2015 OPE Industry Forecasts (Part II)

What can expect to be seen in 2015?

The following is the last 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, from Dec. 9, 2014, through Jan. 8, 2015:

1502_OPE_FS_IF01_Daryn Walters-web
DARYN WALTERS
DIRECTOR OF MARKETING
EXMARK MFG. CO.
(BEATRICE, NEB.)

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

Daryn Walters: Exmark remains committed to delivering tools that help our customers be more productive and profitable. For 2015, we’re introducing a number of new machines for landscape maintenance and lawn care professionals that allow them to work faster and more efficiently, while using fewer resources.

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

Daryn Walters: In 2014, we’ve seen a great deal of consolidation in the marketplace at the contractor level, and I think as the marketplace matures, it’s a trend that will continue. That said, we work with a lot of small- and medium-sized contractors who are doing very well for themselves. By staying nimble and being the best at delivering the services that customers want, these smaller contractors clearly understand the value of being viewed as the “lawn expert.” One-stop shopping has a lot of value, and we think successful landscape contractors, both large and small, are embracing that concept.

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

Daryn Walters: Doing more with less is a theme we hear our customers talking about frequently, so it’s a driving focus for us here at Exmark. Whether it’s electronic engine management, EFI, or alternative fuels, we’re going to continue to focus on equipment that helps customers produce more using fewer resources.

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

Daryn Walters: Embrace the opportunity that exists to sell commercial equipment to non-commercial customers. Farm and acreage owners, in particular, represent an incredible opportunity for OPE dealers.

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

Daryn Walters: In 2015, we expect to see continued growth in the OPE industry as a whole. There will undoubtedly be more consolidation at the contractor level. Successful contractors will understand the value of technology and data to helping them do their jobs more efficiently. This applies to all areas of business, not just equipment.

1502_OPE_FS_IF02_Scott Wozniak-web
SCOTT WOZNIAK
DIRECTOR
RLC DEALER SALES
THE TORO COMPANY
(MINNEAPOLIS, MINN.)

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

Scott Wozniak: Simply put, these are exciting times for The Toro Company. As we head into our second century of being in business, we are excited to continue to offer products that help OPE dealers provide top-quality solutions to their customers. Innovation has always been a key focus for all of us at Toro, and it will continue to be a main part of our business moving forward.

We strongly believe that budget-savvy end users are always looking for ways to make their projects safer and more productive, while at the same time reducing costs. All of us at Toro are dedicated to providing equipment that is just that: easy and safe to operate, and more productive. This ultimately translates to improved bottom lines through the entire distribution channel, which is good for the entire OPE industry.

For the 2015 season, we are going to continue to deliver innovative products to the marketplace, including a brand-new zero-turn tractor, an all-wheel drive walk-behind mower, a stand-on spreader sprayer, a number of units in our snow product line, and a utility vehicle line. We firmly believe that if there’s one thing we do well for our dealers, it’s always providing new and innovative equipment. Our roots are firmly planted in the OPE industry, and we’re looking forward to continue growing in 2015 and beyond.

To make a long story short, OPE dealers can continue to expect more product innovations in the coming years, backed by our steadfast commitment to supporting our dealer partners.

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

Scott Wozniak: One of the main themes in the outdoor power equipment industry in the past year has been protecting equipment from the effects of ethanol in fuel. With the emergence of biofuels containing ethanol becoming commonplace in the industry, dealers and manufacturers alike have helped educate on how this affects equipment. Toro has offered a fuel treatment solution since 2013, which not only helps prevent corrosion from ethanol, but also contributes to a healthier fuel system in general. That being said, new for 2015, we are offering our fuel treatment product in a convenient pouch form to help eliminate the guesswork for our channel partners and end-user customers. Each pouch includes a mixture of detergents that dissolve particulate deposits within the fuel system and keep the intake valves clean. The formula also coats and protects the carburetor.

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

Scott Wozniak: Contractors are consistently looking to save money on input costs, specifically fuel. The way we see it, the industry is focusing on new technology to help lower their operating costs, and a big variable cost is fuel consumption. Toro has taken an active role in supporting the industry through innovation in this field. A number of mowers are now available with electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology, which automatically helps the engine adapt to load, weather, fuel and altitude changes for faster response and up to 25-percent better fuel economy when compared to traditional carburetor models. The closed-loop EFI engines on Toro products not only help increase fuel efficiency, but also minimize CO2 emissions at the same time.

Another new product that we introduced in 2014 is Horizon Technology on select models in our Z Master zero-turn mower line. Horizon Technology is an on-board intelligence platform that enhances overall performance in a wide range of mowing conditions, and increases fuel efficiency beyond what is achieved from EFI engines alone. Additionally, it tracks engine temperature and oil pressure. If the mower is not performing properly, Horizon Technology notifies the operator, which reduces the risk of damage to the machine and can help both end users and OPE dealers save time and money.

Any fuel-saving innovations like EFI technology and Toro’s Horizon Technology, that can help our partners and end users save time and money or provide tangible benefits like fuel savings will be of the utmost importance to the industry in 2015.

Additionally, it’s no secret that many manufacturers are expanding and diversifying their product offering. Being able to provide new and exciting equipment to our dealers is extremely important, and we have strategically entered a few new key markets, including the utility vehicle segment. That being said, end users still want to have improved experiences on their bread-and-butter products that they use weekly or daily. It’s a very basic principle, but dealers can continue to improve their customers’ experiences by making sure they are carrying products that help make the task at hand easier.

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

Scott Wozniak: In terms of general advice for OPE dealers, all businesses need to find a way to grow, and the same applies to this industry. Successful dealers are doing that through a combination of adding more locations and serving different markets, or expanding their product offering into other lines like turf renovation. There’s an interesting balance in place with the manufacturer-dealer relationship, which is mutually beneficial, where manufacturers can help drive growth at the dealer level by offering new product lines, and dealers can help shape the offering that the manufacturers provide by identifying gaps in the marketplace. This is one of the key reasons why Toro now offers an expanded turf renovation line, and we are seeing a lot of success across the board with the new products, thanks in part to our channel partners.

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

Scott Wozniak: The OPE industry has experienced moderate growth in the past couple of years, and The Toro Company has a generally positive outlook for 2015. The economy has stabilized after The Great Recession, and consumer confidence continues to build. Furthermore, after years of tightening belts and cutting costs where necessary, we are finding that many channel partners in the OPE industry are now rebuilding their product offering, which was not a high priority in an economic downturn.

We’re looking forward to great things from our channel partners in 2015, and Toro will be working hand-in-hand with our OPE dealers to make sure that they are providing top-quality equipment to their customers backed by Toro’s long history of supporting the industry.

1502_OPE_FS_IF03_Pete Yunker-web1502_OPE_FS_IF04_Kelly Yunker-web
PETE AND KELLY YUNKER
CO-OWNERS
POWER EQUIPMENT SYSTEMS (PES)
(SALEM, ORE.)

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

Pete and Kelly Yunker: We have two major initiatives planned for 2015 at PES, and the theme is New Sites. This spring, we will be launching a new website and dealer portal. The new site will be the hub for all our marketing efforts moving forward. The site will also provide dealers the tools they need to sell and service our OPE product offerings, including online ordering and product and service information. This fall, we will be moving into a 100,000-plus-square-foot facility on 7 acres, nearby our current location. This will greatly increase our capacity, provide distribution efficiencies, and allow for room for future growth.

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

Pete and Kelly Yunker: Outside of weather, which is always a factor, we feel 2014 was business as usual. 2015 is promising to be an interesting year with more distributor consolidation. We will also see some larger players leaving the market and manufacturers realigning brands to fill the gap.

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

Pete and Kelly Yunker: Product innovation and technology integration will be the big trends in 2015. Manufacturers will continue to push product enhancements that set their equipment apart from a crowded playing field. You will see more technology assimilation in the form of apps and other tools to bring the OPE experience in line with the techno-driven lifestyles of end users.

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

Pete and Kelly Yunker: Successful dealers will leverage technology to increase efficiencies in shop and inventory management. They will also look for brands and product offerings that bring them a unique selling opportunity in the marketplace.

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

Pete and Kelly Yunker: We feel 2015 will be a year of marginal growth for the industry. Favorable weather patterns will only enhance that growth, especially here on the West Coast, where we struggle with unreliable snow business and drought conditions in many of our states.

1502_OPE_FS_IF05_David Frank-web1502_OPE_FS_IF06_Pam Meyer-web
DAVID FRANK
VICE PRESIDENT OF
SALES & MARKETING
SUBARU INDUSTRIAL POWER PRODUCTS
(LAKE ZURICH, ILL.) &
PAM MEYER
EQUIPMENT SALES MANAGER
SUBARU INDUSTRIAL POWER PRODUCTS
(LAKE ZURICH, ILL.)

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

David Frank: Subaru is staying true to our mission, vision and value statements, focusing on innovation and producing high-quality, durable and efficient products. We recently launched a new, more user-friendly website with do-it-yourself videos. We’re also offering the option to buy replacement parts online.

Finally, in 2015, we’re giving a fresh, consistent feeling to everything Subaru. Our products have a new color. We have a new website and new tradeshow materials, so we’ll have a consistent look, feel and touch throughout.

Pam Meyer: Additionally, we are upgrading and rebranding our product line to reflect the Subaru brand. We’re looking forward to showcasing the new line of SGX generators at The Rental Show.

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

David Frank: EFI was a hot topic for 2014. EFI has lowered fuel costs and made engines and equipment more user friendly. As for what’s to come in 2015, I see battery-operated handheld equipment becoming increasingly popular. We’re expecting to see the innovation of cordless string trimmers and other battery-operated power equipment.

We’re constantly finding new ways to advance our role in this evolving industry. We launched a full line of EFI engines for Club Car, for example. We are also continuously striving to find ways to use an engine in conjunction with battery-powered equipment.

Pam Meyer: People are always looking for ways to save money. We’ve identified some of the key strains that have previously led to repairs or downtime and have taken every step to lower money and time spent on maintenance. Now, we’re able to offer products and engines with the lowest total cost of ownership in the industry.

While we might offer products that come with a bigger price tag up front, the total cost of ownership breaks down to a much more affordable product over the engine’s life. We will focus on showing our OEMs, consumers, rental centers and dealers how it all comes out in the end.

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

David Frank: The driving force of the OPE industry is the consumer demand for landscaping and having a qualified workforce in place for landscaping businesses. I believe we are going to see an increase in demand for contracted landscape work from both the homeowner and commercial sectors, which will require landscape companies to hire more workers. These two factors will help increase the demand for equipment.

Pam Meyer: Now that gasoline prices are returning to normal, I predict that OPE manufacturers will be taking a second look at gas engines to power their equipment. When equipped with EFI technology, not only are gas engines just as powerful as their diesel counterparts, they are also free from the Tier 4 Final emission regulations.

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

David Frank: For small OPE dealers, I would advise to avoid trying to be everything to everyone. Focus on being a niche player in the market that you play in. Try to offer something unique that the big box stores can’t offer today. An example of how we do that is by coming up with unique products such as the overhead cam engines. We give someone something unique and different to sell and explain the advantages.

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

David Frank: I think the OPE industry is going to go through a unique time in the future. There’s a trend of Mexican Americans in the U.S. starting up independent shops, so we’re going to start seeing more small landscape companies.

I think it will be a positive change. The market will continue to grow, but this will force people to find their relevancy and focus on target niches of the industry. I would expect smaller but more frequent sales, resulting in more sales in terms of dollar amounts.

Pam Meyer: I believe we are going to continue to see an increased demand for rental-friendly OPE. Homeowners have become savvier over the last 10 years, and are investing additional time and money into the maintenance and appearance of their homes. Rental centers are picking up on this trend and are stocking a wider variety of equipment, such as turf rakes, aerators and blowers, to allow homeowners to achieve a professional look without the cost and hassle of owning their own equipment.

At the core of this trend, rental centers want equipment that is outfitted with an engine that is easy to maintain. If repairs are needed, they can be preformed within their own facilities, increasing overall equipment utilization. The more the equipment is in the rental yard, the more potential for rental income.

1502_OPE_FS_IF07_Alan Shaw-web
ALAN SHAW
PRESIDENT
CONSUMER BRANDS DIVISION
HUSQVARNA GROUP
(CHARLOTTE, N.C.)

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

Alan Shaw: Our key focus areas in 2015 are reducing complexity and increasing efficiency. We are aiming to reduce complexity by moving to one standardized business system. We’ve increased efficiency through data improvements and our ability to quickly address any gaps in quality and payment. 2015 will be about providing innovative, quality products and solutions to make garden, park and forest care, as well as construction, easier for professionals and consumers around the world.

From a professional product standpoint, Husqvarna will introduce: two new fuel-injection engines on select models of PZ and P-ZT professional zero-turn mowers; new 500 series handheld models, including trimmers, brushcutters and an extended hedge trimmer; as well as two new professional walk-behind mowers.

On the consumer side, Husqvarna will be launching the new Z200 series of residential zero-turn mowers and will round out its extensive line of all-wheel drive mowers, with the introduction of two high-wheeled models.

As is always the case with Husqvarna products, the commitment to innovation and manufacturing products that improve the consumer experience is paramount, and will be reflected in all of our new product releases.

Finally, Husqvarna has formed a Professional Business Development team focused on further expanding existing programs for professional users and the regional and national organizations that serve them. With these new or enhanced products and the addition of the Professional Business Development Team, Husqvarna continues its ongoing commitment to serving the needs and preferences of the professional customer.

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

Alan Shaw: We continue to see the effects of ethanol on outdoor power equipment. It is important that the industry and manufacturers continue to educate consumers. Husqvarna will continue to be committed to producing products in a responsible way, with limited environmental impact. Reducing the Group’s impact on the environment is an ongoing task and applies to all activities, operations and products.

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

Alan Shaw: We will continue to see the Internet make a significant impact on the OPE industry. The Internet continues to grow in online sales of product. Consumers will continue to purchase in an omni-channel environment. We believe the OPE industry will see a larger transition of industry manufacturers and dealers utilizing more digital assets.

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

Alan Shaw: Simplification will continue to be important for our dealers. With all manufacturers becoming more and more web-based and computerized, standardized systems will enable the dealer to spend less time searching for answers. We’ve heard from our dealers that they do not want to invest in “specialty programs,” and they do not have time to “learn” each individual system. Dealers are looking for ways to simplify their days. Dealers should be able to download a simple app on their phones or computers to perform vital operations of their businesses.

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

Alan Shaw: We expect to see continued moderate growth within the OPE industry. We expect there to be an increase of business system integration across dealer channels and a growth of innovative digital and marketing assets.

1502_OPE_FS_IF08_Chris Vernon-web
CHRIS VERNON
VICE PRESIDENT &
GENERAL MANAGER
DIXIE CHOPPER
(COATESVILLE, IND.)

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

Chris Vernon: OPE dealers should know that Dixie Chopper has expanded its portfolio to serve the growing needs of the landscape contractor. At the GIE+EXPO, we introduced our 2015 product line, which includes the all-new Pursuit Walk-behind and Stryker Stand-on series, along with several updates to the existing XCaliber and Classic series. We are focused on expanding our dealer base to cover a broader portion of the country. We also plan to meet increasing demand by expanding our workforce. More than anything else, Dixie Chopper is committed to backing up our products with world-class service and parts support.

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

Chris Vernon: While there were many great stories in 2014, I would say the OPE industry’s top stories included Jacobsen acquiring Dixie Chopper, Husqvarna discontinuing the Dixon brand, and Dixie Chopper setting the world record for most acreage mowed in 24 hours.

For 2015, top OPE industry stories may include falling gas prices and how that dynamic will affect the demand for biofuel, propane, and other gas alternatives. We may also see some of the large commercial contractors make more acquisitions.

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

Chris Vernon: Many companies, Dixie Chopper included, are expanding their product lines and financing options to meet the demands of their customers. In 2015, I think there will also be a push for engine manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient products, such as EFI and propane engine options. With the economy continuing to recover, hiring in the OPE industry could increase significantly.

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

Chris Vernon: I would advise OPE dealers to differentiate themselves by providing customers a wide variety of products and financing options and backing them up with world-class service. By providing quality service, dealers can easily build better relationships with both commercial and residential customers.

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

Chris Vernon: I think the outlook for 2015 is very positive. I think there will be continued growth in the OPE industry, especially if weather patterns continue and gas prices stay low. With the rise of the economy, there may be more consolidations and acquisitions between businesses. Dixie Chopper is poised to have a great year, and we look forward to serving dealers and customers better than ever before.

1502_OPE_FS_IF09_Harold L Redman-web
HAROLD L. REDMAN
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT
AND PRESIDENT
BRIGGS & STRATTON
TURF & CONSUMER GROUP
(MILWAUKEE, WIS.)

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

Harold L. Redman: As dealers who visited our GIE+EXPO 2014 booth can attest, the Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group will be bringing a host of new, innovative products to the market this spring. From new residential products like the Simplicity Regent with comfort suspension or the Snapper 550Z with 52- and 61-inch decks, to new commercial products like the new Ferris IS 3200Z or Snapper Pro SW35 walk-behind with Centralized Controls, we’re dedicated to producing high-quality products that help bring customers into our dealers’ businesses.

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

Harold L. Redman: I think the top story in 2014 was the weather. The industry was the beneficiary of a strong closing snow season, which depleted channel inventories and allowed dealers to book solid orders for this season, and increase pre-season sales. For the second year in a row, in many territories, we had a late spring, but once spring arrived, we also had normal or better-than-normal rainfall in most areas of the country where people cut grass, so there was an extended cutting season and people were still cutting grass regularly well into August. As a result, many dealers were able to continue to sell more equipment and more parts.

In 2015, the question remains, will the weather return to more normal patterns? Additionally, will the economics of the U.S. market, including the slow rebound on housing sales, cooperate enough for the lawn & garden industry to have a good spring? I think these two factors will determine the industry story for 2015.

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

Harold L. Redman: Dealers and manufacturers need to understand how today’s customers research and shop for outdoor power equipment in order to develop marketing strategies to succeed in an increasingly digital environment. Most customers use the Internet to gather knowledge before they make a purchase or step foot in a dealership. So, it will be very important for dealers to be present online in their local markets. Understanding local search engine optimization strategies and advertising locally on the Web will be critical for bringing customers into dealer showrooms.

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

Harold L. Redman: Understand how less-cooperative weather patterns can affect your business from a cash flow standpoint. For instance, you should know how a late spring versus an early spring affects your service business. Try to plan sensitivity around your business, so you can best manage your resources and budgets based on seasonality.

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

Harold L. Redman: On the residential side, we expect small to medium single-digit growth. The zero-turn business may outpace normal growth again this year. We also expect another solid year in the commercial mowing business. Dealers who partner with manufacturers who sell innovative products might have an edge in the marketplace.

1502_OPE_FS_IF10_Brian Melka-web
BRIAN MELKA
PRESIDENT
ENGINES AMERICAS
KOHLER ENGINES
(KOHLER, WIS.)

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

Brian Melka: Kohler Engines is dedicated to offering the most advanced technology in combination with a proven service network to continue delivering positive experiences for dealers and end users in 2015 and beyond. An important part of our company’s plan moving forward is to maintain our investment in the development and commercialization of new products that will provide tangible benefits in both the commercial and consumer segments.

We’ll remain focused on manufacturing engines that offer an ideal blend of reliability, durability, power, and fuel efficiency to deliver the lowest total cost of ownership to those seeking the best overall value.

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

Brian Melka: I think the overall growth and stability of the industry got a lot of people talking last year. 2014 began with an incredibly strong snow season, and the brisk activity was generally maintained throughout the summer months and into the fall for the majority of the country, which was certainly positive news.

The “Look Before You Pump” campaign from OPEI also garnered significant attention. This effort is an important and effective way to educate and protect consumers from inadvertently misfueling their equipment. I think the campaign should continue to be a point of emphasis for OPE dealers and other industry stakeholders in 2015 to help maintain the positive momentum.

Here at Kohler Engines, the top story for 2014 was the launch of our Command PRO 824cc EFI engine. This new product is our most fuel-efficient commercial engine and will allow commercial cutters to save at least $600 per engine per year in fuel costs over similar-sized carbureted engines, based on typical commercial usage. Of course, it also delivers all the power that’s needed for the toughest of mowing conditions.

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

Brian Melka: Commercial cutters will continue to move toward ZTR mowers with larger decks and faster ground speeds. We also anticipate continued buzz surrounding battery-powered equipment. But, this will be primarily for consumer applications. For the majority of commercial equipment, an internal combustion engine still delivers the best value proposition.

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

Brian Melka: As always, it’s important to stay focused on the needs of your customers.

For commercial customers, this means helping them control costs by offering the most fuel-efficient engines. Also, be sure to plan properly for the availability of service parts, so repairs and maintenance don’t disrupt their operations. Finally, when needed, be ready to offer free loaner equipment powered by engines like our EFI options that will provide durable, fuel-efficient performance.

For consumer customers, make sure your equipment delivers a hassle-free experience. New starting technologies — like our SmartChoke — allow users to simply turn the key and go. Easy maintenance and access to a local dealer for service and support are also important considerations.

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

Brian Melka: For the most part, we’re in alignment with the OPEI forecast for 2015. The consumer products segment will grow by approximately 5 percent, which will be driven primarily by the popularity of residential zero-turn mowers. And, the commercial products segment will expand by more than 6 percent, with that growth being fueled by commercial zero-turn mowers. The anticipated growth in both segments can be attributed to forecasted improvements in GDP, as well as continued strength in the residential housing market.

Internationally, we’re predicting strong performance in several emerging markets — including those in Latin America and Asia Pacific — for those manufacturers who already have a presence there.

1502_OPE_FS_IF11_Will Coates-web
WILL COATES
PRESIDENT
BILLY GOAT INDUSTRIES, INC.
(LEE’S SUMMIT, MO.)

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

Will Coates: World domination, of course! Seriously, 2014 was a very good year for Billy Goat, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to thank our valued distributor and dealer partners for their many contributions during the year. We plan on carrying that momentum forward into the New Year.

Two new product introductions and the acquisition of the Plugr brand of reciprocating aerators highlighted developments in 2014. Reciprocating aerators have advantages over traditional drum aerators that include in-ground turning, reduced contractor fatigue, fewer tines for easier service, variable aeration density, and deeper plugs regardless of soil conditions.

Beginning in 2015, Billy Goat’s combined aerator lineup will be the most comprehensive offering of aerators on the U.S. market. Customers may now choose from the proven 19-inch walk-behind and 48-inch/72-inch tow-behind drum aerators, the new 18-inch and 25-inch Plugr reciprocating aerators, and our new 30-inch hydrostatic reciprocating aerator — an industry first! No company has more pricing and operating width options between 18 and 30 inches.

We also expect to build on the enthusiasm for and success of Billy Goat’s hydrostatic sod cutter, first introduced just 12 months ago. This tool has made sod cutting exceptionally simple and fast.

Our mission of “taking the chore out of chores” continues to be well received by our customers. Several years ago, we decided to incorporate the benefits of hydrostatic-drive systems into pedestrian products, IF they could be easy to control. We now include sod cutters, vacuums, aerators, overseeders, and brushcutters in our family of hydro equipment.

Notwithstanding all of the above, perhaps the biggest plans we have for 2015 are the construction of new company headquarters 10 miles east of our current home. We’re excited that our growth has facilitated this move, and we can’t wait to get started. More details to follow.

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

Will Coates: From industry peers we’ve spoken with, the top story had to be the return to modest-good growth in 2014, with many indicating a double-digit improvement over 2013. With the exception of extreme drought then floods on the West Coast, the U.S. was blessed with generally good weather and that, coupled with modest housing activity, led to robust retail sales. Unfortunately, the strength of the dollar will likely impact exports to Europe, in particular, so that may mean moderate growth for OEMs with an international presence. Overall, I have no difficulty seeing growth for the industry of 5-6 percent in 2015.

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

Will Coates: For any company with a fleet of vehicles or petroleum-consuming equipment, the recent decline of gasoline to $2-or-less per gallon has to be the hottest trend in OPE. This may not necessarily bode well for the sale of alternative fuel-powered equipment, but it is certainly welcome. Beyond lowering operating costs for contractors, this development puts a lot of cash back in the hands of the consumer. U.S. oil and related companies and their stockholders may not be smiling, but the rest of us are.

Even though the price of crude oil has plummeted, the development of battery-powered alternatives continues, especially with handheld equipment. Consumers love the convenience and quiet of battery power, and the retailers want to meet that demand.

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

Will Coates: Now may be the best time for dealers’ own makeovers, and borrowing money is really, really cheap. Dealers need not be afraid to invest in their own bricks and mortar — look at the Internet as a complement to your business, not a threat. Look for fresh ideas and inspiration outside of the OPE industry. Just think how different car dealerships are today compared to five years ago. Recently, I attended the grand opening of a new gun dealer/shooting range/western wear concept in my hometown. I was blown away by the creativity of the owners, and I’ll definitely be back. Customers want to frequent dealerships with new racking, service counters, chairs, displays, clean ceilings, crisp LED lighting, bathrooms that are presentable and clean, storefronts that are exciting, even a simple fresh coat of paint — the list goes on and on. Ask your customers, your friends, your family what they’d like to see when they drive up to your dealership and what they expect when they open that door. Dealers may be amazed at how big of an impression and impact they can make with their own makeovers.

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

Will Coates: I think steady-as-she-goes best describes the outlook for the coming year. The third-quarter GDP was almost twice that of prior quarters. And if new housing starts show much improvement beyond their lukewarm levels, perhaps that will be a harbinger of an outstanding year?!

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