Manufacturers of Riding Mowers

We asked industry leaders their thoughts on what changes and opportunities they see coming in the lawn care industry and what they think is driving them, as well as what their companies are doing to meet the future needs of the lawn care industry, including what product, distribution and marketing initiatives they are using to stay competitive in the professional mower market.

Here’s what they had to say.


Gary Morgan
CEO and president
Dixie Chopper

“Commercial cutters will increase their focus on obtaining the most efficient, cost-effective and productive mowers they can get, while still maintaining the quality of cut their customers expect. The need for commercial cutters to reduce their costs and maximize their cash flow will force them to look at every aspect of their business, and mowing the most grass at the lowest cost will determine their ability to succeed.

“At Dixie Chopper, we have been increasing the number of dealers that sell our products, as well as strengthening our dealer network to ensure continued support for our customers. Ensuring customer satisfaction remains our number one priority, as long espoused in Dixie Chopper Founder Art Evans’ seven principles of business. Additionally, we led the industry with our three-year ‘bumper-to-bumper’ warranty. We have some other products and initiatives that we anticipate announcing this spring and summer, which will continue to place Dixie Chopper as the leader and innovator in the zero-turn lawn mower industry.”


Adam Mullet
director of marketing
Hustler Turf Equipment

“A change that may affect the industry is emissions driven by CARB and EPA. The new administration may accelerate proposed restrictions on equipment. This would drive the cost of component, such as fuel tanks for example, higher.

“Another change that became apparent this past year was fuel consumption, driven by $4 a gallon gas prices. Questions about consumption were asked by end users on a much larger scale than ever before. The race for the highest horsepower mower tapered off somewhat in light of the high cost. There will always be a portion of the market that will want the highest power possible, but for the vast majority, it is overkill. For example, in 2000, 23 hp was the most popular size for a 60-inch Z, now it’s in the 30 hp range. Most likely, we will also see a rise in electronic fuel injection, especially as the added cost of those systems are significantly being reduced.

“For the short term, we are producing new equipment to fill the needs of the professional. Our new M1 is the highest quality 21-inch commercial mower on the market. We are also looking into alternative energy powered equipment, like our fully electric Zeon zero-turn. It will be the first ever viable electric Z and will fit the needs of some professionals. Current technology gives the Zeon 80 minutes of run time, which is obviously not for an all-day application, however, it’s ideal for areas where noise and emission restrictions are in effect.”


Bill Shea
V.P. of sales & marketing, commercial products
Briggs & Stratton Yard Power Products Group

“The lawn care industry is actually better off today then we were a year ago with regard to the price of gas. At this time last year, the average across the nation was $3.07, as opposed to $1.96 (www.zfacts.com as of 2/19/09) today. If anything, companies that survived the gas crisis last year are better poised to be more productive this year. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. With unemployment rates rising, there could even be more competition in the marketplace as people who have been displaced from jobs look to enter the landscaping industry.

“Ferris and Snapper Pro continue to bring innovative new products to the industry. This year alone we introduced five completely new mowers between both the brands. Snapper Pro introduced the S50x compact zero-turn, the SW20 hydro-drive walk-behind and the S800x out-front mower. Ferris introduced the midsized IS 500Z zero-turn, as well as the mower changing the face of the compact zero-turn market, the Evolution. These new products answer a need in the marketplace, whether it be saving time, money, space or all of the above. Unless a mower is adding real value for the user, we don’t bring it to market. We also try to make it easy for our customers to make that purchase with a variety of finance and leasing options.”


Stan Guyer
president
The Grasshopper Co.

“Contractors will be adopting lean production techniques to increase their revenue stream while reducing overhead in response to the same forces that have drawn manufacturers to lean strategies. Economic forces and environmental requirements are driving the need for cleaner operating, more versatile equipment that reduces required labor inputs, increases productivity and reduces equipment inventory.

“Never satisfied to produce a ‘me too’ machine, Grasshopper is committed to achieving new breakthroughs to help the landscaper be more productive. We remain in close communication with contractors to determine their needs, and focus research and development on producing equipment that will allow them to reduce overhead, reduce labor and operate cleaner without losing sight of the primary objective, a precision cut. We continue to develop innovative designs, such as our new 4X rear-discharge deck that distributes clippings evenly while operating quietly and using less fuel.

“We practice inventory management so dealers can keep fresh inventory in their showroom; this translates to making the most current technology readily available to the customer. We offer favorable financing to the commercial contractor and make sure they get what they pay for by producing time-saving, productive equipment. We want lawn care professionals to know that Grasshopper can help them diversify with multitask equipment to build their clientele and increase their loyalty. And, Grasshopper equipment is operator-friendly to help retain top employees. When a mower is comfortable to ride, easy to operate and produces a cut that operators can be proud of, they’re happy to keep coming back to work and they’ll do a better job for you.”


Tim Cromley
sales & marketing manager
Walker Mfg. Co.

“The main opportunity right now in the industry is to set yourself apart as a business. Successful companies will take this as an opportunity to make long-term decisions. Following are a few decision that have to be made to be successful:

“Sell and Deliver Value—Now more than ever, companies need to focus on giving their customers full value for the price being charged. Good customers will naturally migrate towards good companies (these are the long-term relationships you need to pay close attention to).

“Get Organized—If you don’t set your company up to succeed (the same as the plumber, auto mechanic, garage door technician, dentist or hairstylist), then YOU are the one who is telling the customer that your work is not worth what they are paying. Take some time to make simple improvements, like a clean presentation of your equipment, processes and people. (How would you feel about leaving your car in a place that looks like it is getting ready to fall down with a guy who looks like he is getting ready to fall down, too?)

“Be Realistic—Don’t get so wrapped up with the idea of making a million dollars, hiring 10 or 20 people or other lofty goals. Let growth be a result of doing things correctly, instead of the wicked taskmaster that drives you into short-term ‘solutions’ that compromise your future. Remember, it is OK to not offer every available service (this does not make your company a failure), but you need to be networked properly to give a solid recommendation (and be able to be recommended for your service).

“Walker Manufacturing is dedicated to offering a high-quality product with service to match. Our commitment to two-step distribution (and the service provided with this method) is unwavering. We have been able to make and honor this commitment for our customers because we are an independent company that does not answer to a group of shareholders looking out for their own interests. Being independent allows us to listen to our customers and provide improvements that help businesses offer a better product by using a better product.

“When landscape contractors align themselves with the manufacturers (and distribution networks) who truly have the customer’s interests in mind (not just being the least expensive), it helps strengthen the overall industry.”


Jim Schweigert
president
JRCO, Inc.

“Now, more than ever, in these challenging economic times, the lawn care professional is seeking ways to increase revenue, cut costs and maximize profits. At JRCO, we see this as an opportunity to promote the use of our attachments in the lawn care industry. Our JRCO attachments, mounted on their mowers, help the lawn care professionals accomplish their goal by increasing productivity and decreasing labor costs on current services, as well as offer new services with a minimum investment in equipment.

“The theme of our 2009 advertising program is ‘Do More With Your Mower! Work Lean & Efficient!’ This spring we have doubled our card mailings to lawn care professionals. Our message is to remind them that JRCO attachments save time and labor in a variety of jobs: dethatching, aerating, fertilizing and spraying, and leaf or snow removal.

“JRCO sells its attachments through commercial power equipment dealers. We have recently upgraded our Web site to help our dealers show and sell JRCO attachments. Our site offers three informative areas for each attachment: the inner workings and quality construction; how it looks mounted on their brand of mower; and several working action videos. We are proud to tell people that all of our products are made in the USA.”


Scott Sweeney
president
Seago Int’l

“Devices that are safe and save time and labor will be even more important. Labor and labor-related costs (insurance, etc.) are so important to the bottom line that reducing costs in this area is key. The current administration’s move toward big government, mandatory medical coverage, etc., could take those costs even higher.

“Seago is focusing on improving our existing products and continuing to scour the globe to find new machines to add to our line. For example, we are implementing changes to the blades on our Allen Hover Mowers that will make them more effective; we have introduced an asphalt edger blade for our Atom Professional Edger. Product innovation is key to avoid stagnation and demise. With distribution, Seago is constantly seeking new dealers that are looking to add innovative products to the equipment they offer their customers, all the while seeing different ways to get our message to potential customers.”


James Keene, III
president
Humboldt Specialty Manufacturing Co.

“The immediate future of the industry, I believe, will be focused on maintaining product viability in a down economy. I believe those companies that stay the course will be beautifully positioned to fill the product demand that will surely build during this economically slow time. We feel that sales to existing OEM and dealer customers of existing products will decrease in the coming months. We at Humboldt Specialty are working to increase the number of OEMs or dealers to whom we sell. We know that we will be selling fewer units per customer than previously, and hope to offset this reduction by adding customers and adding product lines. We are increasing the size of our marketing and design engineering groups to accelerate the introduction of new product lines into our catalog and increase awareness of what we offer. Essentially, our strategy to cope with the economic climate is to sell more things to more people!”


Dallas Steiner
president/CEO
Ventrac by Venture Products, Inc.

“With our current economic situation and the high percentage of home/commercial closures, one of the single largest opportunities is to provide a service with a solution to refurbish these properties into sellable condition. Lawn care and landscape needs are essential when a nice curb appeal is a must. Not only do individuals, bankers and realtors need these repairs, but municipals, townships and schools also need extra services done as budgets become tighter and overhead costs need to be kept to a minimum.

“The versatility of our Ventrac product is a match to the lawn care industry needs. By using one power unit, the Ventrac is able to accomplish over 30 functions, and at the same time, lowers the operating costs, has less upfront capital expenses, and sees a reduction in parts and maintenance hours.

“A primary goal of VPI is to produce unique sales and marketing tools to give our dealership base an opportunity to penetrate new market segments.”


Damon Maxwell
sales manager
Accelerator Industries

“The lawn care industry, perhaps even more than other industries, is constantly changing to accommodate the needs and demands of its participants. Landscapers have always been smart shoppers, and they do their homework before they buy. But, now more than ever, commercial landscapers and homeowners alike are looking for the best value in every product they purchase. This deepening interest in value, product scrutiny, and expectation of quality and service is exactly the type of environment that a company like Accelerator thrives in. We are seeing a trend developing away from the excesses and ‘throwaway’ products of yesterday, and a migration toward value, design and utility. People in general, myself included, are fed up with paying good money for things that don’t work right and don’t last.  

“At Accelerator, we have built our company on quality, relationships and service. When a customer calls our factory they talk with a person (that person might be me). When there’s a problem, we try to make it right. If somebody isn’t happy with something, we take it back. With the Internet, it doesn’t take long for people to find out what the real deal is, and if a company isn’t measuring up people are going hear about it.

“Industry trends as a whole have seen increased demand for riding mowers, which has driven the demand for collection systems. We see a growing number of people looking for a large capacity, lightweight alternative to traditional vacuum systems. As a result, we have seen increased interest in our 9-bushel, aluminum, side-mount unit. Market trends also indicate a continuing shift away from the bulky, heavier, traditional models to more progressive lightweight alternatives, like aluminum.

“Currently, Accelerator is focusing on taking our brand and customer loyalty and pushing the company to a whole new level. Each year we make improvements to our products, and this year is no exception. For 2009, we brought a new chromatic polished aluminum finish, new fixturing and new extrusions to our entire catcher line. These improvements have added strength, utility and appeal. Instead of making the mistake of under-promoting that other companies have made in the past, Accelerator is becoming more visible all the time. We are making it easier to see our products in action, and have released a video called ‘Accelerator Style’ on YouTube. We are also now offering a stylish new customized literature package to our distributors, combining and leveraging the impact of multiple brands. We are constantly updating and modifying our Web site with useful information, videos, etc. We are continuously working on new products and designs, which we will be releasing in the near future, as well. And, as always, we continue to ask our distributors, dealers and customers in the landscape community for their opinions and suggestions.

“Above all, our company continues to build and strengthen our relationships, and it is these very relationships that help us continue to be a part of this savvy, strong and enduring community.”


Bill Bellis
president
TrimmerTrap

“The grounds maintenance industry has seen significant change the last 10 years, and will experience much of the same over the next decade. Environmental concerns, increased government regulations, and an industrywide realignment will drive these changes.

“In order to remain competitive and prosperous in this evolving market, landscape contractors will have to run their businesses with an increased emphasis on efficiency. With the price of equipment and the cost to maintain it on the rise, every tool in the contractor’s fleet must last and be utilized to its utmost. I have always said, ‘Using this equipment does not damage it, rather what happens in-between use is what damages it.’ TrimmerTrap racks and storage systems prevent costly damage and keep your trucks and trailers organized.

Our ‘tools of the trade,’ by their very nature, must be light in weight, yet stand up to constant, daily use. Engineers have to strike the balance between durability and practicality in their designs. We provide products that protect your investment and increase your efficiency, while cutting labor costs. Take our patented Blade Blocker OCDC (operator controlled discharge chute). Being able to quickly block mowers’ discharged grass when around mulch, cars, buildings, pools, etc. is a huge advantage.

“TrimmerTrap’s mission statement is: ‘To maintain the position of number one by providing customers with the most comprehensive line of superior products through intelligent design.’ Our Bull Rider and Bronco Rider mower sulkies offer a service life several times greater than that of the ‘throwaway’-type sulkies commonly used today. Multiple machined parts and replaceable wear parts, including the actual foot platform on the Bronco Rider, provide an extended service life.

“In the interest of making our products more readily available to our customer base, we recently signed an agreement with the Stens Corp., whereby Stens is now our exclusive North American distributor. This exciting arrangement makes TrimmerTrap products available through an additional 10,000 plus dealers.

“In the scope of things, our industry is in its infancy. The years to come will be fun exciting to say the least. Who knows, we might be cutting grass with laser beams someday!”


Allen Baird
product manager
Cub Cadet Commercial

“The most important change we see coming in the lawn care industry is the need to make equipment as safe as possible while improving—not just maintaining—productivity. It is easy to think of increasing productivity as just mowing faster, but just mowing faster virtually guarantees turf damage and increased wear and tear on equipment. Most importantly, it jeopardizes the safety of your most valuable asset: your staff. The type of equipment that is going to move this industry forward has to allow the operator to maintain a productive speed while ensuring superior quality of cut, comfort during long hours in the seat, and safe operation on any terrain. Rising insurance costs are a key factor driving the focus on safety. Consolidation within the lawn care industry, which has a lot of larger operations absorbing smaller properties, means equipment and crews have to be as efficient as possible. The high turnover is causing companies to look closely at how easy their equipment is to learn and operate. If a worker has to spend days, or even weeks, learning the nuances of a piece of equipment, you risk losing customers, or even the worker before they perfect their technique. The industry keeps getting more competitive, which means landscapers are looking for equipment that will help them get the job done as quickly as possible, as cleanly as possible, while keeping operating costs down and contributing to the health of the overall bottom line.

“Cub Cadet Commercial (the commercial brand of Cub Cadet products) recently launched the TANK S zero-turn mower with Synchro Steer technology. This technology gives the operator full directional control of the front wheels, unlike free-rotating front casters of standard zero-turns. Operators have full stability on hillsides, even steep areas that previously required a walk-behind. The TANK S makes true zero-degree turns and tight maneuvers around any obstacle, while eliminating the potential for turf damage. This product was tested for more than two years with landscapers and groundskeepers around the country, and all told us it delivers the productivity, efficiency and quality of cut they need with the safety benefits that fit where our industry is headed. They reported being able to put any level of operator—beginner to advanced—in the seat and have great results, even over a long day on challenging terrain. This type of innovation is positioning Cub Cadet Commercial and our customers to meet upcoming changes in the industry, and the response so far has been extremely positive.”


Kyle Hagen
turf product manager
Kubota Tractor Corporation

“Kubota’s greatest opportunity serving landscape and lawn care professionals has always been the ability to performance-match the equipment’s key components, i.e. engine, transmission and/or mower deck. This assures quality components at valued pricing, as these components are designed and built by Kubota, for Kubota. Furthermore, serving the industry with quality and innovation has not only distinguished our products from the competition, but leads the growing demand for ease of operations and increased efficiency.

“Driving changes to the lawn care industry, OPEI unit shipments of transmission-steer (zero-turn) mowers over the past years illustrates a need for increased power. As lawn care professionals push their machines harder, looking for increased productivity, many look to larger horsepower machines (with greater torque levels) to handle the extra load. However, Kubota has seen this trend as an excellent opportunity to continue to meet the need for power with efficient, high-torque, Kubota diesel engines.

“Regarding marketing initiatives, Kubota products speak very well for themselves. Turf care professionals know Kubota products embody lifelong quality, tomorrow’s innovation and everyday value. So, further developing product awareness becomes extremely valuable, as is the education of who and what is behind our product. Quality assurance of self-manufactured components creates unmatched product reliability, and has long been a strength of Kubota. Furthermore, Kubota’s ability to increase efficiencies in research, product development, and manufacturing of more efficient engines and transmissions provides sustainable, lasting and environmentally friendly products. Educating the landscape and lawn care professional market of these simple facts is our goal.”


Byron Riesen
Deweze/Harper Industries

“I think that one segment of the industry gaining a lot of attention is pollution control. The driving force behind this movement is that the general population is becoming more and more conscious about protecting our environment and their health. There are several things that fall under this category, including carbon dioxide, noise and dust emissions. I think that companies that work to develop innovative solutions to these problems will be successful in the future.

“Safety is also a key concern for people who work in and around the turf industry. Turf maintenance equipment in general is dangerous to work with. Companies who can develop innovations that minimize these dangers and help improve the safety to the user during operation will have opportunities to be successful.

At Harper Industries, a primary focus for us has always been to develop products that serve the turf industry in terms of both being useful and environmentally friendly. The line of vacuums that we have developed with the feature of recirculating air dust control have filled a real need in the market by minimizing the dust and noise pollution associated with the vacuuming process. The noise control innovations that we have incorporated into our debris blowing equipment have also been beneficial in improving the process of moving yard waste. We will continue to work to evolve both of these technologies.

“From a safety standpoint, our All-Terrain Mowers have long been a standard for the safe mowing of hillsides and slopes. Keeping the operator safe and comfortable during this potentially dangerous process has been a terrific innovation for the industry. Harper Industries has continued to develop and refine this product due to the need that is in the market for this type of machine.”


Mark Hall
director of marketing and sales
TrynEx International/TurfEx

“What we’re seeing in the lawn care industry is that it’s becoming more professional. It’s no longer just the one-person operation that’s cutting my grass, but it’s a professional company that’s taking care of my property—providing the whole package of services.

“Law

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