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Landscape and Irrigation magazine recently asked a wide range of equipment manufacturers and suppliers to share their insights about the equipment market, and how the trends they are seeing will impact your equipment decisions.

Equipment Trends 2013

Landscape and Irrigation magazine recently asked a wide range of equipment manufacturers and suppliers to share their insights about the equipment market, and how the trends they are seeing will impact your equipment decisions. Their observations are as follows:


 


What trends are you seeing with regard to equipment for the professional landscape and lawn care markets?


 


Everybody is looking for the best possible product with the most features, but under tight budgets, pricing is very sensitive.


— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries


 


Trends in term of design for small manufacturers like Turf Teq are the need to listen and understand customer demands, and design only the products they are willing to spend their money to purchase. Listening closely to what your customers are willing to spend money on is more important than ever. A trend in manufacturing is an increase in the use of technology. As technological advances become more affordable, manufacturers are adapting it into their production as a way to become more efficient and reduce labor costs. In terms of sales, we are seeing customers purchasing items that will show a quick ROI — no more wish lists. If it will pay back in less than a year, buy it: if not, it is not a necessary purchase.


— James R. Day, managing partner, Turf Teq


 


I think one important trend in play across the industry is the concept of doing more using fewer resources. This is manifesting itself in the innovative new power plant options available, both in gasoline- and propane-fueled models. The widespread adoption of Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) on our zero-turn models has dramatically increased fuel economy for contractors – a critical concern in this time of $4/gallon gasoline. And we have been selling as many of the new propane-EFI Lazer Z S-Series zero-turn riders as we can build. Now that we have engines built specifically for propane, such as the new Kohler EFI engine we’re using, the performance is virtually indistinguishable from a gasoline-powered unit. And with much greater fuel economy than converted, carbureted propane engines, this new engine can run for more than seven hours on one tank of fuel – a significant benefit for contractors. Factor in the cost of propane fuel, which is relatively lower than gasoline, and the value proposition of this new model is especially compelling.


— Daryn Walters, Exmark director of marketing


 


The latest equipment trend is all about productivity. More than ever, landscape and lawn care professionals are willing to pay a little extra for equipment, as long as they can prove a strong return on investment. To address this trend, we’ve been developing products in our SnowEx and TurfEx lines that help our customers save on material, labor and maintenance costs. Dependability is another key factor, since downtime in this industry can be very costly.


— James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing for SnowEx and TurfEx products.


 


1. Value. The professional customer is looking for performance, service life and ROI. All are important criteria that help add to the bottom line in a very competitive market. Margins are typically tight because of competition. Downtime is not acceptable and this type of customer is usually willing to pay for the extra quality, performance and ROI that is inherently expected.


2. Ergonomics. We’re talking about a market segment that expects the product to utilize the latest ergonomic design innovations. Most handheld equipment is subject to long periods of usage and whatever can be done from a design viewpoint to make use of sound ergonomic design principles is important to maximize productivity and minimize workers compensation issues.


3. Availability of replacement parts. If and when replacement parts are needed, it is critical that the distribution system be able to ship with a minimum amount of lead time.


— Dennis Von Ruden, president of General Equipment Company


 


Efficiency is top priority. This trend is leading to lower horsepower, smaller equipment with increased fuel economy and faster cutting speeds.


— Mark Meyers, marketing manager for Dixie Chopper


 


We’re seeing a shift in the industry in regards to small walk-behind mowers. The professional landscape and lawn care industry has really embraced our new TurfMaster 30-inch mower. We believe there was a gap that needed to be filled between the smaller 21-inch mowers and midsize wide-area mowers. The new 30-inch mower has helped to fill the gap. Contractors are always looking for ways to be more productive on every job and this unit has done that.


In addition, landscape contractors are beginning to incorporate more EFI mowers into their fleet. There are a lot of factors that go into that decision. One of the most important considerations is the fuel savings. EFI mowers are up to 25 percent more fuel efficient than non-EFI models. These units also reduce the engine’s CO2 emissions; automatically adapt to load, weather, fuel and altitude changes; and have no-choke starting that help operators get down to work quickly.


— Ryan Moorlag, associate marketing manager at Toro, and Chris Hannan, marketing manager at Toro


 


• Ease of operation: User friendly controls for convenient operation and more sensibility.


• Fewer maintenance requirements: Our two newest machines — the RTX250 and SC30TX — have three or less grease points, and all filters are located in visible areas for quick maintenance.


• Compact size and variety of attachments to match: Our mini skid-steer family offers more than 30 attachments.


• EFI engine: Electronic fuel injection means reliable starting, no carburetor, fuel usage optimization and no choke.


— Andy Van Soelen, rental solutions specialist, Vermeer Corporation


 


Over the past few years, we noticed that landscape professionals are adding to their fleets for the first time in four years, and we’re seeing higher trends in trading out equipment. We’re finally seeing the recession in this market starting to loosen up. People had been running machines longer and had higher maintenance and repair bills. But now they are beginning to trade out those machines for new equipment. The landscape market follows the housing market closely. Now that we are seeing some construction being done, I think we’re going to see the landscape market come back. It has been down since 2008. Back in 2006, landscape was one of our top markets. Now landscape is not even one of our top three. We don’t see it as a trend unless we have three years of data, but landscape is looking to be a strong market. With housing on the upswing, I’m optimistic.


— Rob Gilles, marketing manager, Bobcat


 


We have found commercial users are requesting products such as lawn mowers, pumps, and tillers that offer the least amount of downtime and the best fuel economy possible. Having both attributes allows landscapers to get the most value from their machine investment while helping them effectively complete their work. These needs further support current and future core product development attributes of fuel efficiency, durability and reliability.


— Alex Torre, lawn and garden marketing manager, Honda Power Equipment


 


Landscapers are looking for products that offer a combination of performance, durability, comfort and quality. Where possible, they like to stick with one brand to ensure that each product in their trailer is top quality — and so that they can take advantage of discounts that come with buying higher volumes.


— Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for Husqvarna


 


In the landscape market, we are seeing a focus on simplicity in maintenance and operation. Many companies have several different operators, and the machine needs to be customizable to these different equipment users. We are also seeing a huge and growing need for specialty attachments.


— Kelly Moore, product and training specialist for Mustang skid-steer loaders


 


We have been challenged to produce more efficient products with lower emissions as a result of the ongoing “go green” trend. To meet these challenges, Tanaka’s PureFire engine technology was developed to be more environmentally friendly while still providing powerful performance. This technology achieves lower emissions and lower fuel consumption, therefore producing less carbon dioxide/hydrocarbons, and improving fuel efficiency compared to traditional engines.


— Kelly Weeks, associate product manager, Tanaka Power Equipment


 


One of the trends we are seeing is the shift in the marketplace for commercial zero-turn mowers to larger all-enclosed hydraulic transaxles instead of the traditional pump and wheel motor drive systems. This eliminates the need for hydraulic hoses, and can perform at peak levels while helping reduce the weight and maintenance of the machine.


— Blaine Fields, national sales manager, Country Clipper Mowers


 


* Versatility. The growth of the compact tool carrier market has been driven by the need for increased versatility on jobsites. Customers see value in equipment that can perform a variety of tasks, therefore allowing them to save time and generate additional income.


* Tier 4 emission compliance. We as a manufacturer do our due diligence in keeping cost as low as possible to help offset the rising cost of engines associated with Tier 4 emission compliance. 


* Design. The New RT30 was specifically designed to lower initial investment costs, lower cost of ownership, and improve or protect a higher ROI.


— Matt Collins, product manager, compact & HD equipment, Ditch Witch


 


Products geared toward enhancing contractor productivity at improving price points — steerable aerators and seeders, incorporation of heavy-duty integrated transaxles versus separate components, products that are designed to be universally easier to use to allow more operators to be productive faster. Products that have improved fuel efficiency, and are more environmentally friendly.


— Pat Cappucci, President & COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.


 


One of the biggest industry trends this year is that battery-powered products are becoming more common in the professional landscaping market, especially for some niche applications.


We continue to focus on fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered products, as well as improving overall ergonomics, including reducing vibration, and power-to-weight ratios in all product segments.


Fuel efficiency goes hand-in-hand with low exhaust emissions, because the engine is burning fuel more cleanly and more efficiently with less waste, which ultimately means that landscape contractors can reduce their operating costs. Gasoline is a significant cost to any professional landscaper. We encourage these pros to consider fuel economy when making their purchasing decisions.


— Steve Meriam, director of sales, Stihl Inc.


 


A trend that never goes out of style is saving money, so to help customers reduce their fuel costs, many manufacturers are offering machines with Electronic Fuel Injection. Machines that use Electronic Fuel Injection, like our Z925 EFI, can reduce fuel consumption up to 25 percent. Also, efficiency is always in style.  Customers continually look for product features like our Mulch On Demand mowing decks, that will save them time and effort in job clean-up.


— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing


 


Manufacturers are making machine operation easier so that a broader cross-section of individuals are able to easily and, more importantly, safely operate heavy equipment. There’s also an acute focus on reducing owner and operator costs. One example is how our Tier 4i and Tier 4 Final skid steers don’t need after treatment or DPFs — there’s no DPF to service or Ad Blue tank to fill. We’re seeing a greater demand for fuel efficiency and reduced service downtime. Landscape and lawn care contractors, like most professionals, are really noticing how details like fuel consumption and maintenance costs can affect their bottom lines over time. I think this is due to the fact that many had to scale back quite a bit during the worst of the recent economic downturn, and they’re still applying what they learned then to their operations today for greater profitability.


— Chris Giorgianni, JCB vice president of product


 


 


How has this year’s weather impacted equipment sales?


 


Slow start to the season but spring has arrived and mowers are selling.


— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries


 


The colder temperatures and longer-than-normal spring have helped us increase the sales of Power Edger’s.


— James R. Day, managing partner, Turf Teq


 


Weather is a factor that nobody can plan for, and this year, to a certain extent, I think you could say almost everyone has had to deal with the weather as a factor in one way or another. But we’re working hard to consistently deliver innovations that give contractors reasons to upgrade their equipment.


— Daryn Walters, Exmark director of marketing


 


Equipment purchases have been delayed due to this year’s uncommon weather pattern. Traditionally, most people purchase snow and ice management equipment before Christmas. This year, however, many purchases came later, since most of the country’s snow and ice events happened after the holidays. And because we had a longer winter, purchases of turf care equipment were delayed as well.


— James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing for SnowEx and TurfEx products.


 


Weather has had significant impact on equipment sales in those areas that are experiencing a late spring. Driven by unseasonably lower temperatures and higher rainfall amounts, the season has been directly affected. The question is when and if the projects in those areas will get back on anything that resembles a normal track. How many projects will be placed on hold because of readjusted priorities or the inability to start and complete them within the desired timeframe.


— Dennis Von Ruden, president of General Equipment Company


 


Even with the slow start to spring, sales are better than they have been in the past several years. There are a lot of professional cutters who have been putting off the purchase of new equipment for several years because of one reason or another, and they are now finally replacing old equipment.


— Mark Meyers, marketing manager for Dixie Chopper


 


It’s been a late spring this year throughout most of the country. I think everyone in the landscaping industry is feeling the effects of that. 


— Ryan Moorlag, associate marketing manager at Toro


 


2013 had a slower start in comparison with last year. The 2012 year warmed very early and, as a result, we had an accelerated purchase and sales increment. In 2013, as temperatures slowly started to rise, we have seen a steady level of sales. After the massive devastation that Hurricane Sandy left at the end of 2012, 2013 has been a year of rebuilding. Landscape/lawn care company owners and rental stores started to renew their fleets and move dynamically a variety of machines serving not just contractors but also do-it-yourselfers.


— Andy Van Soelen, rental solutions specialist, Vermeer Corporation


 


The landscape market for us ties closely to snow removal. We didn’t see a ton of snow in October, November and December, so we didn’t see a spike in snow removal in 2012. But rolling into January, February and March 2013, we got snow. Looking at our retail data, we saw some of that typical end-of-year buying trend we expected for late 2012 actually occurred in early 2013, and we saw sales go up. Rolling into the actual landscape season, we’re still seeing sales on the upswing. That’s pretty typical for us, if the weather’s really good, all the contractors are working and not buying equipment. But with the rain, contractors are focusing on growing their fleets. The expected outcome of a wet spring would be to see a lag in sales, but we’re not seeing that.


— Rob Gilles, marketing manager, Bobcat


 


The unusual weather patterns in 2012-2013 brought about an increase in pump sales and lawn mower sales, and wet weather paired with mild weather generated a need for both products.


— Alex Torre, lawn and garden marketing manager, Honda Power Equipment


 


Spring came late; however, the timing resulted in an extended season across many regions. Sales remain strong overall.
— Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for Husqvarna


 


Over last year, Mustang has seen a growing increase in sales and market share. The drought that impacted most of the U.S. last year did quite a bit of damage to existing landscapes that are now being revitalized or replaced. A fair increase in new construction also requires more landscaping work being conducted, so, naturally, the need for either purchasing or renting skid loaders and given attachments is in demand.


— Kelly Moore, product and training specialist for Mustang skid-steer loaders


 


This year we have had some impactful weather to contend with. April was one of the coldest the U.S. has seen in the past 10 years, thus generating less demand for grass-trimming equipment than in years past. We also experienced an increase in chain saw business due to the damaging weather throughout the country. This type of equipment was in high demand to help clear areas victimized by tornadoes, hurricanes and floods.


— Kelly Weeks, associate product manager, Tanaka Power Equipment


 


One of the most important variables every year that impacts the green industry greatly is weather, and this year is no different. Many of the sections of the United States experienced a wet, cool spring, causing the demand for lawn equipment to be delayed until warmer temperatures arrived. Once the temperatures warmed up, demand for equipment exceeded most forecasts; and with continued moisture in many parts of the country, it could lead to an extended season.


— Blaine Fields, national sales manager, Country Clipper Mowers


 


Due to an extended winter and more precipitation in the spring, sales over the first two quarters are slower than Q1 and Q2 of 2012. We expect to see sales trending up as customers look to make the most of a shortened season.


— Matt Collins, product manager, compact & HD equipment, Ditch Witch


 


Everything has been delayed. Biggest impact is that contractors have missed a month to two months of revenue in some markets due to delayed/cold spring. Favorable growing conditions could extend the spring.


— Pat Cappucci, President & COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.


 


The late spring created a slow start to the maintenance and cutting season this year, but with many areas receiving good rainfall, sales balanced out once spring arrived.


The continued impact of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, coupled with Colorado wildfires and the Oklahoma tornadoes are all events that required large cleanup efforts, and chain saws are used in that process. Chain saw sales increased due to storm preparation and in response to storm aftermath.


— Steve Meriam, director of sales, Stihl Inc.


 


In many areas of the country, spring was cool and very wet, but all that rain makes the grass grow!


— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing


 


Any time a region experiences extremes — or, in some cases, natural disasters — you’re going to see an increased need for machines like ours to help with clean up and repairs. While parts of the country experienced a very late spring, which slowed down contractor activity, things seem to be picking up nationwide. That may be due to the improved economic outlook, as well as the fact more homeowners continue to improve their outdoor living spaces, both with landscapes and hardscapes. That, in turn, causes contractors to purchase more new equipment to serve those customers and capitalize on those opportunities.


— Chris Giorgianni, JCB vice president of product


 


 


What other factors are impacting the equipment buying decisions of landscape/lawn care company owners and operators?


 


Tight budgets. Some are trying to get another year out of the equipment if they can with some minor maintenance.


— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries


 


Pent up demand has resulted in landscapers having to replace equipment. When they decide to replace the equipment, they are doing their research and making the buying decisions based on the ability to improve productivity and efficiency.


— James R. Day, managing partner, Turf Teq


 


Our customers are thinking a lot about efficiency — both in terms of increased fuel efficiency and productivity. They are also looking at the long-term cost of ownership of their equipment, so the purchase price is just a part of the equation. Quality and durability become larger factors down the road, and that’s something experienced contractors understand very well. Dealer relationships are another factor that can’t be underestimated.


— Daryn Walters, Exmark director of marketing


 


Consumer confidence continues to climb higher and, in turn, landscape and lawn care professionals have more confidence that they can maintain a steady workload for the foreseeable future. Because of this trend, professionals are making more immediate decisions to purchase new equipment, rather than taking the “wait and see” approach and postponing equipment decisions.


— James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing for SnowEx and TurfEx products.


 


Driven by the late season and continued uncertainty with the direction of the economy, we see a large percentage of our products being purchased on a used basis by landscape contractors from equipment rental dealers. Specifically, the larger national accounts, including United Rentals, Sunbelt Rentals and Home Depot Tool Rental. All are regularly selling used machines to landscape contractors. Landscape contractors are taking advantage of purchasing used equipment that is fully capable of delivering years of satisfactory service at substantially depreciated prices. The availability of used equipment is directly dependent on the purchase cycle for these same accounts. One year may have a large number of machines to be sold. The following year may see a significantly reduced number available. The prudent landscape contractor is taking advantage of the existing situation and purchasing products accordingly. We get involved when replacement parts are needed.


— Dennis Von Ruden, president of General Equipment Company


 


New technologies and equipment options that make their jobs easier and add profit to the bottom line have a major impact on buying decisions.


— Mark Meyers, marketing manager for Dixie Chopper


 


Many of the newer mowers on the market are more fuel-efficient than older models; and, with fuel costs on the rise, landscape contractors are looking for ways to save at the pump.


— Ryan Moorlag, associate marketing manager at Toro


 


Customers need reliable machines that offer great serviceability. Fuel efficiency, minimal wear parts, and machine productivity are all vital factors impacting buying decisions.


When the customer estimates the cost of operation, they should look beyond the purchase price and see the whole life cycle of the machine.


— Andy Van Soelen, rental solutions specialist, Vermeer Corporation


 


When I look at retail trends, excavator sales are on the upswing. I wouldn’t call excavators new, but we’re seeing more people using excavators instead of loader backhoes. For the installation of ponds and placement of large boulders, the truth of the matter is that the excavator is the more ideal piece of equipment for landscapes because they don’t do a lot of damage, and you can get in and do those projects. People who are upgrading existing homes are driving that market. Two years ago I heard “I would like to buy excavators for hardscapes, but I don’t have the budget.” In 2012, people said they were going to buy excavators, and now, in 2013, we’re seeing it. We’re seeing a lot more fancy yards with water features and hardscapes. As that becomes the norm, it is driving equipment buying decisions. Now that landscapers are working on existing homes, we’re seeing higher excavator sales, and lower skid-steer sales to this market.


— Rob Gilles, marketing manager, Bobcat


 


Value, fuel economy and durability of equipment have emerged as some of the top buying considerations for landscape managers and lawn care companies interested in making the most of their investment.


— Alex Torre, lawn and garden marketing manager, Honda Power Equipment


 


Owners and operators respond well to promotions. For example, we recently introduced a promotion wherein each P-ZT or PZ purchase comes with a free backpack blower, which resulted in increased sales. They’re also looking for a product that’s durable since issues with equipment impacts their bottom line. When a part is down, they want dealers with readily available parts that can be serviced quickly.


— Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for Husqvarna


 


New emissions and EPA regulations provide an added component to decision making. Buyers must choose between new Tier IV models vs. older technology Interim Tier IV models for those models in the 75-hp. to 85-hp. category. Buyers should also have a very good idea what they will be doing — job applications — with these machines to ensure that they get the right machine for their jobs. Skid loaders come in a wide variety of sizes, capacities and power; a buyer needs to be aware of these features and specifications, as well as comfort and operating options, before purchasing.


— Kelly Moore, product and training specialist for Mustang skid-steer loaders


 


Utilization. With two economic downturns within the last 12 years, customers appear to be more cost conscious than ever before. When coupled with lower equipment utilization, this cost-conscious trend is driving customers to rely more heavily on rental companies to fill their equipment needs.


— Matt Collins, product manager, compact & HD equipment, Ditch Witch


 


The economy and reduced incomes, coupled with customers dealing with increased expenses from healthcare. This has heightened the competition for accounts and business, forcing contractors to be more efficient and tighter in their pricing models.


— Pat Cappucci, President & COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.


 


When you are earning a living with your outdoor power equipment, you want to get the most reliable, durable equipment for your money. But the service provided by the local servicing dealer really can impact the buying decision. Landscapers should take the time to cultivate relationships with their local dealers and then support them fully.


There are several things to consider before purchasing equipment. It is important to factor in both the short- and the long-term effects of an equipment purchase. Whether landscapers are buying a fleet of new lawn care maintenance products or one product accessory, every purchase should be an investment to raise the bottom line. We recommend consulting with a local servicing dealer who can offer advice based on a customer’s specific needs, rather than generalizations, to ensure that the right tools and accessories are selected.


Potential questions to consider are:


* Are you using the equipment all day, 40 hours or more a week?


* Are you working in a noise sensitive environment?


* Are there client or community restrictions on exhaust emissions?


That being said, customers should be concerned with getting the best value for their money, and the cheapest option is most likely not be the best long-term option.


— Steve Meriam, director of sales, Stihl Inc.


 


Customers are looking for additional benefits from manufacturers that go beyond equipment offerings. To answer this need, we’ve created the GreenFleet Loyalty Rewards program to provide exclusive equipment discounts, substantial parts savings, preferred financing opportunities, and other member-only benefits and promotions. Loyalty programs, such as this one, encourage customers to look at the total offering they can receive from a manufacturer.


— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing


 


I think that landscapers are looking to get the absolute most out of their machines. They need equipment that’s versatile enough to accomplish the widest possible range of tasks. That’s where it’s important to have a machine that can be fitted with a broad range of attachments. The more use landscapers can get out of a machine, the greater the return on their investment.


— Chris Giorgianni, JCB vice president of product


 


 


[Editor’s note: Reponses are presented in the order in which they were received.]

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