By Kris Kiser
As outdoor power equipment dealers, you face a challenging task to educate consumers about proper fueling and safety use with outdoor power equipment.
Today, higher-ethanol-blended fuels becoming more readily available in the marketplace presents an additional challenge. This fuels paradigm shift can be confusing to consumers. With the introduction of ethanol blends greater than 10 percent, such as E15, E30 and E85, consumers may inadvertently misfuel their outdoor power equipment, utility vehicles (UTV) and marine equipment.
Consumers may not realize that the fuel they put in their cars, especially those designed for higher ethanol blends, may not be safe for their outdoor power equipment, small engines and boats.
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say they assume that any gas sold at the gas station is safe for all of their cars, as well as boats, mowers, chain saws, snowmobiles, generators and other small-engine products, according to a survey by Harris Interactive with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) in 2013.
The ‘Look Before You Pump’ campaign was created by OPEI, an international trade association representing 100 small-engine, UTV and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers, to educate the public.
Known by its emblematic prominent, red warning hand symbol indicating ‘OK’ for 10-percent ethanol and ‘No’ for mid-level ethanol blends (such as E15, E30, E85), the ‘Look Before You Pump’ campaign is spreading nationwide as ethanol-blended fuels containing more than 10-percent ethanol are made available in the marketplace for ‘flex-fuel’ automobiles.
And others are supporting the campaign. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) recently signed an agreement with OPEI to distribute ‘Look Before You Pump’ information to boat owners and the audiences it serves.
“We want to ensure that our manufacturers have the tools to inform their customers about the dangers of ethanol-blended fuel greater than 10 percent so that everyone can stay safe and have fun on the water,” said Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA. “The ‘Look Before You Pump’ campaign is a smart, simple way to help others understand how and why ethanol can be a problem in boat engines, and we thank OPEI for welcoming NMMA as we work together on this important consumer education effort.”
The campaign has received significant media coverage and taught millions of people the importance of proper fueling. The campaign has been mentioned or profiled by the Associated Press, Better Homes & Gardens, Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN, Consumer Reports, Firehouse magazine, Fox Business, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, and Reuters.
“As an industry, it is critically important that we educate consumers about proper fueling,” said Kris Kiser, CEO of OPEI. “Consumers who know how to properly fuel their outdoor power equipment will more likely become better satisfied customers for dealers, and will enjoy longer life from their power equipment.”
In an April 2014 survey with Scripps Howard of lifestyle enthusiasts, slightly more than 72 percent said they were not aware that new fuels are available for certain automobiles on the market that are illegal for use in outdoor power equipment and all other non-automobile engine equipment. Slightly more than 28 percent of the survey respondents said they select the same gasoline for their outdoor power equipment as they do for their car or truck. More than 12 percent said they select fuel by price, while more than 43 percent select fuel as stated in their owner’s manual.
Nearly 35 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced outdoor power equipment engine failure or performance issues. Twenty-nine percent said the engine failures/performance issues were determined to be the result of a fuel-related issue. Of those experiencing problems, more than half were not aware that most engine performance issues and engine failures in outdoor power equipment are fuel-related.
Signage about the campaign is being carried in Lowe’s and Walmart stores where outdoor power equipment is sold. Signage for the campaign is also being used online by retailers to educate consumers about proper fueling. Other participating stores which have pledged to share information about the campaign with staff and consumers include: Do It Best, The Home Depot, Kmart, Sears, Tractor Supply Co., and True Value.
Ads for the campaign are running in zip codes where blender pumps exist through the popular Gas Buddy app, which helps consumers find cheap gas. More than one million people have viewed the ads.
Videos and radio public service announcements about the campaign are also being used by the media and online to educate consumers about proper fuel choices for their outdoor power equipment.
OPEI’s web portal offers a public relations toolkit and free downloadable items for the campaign (www.TinyURL.com/EthanolEducation). In a survey of outdoor power equipment dealers who were using the web portal, 80 percent said that they were using the campaign materials to educate new customers buying new equipment.
Nearly 60 percent of them downloaded the campaign logo, and 41 percent were using the counter posters for the campaign. Information hangtags for outdoor power equipment and information cards for the campaign were also popular, with a third of respondents downloading them.
More than half of the respondents were also using the campaign materials to educate their employees about ethanol issues. More than half of the respondents said that they were using the materials to educate consumers bringing in equipment for repair. Nearly 40 percent said that they were using the materials to educate themselves. Nearly 27 percent said they wanted to stay abreast of ethanol issues.
Many dealers taking the survey also indicated that they are increasingly using social media to communicate with customers. More than 41 percent of respondents reported that they used social media to share information about ethanol. Eighty-eight percent had a Facebook page for their business, and 47 percent had a Twitter account. Forty-one percent had a YouTube channel, and nearly 28 percent were using LinkedIn.
How you can get involved
* Follow the campaign through social media. Follow and re-tweet hashtag #LookB4UPump and “like” the OPEI Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Outdoor-Power-Equipment-Institute/179449385434673).
* Distribute an article or information about the campaign through your website, blog or social media channels. Share information about the campaign and its emblematic artwork through your website, blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. Link to the videos and information so consumers can learn about proper fueling. You can download a public relations toolkit with templates at the web portal: www.TinyURL.com/EthanolEducation.
* Print ‘Look Before You Pump’ signage for use in your store or showroom. You can download a free copy of the campaign items online at the web portal. You also can order hangtags for equipment, window cling stickers, and more at this site (www.TinyURL.com/EthanolEducation).
* Use campaign fact sheets to educate staff and consumers. Make sure your staff members are up to speed on the fuel choices in the marketplace today, so they can counsel customers on what fuels can be used in their outdoor power equipment.
Kris Kiser is the president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), which is an international trade association representing 100 small-engine, utility vehicle and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers of consumer and commercial outdoor power equipment. Learn more at www.opei.org.