For the past 10-15 years, leading power equipment dealers have adapted their businesses to capitalize on the growing lawn maintenance contractor market. But today’s contractors are different. They provide different services and have different needs. Will dealers be forced to adapt further?
Forced might be a strong word. Dealers with solid brands of core equipment, along with equally solid parts and service operations, fulfill a very important need for maintenance contractors. However, as more established contractors look to bring at least some of their equipment maintenance and repairs in-house, many leading dealers have expanded their aftermarket support to include on-site service, parts delivery and even technical training.
Many dealers have also broadened their inventories to include a variety of products lawn maintenance contractors need as they expand and grow their businesses. Equipment such as mini skid steers, tractors, attachments and aerators complement products such as fertilizer, mulch and hardscaping supplies.
AN EVOLVING INDUSTRY
In the mid- to late-90’s, demand for basic lawn services grew as an increasing number of dual-income households had less free time to do their own yard work. As a result, lawn maintenance contractors began sprouting up all over the country. Then, as the housing and construction markets took off in the 2002-2004 timeframe, many of these same contractors began branching into landscape installation.
The miserable housing market and deteriorating economic conditions over the past couple of years have contractors focused on the more recession-proof business of lawn maintenance again. But uncontrollable factors such as drought, tighter customer budgets, and pricing pressure from a mounting number of competitors have most established contractors grounded in the realization that diversity is likely their best way forward—in terms of both customer retention, sales growth and profitability.
There is another dynamic at play that could impact how your landscape customers operate. As the concept of “eco-friendly landscaping” gains more widespread acceptance, some homeowners and landscape designers are questioning just how much lawn should be part of a landscape. Replacing turf with more drought-tolerant elements such as extended patios, mulch, native shrubs and vegetable gardens reduces the need for fertilization, irrigation and the operation of power equipment.
However, the average American’s affection for a lush, green lawn will be a tough cookie to crumble. That’s why some landscape designers are simply switching to grass types that demand less water. Furthermore, organizations such as the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) have made a strong case for the importance of turfgrass in the ecosystem. (Properly managed turfgrass helps sequester carbon emissions, capture stormwater run-off, and mitigate the heat island effect.)
But make no mistake, today’s consumers want a more sustainable yard—a yard which they also view as a “backyard retreat.” According to a Global Lawn & Garden Trend Report recently presented by Husqvarna, 38% of U.S. homeowners want a yard that is entirely self-maintaining, while 37% say they view their backyard as a “retreat area.”
What does all this mean for landscape contractors? There’s an opportunity to extend their basic lawn maintenance services to include turf renovation, IPM (integrated pest management) and perhaps even organic lawn care, along with opportunity to branch into new installation services with a relatively low barrier to entry.
What does this mean for landscape suppliers such as equipment dealers? There is an increasing need for lower-emission equipment; high-tech irrigation products; organic-based fertilizers; outdoor lighting, hardscaping and waterscaping supplies; and turf renovation equipment such as aerators and dethatchers to help lawn maintenance contractors practice IPM and improve the health of turf.
VENDORS FACILITATE THE EVOLUTION