Market Watch: Commercial Riders

In a survey conducted by Yard & Garden magazine in October 2010, it was revealed that 41% of dealers’ equipment sales were up in 2010, and 38% of dealers believe their equipment sales will be up again in 2011.

Many mower manufacturers have reported strong sales for 2010 and are hoping for an increase as well in 2011. “We are experiencing some very strong demand,” explains Tim Cromley of Walker Mfg. “For 2011 we are planning for an increase of just over 20% and believe that our domestic market is rebounding.”

Commercial and Consumer Wants Match Up

The sales jump may be in response to an increase in demand for commercial riders from both commercial users and the prosumer market. Both market segments are looking for commercial riding mowers that allow them to do more work in less time. This is invaluable to the contractor who wishes to maintain a profitable business.

“Many landscape contractors have suggested that the economic downturn has forced them to adjust to this difficult business environment by adding new services, focusing on retaining existing business and up-selling services in order to gain a deeper revenue stream with existing consumer and corporate accounts,” says Daryn Walters, director of marketing at Exmark Mfg. “In essence, the economic conditions have forced many landscapers to become better business practitioners, which should create a more stable operating environment for manufacturers, dealers and contractors in 2011 and beyond.”

Wanting to save money by maintaining their properties on their own, prosumers are also attracted to commercial rider options. Ruthanne Stucky, marketing director at Grasshopper, agrees that time savings is a big selling point for the consumer market.

“There are many prospective customers who are ready to make the change from a lawn tractor to a commercial zero-turn mower because they are becoming aware of the time-saving advantages of zero-turn mowing and they want a heavy-duty machine,” Stucky says.

Grasshopper has seen strong demand for the PowerFold deck feature that raises the front-mount deck for ease in maintenance and compact storage. Usability, productivity and quality in construction are what continue to make these mowers stand out.

“We believe that the market demand for commercial riders has users still wanting high quality and high productivity from their mowers,” says Cromley. Walker offers the MBV/MBK and MBS series of front-cut machines.

Durability Justifies Cost

A commercial mower is a considerable investment for the prosumer, so quality and durability is vital. Trusting that the price they are paying is getting them a mower that will last a long time helps justify the price tag.

“Prosumers look to commercial riders because they want a mower that is more durable and trouble-free than a box store mower. They understand that there is a gain to be had in long-term performance by taking the step up to a machine with commercial components, one that is designed to be repaired rather than parked behind the shed or thrown in the landfill after a couple of years,” says Stucky. “While they may say they are looking for a low price, they appreciate the value to be gained from heavy-duty construction and better components.”

Quality construction is a selling point for contractors too, as they are focusing more and more on profitability in operations. Having a machine that is out of operation means dollars lost.

“There will still be steady demand for commercial riders in 2011,” says Cromley. “The benefits have been proven over the years, and we believe that they are excellent and efficient money-makers for commercial contractors.”

BOB-CAT product manager Tony Weber agrees, saying the focus when making an equipment purchase has shifted from brand and size to technology and value.

“While demand will still likely be driven out of necessity over the next few years, we may start to see a shift away from price-minded to value-minded purchases in 2011. Consumers purchasing commercial mowers in 2011 will notice that a lot of technology advancements have been realized since they purchased their last mower. Mowers are greener, addressing fuel line and tank emissions. Engines are more efficient, operating smoother and offering better fuel economy. Mowers are designed smarter, reducing vibration points and enhancing user comfort.”

Qualifying the Customer

As the market demand for commercial riding mowers increases in 2011, dealers can improve their chances of getting the sale by taking the time to talk with customers and pair them with the right mower that can satisfy their needs regardless of cost.”

“The market is price-driven but also value-driven,” explains Stucky. “Dealers can capitalize on this by knowing their customers’ needs and offering equipment that provides the best value for each application. Dealers should make themselves an ally to the customer by helping them be more successful, saving them time and labor with the equipment they purchase.”

An influential part of qualifying the customer and getting closer to the sale is learning their financial parameters. They are going to want a machine that is affordable and credit that is easily obtainable.

“Affordability and cost of ownership is one of the last pieces to the puzzle, along with finance options that are affordable, which seems to be as compelling as all the features,” says Weber. “We work directly with finance companies to offer our customers an assortment of financing options to fit their unique needs, many with no dealer fees to get passed on to the customer.”

Dealers should be patient with customers and the market going into the 2011 sales season. They should recognize that the increase in commercial rider sales will be gradual.

“The landscape contractor market appears to be improving from 2009 as indicated by industry shipment and retail estimates,” says Walters. “Although hard pressed to find dealers or landscape contractors who believe the economy is in full recovery, most do believe that things have moderated and that 2011 will be another step forward.”