Homeowners to Mow More in 2013

After an early spring was followed by a drought in 2012, dealers and manufacturers are bracing for what they are hoping to be a promising year for consumer riding mower sales in 2013. As the competitive market drives down the price on consumer-grade zero-turns, homeowners are favoring the mowers that promise efficient results.

Inventory and sales predictions

According to OPEI data from fall 2012, riding mower sales were up 16.5% for the first nine months of the year. While the riding mower category overall ended the year flat, zero-turn mower orders were up, and are expected to be up once more for 2013. Manufacturer promotions helped dealers to push sales through the end of the year, but many were likely still left with some inventory.

"The rider category (tractors and zero-turns) ended flat to a year ago through December, with tractors slightly down and zero-turn shipments up," shares Eric Julstrom, marketing manager for Toro. "Many dealers were affected by drought, but in most areas the fall picked up retail sales. In addition to weather, manufacturers had promotions running in the back half of the year to encourage retail."

With last year's national drought an uncommon occurrence, many dealers still ordered above or in line with 2012 for the 2013 selling season. Last year's optimism will carry over into this year with hopes of better weather patterns.

"Dealers ordered pretty similar for 2013 as they did for 2012," says Rick Zeckmeister, vice president of consumer planning and marketing for Briggs & Stratton. "There was a lot of optimism last year. Very seldom do you get a national drought. Last year started out very strong and encouraged people because it showed a willingness to spend on lawnmowers if in fact there was grass. I think we are now seeing the same thing: cautious optimism."

Eyes on deck size

Another statistic from the 2012 OPEI data shows growth in the sales of larger deck sizes. While 40- to 44-inch decks make up the biggest chunk of the market, the sales of 52-inch mower decks is up 23%. Sales growth for that deck size could be attributed to large property owners or hobby farmers.

"We find that the 48-inch deck is the most popular homeowner model with the 54-inch preferred in estate-type settings," says Dee Warren, marketing manager at Land Pride. "I think the growth in the larger deck is coming from the increase in hobby farmers. More people are looking for a few acres just outside the city limits—the increased acreage requires a larger mower."

With the aging population and concerns over social security, the number of hobby farmers could continue to increase as retirees use farmer's markets as a supplemental income. Hobby farmers and large-property homeowners alike prefer a machine that will help them trim time off chores and add to their quality of life. Sales of zero-turn mowers and larger deck models should continue to improve while at the same time manufacturers look to create more time-saving solutions for end users.

"Consumers continue to be pressed for time, so zero-turn mowers will continue to grow because they offer the speed and maneuverability to get mowing done efficiently," says Julstrom. "Toro’s Smart Speed feature helps consumers mow closer to landscaping more confidently, so they can even skip the string trimming to save even more time."

Priced for purchase

The rise in larger deck purchases could also be a result of lowering prices. As market competition drives the prices of mowers down, zero-turn mowers with large decks are within reach for more homeowners.

"As this segment matures we expect stronger growth in the more premium consumer grade of products priced from $4,000 to $5,500," says Tony Weber, BOB-CAT product manager. "We expect that homeowners will continue to favor newer and lighter commercial-grade zero-turns with the most popular models being the 52- to 54-inch mowers priced from $6,500 to $7,500."

The price jump to a larger deck seems manageable for more homeowners. They also have plenty of financing option to help them make that jump if needed.

"Larger deck sizes are becoming more popular for a few reasons," explains Julstrom. "The competitive nature of the market is bringing prices down so they are more affordable, while generous financing options are making more-expensive mowers—usually with larger decks—more affordable because it is easier to up-sell consumers when the monthly payment increase is very small."

Customers aren’t shopping for mowers based on the lowest affordable price. They are looking for the mower that fits their needs and the dealer who can help them figure out what those needs are.

"I believe that consumers don’t necessarily want to get the cheapest thing. When I buy things I want to buy the right thing for me," explains Zeckmeister. "Understand what the consumer is mowing with now, and what they do and don’t like about it. If you qualify a consumer, they tend to purchase the piece of equipment that gives them more satisfaction—usually at a higher price point."