Interview with Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI

In an exclusive interview with OPE magazine, Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), recently shared his thoughts regarding the outdoor power equipment (OPE) industry overall, equipment trends, and OPEI initiatives. He also provided a unique look ahead to the industry’s premier event – GIE+EXPO 2018.


OPE: We recently completed our annual Equipment Trends editorial coverage, during which we ask OPE manufacturers about industry trends, influencing factors, and overall industry outlook. Battery technology and battery-powered equipment seems to be at the forefront for most of companies that responded to our questions. In your opinion, are the advancements in battery technology the most significant and impactful OPE trend in recent years? And what advice do you have for the OPE dealers in our readership with regard to battery-powered equipment?

Kiser: There’s no doubt that battery-powered equipment is a significant trend in the OPE industry, and it’s another example of the continued expansion of power choices for customers. Homeowners and professional contractors can now pick their power and choose from an increasingly broad selection of equipment powered by gasoline or diesel engines, batteries, propane, solar or liquefied natural gas for the work they’re doing. OPE dealers and retailers will be well served to continue to act as advisers for their customers, helping them pick the right power source and the right equipment for their needs.


OPE: Battery technology aside, what other trends or factors do you think are having the biggest impact on the OPE industry right now? And what trends or factors do you anticipate having the biggest impact in the years to come?

Kiser: We’re seeing workforce challenges at every level of the industry – servicing dealers, landscape contractors, and manufacturers. Even as the overall market grows and economic indicators point to continued expansion, it’s just getting more difficult for many folks to find and keep quality employees to do the work. It’s hampering growth across the industry.

For our part, OPEI is working with the landscape community to address these challenges in Congress, and find long-term solutions to the H-2B program, and with coalition groups across the outdoor power equipment, tree care and other industries to help companies solve their workforce challenges.


OPE: Outdoor power equipment dealers not only face competition from big box retailers, but also face the increasing pressure of Amazon and other online retailers especially with regard to the sale of parts. What advice do you have for OPE dealers for competing in this ever-changing industry?

Kiser: OPE dealers should continue to position themselves as a resource for customers as they pick their power and equipment. Service will continue to be of ultimate importance to users, and in particular commercial contractors, who need equipment running to keep their business earning money. But as customers have more choices on where to buy their parts and even equipment, OPE dealers can differentiate themselves as a place to find solutions, advice and repair services that customers can’t get elsewhere.


OPE: Now that the new OPEI headquarters are open, what efforts are at the forefront for OPEI?

Kiser: We continue to promote the living landscape and defend it from attacks from those who would limit or eliminate it. Governments, NGOs, and regulatory agencies continue to focus narrowly on the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides, and demonize the living landscape.

Kiser and his dog, Lucky (a.k.a., TurfMutt)

Our TurfMutt education program and Save Living Landscapes campaign promote and defend the managed landscape in a meaningful way. Through our education partnerships – first with Weekly Reader, then Discovery Education and now Scholastic, the world’s largest education provider – TurfMutt has reached more than 68 million students, teachers and families.

TurfMutt is an education partner with the U.S. Green Building Council, and is featured in its Global Learning Lab curriculum. TurfMutt is also a listed educational resource on the websites of the U.S. EPA, Department of Education, and Fish and Wildlife Service, among others, and is an annual feature with the Wildlife Habitat Council.

And TurfMutt will build on its three seasons of success at CBS’s “Lucky Dog” by sponsoring a new TV show – Ready, Set, Pet! – debuting this fall on the CW. The show, produced in partnership with Litton Entertainment and Hearst Television, shows the true value of the living landscape: a place for pets and families to play, and an asset that filters rainwater, produces oxygen, cools the environment, reduces dust and debris, sequesters carbon, and provides habitat for pollinators.

Our message is that nature starts at your back door. Everyone needs access to the living landscape, and that greenspace should make sense for their lifestyle.

OPEI is also actively engaged with the Consumer Products Safety Commission on regulatory matters, we’re before the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative on issues of trade and tariffs, and we’re confronting significant challenges by the California Air Resources Board on future product regulations in the state.


OPE: As we approach GIE+EXPO 2018, what are you most excited about regarding this year’s show?

Kiser: This show is the place to be if you’re in the OPE industry. For five years running, we’ve seen the GIE+EXPO be the biggest ever, and this year is no exception. Already our sold exhibitor space has surpassed 2017 numbers, and attendance is on track to beat last year as well. I’m excited to watch the continued evolution of the show into an outdoor living and equipment exposition, and an event that fosters connections among OPE dealers, contractors and suppliers – and to see those connections continue.


OPE: GIE+EXPO’s origins stem from the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition, which was geared toward outdoor power equipment dealers. Over the years, and through the evolution of the event, GIE+EXPO has become more heavily geared toward landscape industry professionals. What should outdoor power equipment dealers know about GIE+EXPO 2018 and why they should attend?

Kiser: Our industry’s trade show has evolved along with the power equipment industry and the GIE+EXPO of today is really an outdoor living and equipment exposition – it now includes outdoor power equipment dealers, professional landscapers and hardscapers. Thanks to a partnership with our friends at Hardscape North America, attendees now can get a first look at – and test drive – all the latest outdoor living products and equipment that their customers are going to want next spring.


OPE: As president and CEO of OPEI, you have been instrumental in the evolution of GIE+EXPO. The size, scope and attendance of the show continues to set new records each year. Of what aspects of the event are you most proud?

Kiser: I’m really just proud of our team. I have genuine affection for Louisville, having gone to school there. I want to acknowledge how the city and especially Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, continue to go to bat for our industry and our show. And it is truly a partnership with Louisville, Kentucky, and the Kentucky Exposition Center. It’s all of us pulling together for a common purpose.

We’ve succeeded because the show has evolved. It’s the place for new products, education and training. The expansion with HNA allows us to look holistically at the outdoor space, and the positive role it plays in our everyday lives. We create safe spaces for families, pets and sports. To see it all come together with landscapers, hardscapers, dealers and equipment suppliers under one roof – that’s what I’m proud of. Everyone has worked together to make it an integrated experience. It’s not just GIE+EXPO, or equipment –  I like to call it the annual family reunion, where we all get together, share stories, and do a little business.

What is for sure is that if you don’t come, you’re going to miss something. So make that hotel reservation soon – they’re selling out!


OPE: And where do you see GIE+EXPO headed in the years to come?

Kiser: GIE+EXPO continues to evolve and change to serve the needs of an expanding audience. Equipment suppliers, dealers, retailers, professional landscapers, and hardscapers all come to Louisville for three days in the fall to connect with one another, test out the latest products, and learn how to improve their business. I’m proud that OPEI and our trade show partners at NALP and PGMS have played a part in building a place for those connections to happen. When you walk around the show floor this year, you’ll see products and power sources that you wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Looking to the future, the industry’s trade show will evolve and change along with the industry. But exhibitors will continue to showcase the latest and most innovative new products, and attendees will continue to get a sneak peek at where the industry is headed.

And if you know anything about me, you know I’m passionate about three things: the outdoor power equipment industry, GIE+EXPO, and rescue dogs. This year, I’ve found a way to tie all those things together at the show – a public rescue dog adoption event held on the trade show floor.

GIE+EXPO is about the people who create the outdoor spaces for pets, kids, and families. And our own beloved rescue dog, Lucky, is the inspiration and face of the TurfMutt education program. This adoption event will tie all that together, let us give back to the community of Louisville, and showcase the good work of the Kentucky Humane Society.

All GIE+EXPO attendees are invited to Freedom Hall Thursday, Oct. 18, at lunch for a first-ever rescue adoption event to find their next best friend, and adopt their own backyard superhero. Get ready for ‘Show Dogs.’ It ain’t Westminster.


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