The following is an in-depth excerpt from Outdoor Power Equipment (OPE) magazine’s annual “Mower Trends” coverage. OPE (sister publication to Landscape Business) recently asked representatives from major mower manufacturers to share their insights into market trends.

 

OPE:What trends, in general, are you seeing in the market overall with regard to mower design and manufacturing? And what types of feedback and analytics factor most into your company’s approach to your mower offerings?

 

We continue to see commercial and consumer customers moving toward simple, clean designs. Everyone is looking for a good quality, well-built, solid mower that is free from issues. Quality and heavy-duty construction continue to be trends. Customers want to buy a mower and not have problems that cause it to go back to the shop for maintenance. Comfort is also becoming a bigger buying decision. They are looking for in-the-seat comfort whether they are mowing for one hour or all day.

Dealer and end-user feedback play a large role in our company’s approach to new product development. We continue to seek the pulse of the customer to learn the important features they are looking for in a mower. Many customers are also looking for value and productivity – how to get more done in less time. Time is very valuable to consumers and commercial customers.

Brad Unruh, director of product strategy, Excel Industries (Hustler)

 

In the past few years, we have seen the OPE industry moving more toward making gas/diesel mowers a little more efficient and slightly less polluting with fuel injection and propane. This is a small change in the right direction, but still based off of 1950’s technology. In 2017, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) released findings that air pollution from gas/diesel powered OPE would exceed the air pollution from all cars in California by 2019. The integration of all-electric OPE could quickly turn those CARB findings around. In 2018, Mean Green Mowers will be flooding into California and many metropolitan areas across the country to help initiate a major reduction in air and noise pollution.

Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

 

This year, there is more interest in stand-on mowers than ever before. It’s no longer an alternative way. Rather, it’s generally accepted as a more productive way to cut grass while also reducing the hazards in mowing equipment.

We are always listening closely to our users’ and dealers’ feedback. They want a very reliable, productive, no-frills product. This means we work hard to reduce the number of moving parts, while keeping the machine powerful and agile.

Ed Wright, VP of engineering, sales & marketing, Wright Mfg.

 

Landscape professionals have high expectations for their equipment, and demand a machine that lasts as long as they do. BOB-CAT provides the market with commercial mowers that meet the necessary needs and demands of the professional, while also providing comfort and the best-in-class serviceability that a mower can have.

BOB-CAT goes out into the industry and receives input from professional landscapers, part-time mowers, and homeowners to help drive the decisions on mower lineups, and features and needs thereof. By observing our customers, we also understand why they do what they do, not just how they do it.

Ron Scheffler, product manager, BOB-CAT

 

There are two major trends we are seeing in the industry. One is definitely a market shift in deck sizes in both the commercial and residential space – and very much so in residential. We are seeing a lot more mower offerings in the larger deck sizes – specifically the 60-inch mowing decks. The reason for this is mostly because of landscapers wanting to cover more ground. The larger decks stick out further to the side of the machine, allowing users to get underneath more in their workspaces, which increases productivity, and helps eliminate the need to go in with a smaller mower or other pieces of equipment.

The second trend we are seeing is a large interest in fleet tracking. Landscapers are interested more and more in managing an entire fleet of commercial products through various applications and management systems – allowing them to monitor across their entire fleet, not just one piece of equipment. We announced Fleet Services, our own Cloud-based fleet management solution, a while back and are currently working on bringing it to market here in the U.S. this year.

Regarding feedback, we approach this with what Husqvarna calls a well-rounded scorecard. We conduct field investigations with our dealers where we talk with individual dealers and get their feedback. We also have an entire commercial lawn and garden sales team that works very closely with only commercial landscapers, and, in fact, with the largest landscaping companies in the country.

For analytics, we are pulling the data that is available through the standard industry sources and industry reports. We also analyze our website and social media metrics to identify what customers are looking for, and we conduct independent research on a global scale.

George Reister, product manager, U.S. wheeled products, Husqvarna Group

 

The professional landscape market is benefiting from increased innovation and development of equipment and tools. Landscape professionals have become increasingly more sophisticated about purchases, expanding usage for both commercial and residential lawn products. In the commercial segment, owners are focused on how to get the most value from their lawn mower model (or fleet) investment while helping to effectively complete outdoor landscape maintenance and projects.

Customer feedback tells us consistently that our customers look for products that increase speed and efficiency, along with easy-to-perform maintenance functions that help them avoid unexpected expenses and costly equipment downtime.

Because these factors drive buying habits, Honda focuses on infusing technological innovation into its power product lineup – lawn mowers, tillers, trimmers and pumps – that offer the least amount of downtime, low cost of ownership, greatest efficiency and durability, along with the best fuel economy possible.

Elisha Lipscomb, senior marketing strategist, lawn & garden, Honda Power Equipment

 

At Exmark, we’re focused on developing technologies that increase productivity, while reducing downtime and required maintenance. This lets landscape professionals focus more time and energy on productivity, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, making more money.

As qualified labor becomes tougher to find for landscape contractors, increasing the productivity of each worker has become a higher priority. Whether it’s through larger cutting decks, reduced equipment downtime, increased operator comfort, or a combination of all three, Exmark is working hard to maximize the productivity potential of each worker. And since our customers are constantly hiring and training new workers, it’s important our mowers are straightforward and easy to operate as well.

The features and innovations Exmark develops are a direct reflection of the feedback we receive from our customers. Our product team travels thousands of miles each year, conducting in-person meetings with customers to get a better feel for the challenges they’re facing. This customer-feedback-based approach helps us stay focused on advancements that deliver true value to our users.

Jamie Briggs, product manager, Exmark

 

Grasshopper continues to invest in manufacturing processes that provide more efficiencies to keep equipment cost increases at a minimum. At the same time, we continue to improve our products by offering our customers features and benefits that will improve their operations and their bottom line. At Grasshopper, quality control is not part of the process, it isthe process. Landscape contractors do not make money if their equipment is down. Our mowers and implements are designed to deliver years of dependable service. After every mower is assembled, we put a wrench on every nut and bolt, and no mower leaves the factory until it has been run and certified as field ready. We test mowers, engines, transmissions and all components for thousands of hours before any new models are released to the marketplace. We can proudly say that buying a Grasshopper may very well be the last mower a homeowner will need to buy.

Our field representatives and distributors are in constant touch with their dealers to better understand their needs. They often participate with on-site demonstrations with the dealer’s customers. Their feedback provides us with an up-do-date understanding of the needs and trends in the landscape market.

Brian Schoenthaler, marketing coordinator, Grasshopper

 

We are seeing strong demand for self-propelled mowers. Consumers seem perfectly willing to pay the higher price tag for the convenience for self-propelled. This is reflected in our scheduled launch of six additional self-propelled models this year across our varying range of brands and voltage platforms.

The electric mower market has traditionally lagged behind the growth of our handheld products, but is finally starting to catch up. We’ve seen 45-percent growth in the category this year, and expect it to continue to take market share from gas.

We attribute this growth to several factors.

  1. Cordless mowers have become far more powerful and affordable.
  2. The average new home size in the U.S. is now 2,600 square feet.
  3. The average new home lot size in the U.S. is only 7,840 square feet (5,240 square feet minus the home).

Mower performance is up, homes sizes are up, and lot sizes are down. This means most of our mowers can cut the average U.S. property using a single charge.

David Glueck, senior product manager, Greenworks North America

 

Operator comfort and unit performance have been the two focal areas that continue to define new commercial mowing equipment. Reducing operator fatigue leads to greater productivity, while increased unit performance yields better results and reduced time on the job.

We use research from both analytical market research (to look at current trends) and in-person customer-focused surveys to develop our product offerings. While current market research tells us what is happening today, we design for the future, and that is where we focus our customer research. We use both of these inputs to aid our forward-thinking approach to product development, and we feel that this will deliver the best new products for our customers.

Tom Vachal, senior product manager, turf, Kubota

 

As a leader in the commercial mowing industry, we strive to earn our customers’ business every day by listening to their needs and feedback, and developing products and programs that provide business solutions. Uptime and fuel efficiency continue to be top concerns of professional landscape contractors, driving manufacturers to develop more solutions for equipment. One example is the incorporation of EFI engines. Commonly used in smaller-block engines, we are now seeing more and more options in the mid-block range and greater. Providing up to 25 percent more fuel savings, the benefits of EFI drive this trend.

Also driving the development of new features is an increased focus on operator comfort. Additions like ergonomic operator controls, air suspension upholstered seats, and cab machines with heat and air keep the operator comfortable throughout the workday – ultimately improving productivity.

Nick Minas, product line marketing manager for commercial mowing, John Deere

 

Productivity continues to be very important for landscape contractors. With new products like the Z Master 7500-D, featuring the ultra-productive 96-inch-wide cutting deck; the highly maneuverable 24-inch stand-on aerator; and MyRide suspension system in the Z Master and Titan HD zero-turn mower lines, we are focused on helping contractors be more productive every day.

The continued development of Toro’s innovative MyRide system and the integration of the new technology into a broader range of Toro machines has been a very important initiative for us as a company. The technology was previously only available on select Toro Z Master zero-turn mowers, but now we have made this popular, new feature available on more Z Master models, along with Titan HD and TimeCutter HD zero-turn mowers.

By keeping an operator comfortable, they are able to be more productive in the field. In this industry, landscaping businesses often are pressured to do more work with fewer resources, and one way they are able to maximize uptime is to keep their operators comfortable and safe. If an operator is using an ergonomically friendly and high-quality machine, it can boost the operator’s morale and productivity and also potentially reduce turnover.

Chris Hannan, senior marketing manager at Toro

 

OPE:What key factors do you think will impact mower sales this year? And what is your overall outlook with regard to mower sales in 2018?

 

Weather will always play a key role in mower sales. Snowfall has helped give contractors money in the snow country. Many areas of the U.S. have had good moisture. There are some areas dealing with drought, so hopefully the spring rains will be coming soon to those areas to get the grass started. Looking for a great year in mower sales with some fabulous new upgrades to our feature-rich, quality-built mower lineup. As the economy improves and housing continues to rise these factors will help the demand for our products.

Brad Unruh, director of product strategy, Excel Industries (Hustler)

 

The advancement and acceptance of battery technology in the automotive industry has greatly increased the acceptance of other electric products, including Mean Green Mowers. In 2018, Mean Green will keep expanding our distribution model to provide even better sales and service for commercial and prosumer customers. We are expecting to greatly exceed record-breaking 2017 sales, and feel confident the electric OPE market will quickly grow and become the “norm” in the industry within the next five to 10 years.

Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

 

We anticipate a very good season, but, as always, it is very dependent on weather.

Ed Wright, VP of engineering, sales & marketing, Wright Mfg.

 

Certainly, the economy and weather are key impact factors, but also the new BOB-CAT RS series mowers will have a big impact to our industry growth. We see a very positive interest already this 2018 season in certain new models, and we trust this will continue as the word gets out about the new BOB-CAT RS families, and all the benefits they provide.

Ron Scheffler, product manager, BOB-CAT

 

We are definitely seeing a shift from residential to commercial products, as well as a shift from tractors to zero-turn mowers. We believe these two shifts are directly influenced by the housing market, and we’re very optimistic with the numbers we’re seeing there.

As far as outlook in mower sales for 2018 is concerned, we believe we’re going to see the same increase in growth this year as we saw in 2017 – most specifically in the zero-turn mower category and our Automowers.

George Reister, product manager, U.S. wheeled products, Husqvarna Group

 

The industry is experiencing a trend toward continued diversification of the power supply for outdoor power equipment products. Whether it is electrification of products, further refinements in the internal combustion engine, or propulsion advancements, diversification in how outdoor power equipment products generate their power will make 2018 an exciting year in the industry.

Tech-savvy users also are looking at features such as robotics and remote connectivity in operating and monitoring equipment. For example, while robotic lawnmowers have been widely accepted in Europe for many years, we are seeing growing interest in these products in the U.S. market, for both residential and commercial use.

At the same time, landscape professionals are attuned to their customers’ interests. Many consumers are constantly on the lookout for ways to make their homes and practices more environmentally friendly. This means that fuel-efficient and zero-emissions products are proving to be attractive. For example, all of Honda’s gasoline-powered mowers incorporate either the Honda GXV engine or Honda GCV engine that feature high performance, low fuel consumption and clean exhaust gas emissions.

At Honda, we understand that diversification and a highly reliable equipment inventory translates into long-term value for professional landscapers, helping them expand their business. Taking all of this into account, Honda works to develop and produce technologically innovative lawn mowers that our customers not only want to buy, but depend on to make them more successful.

Elisha Lipscomb, senior marketing strategist, lawn & garden, Honda Power Equipment

 

Our outlook for 2018 is positive. That said, the weather and economy are two factors that always have the potential to impact overall sales for the year.

Much of the country has experienced an unusually cold, snowy winter, so many contractors will have money in their pockets coming into spring. Typically, that’s a good situation for mower sales on the commercial side. However, if the weather doesn’t warm up considerably soon, consumer mower sales could be affected.

Overall, we’re confident 2018 will be a good year for Exmark, our dealers, and most importantly, our customers.

Jamie Briggs, product manager, Exmark

 

Weather will always have an impact on mower sales. The drought outlook through the end of May indicates that the Southwest United States, most of California, and parts of Oregon will continue to see the effects of drought. Sales in those areas may be under stress. Predictions for the rest of the country are forecasted to be near normal, which is a good thing for our industry.

Landscape contractors must strive to control their operating costs in order to remain competitive in their local markets. These costs – including fuel, equipment and labor, among other things – continue to rise. Grasshopper provides its dealers with the right equipment to allow their landscape contractor customers to work smarter, be more productive and even expand their operations. Our FrontMount models, with removable out-front decks, use the tractor’s engine to power a variety of commercial-grade implements to perform turf renovation, debris management and snow removal. The advantages of using a Grasshopper zero-turn grounds maintenance system include eliminating the need to purchase and maintain expensive two-stroke walk-behind power equipment, reducing fuel consumption and especially emissions, while reducing labor costs. For example, we have contractors reporting reductions in labor and time by as much as 75 percent using a Grasshopper power unit and implement to do the same job. Dealers stocking our mowing equipment have the unique advantage to provide their customers with year-round productivity options and realize larger package sales and develop longer-term customers.

As the industry leader in clean diesel technology, Grasshopper continues to promote the advantages its MidMount and FrontMount MaxTorque diesel mowers, These Tier 4 Final-compliant mowers require no additional emissions equipment and provide reduced fuel consumption, additional power and lower emissions per hour of operation. Switching to diesel power allows a landscape contractor to realize substantial savings in annual fuel costs while staying environmentally responsible. Over the course of a year these savings can amount to well over $650 per mower as compared to gasoline- or propane-powered mowers with equivalent engine displacements. Our Fuel & Emissions Calculator for Commercial Mowing Equipment will help both contractors and dealers see the advantages that switching to diesel has to offer (this calculator can be found at grasshopperfuelsavings.com). Our diesel models can also contribute to healthy sales margins for the dealer. An often-overlooked side benefit of operating diesel mowers is centered on the engine’s superior torque output that enables increased productivity. Grasshopper MaxTorque diesel mowers can cut through thick, heavy grass at faster mowing speeds and get jobs done efficiently and faster allowing the contractor to add more accounts without working longer hours.

Finally, marketing must become more focused to deliver qualified leads to the dealer. Grasshopper recently developed and launched branded dealer websites to increase the dealer’s visibility in searches for zero-turn mowers in their local markets and capture those leads and convert them into sales.

Brian Schoenthaler, marketing coordinator, Grasshopper

 

I’m optimistic our growth in this category will match, and even exceed, last year’s numbers. Of course, much of that is dependent upon the weather. So far, it is looking like we may have an early spring this year – fingers crossed.

David Glueck, senior product manager, Greenworks North America

 

As is with most years, the spring weather will factor greatly in the kickoff of mower sales this year. Other impact items may include consumer interest rates, construction tends, consumer confidence, and the continued housing market expansion.

I expect mower sales to increase compared to 2017 levels and field/dealer inventories are poised to react to the increased demand. There are several new products that will stimulate this increased demand, bringing new customers to the dealerships looking for our products. Kubota’s new T Series lawn tractor and Z700 Series mowers will help fuel this growth.

Tom Vachal, senior product manager, turf, Kubota

 

The commercial mowing industry is very dynamic, and there are several factors that impact the industry. New technology entering the market is appealing to customers, as it provides new solutions to common problems, such as operator comfort and machine uptime. As landscapers learn more about these new offerings, interest will increase as business owners strive to identify ways to increase productivity and decrease downtime.

In general, we see many positive indicators in the commercial landscaping industry, so the future looks bright.

Nick Minas, product line marketing manager for commercial mowing, John Deere

 

We were extremely encouraged by the positive response from attendees at the 2018 GIE+ EXPO in regards to Toro’s new products. We are excited to launch the Z Master 7500-D, the 24-inch stand-on aerator, and the new Titan HD with MyRide suspension system.

Chris Hannan, senior marketing manager at Toro

 

The key factor that will impact mower sales this year is an early spring. We have already experienced warm weather in February, so we are hopeful for an early spring retail season. Overall, we are optimistic about 2018. New products always create excitement in the marketplace, and we are excited to offer a full product lineup to the consumer.

Matt Jackson, product manager, Dixie Chopper

 

Editor’s note:Responses were gathered between February 6 and February 21, 2018, and are presented in the order in which they were received.

The full 2018 Mower Trends coverage can be seen in the April 2018 issue of OPE magazine.

Top photo provided by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).

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