By Greg Sharpless
From the October 2023 Issue
Buying outdoor power equipment (OPE) is an investment that has a profound effect not only on your work efficiency, but on your business profitability. You simply can’t afford— literally—to get it wrong.
To gain a solid understanding of what’s selling, true Industry concerns, and what the future may hold, Turf asked those on the front lines of equipment, sales, and service: the dealers.
The five dealers featured here span the continental U.S. — from New Hampshire to Washington state. We asked about their top sellers in 2022 and 2023, as well as products and companies they’re most intrigued by. We also asked about current Green Industry trends, including the hot topic: battery-powered equipment. While we geared our questions toward pro and commercial lines, a few dealers also shared thoughts on popular homeowner offerings that blur the line when it comes to nearing commercial quality. Read on for their expert insights.
Ryan G. Dodson, President
American Pride Power Equipment
Years In Business: 26
Manufacturers: Cub Cadet, Exmark, Spartan, Ferris, RedMax, Husqvarna
Best-selling product for pros last year: “For pros, our best-selling product is always Exmark. They have proven to be the most reliable and productive zero-turn on the market.”
Best-seller/popular product this year: “Our best seller overall is the Cub Cadet steering wheel zero-turn. We’re in hilly country, and these are the next best thing on hills to a commercial hydro walk behind. A vast majority of these go to homeowners, but we have thousands of homeowners as customers versus 150 or so commercial cutters.”
New products/features that excite us: “Toro, which purchased Spartan in 2022, is in the process of making a ton of product improvements that will make Spartan a very nice value proposition in the market.”
Green Industry trends – what are pros asking about? “When you visit the OPE shows now, there’s definitely a ‘Jetsons’ feel to them with all the robotic and battery-powered products in the works. I’m sure these will play a major role in OPE in the future.
“Right now, however, it feels like flat screen TVs in 1990: bulky and wildly overpriced. Battery-powered OPE and robotics won’t be ready for mass market until they match or outperform the performance of gas-powered OPE and are competitively priced. Manufacturers are presenting some fancy calculations to try to convince dealers and end users they are properly priced now – but a deeper look at the numbers doesn’t really jibe with reality.”
Thoughts on these trends – particularly battery power: “Look, I get it – there’s a massive push by governments toward battery-powered products for our vehicles and OPE. Here’s the problem: The process to build these batteries uses energy created by natural gas, coal, and oil. If we have to burn massive amounts of carbon-based fuel just to put batteries in our mowers, we aren’t helping the environment at all. We are only displacing where the carbon emissions take place, not whether they happen in the first place. And nobody has a great answer yet to where all these lawn mower batteries are going to go when they wear out.”
Products/companies to keep an eye on: “Stanley Black and Decker is a massive company to keep an eye on now with Hustler and Cub Cadet.”
Additional comments: “We are facing challenging economic conditions. Now is the time to work on your business systems, processes, and pricing so that you can maximize your profitability as we come out of difficult times.”
Matt Rexrode, Sales Manager
Beverage Tractor & Equipment
Stuarts Draft, Blacksburg & Danville, VA
Years In Business: 36
Manufacturers: Kubota Turf, Gravely, Ferris, Exmark, Simplicity, Cub Cadet, Bobcat
Best-selling product for pros last year: “Our best-selling commercial units last year were the Exmark Lazer Z rider units; Ferris with the commercial stand on and walk-behinds.”
Best-seller/popular product this year: “Our best-sellers in turf are the Kubota Z422 series and the Gravely ZT HD series, which provide great price points. Both are excellent machines for the small-acreage and larger-acreage homeowner and even commercial users.”
New products/features that excite us: “Gravely has begun a great initiative with its battery-operated machines. With the Gravely Pro Turn EV, it opens the door to stand-on units and walk-behinds with interchange- able battery options. Kubota, meanwhile, redid its Z200 series line-up, bringing a great bang for the buck to the homeowner market. It redesigned the series with heavier frames, suspension seats, and various options.”
Green Industry trends – what pros are asking about: “In our area, we have some places that thrive on [being green/sustainability] but [it] doesn’t seem to have taken off like we had hoped. In the more rural areas, I have seen some robotic mower technology and hill machines, such as those from RC Mowers, being used but not as much as in the suburban areas and cities.
“Nevertheless, it’s been very interesting to see the technology grow over the past several years, and we’ve taken on some brands ourselves – including Gravely EV, Stihl electric handhelds, and more. We see Kress, Green Machine, RC, and other companies working hard to improve this in our Industry. We’ve even noticed Kubota and other tractor brands dabbling in [environmental/green trends].”
Thoughts on these trends – particularly battery power: “Although I have not seen an increase in battery-powered handhelds going to commercial contractors, homeowners have very much taken to battery-powered technology. There has been talk about HOAs in our area possibly requiring battery-powered operation of mowers and handhelds.”
Products/companies to keep an eye on: “Toro has gone on a buying spree, picking up great names like Ventrac, Exmark, Ditchwitch, and more. Some other companies to watch include Kress, Bad Boy Mowers, and Green Machine. Dewalt has some great handheld products and recently introduced mower models.”
Carl A. Levien, Founder/Owner
Carl’s Mower & Saw
Years In Business: 33
Manufacturers: “Gravely, Exmark, Honda, Stihl, and Husqvarna are our main brands.”
Best-selling product for pros last year: “Gravely was by far the largest growth last year for [us in] both consumer and commercial customers.”
Best-seller/popular product this year: “Gravely is still our top seller. This year, Exmark is quite strong – however, we’ve had struggles getting enough inventory to meet demand.”
New products/features that excite us: “I am most excited to see the Husqvarna Automower growth and improvements in technology. The new wireless units and large-acreage mowers are going to go far.”
Green Industry trends – what pros are asking most about: “The growth in autonomous mowers is amazing, and I see it as the driving force in the Industry. I feel there is more room to grow in this area than in any other area of our business.”
Thoughts on these trends – particularly battery power: “I believe that battery is a passing trend that will lead to better- performing products in the future. We need to embrace battery – but be prepared to change with the times.”
Products/companies to keep an eye on: “I am very impressed with RC Mowers and their version of a robotic mower. I expect to see this company become a player in the industry. Kress also looks like they may become a viable option.”
Additional comments: “I was in the power equipment field before zero-turns were even a thing and have watched all the changes throughout the years. One thing I have learned is to embrace change – the future is bright if we do.”
Edward Proulx, e-commerce/ Marketing Director
Hooksett, Salem & Londonderry, NH
Years In Business: 87
Manufacturers: Toro, Exmark, Wright, Scag, Walker, Jrco, RedMax, Stihl, Echo, Kohler, Kawasaki, Briggs
Best-selling product for pros last year: “Wright has been a real popular line due to price, type of machine, and financing offers. Exmark is also always popular in our region.”
Best-seller/popular product this year: “Anything stand-on is where it’s at— mowers, blowers, aerators and sprayers. The Scag Windstorm stand-on blower has been a real hit.”
New products/features that excite us: “Makita’s line of power equipment is really heads and shoulders above the other major players in the battery-equipment field. Battery life, versatility of battery throughout the full product line, and durability – they really knock it out of the park.”
Green Industry trends – what pros are asking about: “One of the best trends is the rise of the social community. This has brought a new young crop of landscapers into the field, and they’re helping push for more robotics, automation, and easier processes. It’s really driving a new outlook on the industry and the landscaping field, bringing a whole new level of professionalism to the Green Industry.”
Thoughts on these trends – particularly battery power: “Battery is being forced on the industry and between the equipment itself, batteries, vendor programs, and end- of-product life, no one has it figured out yet. Until it can compete on cost and runtime, battery power will be a hard sell. I see more automated equipment coming, but it’s still five to eight years away from being a reliable product in the industry. The pros are not asking for it.”
Products/companies to keep an eye on: “Kress certainly has the financial backing and ideas to really be a force. Once they can polish up their offering to the dealer and get their programs in place, their robotics are a notch above all of them.”
Additional comments: “With all the robotics and battery innovation…an industry organization should be created to work with federal and local governments to slow down the rollout of laws like the California laws regarding small engines so that the tech, dealers, and manufacturers can catch up. Every month, you hear of a state or town law banning small engines, noise ordinances, or reducing when landscapers can work. There really is nowhere a dealer or landscaper can turn for help – they’re just expected to carry the extra costs.”
Jason Huber, President
Years In Business: 51
Manufacturers: Kubota, Exmark, Stihl, Wright, Ferris, Boss, Z Spray, Cub Cadet, Land Pride, Honda, Woods
Best-selling product for pros last year: “Our best-selling units for commercial landscapers were Exmark Lazer Z zero-turn mowers and Wright Stander ZK stand-ons. We’ve also seen a tremendous amount of growth in the chemical-application business – our Z Spray product sales have grown tremendously.”
Best-seller/popular product this year: “Our best-seller for commercial landscapers is the Exmark Lazer series zero-turns, and it’s been that way for decades because of the extremely high level of support they provide. Stihl commercial string trimmers and backpack blowers also are staples of commercial users in our market.”
New products/features the dealership that excites us: “For our customers, fully autonomous equipment is a hot topic, and I believe that, when fully ready to go, these products will be a big hit in our area. I’m also excited about Exmark’s new Adapt deck-adjustment system, which enables users to make quick deck adjustments and keep a high level of cut quality to different types of grass. Boss Plows’ new Snowrator MAG is also getting a lot of attention from our commercial landscapers.”
Green Industry trends – what pros are asking about: “Our larger fleet users are talking about autonomous commercial machines because they’re having a hard time finding quality employees to run equipment. In coming years, I believe these machines will be attractive to the larger and more business-savvy commercial landscapers.
That said, the level of technicians that are comfortable with electrical and computer systems will need to improve. Future OPE technicians will need to learn and understand radar, lidar, and GPS systems; technical camera systems; and ways to work on and repair onboard multiple computer systems. Manufacturers will need to build robust service-training programs for these machines so OPE dealers can keep them functional in the field.”
Thoughts on these trends – particularly battery power: “Battery-powered products seem to be the future, but I’m not sure the industry is ready for it. There are still many questions on battery life span, running times, and safety of commercial mowing equipment powered by lithium batteries.
“Locally, battery-powered equipment is still not being requested by our commercial landscapers. No matter how much we either want to push people toward battery power or hold off on bringing the products in, our commercial landscapers and other end users will dictate when the battery-powered era will take the forefront at our dealership.
“Also, loss of parts-sales revenue with battery-powered mowers will be a major impact to many high-volume dealers like ourselves – since we will no longer need to sell high-turn service parts like oil, oil filters, air filters, sparkplugs, carburetors, deck belts, transmission belts, etc.”
Products/companies to keep an eye on: “Wright Manufacturing continues to grow their footprint nationally with their Stander lineup. One of the things that really sets them apart is how [CEO] Ed Wright connects with end users through social media, traveling across the country to meet with landscapers directly, inviting landscapers to visit the Wright factory, and really just being the face of the brand.”
Additional comments: “The heyday of people storming into our showrooms in droves, ready to buy whatever mower they could get their hands on is now over. Between the economy, price increases, rising finance charges, localized weather events, and the changeover from lack of product availability to many dealers being overstocked going into the end of the season, dealers—now more than ever—need to be good business owners and make wise decisions that fit their dealership.” ■
Sharpless is an award-winning freelance writer and former editor of OPE Business magazine. He has worked with and covered a range of markets and industries throughout his career.
Special thanks to our dealer participants. Please visit their websites for more information.
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