Equipment Trends 2016

Industry experts share insights on professional product market

Outdoor Power Equipment magazine’s sister publication Landscape and Irrigation recently asked a wide range of equipment manufacturers and other industry experts to share their insights regarding the equipment market, and how the trends they are seeing will impact potential equipment-purchasing decisions.
Responses are presented in the order in which they were received.

L&I: What equipment trends are you seeing in the professional landscape/lawn care market?

More interest in utility vehicles due to their ease of maintenance and lower cost.
— Donna Beadle, senior external relations specialist, Polaris Off-Road Vehicles

Increasingly, landscapers are turning to compact utility loaders — also known as mini skid-steers — to help kick-start their business growth. Because of the large and diverse number of attachments, compact utility loaders are one of the most versatile machines on the market — the sky is the limit as far as how landscape contractors can diversify their business with the machines.
A compact utility loader is also a productivity booster. For instance, let’s say you are planting a tree as part of a project. Maybe this is a new offering by your company, or maybe you’ve been doing it, but with a tool like a planting bar or even a shovel. With a compact utility loader, a crew member can attach an auger bit to dig the hole and then haul the tree from a truck and into position with a tree fork attachment.
You’re talking about a dramatic difference in the amount of time and effort it takes to do that with a compact utility loader compared with actually hauling that tree and root ball and placing it in a hand-dug hole.
— Matt Hutchinson, product manager, tree care/rental & landscape at Vermeer

One trend we are seeing is an increased popularity of mini skid-steers on landscape jobs. On a job, operators get on and off the machine multiple times a day, and the ease of simply hopping on and off of the operator’s platform is much easier than climbing in and out of the cab of a larger trencher or track loader. Operators also enjoy the improved visibility and compact design of the mini skid-steers over traditional track loaders on the market. Improved worker stations keep operators comfortable for longer hours on the job, and make it much easier and more efficient to complete jobs in residential spaces.
— Andrew Schuermann, Ditch Witch product manager, compact equipment

The stand-on trend is still a growing trend. I believe this trend is continuing to push into the ongoing trend of better efficiency and productivity tied in with better profitability. Everyone is trying to figure out how to mow more grass in a shorter amount of time while becoming more profitable. In some markets, mulching the grass is becoming increasingly more popular.
— Frank Nuss, marketing and product specialist, national accounts, Excel Industries Inc. (Hustler)

Market acceptance of electronic fuel injection (EFI) continues to grow. All of the major engine manufacturers have EFI now, and the service training for dealers has increased in both frequency and quality. We still want to offer a variety of EFI diagnostic solutions to make sure that we’re meeting the dealer or commercial cutter wherever they’re at, in terms of comfort level. We’re also committed to working with the dealer network to help commercial cutters understand exactly what EFI does for their business, in terms of equipment performance and productivity.
— Jim Cross, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power

Rayco is trying to offer its customers a means by which they can expand the number of services they offer without a great deal of investment. That’s the beauty of a machine like the RM27 Multi-Tool Carrier. It offers the ability to perform several tasks, from landscaping to snow removal, without the cost of owning a specialized machine for each one.
— J.R. Bowling, vice president, Rayco Mfg. Inc.

Contractors have realized that the fuel their equipment is running on can either hinder business or lead to new customers.
Using propane is separating some contractors from their local competition in a good way. Green messages carried by propane — like its reduced emissions and it being a clean fuel — resonate with both residential customers and commercial clients looking to gravitate away from having their green space managed by gasoline or diesel equipment. Propane mowers can also improve a contractor’s corporate image, as propane mowers don’t produce smelly fumes near homes, schools or businesses.
At the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), we’ve heard from contractors that have even acquired new contracts because of two reasons: the cleaner fuel and reduced costs to the contractor that can be passed on to the customer. For the same reasons, one of the fastest-growing markets for propane mowers is the public sector — city governments, state and national parks services, state roads departments that mow right-of-ways, public universities and school districts. In a lot of instances, these public accounts face emissions standards or ozone action days that park mowers using gasoline or diesel on the trailer. Propane mowers can keep cutting. When coupled with state incentives — or, when offered again, PERC’s Propane Mower Incentive Program — it’s easy to sell taxpayers on the finances that come with the cleaner machines.
Another trend we’re seeing is contractors not only switching their mower fleets to propane, but converting their vehicles to propane autogas. Especially for larger fleets, this option allows them to install a propane autogas refueling station on their company property and prevent any time lost during the workday filling tanks at the gas station.
— Jeremy Wishart, deputy director of business development for the Propane Education & Research Council

With the growth in outdoor living spaces and some of the challenging or even extreme landscape designs being built in and around developments, there still must be a way to maintain those areas without damaging the turf or the landscape objects. Cub Cadet continues to see the need and growth in the steering-wheel-controlled zero-turn market. Being able to maintain an area easier and faster with a steering-wheel-controlled zero-turn versus push mowers or string trimmers has increased the bottom line for a lot of professional cutters.
— Allen Baird, product marketing manager (professional products), Cub Cadet

Over the past few years, we at Terex have seen a dramatic shift in our customer base from solely owner/operators and a more traditional distribution base to the rental market, and indicators point to this trend continuing in North America for at least the next few years. We realized that in order to play in this market, we needed to position our products for it.
A focus on providing ‘rental ready’ equipment has required us to be more customer focused and agile. With the launch of the Terex GEN2 loaders, we adopted a new nomenclature system to make it easier for rental customers to select the right-size machine for the job — this new naming scheme is based on the loader’s ROC. Because most renters evaluate skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders based on ROC, the Terex GEN2 skid-steer loaders and compact track loaders are engineered to more accurately reflect this commonly used specification, which makes it easier for equipment distributors, rental dealers and contractors to best identify the machine needed to get the job done. Many of the enhancements to our GEN2 compact track and skid-steer loader lines were aimed at increasing machine performance through additional ROC and loader breakout forces, while increasing the machine’s durability and reliability in the field, which reduces the cost of ownership during the life of the loader. These were features that rental customers repeatedly told us were most important to them.
— Gregg Warfel, division sales manager, compact, Terex Construction Americas

The professional landscape market has gained significant momentum and is benefiting from increased innovation and development of tools for this segment. More specifically, we are seeing the continued trend in products that increase speed and efficiency for jobs both large and small for professional landscapers. And, when referring to efficiency, we mean both operational and maintenance efficiency. For example, consolidation of fuel types so refill time is shortened — knowing that all outdoor power equipment on the operator’s truck/trailer run on the same fuel type. In this case, no consideration is needed in determining the need for mixed or straight fuel.
— William Walton, assistant vice president of Honda Power Equipment operations

Some of the trends we are seeing: simple operator interfaces and controls; improved operator comfort and ergonomics; improved access for machine maintenance; slow trend to battery in some areas; and hydro-drive systems in chore product to improve productivity.
— Pierre Pereira, director of sales, North America, Billy Goat Industries

Contractors continue to be focused on the total cost of operation of their mowing equipment. They want to know how much a mower will cost in maintenance, downtime, labor, replacement parts, convenience, etc., beyond the purchase price.
Take the [Grasshopper] 100V Series models, for instance. With purchase prices under $6,000, they are extremely attractive in terms of initial investment. And the long-term operating costs are lower than competitive mowers, with only two grease points and transmission fluid change intervals of 300 hours. The result is equipment that saves contractors time and money, not only in the field with superior performance but in the shop with simpler maintenance procedures and longer service intervals.
In addition, ergonomics and comfort features continue to be a big consideration. Grasshopper owners say they can do their best work on every property — whether the first job in the morning or the last job in the evening — and still have energy left at the end of the day. That is because Grasshopper makes comfort a standard feature on every mower with integrated multi-point suspensions — including iso-mounted seats, footrests and operator platforms, as well as ergonomically designed controls and instrument consoles.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, The Grasshopper Company

The market is growing and there are a lot of good brands out there, but they lack comfort, style and the all-important quality cut. Altoz capitalized on this combination to differentiate ourselves and grow faster than the industry.
— Karl Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing, Altoz

Productivity and efficiency continue to be top concerns of professional landscape contractors, driving manufacturers to develop more solutions for equipment. One example is the incorporation of electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines. Commonly used in smaller-block engines, we are now seeing more and more options in the mid-block range and greater. Providing up to 25 percent more fuel savings, the benefits of EFI drive this trend.
Another example is John Deere’s exclusive Mulch On Demand technology. The Mulch On Demand offering enables the operator to switch between mulching and side discharging without ever leaving their seat. Mulch on Demand reduces the time spent cleaning up clippings from specific areas, like driveways, sidewalks and plant beds, by allowing the operator to easily close off the discharge chute. The Michelin X Tweel Turf, an airless radial tire available exclusively for John Deere B, M and R series ZTrak mowers, offers productivity-boosting benefits. The Tweel virtually eliminates downtime and is nearly maintenance free, unlike traditional pneumatic tires. Additionally, the Tweel minimizes cost and time spent on repairs and maintenance, and eliminates flat or damaged tires.
Also driving the development of new features is an increased focus on operator comfort. Additions like ergonomic operator controls, air-suspension upholstered seats and cab machines with heat and air keep the operator comfortable throughout the workday, ultimately improving productivity.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

We see more users stepping up to better equipment with more features. Machines that are more accurate to get away from waste and adaptable to complete multiple tasks are where we see the most movement. No longer is it a price-only buying decision.
— Bob Petrungaro, director of sales – North America, Earthway Products, Inc.

The market is showing that professional contractors are demanding lower-priced units with higher component specifications. Efficiency is also a big topic. Landscapers and superintendents are being asked to do more in less time, so their equipment needs to get the job done well and fast.
Efficient equipment not only means that the landscapers and superintendents can get from job to job quickly, but it also means that the equipment itself can be maintained easily, so that the units spend the minimal amount of time in the shop being prepped for the next day’s jobs. Schiller Grounds Care brands like Bob-Cat, Ryan and Steiner are trusted when it comes to durability and ease of maintenance.
— Ron Scheffler, product manager – Bob-Cat Mowers, and Anne Marie Sanicola, product manager – Ryan and Steiner

Bobcat Company continues to see increased demand for landscaping attachments for use with compact excavators and skid-steer, compact track and mini track loaders. Popular attachments in landscaping include hydraulic clamps, Hydra-Tilt swing accessories, grapples, augers, trenchers and grading buckets. The idea of purchasing or renting landscaping attachments to help reduce manual labor and increase efficiencies is something that is always appealing to landscapers in design and build applications for residential and commercial installations.
— Christopher Girodat, marketing manager, Bobcat Company

Landscape contractors always look for ways to make their business more profitable, and equipment selection plays a big role in that. Choosing one machine that can be adapted to a variety of applications gives the fastest ROI.
Thanks to the many available attachments, earth drills are well suited to that trend. By switching points, blades, augers and attachments, a contractor can move seamlessly from installing fence posts in rocky soil to boring a water line under a driveway to planting trees in sandy ground. Our mechanical drills also have an attachment for boring under sidewalks
and driveways.
The faster they can make the switch, the more productive they can be, so many also are choosing quick-connection options, such as snap-on augers that require no tools to attach and remove.
Small trenchers also have a strong footing in the versatile equipment trend. They can be moved easily from one jobsite to the next to quickly handle a wide array of tasks: doing landscape edging, pruning roots, installing plumbing and drainage lines, running low-voltage wiring, and installing sprinkler systems.
— Mike Hale, Little Beaver sales and marketing manager

Technology has always been a driving force of the industry, and now it’s become more integrated with everyday professional landscape products. There is an increase in awareness of sustainability related to both fuel consumption and battery use.
— Pete Love, director of sales at Husqvarna

The continued growth of the compact track loader (CTL) market versus the decline in the skid-steer loader (SSL) market is most interesting. Year to date (through April), the North American CTL market is up 27.3 percent, while the SSL market is down 6 percent. The cumulative market is up 12.3 percent overall versus 2015. A major factor driving the overall growth is the landscape industry, which not only embraces compact track loaders, but also has enjoyed double-digit growth the past couple of years.
— George Chaney, sales manager, skid-steer & compact track loaders, JCB

Landscapers continue to get smarter about the equipment they’re buying and how they’re using it. In general, referencing AEM data, equipment sales to the landscaping industry are up 20 percent through April compared to the same time last year, and up 52 percent over the same period in 2014. Based on how that data is classified, not all of those customers are traditional landscapers, but it signifies an increase in equipment purchases and market confidence.
Some of the biggest growth we’re seeing is in compact excavators and CTLs. CTLs, specifically, continue to take market share away from skid-steers as CTLs provide an excellent tool for landscapers in terms of accomplishing the same tasks with lower ground pressure and less disturbance.
Contractors continue to add secondary hydraulics more and more to equipment to expand the functionality of what that equipment can accomplish. This includes a greater reliance on attachments for traditional tool carriers such as skid-steers and CTLs, but also includes the increased use of more specialized equipment, such as rotational buckets on compact excavators. Attachments increase the versatility of SSLs and CTLs, assisting in completing the job faster and easier. We see a similar demand in the growth of the compact excavator market. Zero-tail-swing excavators are particularly popular for their ability to get right up against buildings for digging in drainage systems and other utilities. And contractors are increasingly buying compact excavators with angle/push blades to avoid needing extra machines for backfilling.
— Andrew Dargatz, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment

A lot of what we’ve been seeing has been about productivity. Professionals always want to get the best job done that they can with the lowest cost, so they are looking for equipment that performs well consistently with minimal downtime. Because of that trend, we made a lot of performance upgrades this year and added features like our constant belt tension system, which allows users to run the machine for hundreds of hours without adjusting the deck drive belt. We also changed our deck leveling system, and whittled the previous 16 adjustment points down to only four. All of these changes, while they may seem small on their own, add to the overall ease of use and are designed to cut down on the time it takes the operator to maintain the machine.
— Matt Medden, vice president of marketing, Ariens Company

Environmentally friendly/zero emissions; the ability to work a full day on a charge — 72v stands up to the challenge; and the ability to multi-task (options/accessories, etc.)/versatility.
— Raven Honsaker, director product strategy, Cushman

Although we still build spray equipment that reaches 100 feet high, overall the trend is to less height, usually 50 to 75 feet high, due to product innovations — whether trunk injections, trunk applications, or soil applications. The turf industry is moving toward more mechanized applications, which typically translates into less liquid-carrying capacity, although some herbicide products and particularly organics still require 2 to 3 gallons per 1,000 square feet application rates. As custom builders, our in-depth discussions with a company’s PHC team enables us to build not only what it needs for today, but hopefully for many years into the future as the industry innovates.
— Gary Maurer, president, Green Pro Solutions, LLC

Machines are being designed to expand the use of attachments that ultimately broaden the machine’s capabilities. Contractors now look for ways to do more work with fewer machines in order to keep their overhead costs down and their productivity up. The use of multiple attachments like power rakes, rotary cutters, and tillers being powered by one machine is a common theme.
— Jorge De Hoyos, Kubota senior product manager, skid-steers and compact track loaders

Landscape professionals continue to focus on uptime and performance of their equipment to maximize overall productivity and profitability. Those are the same things Kubota focuses on as we continue to develop products for the landscape market. We continue to monitor all segments of the turf business and strive to provide products that exceed expectations.
— Tom Vachal, Kubota senior product manager, turf

At Stihl, we are creating products that offer solutions while reducing weight, increasing power and fuel efficiency, and reducing the carbon footprint left behind on the job. In addition to the new products we’ve already introduced, we have a number of exciting new professional products set to be released in the coming months, all engineered with the end users in mind.
Battery-powered products continue to advance to offer more convenience than ever and to meet the unique needs of busy, hardworking professionals. Thanks to lithium-ion technology, we are well past the days of battery products offering subpar performance when compared to their gas-powered counterparts, which was the case when the outdoor power equipment industry was relying on nickel cadmium batteries to fuel products. We are now seeing and creating battery-powered products that are either equivalent or better than gas-powered models.
Stihl is consistently focused on improving the landscaping and lawn care industry by providing solutions conducive to commercial use, giving professionals the run time and flexibility they need.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales at Stihl Inc.

We continue to see more and more landscapers moving from sitting to standing, and we also see more EFI engines selling, especially on larger mowers.
— Hal White, vice president of sales, Wright Mfg.

Based on feedback from our channel partners and end users of Toro equipment, we know landscape contractors are looking to do more with their equipment. As a result, manufacturers like Toro are looking for solutions to bring added productivity and versatility to customers. One example would be the new GrandStand Multi Force, in being able to accomplish a variety of tasks with one machine.
Landscape contractors are also looking for equipment with clear ergonomic benefits. The new Toro Z Master with MyRide Suspension System is a direct response to this trend in the marketplace. Built for maximum comfort, the innovative MyRide Suspension System features a fully suspended operator platform that delivers 3.6 inches of travel. This design reduces impacts, bumps and vibrations for a superior ride experience and increased productivity.
Another trend we see continuing is in regards to EFI, fuel efficiency and productivity. Toro has an extensive EFI offering on Z Master and GrandStand models, delivering fuel efficiency beyond a typical carbureted engine.
— Chris Hannan, senior marketing manager, The Toro Company

L&I: What are the key factors this year that are impacting equipment buying habits?

The weather.
— Donna Beadle, senior external relations specialist, Polaris Off-Road Vehicles

Many contractors across North America struggle to find qualified labor to support landscape businesses. The main reason for this is the labor-intensive nature of the work. It’s physically demanding, and that, in turn, can make finding and retaining quality crew members difficult.
That’s why compact utility loaders are growing in popularity among landscape contractors. The physical labor aspect of a job can be reduced by the use of a machine that is many times stronger than a human. Also, it doesn’t get tired. It isn’t affected by the environment as much as a human is. It doesn’t show up late or call in sick.
— Matt Hutchinson, product manager, tree care/rental & landscape at Vermeer

Operators are expecting increased versatility with their mini skid-steers. They are also looking for equipment that helps get the job done faster and easier. Mini skid-steers offer a variety of attachments to help perform multiple smaller jobs. This saves time and money for operators who may have needed multiple pieces of equipment on one jobsite in the past, but now only require one. The total horsepower and the power directed to the attachment are both key factors that impact an operator’s buying habits. In many applications, the higher the horsepower, the quicker the job can get finished for improved productivity and profitability.
— Andrew Schuermann, Ditch Witch product manager, compact equipment

One factor this year is the financing, or cheap money. Some contractors are turning their fleets sooner and/or leasing. Leasing seems to be making a comeback for some medium to large landscape companies.
They essentially lease the mowers for the entire warranty period, then roll into another lease with several more new mowers — hence all their mowers are in the warranty period. Except for normal maintenance, any problems are covered. This helps them control costs and reduce costly downtime.
— Frank Nuss, marketing and product specialist, national accounts, Excel Industries Inc. (Hustler)

Interest rates remain low, and the business climate is robust. Those are two key factors that always influence buying habits. But equipment manufacturers have also improved their product offerings in the last several years. The equipment continues to get better, adding features customers want. Whether it’s performance features of the new fuel-injected engines, the popularity of rubber tracks, improved ergonomics, or the versatility of new attachments and work tools, today’s machinery is more productive and comfortable to operate than it’s ever been. The machines available today simply have features that customers feel are worth trading up to.
— J.R. Bowling, vice president, Rayco Mfg. Inc.

The cost of traditional fuels will always directly impact propane mower sales in some way, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how little it impacted sales over the last year with the cost of gasoline and diesel so low. We think this is because more contractors are realizing that the cost of propane is a byproduct of petroleum, a majority of which comes from natural gas refining. That means propane will also decrease if oil costs are down, and remain lower than the costs of gasoline, because propane can cut seasonal maintenance costs and doesn’t need costly add-on equipment parts to reduce emissions. Contractors can also work with their propane retailer to set an annual price for gallons used, which can insulate them from fluctuations in the oil market.
— Jeremy Wishart, deputy director of business development for the Propane Education & Research Council

Commercial contractors demand longevity and durability while pairing up with the right dealer now more than ever. Downtime and lost earnings can be avoided when the dealership is capable of doing everything possible to guarantee uptime. Having a Cub Cadet warranty means standing behind equipment with same-day service, parts and a loaner program that will influence the buyer that your equipment is the right choice.
— Allen Baird, product marketing manager (professional products), Cub Cadet

Since 2009, customers have become more value conscious than ever. Rental has become a more popular option for many Terex customers, because it allows them to only pay for the equipment they need, when they need it most. This has required that we at Terex focus on giving these customers a more immediate return on investment in our equipment offering without sacrificing performance and quality.
— Gregg Warfel, division sales manager, compact, Terex Construction Americas

As with any election year, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty over what will happen with consumer confidence. While we aren’t certain of what economic implications this election cycle will bring to the landscape and irrigation industry, we are observing that industry buying habits are somewhat reserved at the moment.
In addition, the challenges landscape companies face with the H-2B visa issue hiring seasonal workers impedes their ability to take on more work, which equates to fewer equipment purchases.
— William Walton, assistant vice president of Honda Power Equipment operations

An improved economy is lifting contractor confidence, especially with low gas prices, low interest rates, a booming housing market and a strong automotive/truck sector. Good moisture and a long fall leaf season, of course, would be a bonus.
— Pierre Pereira, director of sales, North America, Billy Goat Industries

It seems like we say the same things every year, but it holds true this year: Weather patterns have the biggest impact. If the grass isn’t growing due to lack of moisture, then contractors aren’t buying mowers; and the opposite is true, too. The weather has been up and down this year, depending on where you live, but overall, the weather patterns this year have fostered spring growth, which we’re seeing continue into the summer.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, The Grasshopper Company

Customers are continuing to look for more than just equipment from manufacturers. When landscapers purchase a piece of equipment, they are selecting a partner that will help them increase the productivity and profitability of their business. John Deere is dedicated to developing programs that help improve our customers’ bottom lines.
One example is our Parts OnSite program, which makes restocking parts simple. Through the program, the dealer works with the customer to determine the best parts inventory for their operation, and creates an easy ordering process to ensure that the landscaper can have parts quickly reordered and delivered.
Dealers have a huge impact on the equipment-buying process. Our extensive dealer network provides landscapers with a go-to resource for their equipment selection, purchasing and maintenance needs. Another benefit of the John Deere dealership is John Deere Financial, which offers landscapers a one-stop shop for the entire purchase process.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

Information. Making all the details of what a piece of equipment can do available so they can make an educated decision. The information can be a link to a video, showroom display or magazine advertisement explaining features and benefits. Another thing we find valuable is the participation in end-user workshops and trade shows. This allows us the hands-on “touch and feel” they may not get on the showroom floor.
— Bob Petrungaro, director of sales – North America, Earthway Products, Inc.

Durable, yet simple-to-operate equipment is always desired. Besides the durability of the product, professionals continue to look at how efficient the equipment is, as they need to stand up to rigorous and fast-paced schedules day after day. This applies to each of our brands. A good price point is also high on the list, as the past winter season was fairly mild across the nation, affecting landscapers’ budgets.
Warranties, like Bob-Cat’s new Mow with Confidence warranty, are also a key factor in a final purchase. We increased our warranties on all the Bob-Cat products because we are confident that our products can take on all the tough challenges in the market, and we want our customers to be confident as well.
— Ron Scheffler, product manager – Bob-Cat Mowers, and Anne Marie Sanicola, product manager – Ryan and Steiner

The continued improvement of the U.S. housing market seems to play a large role when landscapers are in the market for compact equipment. As the housing market continues to improve, so do sales for compact equipment and attachments. In addition, as housing values recover from their lows during the last recession, homeowners are investing in their properties to install new hardscapes or landscape features.
It is also worth mentioning, for some landscaping professionals, leasing compact equipment is an attractive option to minimize out-of-pocket costs while gaining advantages of operating new machines that are under warranty. Monthly fixed costs with little or no downtime help landscaping professionals stay on schedule. Bobcat Company encourages landscaping professionals to visit their local Bobcat equipment dealership and consult with a sales specialist about whether purchasing or leasing is the best choice for growing an equipment fleet to meet current demands.
— Christopher Girodat, marketing manager, Bobcat Company

Buyers this year remain focused on two key things — safety and productivity — and they’re looking for the best ways to accomplish that. At Little Beaver, we developed and patented a device that helps them accomplish both. Our torque tube absorbs vibrations and prevents kickbacks, making it safe and easy for a single operator to control the earth drill. This increases safety and cuts labor costs in half.
That same focus carries over to our mini-trencher, the Kwik-Trench. Unlike other models on the market that require the operator to walk backward, we designed the Kwik-Trench to be pushed forward. That gives the operator an optimal view of the trenching area, which also enhances productivity.
Consumers also want assurance that their investment will be safe and productive for a long time to come. That peace of mind comes with buying products backed by a strong warranty from an experienced manufacturer focused on personal customer service.
— Mike Hale, Little Beaver sales and marketing manager

Durability and innovation are two areas that we hear professionals talking about quite often. They are always on the lookout for the latest technologies that incorporate their needs, helping them get the job done faster and more efficiently. On the other hand, and equally as important, these products have to last longer. Products that last are worth investing in. We’re always working to anticipate these needs as they evolve by having landscapers involved throughout the design process of our products.
— Pete Love, director of sales at Husqvarna

Compact track loaders provide landscape and irrigation contractors exactly what they desire — increased productivity and performance versus skid-steer loaders, particularly in wet, muddy conditions where wheeled units can’t work.
— George Chaney, sales manager, skid-steer & compact track loaders, JCB

One of the things that we’re seeing as a driver, in addition to productivity, is an increased desire for ease of use. We hear all the time from our landscape contractors that they’re looking for something that is durable, easy to operate, and comfortable. With enhancements that we made to the Pro-Turn 200s and 400s, such as improvements to the user interface, we placed operator controls at the user’s fingertips, making it easier than ever for the contractor to access the controls that they need. We also took ergonomics into account, making sure that the user doesn’t have to bend and twist to access the control panel. In addition, we improved the sightlines, giving great visibility to the trim lines so operators know right where they’re cutting when they’re maneuvering around an obstacle. Knowing exactly where the ends of the machine are also helps operators load and unload the machine from trailers more efficiently. Comfort was also improved in our seat systems on both the Pro-Turn 200 and 400. On both lineups, we redesigned the seat to include a plush high back and padded armrests. On the Pro-Turn 400, we also added an improved air ride system. Overall, we’re happy knowing that these machines are easier to use and comfortable to operate, and the market has been responding favorably to the changes.
— Matt Medden, vice president of marketing, Ariens Company

Trend toward environmentally friendly.
— Raven Honsaker, director product strategy, Cushman

The last couple of years have seen better profitability in the industry, so companies have more money to upgrade their equipment and become more efficient. Labor cost will always be the most expensive line item, so any money spent on equipment that reduces labor cost — even saving as little as 15 minutes per day — adds significant dollars to the bottom line.
— Gary Maurer, president, Green Pro Solutions, LLC

Customers are more knowledgeable about Tier 4 emission requirements and the after-treatment components that manufacturers use. Their inquiries during the purchase decision process are ample evidence. Most are aware, for example, that many models of equipment that were above 75 horsepower are now below that threshold so as to lower the cost solution to meet Tier 4 requirements. This is not the case on our SVL95-2s, whose horsepower went up, not down, from its predecessor. This 96-horsepower workforce power pack did not sacrifice any of its power to meet emissions. After all, the landscaping tasks did not get any easier.
— Jorge De Hoyos, Kubota senior product manager, skid-steers and compact track loaders

Competitiveness and productivity are key drivers behind buying habits of landscape professionals. To win in the marketplace, you have to stand above the competition.
— Tom Vachal, Kubota senior product manager, turf

Sales growth for the entire OPE market — including gas-, electric-and battery-powered products — is positive. That being said, sales of battery-powered products are growing exponentially. More and more professionals are seeing the multitude of benefits offered by battery-powered technology. For a long time, the battery market was growing as a result of the noise and emissions regulations in particular working environments, such as schools, hospitals and golf courses. While these requirements certainly still dictate a need for battery-powered products and actively contribute to the purchasing habits of professionals, landscapers are now also recognizing the benefits and power behind battery products, and that is really driving the market into uncharted territory.
Continued improvement in housing starts so far this year equates to improved consumer confidence and increased retail sales.
Rain is key. While we’ve had a wet and cool spring on the East Coast, slowing the start of the season, rain will be an important factor throughout the summer to ensure steady sales at the dealers. The West Coast, although still in a drought, is seeing more rain than the past few years, which will also support OPE sales in the region.
We are seeing that landscape professionals continue to buy the vast majority of their equipment from independent servicing dealers. This is one of many factors contributing to the growth of our Stihl servicing dealers.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales at Stihl Inc.

Because so many landscapers also rely on snow removal for income, the Northeast landscapers have taken a hit due to the minimal amount of snow they received this past winter. Additionally, the long, cold spring slowed down landscaper activity, ultimately leaving them with less money for equipment purchases during this season.
— Hal White, vice president of sales, Wright Mfg.

L&I: How is 2016 shaping up so far? And what is your outlook for the remainder of the year?

We’re going to see a lot more mini skid-steers in the landscaping industry in the coming years. A major reason is a compact utility loader’s potential to ease labor issues. Reducing the physical demands of a job can increase employee happiness, helping to recruit and retain employees.
— Matt Hutchinson, product manager, tree care/rental & landscape at Vermeer

2016 has started off strong. As temperatures increase, we are seeing a stronger demand for landscape and rental equipment as operators begin their spring/summer projects. Additionally, we continue to see an increase in utility infrastructure upgrades across the country; this includes utility upgrades in both commercial and residential sites where there is a need for smaller, compact equipment like the mini skid-steer. We do not foresee the market slowing down anytime soon.
— Andrew Schuermann, Ditch Witch product manager, compact equipment

2016 is shaping up well. All segments are performing well, surely due to the improving economy. Some contractors are finally replacing equipment after holding off for a few years. As people begin buying homes again, and moving into larger homes, the need for residential zero-turn mowers will continue, as well as the need for professional lawn care.
— Frank Nuss, marketing and product specialist, national accounts, Excel Industries Inc. (Hustler)

We’re really bullish on 2016. When you see things like new ZTR manufacturers entering the market, and established manufacturers executing complete product line updates like we have in the past couple of years, it portrays a general optimism for the commercial landscape industry. Our Vanguard Big Block engines continue to grow in placement on manufacturers’ top-of-the-line commercial products. And the Vanguard 810, since its launch in 2013, and the Vanguard EFI models in 2014, have continued to perform well and prove out to be a great power plant for commercial ZTRs.
— Jim Cross, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power

Although the weather has been quite wet in many areas, the 2016 spring season has been busy so far. The outlook for the rest of the year remains strong. Most of our customers report strong sales and have jobs booked out weeks, if not months, ahead.
— J.R. Bowling, vice president, Rayco Mfg. Inc.

It’s going to be another great year for propane. More than 20,000 propane mowers were used to mow residential and commercial landscapes in 2015, so we’re hopeful that number has increased between growing seasons. We extended our Propane Mower Incentive Program through April, so it’ll be exciting to get numbers back from that.
As far as the future, a research survey conducted by PERC at the beginning of the year showed that up to 34 percent of contractors are considering switching to propane-powered equipment. Fourteen OEMs currently offer propane mower models, increasing the likelihood that even if contractors aren’t familiar with propane outside of the grill in their own back yard, they’re familiar with the brands that manufacture propane mowers.
— Jeremy Wishart, deputy director of business development for the Propane Education & Research Council

We spent the past two years working with landscape contractors, designing, testing, and proving every component of the PRO Z 100. The initial launch has been very successful and well received by the OPE industry. We anticipate growth in this professional category as we expand the commercial product offerings in 2017.
— Allen Baird, product marketing manager (professional products), Cub Cadet

We absolutely see the rental trend continuing, and we have more efforts underway to continue to incorporate what we have learned into all our products.
— Gregg Warfel, division sales manager, compact, Terex Construction Americas

We are seeing a somewhat late entry of the summer season in the Northeast and upper Midwest parts of the country thus far. However, our outlook for the industry is cautiously optimistic.
— William Walton, assistant vice president of Honda Power Equipment operations

Our outlook remains positive due to the strengthening economy, a fresh and innovative Billy Goat product lineup, and outstanding channel partners.
— Pierre Pereira, director of sales, North America, Billy Goat Industries

We’re optimistic for a strong year — not only for mower sales, but for contractor revenues, as well.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, The Grasshopper Company

2016 has been a good year for us, and we expect to finish strong. We are gaining brand recognition and a reputation for reliability and cut quality.
— Karl Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing, Altoz

The beginning of the year has been positive for us, a trend that we anticipate will continue throughout 2016.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

Spring started out quickly and is maintaining a consistent level. With La Niña on the board causing drier condition across most of the U.S. this summer, we see fall seeding season being heavier than normal.
— Bob Petrungaro, director of sales – North America, Earthway Products, Inc.

For Bob-Cat, our overall mower sales are stronger than previous years, and 2016 continues to have a positive outlook for the remainder of the year. Bob-Cat has many opportunities with newer products to get into some market areas where we were not involved — especially our new QuickCat stand-on mower family, which had a phenomenal first year. Our new industry-leading Mow with Confidence warranty on our commercial zero-turn ProCat/Predator-Pro models, as well as our walk-behind models, will support our sales and outlook.
For Ryan, we’re having a strong year as well, highlighted by the launch of our new Lawnaire ZTS stand-on aerator. It’s a machine that benefits landscapers and superintendents alike, and it’s receiving a lot of great feedback in the industry so far. That combined with our existing products, and we expect to have a great year.
For Steiner, we’re focusing on the versatility of our Steiner 440 tractor. We’re exploring new markets and new opportunities to show what it can do.
— Ron Scheffler, product manager – Bob-Cat Mowers, and Anne Marie Sanicola, product manager – Ryan and Steiner

2016 is moving along quite well for the Bobcat Company and the entire compact equipment industry. The outlook for the remainder of the year appears to be positive for the company and the more than 550 Bobcat compact equipment dealers in the United States and Canada.
— Christopher Girodat, marketing manager, Bobcat Company

We received great response during Fencetech and The Rental Show, and believe that indicates strong sales for the remainder of the year. Much of that interest revolves around the versatility of applications that contractors can take on quickly and safely with a well-built earth drill and some key attachments and blades. We’re ready to meet this growing demand thanks to our expanded production line, so we’re confident it will be a strong year.
— Mike Hale, Little Beaver sales and marketing manager

It’s been a good year so far thanks to the great results we’ve seen across categories. With this momentum and our robust product lineup, we have a very positive outlook for the rest of the year.
— Pete Love, director of sales at Husqvarna

2016 has been a year of opportunity, with growth in many areas. Texas, Oklahoma and western Canada have been hard hit in the oil and gas industry, but other areas are experiencing excellent economic growth. Now that manufacturers have introduced their new Tier 4 Final-compliant models, and that dealer stock of older Tier 3 or Tier 4i models is being reduced, equipment buyers in the landscape and irrigation industry are in an excellent position to obtain new T4 Final models, with numerous technological advancements over their predecessors, at very competitive prices.
— George Chaney, sales manager, skid-steer & compact track loaders, JCB

The continued theme is slow and steady improvement. There is no particular boom we can point to, but indicators continue to improve: Housing starts are holding steady, down in April by 1.7 percent compared to April 2015, but up considerably over April 2014. The total value of residential construction from April 2015 to April 2016 has increased by 7.7 percent, which is a good sign for the landscaping industry as the higher-valued developments typically desire a greater investment in landscaping services, both hardscape and planting/decorative. U.S. home prices and new-home sales are also at post-recession highs. As supply and demand narrows, home sellers will be looking to make a greater first impression when prospective buyers approach their property, and that starts with landscaping.
Similarly, if you look at non-residential markets such as lodging, office and commercial development, there are noticeable year-over-year improvements in construction value: 24.6, 20.3 and 6.8 percent, respectively. Landscaping services are key for these markets.
It’s a good time for landscapers, as people and businesses are investing in their properties. And as the demand for improved landscape and outdoor living increases, landscapers are more actively investing in their equipment fleets more aggressively than the past few years. All of this creates a perfect storm that is driving many landscapers to invest in their businesses now.
We expect these trends to continue throughout the remainder of 2016, although all of these factors could be affected rather suddenly from volatility in other markets (oil and gas and related fuel prices), and consumer confidence related to the presidential election and the overall economy.
— Andrew Dargatz, brand marketing manager, Case Construction Equipment

By far, the best thing has been the response to our new products so far this year. We’ve really seen an incredible increase in demand for the new Pro-Turns, and that’s something that we’re excited about.
— Matt Medden, vice president of marketing, Ariens Company

Shaping up as expected. We have a major product launch coming up that should make for an exciting Q3 and Q4.
— Raven Honsaker, director product strategy, Cushman

Equipment costs have not gone up nearly as much as other segments of the economy, so now is the time to buy. Rather than waiting until year-end, many companies who are forecasting profits are moving ahead now to get the equipment on line for the fall. Also, if a company is looking to recruit talent to their organization, new equipment gives them an important edge over the competition. Green Pro Solutions is busy building equipment that makes companies more productive and profitable.
— Gary Maurer, president, Green Pro Solutions, LLC

The CTL market is on pace to beat last year’s numbers, which, for the first time ever, outnumbered the skid-steers volume. Our SVL95-2s and its complement of attachments have been well received.
— Jorge De Hoyos, Kubota senior product manager, skid-steers and compact track loaders

The season has started off very good for Kubota. Weather patterns have helped to increase demand, and Kubota’s strong dealer network continues to meet the needs of customers seeking high-quality turf products.
— Tom Vachal, Kubota senior product manager, turf

The OPE market as a whole continues to see steady growth. While sales of battery-powered products are growing exponentially, gas and electric sales are also positive.
It is looking like another great year for Stihl Inc. Sales are strong across the board, and we’ve seen significant growth within the battery segment. We credit this success to the work of our more than 9,000 servicing dealers who continue to take market share from the big-box retailers.
Research and development continues to be a high priority for Stihl as we strive to provide professionals solutions and improvements to their time spent on the job. While battery is a huge focus for us right now, this does not discount the need and value of gasoline-powered models. It’s important to us to remain at the forefront of the outdoor power equipment industry as a whole, meaning that gas-powered equipment will remain a significant part of our investment in groundbreaking design and engineering.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales at Stihl Inc.

Due to the slowed activity in the Northeast, we expect retail to remain relatively flat.
— Hal White, vice president of sales, Wright Mfg.

Advertisement