inherently expected.
2. Ergonomics. We’re talking about a market segment that expects the product to utilize the latest ergonomic design innovations. Most handheld equipment is subject to long periods of usage, and whatever can be done from a design viewpoint to make use of sound ergonomic design principles is important to maximize productivity and minimize workers’ compensation issues.
3. Availability of replacement parts. If and when replacement parts are needed, it is critical that the distribution system be able to ship with a minimum amount of lead time.
— Dennis Von Ruden, president of General Equipment Company
We’re seeing a shift in the industry in regard to small walk-behind mowers. The professional landscape and lawn care industry has really embraced our new TurfMaster 30-inch mower. We believe there was a gap that needed to be filled between the smaller 21-inch mowers and midsize wide-area mowers. The new 30-inch mower has helped to fill the gap. Contractors are always looking for ways to be more productive on every job, and this unit has done that.
In addition, landscape contractors are beginning to incorporate more EFI mowers into their fleet. There are a lot of factors that go into that decision. One of the most important considerations is the fuel savings. EFI mowers are up to 25 percent more fuel efficient than non-EFI models. These units also reduce the engine’s CO2 emissions; automatically adapt to load, weather, fuel and altitude changes; and have no-choke starting that help operators get down to work quickly.
— Ryan Moorlag, associate marketing manager at Toro, and Chris Hannan, marketing manager at Toro
• Ease of operation: User-friendly controls for convenient operation and more sensibility.
• Fewer maintenance requirements: Our two newest machines — the RTX250 and SC30TX — have three or less grease points, and all filters are located in visible areas for quick maintenance.
• Compact size and variety of attachments to match: Our mini skid-steer family offers more than 30 attachments.
• EFI engine: Electronic Fuel Injection means reliable starting, no carburetor, fuel usage optimization and no choke.
— Andy Van Soelen, rental solutions specialist, Vermeer Corporation
Over the past few years, we noticed that landscape professionals are adding to their fleets for the first time in four years, and we’re seeing higher trends in trading out equipment. We’re finally seeing the recession in this market starting to loosen up. People had been running machines longer and had higher maintenance and repair bills. But now they are beginning to trade out those machines for new equipment. The landscape market follows the housing market closely. Now that we are seeing some construction being done, I think we’re going to see the landscape market come back. It has been down since 2008. Back in 2006, landscape was one of our top markets. Now, landscape is not even one of our top three. We don’t see it as a trend unless we have three years of data, but landscape is looking to be a strong market. With housing on the upswing, I’m optimistic.
— Rob Gilles, marketing manager, Bobcat
We have found commercial users are requesting products such as lawn mowers, pumps and tillers that offer the least amount of downtime and the best fuel economy possible. Having both attributes allows landscapers to get the most value from their machine investment while helping them effectively complete their work. These needs further support current and future core product development attributes of fuel efficiency, durability and reliability.
— Alex Torre, lawn and garden marketing manager, Honda Power Equipment
Landscapers are looking for products that offer a combination of performance, durability, comfort and quality. Where possible, they like to stick with one brand to ensure that each product in their trailer is top quality — and so that they can take advantage of discounts that come with buying higher volumes.
— Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for Husqvarna
In the landscape market, we are seeing a focus on simplicity in maintenance and operation. Many companies have several different operators, and the machine needs to be customizable to these different equipment users. We are also seeing a huge and growing need for specialty attachments.
— Kelly Moore, product and training specialist for Mustang skid-steer loaders
We have been challenged to produce more efficient products with lower emissions as a result of the ongoing “go green” trend. To meet these challenges, Tanaka’s PureFire engine technology was developed to be more environmentally friendly while still providing powerful performance. This technology achieves lower emissions and lower fuel consumption, therefore producing less carbon dioxide/hydrocarbons, and improving fuel efficiency compared to traditional engines.
— Kelly Weeks, associate product manager, Tanaka Power Equipment
One of the trends we are seeing is the shift in the marketplace for commercial zero-turn mowers to larger all-enclosed hydraulic transaxles instead of the traditional pump and wheel motor drive systems. This eliminates the need for hydraulic hoses, and can perform at peak levels while helping reduce the weight and maintenance of the machine.
— Blaine Fields, national sales manager, Country Clipper Mowers
• Versatility. The growth of the compact tool carrier market has been driven by the need for increased versatility on jobsites. Customers see value in equipment that can perform a variety of tasks, therefore allowing them to save time and generate additional income.
• Tier 4 emission compliance. We, as a manufacturer, do our due diligence in keeping cost as low as possible to help offset the rising cost of engines associated with Tier 4 emission compliance.
• Design. The new RT30 was specifically designed to lower initial investment costs, lower cost of ownership, and improve or protect a higher ROI.
— Matt Collins, product manager, compact & HD equipment, Ditch Witch
Products geared toward enhancing contractor productivity at improving price points — steerable aerators and seeders, incorporation of heavy-duty integrated transaxles versus separate components, products that are designed to be universally easier to use to allow more operators to be productive faster. Products that have improved fuel efficiency, and are more environmentally friendly.
— Pat Cappucci, president & COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.
One of the biggest industry trends this year is that battery-powered products are becoming more common in the professional landscaping market, especially for some niche applications.
We continue to focus on fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered products, as well as improving overall ergonomics, including reducing vibration and power-to-weight ratios in all product segments.
Fuel efficiency goes hand-in-hand with low exhaust emissions, because the engine is burning fuel more cleanly and more efficiently with less waste, which ultimately means that landscape contractors can reduce their operating costs. Gasoline is a significant cost to any professional landscaper. We encourage these pros to consider fuel economy when making their purchasing decisions.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales, Stihl Inc.
A trend that never goes out of style is saving money, so to help customers reduce their fuel costs, many manufacturers are offering machines with Electronic Fuel Injection. Machines that use Electronic Fuel Injection, like our Z925 EFI, can reduce fuel consumption up to 25 percent. Also, efficiency is always in style. Customers continually look for product features, like our Mulch On Demand mowing decks, that will save them time and effort in job cleanup.
— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing
Manufacturers are making machine operation easier so that a broader cross-section of individuals are able to easily and, more importantly, safely operate heavy equipment. There’s also an acute focus on reducing owner and operator costs. One example is how our Tier 4i and Tier 4 Final skid-steers don’t need after treatment or DPFs — there’s no DPF to service or Ad Blue tank to fill. We’re seeing a greater demand for fuel efficiency and reduced service downtime. Landscape and lawn care contractors, like most professionals, are really noticing how details like fuel consumption and maintenance costs can affect their bottom lines over time. I think this is due to the fact that many had to scale back quite a bit during the worst of the recent economic downturn, and they’re still applying what they learned then to their operations today for greater profitability.
— Chris Giorgianni, JCB vice president of product
[Editor’s note: Responses were presented in the order in which they were received.]