It all started with a lawn mower.
Well, a few lawn mowers. In 1952, 11 mower manufactures joined forces to form the Lawn Mower Institute. This nonprofit trade association – renamed the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) in 1960 – today encompass more than 100 companies that make outdoor power equipment, engines, and UTVs used by homeowners and professionals in the landscape, hardscape, construction, golf and agricultural industries.
Now, more than sixty years later, OPEI remains on the forefront of industry advocacy. There are many reasons why the association of OEMs and suppliers is so important to outdoor power equipment dealers and the entire OPE industry.
OPEI was formed to give those 11 mower manufacturers a common voice as they developed the first voluntary safety standards for their equipment, which was coming under scrutiny from the federal government.
The association was born out of an interest in safety, and that focus remains a core tenet of the organization. OPEI is the advocacy voice of the industry, and a recognized Standards Development Organization for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and is active internationally through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in the development of safety and performance standards.
“As the industry continues to evolve, one thing has remained constant – our members’ dedication to providing safe, reliable equipment to all their customers,” said Kris Kiser president and CEO of OPEI. “Through their engagement with OPEI and our partners, our members speak with a common voice, and are true advocates for safe equipment.”
Since the creation of that first standard for mowers, the association has grown to create and maintain 18 safety and performance standards that apply to a broad range of equipment – including UTVs, leaf blowers and chain saws (and, coming later this year, the first-ever robotic lawn mower safety standard).
“Safety standards illustrate the outdoor power equipment industry’s technological innovation and advancements,” said Kiser. “As products evolve, they include more state-of-the-art technologies and use a diverse range of power sources; and our standards evolve as well.”
OPEI represents more than 100 original equipment manufacturers of outdoor power equipment, small engines and UTVs that use all power sources, including, but not limited to, battery, diesel, diesel-electric hybrid, electric, gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid, propane and solar.
“OPEI members make equipment that let contractors and consumers ‘pick their power,’” said Kiser. “They provide customers with a range of products and power sources that let them choose the right equipment for the job they’re doing.”
Although the association once exclusively represented mower manufacturers, today it boasts more than 100 members that make a broad range of equipment and products powered by a diverse range of power sources. In 2001, the trade group absorbed the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association (PPEMA), adding handheld OEMs to its ranks. Manufacturers of UTVs, portable generators, and golf cars also are members.
“OPEI’s strength is in its members,” said Kiser. “And as the industry has evolved, so has our membership. Every time we’ve added members, we’ve become a stronger organization.”
In fact, membership has grown so much that OPEI had to move. In 2018, the association moved into a new building, which it purchased in Alexandria, Va., to accommodate increasingly large committee meetings. It houses the association’s new state-of-the-art conference center, and gives OPEI the opportunity to host meetings of international partner organizations.
“We had a problem – a really good problem,” said Kiser. “We increased our membership and increased our member engagement to a point that we’d outgrown our previous location and meeting space.”
Market statistics program
The trade group started collecting monthly shipment data from its members in 1953, and continues the program to this day – giving its members not just a current picture of the industry, but also forecasts on where it will head in the coming years.
Since then, the program has greatly expanded – it now collects data on 30 different products (battery-, electric- and engine-powered equipment, as well as UTVs and handheld products). The association’s Market Statistics Committee issues quarterly shipment reports and industry forecasts, which help members better understand what is currently happening in market, and where it is likely to head in the future.
“In response to the continued evolution of the market, and the diversifying portfolio of products our members produce, OPEI continues to expand its reporting categories to include battery and electric products,” said Kiser.
GIE+EXPO continues to grow and evolve
The show that became the Green Industry & Equipment Expo (GIE+EXPO) began in 1984 as the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition. OPEI is the managing partner of the annual trade show, which offers OPE and powersports dealers the best place to see the latest in engines, equipment and UTVs and accessories, learn from top-notch educational seminars, and network with colleagues.
In 2007, OPEI partnered with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (formerly the Professional Landcare Network) and the Professional Grounds Management Society to create the modern GIE+EXPO. It has since grown into the 10th largest trade show in the United States, and the show continues to grow and evolve. In 2010, Hardscape North America began co-locating in Louisville, adding hardscape and outdoor living products, and in 2016 GIE+EXPO launched UTV University, recognizing a growing product trend for dealers and contractors. GIE+EXPO has reported record attendance and exhibit space for five years running.
“This show continues to be the gathering place for the entire industry,” said Kiser. “And thanks to its continued growth, this fall will be another must-attend event for outdoor power equipment dealers, landscapers, hardscapers, and other industry professionals. If you’re in the outdoor power equipment business, it’s the place you have to be.”
Industry advocacy and education
Another key role the association has played since its inception is industry advocacy. Since its first safety standard was developed, OPEI has given its members – comprised of a broad collection of often-competing companies – a common voice and way to act together to protect and promote their common interest. The association works with agencies and groups – such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and many others – on behalf of its members and the broader industry.
In 2007, to more fully engage in the political arena, OPEI hired Kiser as vice president of public affairs. He would go to succeed Bill Harley as president and CEO of OPEI following Harley’s retirement in 2011.
Shortly after, the association introduced new committees including the Battery and Electric Products Committee and Legal and Regulatory Compliance Committee, and began adding battery and electric product categories to the Market Statistics Committee’s shipment reporting program.
One of OPEI’s key education programs is TurfMutt, which the association’s education foundation launched in 2009 as a way to educate teachers, children and their families about the positive environmental benefits the living landscape provides. Through partnerships with Weekly Reader, Discovery Education and Scholastic, the TurfMutt program has reached more than 68 million people with its message that everyone can be a backyard superhero.
In 2013, the association launched the “Look Before You Pump” campaign in response to higher blends of ethanol entering the fuels marketplace. The campaign encourages consumers to “look before they pump” their fuel, ensuring they use only E10 or less gasoline in their outdoor power equipment, small engines and other non-road equipment, which aren’t built or warranted for higher blends of ethanol fuel.
“OPEI provides regulators and other groups factual, actionable information about our industry,” said Kiser. “We give them positive solutions to the problems they’re trying to solve. If you just make noise, you’re not relevant.”
Looking to the future
OPEI – a spry 66-year-old – is as relevant now as ever. The association continues to grow and face new challenges along with the industry it serves. And that industry has changed a lot in the past six-plus decades – power sources have diversified along with distributor and supplier channels, and regulations have become more stringent. But what hasn’t changed is the association’s dedication to serving its members and supporting the outdoor power equipment industry.
“The product you see today for sale at dealers and retailers across the country isn’t your grandfather’s outdoor power equipment,” said Kiser. “It’s cleaner, it’s safer, and is available with many different power sources. As the industry has evolved, it still faces challenges, and OPEI stands ready to face those on behalf its members.”
Article and all photos and graphics provided by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.
1952: 11 manufacturers organize and charter the nonprofit trade association The Lawn Mower Institute
1953: The Lawn Mower Institute launches a monthly statistics reporting program
1956: Engine manufacturers are invited to join the organization
1960: The association changes its name to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute
1961: OPEI creates its first safety seal
1962: OPEI becomes a member of the American Standards Association (now the American National Standards Institute)
1969: OPEI approves the independent third-party testing of lawn mowers
1984: OPEI launches the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition, the industry’s first trade show
2001: OPEI merges with the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association (PPEMA)
2007: OPEI merges the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition with the Green Industry Expo, creating GIE+EXPO
2009: OPEI creates and debuts TurfMutt, a science-based curriculum that focuses on the environmental benefits turfgrass and the living landscape provide
2010: TurfMutt expands through a partnership with Discovery Education; Hardscape North America (HNA) co-locates with GIE+EXPO
2012: OPEI launches OPEI Canada, a nonprofit entity that interfaces with Canadian authorities on product recycling and manufacturer recovery responsibilities
2013: OPEI launches Look Before You Pump, a consumer and industry education campaign that promotes the use of E10 or less fuel in outdoor power equipment and small engines
2015: TurfMutt partners with CBS television as a sponsor of “Lucky Dog”
2016: TurfMutt is named an educational partner of the U.S. Green Building Council, and has its curriculum featured as a resource in its global Learning Lab
2017: OPEI purchases a new headquarters building in Alexandria, VA; after four years of continued growth, GIE+EXPO is named the 10th largest trade show in the United States; TurfMutt is featured in the National Geographic book “Love Unleashed”
OPEI Board of Directors
Chair: Dan Ariens, president and CEO, Ariens Company
Vice Chair: Tom Cromwell, group president, Kohler Power, Kohler Company
Secretary/Treasurer: Bjoern Fischer, President, Stihl
Immediate Past Chair: Tim Merrett, vice president, global platform turf and utility, Deere and Company
Edward B. Cohen, vice president, government and industry relations, American Honda Motor Company, Inc.
Tim Dorsey, president, Echo Incorporated
Tom Duncan, president and CEO, Positec USA, Inc.
Peter Hampton, president and CEO, Active Exhaust Corporation
Jean Hlay, president and COO, MTD Products, Inc.
Rick Olson, president and CEO, The Toro Company
Lee Sowell, president, Outdoor Products, Techtronic Industries
Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO, Briggs and Stratton Corporation
Mark Wagner, president and CEO, Club Car, LLC
Joe Wright, president and CEO, Excel Industries