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Landscape and Irrigation 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 equipment decisions made by landscape industry professionals. The observations of the respondents are as follows:

Equipment Trends 2014

Landscape and Irrigation 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 equipment decisions made by landscape industry professionals. The observations of the respondents are as follows:


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


Today’s landscapers and lawn care professionals want to work with trustworthy equipment suppliers whose products can keep downtime to a minimum. They also want features that save time and money. Progressive manufacturers are striving to meet this growing demand for quality equipment.


Another trend is that manufacturers are responding to the information needs of green industry professionals. For instance, the goal of SnowEx Liquid Solutions is to provide customers with training and educational resources, in addition to a full line of application equipment.
— Barry Truan, VP marketing & development for SnowEx, TurfEx and SweepEx products


In some markets, the stand-up trend continues as contractors look to pack more units on trailers and increase the size of the crew to accomplish more work. Also, a trend toward simple, clean mower designs that offer easy service and fewer parts. For the beginner, they have trended toward lower-price entry-level zero-turns or high-end residential units that they will use commercially; while the mature landscape contractor is going for productivity and performance, buying the right tool for the job — a fast powerful “Z” with a great warranty, something that will last and be reliable for several seasons. Mature landscapers have been around the horn — been there, done that — they are not afraid to spend the money for the right piece of equipment.
— Frank Nuss, product specialist, Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment


Landscapers continue to become more educated on the total cost of their mowing equipment throughout the duration of its usable life. Cost of acquisition is only part of the equation; how much that mower will cost in maintenance, downtime, labor, replacement parts, convenience, etc., contributes as much to the overall cost of equipment as the initial cost of acquisition.


Grasshopper manufactures mowers that save contractors time and money, not only in the field with superior performance but in the shop with simpler maintenance procedures and longer service intervals.


And nobody wants to go home exhausted at the end of the day, so improving standard comfort features is also a key focus area for new equipment. Landscape contractors who use Grasshopper mowers say that our integrated comfort systems and multi-point suspensions — iso-mounted seats, footrests and operator platforms, as well as ergonomically designed controls and instrument consoles — keep their crews fresh throughout the day. So, 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.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper


Sales among commercial lawn cutters continue to be very strong.
— Hal White, vice-president of sales and marketing, Wright Mfg.


The increasingly stringent emission restrictions (both noise and pollution) are really forcing the industry to seek out gas-free and quiet alternatives. Landscape professionals are becoming more receptive and accepting toward “GasLess” products. We are also seeing professional crews seeking products that require minimal maintenance, as well as ones that are efficient, both performance and cost wise.
— Lincoln Jore, president of CORE Outdoor Power


Landscapers are very concerned about fuel; therefore, I see manufacturers responding with more advanced lighter materials, integrated transmissions lowering horsepower, right-sized engines for the application, and manufacturers working closely with engine suppliers on lowering fuel consumption via right-size machines, EFI, LP and biodiesel. With that said, landscapers continue to purchase larger decks and engines to run them. In addition, more contractors are seeing the productivity increases and additional benefits from the stand-on mower. Finally, the trend is also to consolidate vendors to find one source in order to take advantage of pricing and knowledge of maintenance, training and operation.
— Bill Engler, director of commercial sales, landscape contractor for Ariens Company


Propane is continuing to trend in popularity with landscape contractors, and will only become stronger with the traditional fuel cost continuing to rise. I’m seeing a trend for companies to try and control their costs by doing their own mechanic work and not partnering with their local dealer. Many contractors are trying to adopt the trade-in mentality before a unit becomes mechanically unsound. This, however, will entail a great service plan to keep the machine in “like new” condition or will require a higher internal cost to depreciate the costs faster.
— Bill Collester, commercial business development manager, southeast, Ariens Company


LP is becoming prevalent, and stand-up units are displacing commercial walk-behind mowers.
— Craig Hatfield, commercial business development, western region, Ariens Company


The most significant market trend is the adoption of the stand-on mower. Customers in the Northeast still respond to bagger performance and ease of use. At the same time, landscape contractors are looking for ways to cut costs related to grass removal.
— Jon Gamelin, northeast sales manager, Crandall-Hicks Company


We are seeing that more and more customers are deciding to go “green” and convert their fleet to 100-percent electric vehicles. With an increasing number of features and options, zero-emission electric vehicles can pack all the power needed to meet the demands of lawn care professionals, and do so quietly, efficiently and cost effectively.
— Dan Chumbler, director of sales – small vehicles, Polaris


Key trends I see continuing are EFI/fuel efficiency and productivity. Toro has an extensive EFI offering on Z Masters and GrandStand models (and Horizon on select models), delivering fuel efficiency beyond a typical carbureted engine. Toro’s TurfMaster 30-inch walk-behind mower, offering a wider cutting path, directly addresses the need for enhanced productivity on the job site.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager


The durability and reliability of equipment has continued to improve. Technology is giving landscape professionals a heightened ability to understand how equipment is performing, with warnings when critical thresholds are reached, and advanced diagnostics to quickly get to the root of problems. It’s leading to longer equipment life and higher resale values, which improves the ROI of the equipment.


Equipment is also getting more versatile, allowing one machine to be used in a wider variety of mowing conditions. I’ll use the rear-discharge cutting deck as an example. Not only does it do a great job on lawns, it can better handle cutting very tall grasses and weeds — what a lot of folks call “bushwhacking.” The rear-discharge design also offers reduced noise and greater clipping control that is ideal for use in parks and other public and municipal spaces.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark


Diesel-fueled mowers remain popular among professional landscape and lawn care markets because they are easier to maintain, have a longer service life, and run quieter, making them more comfortable.


At the heart of the ZD326H is the Kubota diesel engine, proven as the professional’s choice when it comes to power and reliability. From agriculture to construction, Kubota diesels are the engines trusted to get the job done. They deliver maximum torque to cut through the thickest grass while offering 30-percent-greater fuel efficiency than comparable gas engines.


Kubota is known throughout the industry for building quality equipment to a higher standard, ensuring more productivity and less downtime, which is what professionals continue to demand.
— Christine Chapman, Kubota Turf Equipment product manager


Fuel costs are the second-largest expense in most landscapers’ budgets, followed only by labor. As fuel costs remain high, more landscapers are turning to alternative engine strategies to decrease operating costs. This has led manufacturers to offer more options to meet customer needs. John Deere offers gas, diesel and propane fuel systems in its commercial mowing equipment. John Deere also offers a Flex Fuel model for customers looking for alternative fuel options beyond propane.


We also continue to see a demand for compact stand-on models. More and more contractors are realizing the benefits of these units. From transporting more on trailers to quickly getting off a unit to move a piece of debris, the stand-on market continues to expand.
— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere commercial mowing


Our customers are telling us that they need machines that can make them more efficient and profitable. For instance, compact utility loaders have been met with great and growing success in the landscape market because of how much more you can get done with fewer people. CULs are very cost effective when compared to the labor they replace.


Customers are also asking for their equipment to be as easy to operate and service as possible. Ergonomics and operator safety are also top of mind with equipment owners.
— Jay Sunderman, strategic business unit manager – tree care/rental & landscape, Vermeer Corporation


We’ve seen widespread adoption of Kohler’s EFI technology with landscapers, including many of the largest landscapers in the country choosing Kohler EFI engines over traditional carbureted engines. This has been driven mainly by the benefits the technology offers to end users.


First and foremost, that is the fuel savings our technology offers (25 percent, representing approximately $600 per year based on average industry run times). On top of this, our EFI technology also offers improved reliability, better performance, and less emissions.


We’ve also seen increased adoption of equipment with our propane EFI engine, which saves up to $2 per hour over carbureted gasoline engines or up to $1.50 per hour over carbureted propane engines. The fast adoption is due to the economic benefits, as well as the environmentally friendly benefits of propane. In certain areas of the country where ozone action days are in force, having propane in a fleet allows users to continue to operate on these days.
— Mark Johansen, director marketing, gas/gasoline engines America, Kohler


Landscape customers, like many customers, are working on small or tight job sites that require more compact machines in order to complete the task. For that reason, customers are placing a premium on machine visibility, as we are on more compact “power dense” machines that provide a lot of performance in a small package.


To evaluate a machine’s performance, customers should evaluate a machine’s rated operating capacity, horsepower, width, lifting height, ground pressure and travel speed versus the application’s requirements. Also take into consideration any work tools that may be required and the machine’s auxiliary flow capabilities to power these tools. With regard to purchasing a track loader, a customer should also evaluate a number of track-specific items such as length of track on the ground, undercarriage suspension and ground pressure. These will have an effect on productivity and operator comfort.


Ultimately, it’s important to actually get in and on a machine to assess your comfort level in the cab, the integration of the controls/switches, and your “working visibility” (sight lines from the operator’s seat when actually operating on a job site). Lastly, evaluate a machine’s capability to be customized to accommodate multiple operators, applications, varying operator preferences and/or work tools attachments, which can increase productivity.
— Kevin Coleman, senior marketing engineer, Caterpillar


Some customers now require their landscapers to use “carbon-friendly” equipment on their properties, so propane-powered mowers and battery-powered handheld equipment is becoming more commonplace with professional users. Our design and manufacturing efforts in zero exhaust emissions will remain a top priority.


We focus on fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered products, especially as fuel costs stay high. Fuel consumption is becoming an important component in the buying decision. Landscape professionals continue to buy products that offer good durability and power-to-weight ratios. Additionally, we work to improve overall ergonomics, including reducing vibration, to provide comfortable operation in all product segments.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales at Stihl


 


How has this year’s weather impacted equipment sales?


The long, harsh winter had a very positive effect on sales of snow and ice management equipment. On the other hand, the late spring delayed the typical sales cycle of turf maintenance equipment.
— Barry Truan, VP marketing & development for SnowEx, TurfEx and SweepEx products


Season running a little late. Cold weather and rain early in spring.
— Frank Nuss, product specialist, Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment


The weather is one of the biggest drivers of this industry, as we all know. It affects not only scheduling and productivity, but also bottom lines, business plans and equipment purchases. Large areas of the country are still dealing with severe to exceptional drought, which has hampered business growth for landscape companies and equipment suppliers. Some areas of the country have seen some relief in the past few months; so, if that trend continues — and if areas that are desperate for rain begin to see relief — then the outlook for many landscapers will start to look greener, in more ways than one.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper


Early 2014 sales were slowed by the weather, but have now bounced back steadily, and we are ahead of last year’s sales by a healthy percentage.
— Hal White, vice-president of sales and marketing, Wright Mfg.


The long, snowy winter meant: 1) Dealers had more money when it came time for placing spring orders; and 2) The winter season lasted so long that those orders started rolling in later than usual.
— Lincoln Jore, president of CORE Outdoor Power


Cold weather, especially in the North, has delayed [equipment sales] for lawn and garden. The South has been hit with interval weeks of rain and cold weather, delaying landscaper needs for products, but warm weather has proven the demand is high.
— Bill Engler, director of commercial sales, landscape contractor for Ariens Company


The South started early and has continued to grow strong with the wet conditions. The faster the grass grows, the more customers need our mowers and rely on service by the dealers.
— Bill Collester, commercial business development manager, southeast, Ariens Company


Extended winter caused a delayed buying season. Fear of drought is still pervasive in the South and West, and many contractors are trying to make it to next year before purchasing.
— Craig Hatfield, commercial business development, western region, Ariens Company


Totals have been impacted by the late start (cold spring). Numbers seem to be coming around, but I suspect we will not recoup everything.
— Jon Gamelin, northeast sales manager, Crandall-Hicks Company


Although there seemed to be a bit of a slow start to the year, customers across weather patterns still saw the value in purchasing GEM electric light utility and transport vehicles.


Our orders are up more than 30 percent through May when compared to last year, and we expect the upswing to continue.
— Dan Chumbler, director of sales – small vehicles, Polaris


It’s been a late and wet spring this year throughout most of the country. I think everyone in the landscaping industry is feeling the effects of that.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager


Overall, it hasn’t had the impact I think a lot of people expected it to have. The spring was so late in coming, so while some landscape contractors may have delayed purchases, they’re still purchasing equipment.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark


With all the snow this winter, many contractors now have some additional cash from snow removal jobs to invest in their businesses. Some of that seems to be flowing toward equipment purchases.
— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere commercial mowing


The beginning of the year was softer than most of us [in the industry] realized given the several moderate preceding winters; however, things are busy. Customers are reporting big backlogs, which, of course, is what we like to hear. We are all in the same boat of cramming 12 months of work, production, and meeting customer demand into nine months. This has put a strain on the entire value stream as we look upstream to our suppliers to provide parts and components to meet an inflated build rate. Everybody has to be on top of their game in order to meet customer expectations.
— Jay Sunderman, strategic business unit manager – tree care/rental & landscape, Vermeer Corporation


 


The late spring created a slow start to the maintenance and cutting season this year, but not as late as last year in most regions. Moisture has been good with many areas receiving good rainfall, sales balanced out once spring arrived. The Mid-Atlantic states are starting to become dry and some states, including California, Arizona and Nevada, have been very dry during the first half of 2014.


The spring season of 2014 was impacted by the snowy winter that most of our territories experienced in the winter of 2013-2014. Many landscapers used the winter months to plow snow and provide salt/sand services to their customers. With heavy snow years, like last winter, landscapers can afford to purchase new mowing equipment this spring.


The continued impact of wildfires and tornados in late fall and early summer are all events that required large cleanup efforts, and chain saws are used in that process. Chain saw sales may see some increase due to storm preparation and in response to storm aftermath.
— Steve Meriam, director of sales at Stihl


 


What other factors do you feel are impacting equipment-buying decisions of landscape/lawn care company owners and operators?


In the last economic downturn, many owners and operators delayed equipment purchases, but, if they needed to buy new products, they typically used price as the main selling factor. Today, the emphasis is much more on ROI rather than initial purchase price. People are generally willing to pay more up front on higher-quality equipment if they can prove that they can make more money in the long run through less downtime, higher productivity and increased efficiency.
— Barry Truan, VP marketing & development for SnowEx, TurfEx and SweepEx products


Keeping overhead down. Doing more with less. Equipment that will allow them to stay competitive yet profitable. Dealer financing on new equipment is as important as the equipment or brand decision itself.
— Frank Nuss, product specialist, Excel Industries/Hustler Turf Equipment


The slow rate of economic recovery from the “Great Recession” continues to be a concern for landscapers and companies with regard to equipment purchases. However, the economy is showing some signs of improvement, and continued good news about stabilization and growth will create a more favorable environment for expanded investment in equipment.


The impacts of federal engine performance and emissions standards are also affecting equipment-buying decisions. Our industry understands the importance of conserving resources and reducing waste, because doing so can be profitable and makes good business sense. While many of these regulations are intended to advance those ideals, at this time it’s hard to see how they accomplish much more than adding to the cost of equipment and doing business.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper


In the recent past, there was a tendency to repair rather than replace equipment. That seems to have changed over the last two seasons, as we are seeing the larger commercial companies buying heavily.
— Hal White, vice-president of sales and marketing, Wright Mfg.


As battery and motor technologies continue to improve, leading to gas-free alternatives that can compete with the gas-powered products landscape professionals are accustomed to using, they are recognizing the fuel and maintenance savings of “GasLess” products are looking more appealing. We are also seeing more homeowners and commercial properties jumping on the green movement, and are willing to pay more for a lawn care company that is using eco-friendly products. Therefore, it’s inevitable that landscape company owners are having to reevaluate the equipment they are using.
— Lincoln Jore, president of CORE Outdoor Power


Major decision is credit and cash flow. Landscapers try to purchase as needed, so the cost of the machine matches the income that comes in. Property managers continue to be frugal and tight with budgets, causing continued uncertainty with the contractors. In addition, when a landscaper is in need of equipment after using their fleet for three to four years, they go back to the dealer and experience sticker shock with the price jumps some manufacturers have demanded for their brands. This has caused more to shop other brands and get more for their hard-earned dollar.
— Bill Engler, director of commercial sales, landscape contractor for Ariens Company


Lease options are still trending upward with landscape contractors, as many are concerned about longer-term repair costs.
— Bill Collester, commercial business development manager, southeast, Ariens Company


Contractors are becoming less product centric, looking for peripheral value-added items such as innovative financing; turn-key solutions; and bundling of handheld, mowers, even trucks and trailers in one transaction. Consolidation in both the landscape and manufacturing segments is changing the industry more than we realize at this point. Large manufacturers have had success commoditizing the equipment side, but recently, contractors seem to be tiring of the process, and are beginning to seek a return to a more personal relationship mode of business.
— Craig Hatfield, business development, western region, Ariens Company


Reliability, job-specific performance and cost of operation seem to still be the most important factors when making an equipment-buying decision. Our team of GEM commercial sales managers and nationwide dealer network conduct hundreds of “tow-and-show” demos at customer locations each year, giving operators and decision makers the confidence that Polaris and GEM can deliver on their jobsite.
— Dan Chumbler, director of sales – small vehicles, Polaris


Fuel efficiency is a big trend, and technology supporting alternative fuels is consistently on the rise. For example, Toro has been offering propane power for the past few years on select Z Master Professional 5000 Series mowers. Toro also has incorporated electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology on select Z Master and GrandStand models. All Toro EFI models are equipped with Kohler closed-loop engines that automatically adapt to load, weather, and altitude changes for up to 25-percent better fuel economy. In addition to being a catalyst for fuel savings, EFI technology is better for the environment than standard carburetor counterparts.


Contractors are always looking for ways to make their time on the job site more productive without sacrificing quality. Any technology that can support that is very well received. The 8000


Series Direct Collect Z is a good example. It allows the operator to collect more clippings in the 9.5-bushel hopper, which minimizes downtime and essentially contributes to the profitability of any job — all while delivering a high-quality cut.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager


Serviceability and uptime have never been more important than they are today. There is a growing expectation that equipment can be serviced quickly, thoroughly, and reliably at the dealer level. Successful landscape professionals understand that sticking to the manufacturer’s service schedule is critical, reducing downtime and maximizing profitability.


There is also a heightened awareness of the benefits of a safe, healthy and alert workforce among lawn care owners and operators. As a result, operator safety and training are important considerations, as is how intuitive a machine is to use.


The ability to track and manage assets remotely is another feature a growing number of customers are asking for. Owners want to know that their equipment is up and running. We saw this happen in the trucking industry a few years back, and today it’s happening in the landscape contractor space. Theft recovery is also an increasingly hot topic.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark


Today’s turf and landscape professionals value options, and are looking for equipment that will not only meet their specific needs on the job, but also provide a financial solution through durability, fuel consumption and exceptional cutting performance.


When adding equipment to their fleet, landscape professionals are looking for durable, efficient, commercial-grade equipment that is sized appropriately for the job. Also, professionals are looking for components that can lower maintenance costs, like Kubota’s semi-pneumatic (flat-free) front caster tires, which are standard on the ZG327, ZD331P and ZD326H models. Aside from cost, professionals are looking for a machine that starts every time with little maintenance and commercial-grade quality and components like a fully welded, deep mower deck, a commercial transmission, and a powerful engine.
— Christine Chapman, Kubota Turf Equipment product manager


We’re finding that landscapers are looking for manufacturers to provide value beyond equipment. At John Deere, we’re trying to fill that need by providing new programs like our NeverStop Loaner Guarantee, so customers can get a commercial loaner unit within 24 hours. We also have created many flexible financing programs, so we can really help a lot of landscapers with their cash flow.
— Steve Wilhelmi, tactical marketing manager, John Deere commercial mowing


The final push to move diesel-powered equipment with >25-horsepower engines to Tier 4 Final has some people in a wait-and-see mode. Vermeer has several models already powered by Tier 4 Final, and we’ve had excellent luck mechanically. Of course, these models have experienced the price increases that all equipment manufacturers will have to eventually face.


Another factor is versatility of the equipment they buy. Buyers need to know that if they buy a new piece of equipment, it will get utilized. That is one of the reasons why compact utility loaders are gaining huge popularity in the landscape markets. With the myriad of attachments available, the CUL can be called on to perform so many different tasks. Many find this tool invaluable to their operations.
— Jay Sunderman, strategic business unit manager – tree care/rental & landscape, Vermeer Corporation


Many customers have been evaluating their machine needs and considering a rubber track loader as a result of the wet conditions experienced last winter. What sets the Cat MTL and the CTL rubber track models apart is that they feature a suspension system that provides improved traction and flotation by keeping the maximum amount of track on the ground at all times.


This is achieved with a torsion axle suspension that isolates and independently moves the undercarriage relative to the machine chassis. The undercarriage suspension system distributes the machine load to greatly reduce shock and vibration throughout the machine to provide a more comfortable ride with greater load retention. More comfort means more controllability and higher travel speeds on the job, which translates into getting the job done quicker. The suspension also helps keep the tracks on the ground during digging and grading, and provides more traction at all times.
— Kevin Coleman, senior marketing engineer, Caterpillar


When you work in the outdoor power equipment industry, dealers need to make sure they are providing the most reliable, durable equipment for the money, and landscape contractors need to continue to make informed buying decisions. That said, the service provided by the local servicing dealer really can impact the buying decision. It is up to both the dealer and the landscapers to create mutually beneficial relationships.


Ethanol, too, remains a challenge, but dealers can utilize the tools developed by the OPEI to help educate landscapers about the risk of miss-fueling and to “Look before you pump!”


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 toward future success, not just an immediate goal. Fuel costs are a

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