2016 Industry Forecasts (Part I)

What will the presidential election and much more mean in 2016?

The following is the first of a two-part series:

Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) recently surveyed many of the OPE industry’s top executives about the state of the industry heading into 2016. In particular, we asked the following questions:

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

OPE received the following written responses, in order, Nov. 20-Dec. 3, 2015:

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KRIS KISER
PRESIDENT AND CEO
OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT INSTITUTE (OPEI)
(ALEXANDRIA, VA.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Kris Kiser: The strength of our membership. OPEI now has a record number of members and our highest level of member participation in our history. Committee involvement is so strong that we’ve actually outgrown the size of our conference spaces. The organizational contributions and input we now have — from a diverse group of member companies — gives us significantly more strength in our efforts going into 2016. And our TurfMutt program has greatly enhanced our education and outreach efforts. TurfMutt is now featured on the Emmy-winning “Lucky Dog” show airing Saturday mornings on CBS, and the exposure has been invaluable. Thanks in large part to our partnership with Scholastic, the program has reached more than 62 million children, educators and families since 2009 — it’s a real success story, and we’re excited to see it grow in 2016.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Kris Kiser: We saw an alarming shift in the dynamic of attacks on the managed landscape this year. The severity of the drought in the West — particularly in California — exacerbated governmental action and media coverage to the point of demonizing managed landscapes and turfgrass in a way we hadn’t seen before. In response, we’ve been proactive in challenging this perception by promoting the facts and science that underscore the real environmental benefits of a “living landscape.” This challenge isn’t necessarily a new one, as with the EPA’s Water Sense program, we’ve seen a rise in regulatory efforts to reduce manage landscapes across the nation. But in a polarized political climate, when the state of California began paying residents to rip up their lawns, the battle over the public perceptions of managed landscapes became a very serious issue over the past year, and one we will continue to face in 2016.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Kris Kiser: How about those Packers? I’m no pundit, but even the “best” political minds in the country are at a loss as to answering the first part of this. And though I wouldn’t pretend to confidently handicap such a fluid and unconventional campaign season, there are some trends we’re taking serious note of moving forward. What the unpredictability in Washington really underscores is that our job as a trade association has become that much more important. Without the political ability of Congress or the White House to address serious issues, such as the renewable fuel standard and other regulatory matters, it becomes that much more necessary to be proactive in our regulatory efforts and concerns. Regardless of who the next president is, it’s safer to assume that trend will continue.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Kris Kiser: The emerging trend continues to be further introduction and expansion of battery and corded products into the marketplace. This has been dynamic for the industry and offers consumers greater diversity — there’s something for everyone. Another trend we’ve been pleased to see has been the strength of the GIE+EXPO. The 2015 show was the largest and most well attended in its history, and we expect to break those records again in 2016. Incorporating the Dealer Day ahead of the show and expanding our partnership with HNA (Hardscape North America) have been great additions, and the numbers are proving this to be true year after year. Having a place where all parts of the industry — from manufacturers to suppliers and contractors — can come together in one place has helped make GIE+EXPO into a legitimate can’t-miss, hot-ticket event for the industry.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Kris Kiser: The industry looks to be headed for a strong year in 2016. Over the past year, we’ve experienced solid recovery in the housing market and foreclosures are down as well — great signs for our industry. Weather outlooks also seem to be generally favorable, and the latest numbers we’ve seen show strong numbers for sales and shipments across the industry. These are all significant, tangible positives and reasons to be cautiously optimistic for the coming year, but there are real hurdles we still need to clear. The attacks on managed landscapes need to be thoroughly addressed and by promoting the right plant for the right place and the importance of “living landscapes,” we have both the correct science and right message for the public in meeting this challenge. Ethanol fuels present another evolving issue that is still unresolved and requires a great deal more education and outreach. And thanks to our Look Before You Pump campaign, we have a robust vehicle already in place, educating the public on fuels for non-road products and ensuring that users are matching the right fuel for the right product.

1601_OPE_FS_IF02_Jeff Plotka2
JEFF PLOTKA
PRESIDENT
PRECISION WORK INC.
(PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y.) &
PRESIDENT
OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT AND ENGINE SERVICE ASSOCIATION (OPEESA)
(ESSEX, CONN.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Jeff Plotka:

a. Heading into 2016, Precision Work has an array of great new products coming to market. We have some exciting new homeowner models, but also some new Big Block high-horsepower commercial models as well. Internally, we will be continuing to take advantage of new technologies in both the sales & operations part of our business.

b. For the Outdoor Power Equipment and Engine Service Association (OPEESA), we are adding new member benefits that have the potential to pay for themselves many times over. Announcements about these products will be coming out in the very near future.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Jeff Plotka:

a. In our territory, SNOW was the big news for 2015. We had record snowfalls throughout the bulk of the Northeast. We saw some snow on the ground in parts of our territory until late May. It made for a very interesting selling season. We didn’t see our season kick off until about 4-6 weeks later than normal. The upside was that the commercial customers were fortunate to be able to make money all winter and were in a good position to use those profits to upgrade older equipment.

b. For OPEESA, the top stories continue to be the weather, water and lack thereof, and consolidations — both on the distributor side and the manufacturer side. The changes in the financial marketplace are also causing some concern, though most do not feel this will have a long-term effect.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Jeff Plotka:

a. 2016 being an election year always has proven to be an interesting year for OPE. The uncertainty of the election, and what a new first-term president will do, seems to make people spend less.

b. I sometimes wish I had a crystal ball, so I could predict things like this. We are hopeful that the next president will understand what it is like to run a small business and will also have a grasp on how environmental regulations can greatly impact business.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Jeff Plotka:

a. Technology and how it drives efficiency will continue to be the hot trend in 2016, whether it is how companies will use it to price out or bill out jobs, routing of crews to their jobs, track usage and maintenance of their equipment.

b. After attending the recent GIE+EXPO, I can only say there are some exciting things in the marketplace, including changes in the way products are “fueled.” Some of the changes to LP- and battery-operated products have the potential to help all of us, especially those companies who do business in areas that are being targeted for noise restrictions.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Jeff Plotka:

a. I have a very positive outlook for 2016. There will always be a need for either spare parts to service older equipment or new equipment to replace older equipment. We are well prepared for both and are looking forward to a great 2016.

b. As an association, we are cautiously optimistic about the OPE industry in 2016. Overall, our members have had a “fair to good year,” with of course some having a “great” year. We talk about the future, and what it might bring, at all our meetings and agree that this is an industry that is not going to go away. It has the opportunity to thrive and prosper, and we are going to do everything we can to help our members do just that.

1601_OPE_FS_IF03_John Hedges2
JOHN HEDGES
DIRECTOR OF SALES AND MARKETING
CENTRAL POWER DISTRIBUTORS, INC. (CPD)
(ANOKA, MINN.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

John Hedges: We have taken on a couple of new lines that will allow our dealer partners the opportunity to offer a lithium-based handheld product line and a high-quality line of gasoline outdoor power equipment, without mass merchant competition.

As a Kohler distributor, we are excited about their new engine lineup of EFI. Kohler continues to be innovative with their product line and provide engine alternatives to the changing markets. The new KDI diesel engines are technologically advanced, and we look forward to selling them to small OEMs.

MTD is offering long-handle tools to go with the pruners and loppers they brought on last year. We’ll educate our dealer channel on how these tools can bring customers through their door. With a larger offering of products, dealers can compete with the mass merchants and provide quality service.

E-Zone, our customer online ordering site, is getting some changes to make it more user friendly.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

John Hedges: 2015 was a good year for many in the East with gigantic amounts of snow. Here in the upper Midwest, we weren’t as fortunate. With snowfall held to minimum amounts and temperatures not being too cold, we hope for a much better snow year heading into 2016.

Lithium-powered products will be a viable option to a specific section of our industry. The batteries being produced today are proving to hold up for contractors and landscapers. These products pose a slight threat to the handheld products today, but shouldn’t be higher than 5 percent of the markets they serve. However, long term could prove to be a higher number, possibly up to 15 percent. Regulations against gas are not going to go away, so look for propaganda against gasoline-powered products. Tesla has proven that a good luxury car can be purchased with battery power, so I would imagine the same will happen with our industry. As a gas and diesel engine distributor, it is concerning where it is heading. With that said, dealers that ignore the lithium products are leaving money on the table. You should offer it for those customers that want it. That is exactly why we picked up a handheld lithium-powered line for 2016.

The dealer base will continue to shrink as our industry ages. Skilled technicians will fade away. There are fewer young, educated techs entering our industry. With motorcycle, diesel, marine, and small-engine repair being the vocational choices, small-engine repair will continue to be on the low end of the totem pole. Until our industry can figure a way to increase salaries (including performance rewards), we will see this trend continue. Equipment sold today isn’t what our grandparents saw years ago, and anyone servicing it will need to be qualified.

And finally, Stihl (and our industry) is losing Fred Whyte, and I just want to say what a pleasure it has been over the last 30 years getting to know him and witness his successes. In my early days as the new Hoffco sales manager, he was helpful to me as I tried to understand our industry. His ability to work hard and keep things in proper perspective, should be a roadmap to all of us as we manage our businesses. Fred, thank you, and I know I speak for many when I say, “Good luck. We will miss you.”

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

John Hedges: I believe this question is always asked because of me. I remember when Howard Dean was running and doing well. Then, he had a meltdown in IA and lost his followers. However, OPE went to print before that, and I had already made a prediction that he would be the Democratic candidate. Having not learned my lesson, I’ll go with Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Rubio, or Cruz, or Trump, or Carson, or Fiorina, or Christie. (It would be nice to be right once.) As far as president, I give it to the Republican candidate. Our country is spiraling in an odd direction. It’s nice to see candidates like Fiorina, Trump and Carson doing well. They are talking openly and are winning because of it. But in the end, the Right may get scared and go with a traditional politician. We’ll see!

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

John Hedges: I believe we will finally have an interest rate hike after I write this and before this article prints. If I am correct, people with variable interest loans will slow down purchases of big items, but repair as needed. Could be good for service, bad for new equipment.

Lithium handheld products will begin to replace gas with older users and young homebuyers.

Presidential race goes to an outsider. How will this hurt or help our businesses?

Drought of 2016 hurts lawn and garden industry.

USA manufacturers begin bringing back production to United States.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

John Hedges: Our industry is strong in tough times. Most everyone has grass, many have snow, and equipment sits in most garages. 2016 will be just fine.

1601_OPE_FS_IF04_Bob Walker2
BOB WALKER
PRESIDENT
WALKER MFG. CO.
(FORT COLLINS, COLO.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Bob Walker: We are continuing to broaden and improve our product offering to the market within the overall category of front-mount zero-turning-radius riding mowers. This is an exciting niche in the power equipment industry and holds great potential for dealers notwithstanding the popularity of mid-mount riders and standers in today’s market.

Our “Out Front Advantage” factory sales training has been receiving accolades from the dealer sales representatives who have participated. Four hundred have attended the training sessions over the past three years, and eight more sessions are planned for 2016.

Finally, dealers should be excited to be able to represent a product manufactured by a family-owned, family-managed company. Third-generation family members are at work in the company, and the new blood and new energy that comes from the next generation means the years ahead working with our company will bring some of the very best opportunities available in our industry.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Bob Walker: The biggest industry news story in 2015 was the acquisition of Billy Goat Industries by the Briggs & Stratton group. That story, along with the previous year’s acquisition of Dixie Chopper by Textron, points to the dwindling number of private, family-owned manufacturers in the OPE industry. Even though the naysayers would predict that no family-owned manufacturers will survive in this industry, we (and we believe several others) have a stubborn independent streak that says to the industry “we’re still here.”

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Bob Walker: I like Ben Carson for the Republican nominee, and I think it is pretty certain the Democrats will field Hillary Clinton. I predict Carson will be elected. He will appeal to voters because he is a smart man with a good heart and an unusual amount of “common sense” not often seen in politics and governance. The OPE industry will benefit from the election of Ben Carson (or most of the other Republicans if elected) by supporting policies that are friendly to businesses in general, and particularly to privately owned businesses, which are the backbone of our economy.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Bob Walker: Manufacturers will be providing mowers with more powerful, and fuel-efficient (EFI) engines.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Bob Walker: We predict a good year for the OPE industry with around 5-percent growth over 2015.

1601_OPE_FS_IF05_Dylan Rewoldt2
DYLAN REWOLDT
OEM SALES AND MARKETING
SUBARU INDUSTRIAL POWER PRODUCTS
(LAKE ZURICH, ILL.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Dylan Rewoldt: Loyalty is Subaru’s main focus in 2016. Subaru prides itself on offering the best value and service in the industry. We also know that much of our success can be attributed to our distribution and product support system. Our dealers have played a key role in helping us build and maintain close relationships with customers and gain insight into how we can continuously improve our levels of quality and service. We want to thank our dealers for all they do for us, so we developed a dealer loyalty program that we are excited to launch in 2016.

We are also excited about some key placements we have secured with major brands in the chore product market. We have seen a huge growth in demand for Subaru products, which we think puts us on track for a record-breaking sales year.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Dylan Rewoldt: 2015 proved to be a rollercoaster of a year, but the OPE industry seems to have finally taken an upward turn since the most recent recession. In the engine business, we are constantly working with the EPA to meet new emissions standards. I believe ethanol will continue to be a top news story in 2016, and it’s important to continue to educate small-engine users on the effects of ethanol. Additionally, weather will always play a major role in buying trends. Weather is impossible to predict, but as of now, 2016 weather forecasts look favorable for our industry.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Dylan Rewoldt: The 2016 presidential race should be an interesting one. At this point, both parties lack a strong candidate, so it’s basically still up in the air. It’s been an entertaining presidential race so far, with debates being more like reality TV than political discussions. Historically, a Republican is elected after a Democrat was in office and vice versa, but that’s not always the case, and the next few months will determine the true frontrunners.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Dylan Rewoldt: Integrating technology into OPE products and engines will continue to be a hot trend. At Subaru, we spent a lot of time in 2015 focused on developing new technology that I feel will have a huge impact on the industry.

By 2030, millennials will account for one-third of all homeowners and will have the largest annual spending power, making them increasingly important and influential in this industry. As a millennial myself, I believe that adapting to meet the needs and expectations of the next generation will be integral in building long-term brand loyalty. Millennials are considerably more engaged with digital technology and social media than previous generations, which means it will be important to continually adapt our marketing and communication style to connect with this generation.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Dylan Rewoldt: I believe 2016 will continue to show growth in the OPE industry. We have had so many requests to grow in that area, and we are confident we will see success in this industry. Additionally, GIE+EXPO had the largest turnout ever in 2015 for both exhibitors and attendees, which is a strong indicator of positive growth in 2016 for dealers and manufacturers — and that’s something we can all be excited about.

1601_OPE_FS_IF06_Bjoern Fischer2
BJOERN FISCHER
PRESIDENT
STIHL INC.
(VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Bjoern Fischer: STIHL will continue to grow with our servicing dealers, who are now outpacing the industry. This growth includes adding new products to the range that will appeal to new customers and segments, including the evolution of our battery line.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Bjoern Fischer: The hot topic for the entire industry this year was how to attract the millennials, a generation of customers who were raised on a big-box buying experience. We expect that trend to continue in 2016. STIHL is adapting by bringing the latest technology and products to the market and by supporting our dealers with digital marketing tools, training resources and professional displays that attract new customers.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Bjoern Fischer: I won’t make predictions about the candidates themselves, but what I will say is that no matter who is elected, we need to ensure that any future laws or regulations passed help improve American manufacturers’ competitive advantage with other nations. This includes tax reform and improved trade regulations. In addition, our country needs to ensure stronger support for independent small businesses, which are the backbone of the United States.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Bjoern Fischer: New battery products and technology are really taking off, and we expect that to continue into 2016 and beyond. In fact, STIHL is investing heavily in this area and will continue to add to our wide range of lithium-ion products.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Bjoern Fischer: Spending on home improvements is poised to reach an all-time high by the end of 2015, and I believe this trend will continue into 2016. OPE dealers are taking back market share from the big-box stores. I believe this trend will continue as customers recognize the advantages of buying local and the benefits of shopping with a knowledgeable dealer that also provides service.

1601_OPE_FS_IF07_Rick Zeckmeister2
RICK ZECKMEISTER
VICE PRESIDENT
ENGINE MARKETING & PLANNING
BRIGGS & STRATTON CORP.
(MILWAUKEE, WIS.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Rick Zeckmeister: In 2016, Briggs & Stratton will be building on what we’ve learned in the past few years about what both our end-user consumers want and what our commercial customers are looking for. And what they are looking for is help getting the job done. In the case of the commercial segment, that means increased productivity, and in the case of homeowners, it’s ease of use.

For commercial customers, our EFI engines, training programs and 24-hour parts delivery guarantee on some engines in 2016 will all help reduce downtime and increase productivity.

For consumers, the real exciting thing we’re offering in 2016 is actually pairing some of our best innovations from the past two years to help make our engines among the easiest for them to operate and maintain. These include combining our quietest gas-powered lawnmower engine ever, QPT, with our Just Check & Add technology, resulting in a mower that is 55-percent quieter and never needs an oil change. Another new offering pairs that same Just Check & Add feature with our lithium-ion-powered InStart battery, making it the easiest-starting gasoline-powered engine. These are all things that end users have told us that they want in an engine. We’re solving problems for them, and that’s what I am excited about.

It’s also nice to be headed into 2016 with some high-profile recognition that what we’re doing is working. Our Big Block EFI engine recently won a Dealer’s Choice Award, and our EXi consumer engine, our first with Just Check & Add technology, was just named to Popular Science’s “Best of What’s New” list. This is the second year in a row a Briggs & Stratton engine has been named to that list — last year having received recognition for the Mow n’ Stow engine.

Finally, I’m excited about the reaction we’re getting from dealers and consumers alike to a new product we’re bringing to market called Gas Off. It’s the first product that completely removes the residue and smell of gas from hands, clothes, cars and power equipment. It’s non-toxic, and the formula is biodegradable. We featured it in October at GIE+EXPO, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. It’s a brand-new category for us and will require a new way of going to market, and I am excited about that.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Rick Zeckmeister: On the commercial front, the expansion of EFI engines was big in 2015 as that sector of users continues to seek ways to increase productivity. For consumers, we continued to see Made in America resonate in 2015 as shoppers are increasingly looking for domestically sourced products. Consumer Reports devoted an entire issue to Made in America, and This Old House magazine included Briggs & Stratton as an American manufacturer in its July issue.

For 2016, I think we’ll still be talking a lot about fuel. For commercial cutters, the low cost of oil moving into 2016 will help them control cost. For consumers, the fuel discussion will be about education. The need for education about E15 is ongoing, but l hope that a component of the stories will be about telling consumers that they need to use fresh fuel. Consumers need to understand fuel begins to go stale only 30 days after pumping, and that stale gas oxidizes, causing clogged carburetors. If equipment owners are using stale fuel, we can’t ensure a positive ownership experience with our industry’s products.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Rick Zeckmeister: The 2016 election cycle is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and the only safe prediction is continued disruption and entertainment.

That said, we’re looking forward to the democratic process playing out, and we’ll be watching closely for the candidates’ stances on the issues that matter most to the industry.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Rick Zeckmeister: The trends I see, or at least the trends I see at Briggs & Stratton that I think can be extrapolated beyond our walls, is that the discussion has shifted from what can we engineer and make to how what we engineer and manufacture help the end user be more productive.

For the commercial side of the industry, productivity is synonymous with business success, sales and profits. We are supporting this with more and better EFI engines, robust training programs and 24-hour parts delivery on certain commercial engines like our 810 Vanguard.

On the consumer side, productivity is measured two ways. Can we help them accomplish a task faster with easier-to-use products, and can we help them achieve a better result on a project they’ve undertaken? Education from the manufacturer, dealer and retailer will all be important, both online and offline, to make sure that the homeowners who are using our products are achieving the result they want.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Rick Zeckmeister: I am optimistic about 2016 and foresee increases in sales, probably in the single digits. We’re starting to see housing trend upwards — which we know is a key business driver — either with new homeowners who need power equipment, or with folks who move into another home, triggering their desire to buy newer equipment. And with new users and more equipment in the marketplace, there are more opportunities for us to support those owners with additional products, parts and services.

And as I am writing this in late November, parts of the West and upper Midwest have already seen their first significant snowfall. We know that an early snow typically signals a strong season for the snow side of our business, even if the rest of the winter is nothing more than average.

1601_OPE_FS_IF08_Franck Sogaard2
FRANCK S
øGAARD
VICE PRESIDENT
SALES AND MARKETING
JARDEN APPLIED MATERIALS
(COLUMBIA, S.C.) &
PRESIDENT
OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT AFTERMARKET ASSOCIATION (OPEAA)
(ALEXANDRIA, VA.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Franck Søgaard: OPEAA continues to offer its members valuable industry and market data, and we are looking to expand this program in 2016. The outdoor power equipment industry is changing, and it is important for us to stay in front of changes both from a technology and regulatory standpoint in order help our members succeed in today’s business environment.

Our company (Jarden Applied Materials) is launching a record number of new products for the 2016 season, primarily in the string trimmer accessories category. Our products are designed to add more convenience and efficiency for the end users, whether you are a homeowner or professional landscaper.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Franck Søgaard: The technological advancement in battery technology and its effect on the performance of cordless products is attracting more consumers to move from gas to cordless equipment. This is not only impacting the change in buying patterns of equipment, but also the sales mix of accessories and aftermarket parts. I personally believe that the shift from gas to cordless equipment is accelerated by the equipment performance issues associated with ethanol-blended fuels. I expect that cordless technology advancements and ethanol-blended fuels will continue to be major topics in 2016.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Franck Søgaard: I would not be surprised if Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee for the Democratic Party. It is more difficult to predict the outcome of the Republican Party nomination. Whoever becomes the next president will have a very difficult task at hand, and will have to make tough decisions to drive sustainable economic growth in this country.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Franck Søgaard: I believe cordless power equipment will continue to gain momentum among consumers.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Franck Søgaard: Overall, my outlook is positive. Our industry certainly has regional challenges with extreme drought conditions, and I hope the drought will end soon. It is exciting to see all the new innovation in our industry, and I think consumers will respond positively to that.

1601_OPE_FS_IF09_Jeff Dewosky2
JEFF DEWOSKY
VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER
HUSQVARNA NORTH AMERICA
(CHARLOTTE, N.C.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Jeff Dewosky: We have some really exciting products launching in 2016, including new Automower models and additions to our battery product line. We’re also placing heavy emphasis on commercial lawn and garden — our commercial sales team will grow significantly next year.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Jeff Dewosky: Weather was a big story in 2015. April, which is typically a strong opening weather month, was poor. And there were many locations across the U.S. that experienced severe drought. In 2016, the continued shift from gas to battery will be a top story, which is why we’re so excited about our new Automower and battery products.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Jeff Dewosky: No matter who is nominated, we hope that they support some of the OPE industry’s key initiatives, such as green space and ethanol.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Jeff Dewosky: The commercial industry will continue to grow. We’re excited about the market share we’ve gained within the commercial space, and we feel that we’ve grown a deeper understanding of what the end user is looking for. Our products deliver on the things that are most important to them — efficiency, durability, performance and quality.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Jeff Dewosky: We expect the industry to grow single digits.

1601_OPE_FS_IF10_Chris Vernon2
CHRIS VERNON
VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER
DIXIE CHOPPER
(COATESVILLE, IND.)

1) What is new and exciting about your company or organization heading into 2016?

Chris Vernon: Upon our acquisition from Jacobsen less than two years ago, we made a promise to our dealers and customers that we would improve on all sides of the business. We are making good on our promises, and as result, we’ve seen a strong recovery in our business. We were thrilled to be recognized by NAEDA (now known as EDA) as the “Most Improved” OPE manufacturer in the industry, and we are working hard to keep improving.

At GIE+EXPO, Dixie Chopper unveiled its 2016 product lineup, which looks fantastic. Our dealers were excited with the improvements and the updated look of the machines. With our new product lineup and the double-digit growth Dixie Chopper saw in 2015, I am very confident that 2016 will be a fantastic year.

2) What were the OPE industry’s top news stories in 2015, and what will they be in 2016?

Chris Vernon: Gas price volatility was a huge topic of 2015 and will probably continue to be in 2016. If gas prices begin to rise again in 2016, we may see accelerated growth of EFI and other alternative fuel options. In 2015, we saw several product innovations focusing on user comfort and ride quality. For our 2016 product lineup, Dixie Chopper added a more comfortable and ergonomic seat across all of our models. We also saw some new key players enter the zero-turn market, including Jacobsen.

3) What are your predictions for the 2016 U.S. presidential race — who will be each party’s nominee, who will be elected the next president, and how will the outcome affect the OPE industry?

Chris Vernon: I don’t think anyone got this right 4 years ago…which proves there is a long way to go before the general election, but I’ll bite. I predict Clinton vs. Rubio in the general election, with Rubio winning by a very slim margin. While only time will tell who is elected as the next president, the outcome will affect the OPE industry. We need a president that is a friend of small business when it comes to health insurance costs, immigration, worker compensation costs, retirement plans, and emission and water/irrigation regulations. The combination of these impacts can make or break a commercial landscape business or OPE dealer.

4) What will be the OPE industry’s hottest trends in 2016?

Chris Vernon: The businesses that invest in technology will come out on top. We will continue to see the Internet playing a larger role in the way that consumers research and make purchases. This expansion in Internet sales will extend beyond products into services as new apps continue to arrive to help with securing services such as landscaping. A consumer’s first impression of an OPE dealership will be online, so dealers need to make a strong first impression.

5) What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2016?

Chris Vernon: Weather permitting, 2016 will be a healthy year for the OPE industry. The economy will continue to improve with modest GDP growth, and the ratio of consumer debt to disposable income is at a relatively low level historically, which should help drive spending in 2016. It is a good time to invest and grow, and Dixie Chopper has big plans to do both.

 

 

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