Dealers Blown Away in 2012

The spring selling season was expected to be strong in many product categories. The blower category, including both handheld and backpack blowers, is expected to see a strong sales year in 2012 and experience growth.

In the most recent shipment data from OPEI, it shows handheld blower shipments to be up in 2012 for the first time in five years. The product category is expected to see even more of an increase in 2013.

The handheld blower segment growth will slow in coming years, as an increasing amount of consumers are opting for electric-powered equipment. The longer life of the product, and the ease in which users can replace a unit's battery, will mean fewer unit replacements in the future.

Backpack blower shipments rose in 2011 to record levels. They are expected to do the same in 2012 and 2013 with continued growth in the professional-user market.

Growth in the product category can be attributed to pent-up demand and increased consumer spending. To further drive sales this year, dealers should appeal to the needs of the end-user and shed light on additional blower uses.

The early spring start has also helped. Early reports from some manufacturers support the positive expectations for the 2012 sales year.

"Backpack and handheld blowers vary when you look at year-to-date sales for just a couple months," explains Bob Stanley, product manager for Echo and Shindaiwa. "The backpack market is up 20% and the handheld market is up 15%. I attribute that to the early spring."

Stanley explains that when speaking in volume, handheld is outselling backpack three to one, indicating that the presence of consumer users is a bit stronger this year. It is likely that this relates to pent-up demand.

"I think there was some pent-up demand based on the drought in the South," explains Stanley. "Basically, folks are getting back into business. They are getting water and things are growing. The early spring has pushed demand a little bit more forward than it usually is. But still, those that didn’t have any business at all last year are starting to see that shake loose."

Stihl is also expecting some growth in the blower market. "The overall market trend is favorable for growth," says Steve Meriam, manager of national sales and product development. "We anticipate single-digit growth for backpack and handheld blowers."

Fall debris handling requires power

The blower product category is seeing strong sales in the spring, but the big numbers typically come in the fall with the debris cleanup.

"Generally speaking in regard to all handheld products, we see a continuous sales cycle during the year within the professional market, while homeowners buy more seasonally," says Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for the Husqvarna Group, which includes Husqvarna and RedMax products. "We are in a seasonal business, so when spring and fall cleanup rolls around you can expect an uptick in sales."

As consumer customers loosen their purse strings, they are looking for powerful products that are easy to use. They want to be sure they are investing in a product that will be low-hassle with a high output.

"There are three things I see users making their buying decisions on: power, reliability and ease of starting," says Stanley. "Ease of starting is especially important for the consumer who is not as familiar with outdoor power equipment. They want to be able to go out there and not have to yank their arm off to start something."

Commercial users are looking for blowers that offer power and efficiency. They need products that work hard, but with low noise output as restrictions tighten.

"Customers are looking for blowing power, ease of use, and comfort when selecting a blower," says Dewosky. "We are very excited about the addition of the Husqvarna 580 BTS/BFS blower."

Speaking to operator comfort, Stanley says their commercial customers are favoring more and more the tube throttle over the hip-located throttle.

New uses and new tools

After the initial push of blower sales in the spring and the resurgence in the fall, dealers need to find new ways to attract potential customers to the numerous possibilities for product applications and the versatile tools that have been introduced to the blower product category.

Dealers should market the multi-use attachment systems to consumer customers and small contractors. Both Echo and Stihl offer a system with various attachments including a blower. Products such as these are becoming more popular.

"A significant growth for the Stihl KombiSystem is coming from the homeowner segment," says Meriam. "On the contractor side, small operations of one to two people do like the versatility of the Stihl KombiSystem."

While larger landscaper operations have dedicated tools for each task, Meriam suggests that a product with various attachments can be helpful to them as a backup unit in order to minimize downtime on the job.

In addition to products with multiple uses and attachments that include blowers, dealers should also tout the versatility of blowers themselves. "Blowers are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment a homeowner or professional can own," says Dewosky.

Dealers can sell a product's versatility in applications to attract additional customers. There are many unknown blower uses that dealers can introduce them to.

"Dealers can sell blowers by showing the variety of possible applications," explains Stanley. "Many people only think to use them for accumulating and moving leaves, and cleaning grass clippings and debris of sidewalks. They are essentially useful for all the different times you need to move things with air."

Stanley says they have heard of some blowers being sold to stadiums or outdoor theatres for use in the cleanup of litter and garbage. Appealing to different applications is one of the ways they can keep blowers top of mind year round.