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OPEI's Kris Kiser Talks Equipment

By Michelle Medaris

Kris Kiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, used the term "cautiously optimistic" when asked about the mood of equipment manufacturers.


The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute is an international trade association that represents equipment manufacturers. Members are privy to equipment studies and statistical information, and receive support in legislative and regulatory affairs that directly affect their business.


Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) President Kris Kiser talks about the business of equipment and how government regulations may affect their future.

OPEI is an international trade association representing 84 manufacturers and their suppliers of consumer and commercial outdoor power equipment, such as lawnmowers, utility vehicles, trimmers, chainsaws, snow throwers, and other related products.

The institute was founded in 1952, and is dedicated to promoting the outdoor power equipment industry by undertaking activities that can be pursued more effectively by an association than by individual companies. OPEI is also a managing partner of GIE+EXPO, the industry's annual international trade show and exposition for equipment.

Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the OPEI and the OPEI Education and Research Foundation, is also an attorney and joined the institute four years ago. Prior to joining OPEI, Mr. Kiser served for 14 years in senior management at two major Washington, D.C. trade associations. He was Vice President of State and International Affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the American Forest & Paper Association.

Mr. Kiser also worked nine years for noted international affairs expert and former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton. He was Special Assistant in the Congressman's personal office and spent two years as the chief administrative staffer (AA) with the Joint Economic Committee during Hamilton's Chairmanship of the Committee.

Q: What trends do you see in the landscape equipment industry?
A: Many manufacturers are moving toward battery and electric-powered products, as well as lighter, easier-to-use, and ergonomically designed, with an easier start function, like push-button or key start. Diversified fuels and fuel sources are also popular; people are looking at different kinds, such as propane, compressed natural gas, battery, and electric, as the fuel marketplace has become more complicated.


"There has been a little growth in mowers, as zero turn remains popular", said Kris Kiser. This Ariens Zoom 54XL also has a 3.8-gallon fuel capacity, ZT2800 transaxles drive system and a 24HP/725cc Kohler Courage twin engine.


Q: When you say the fuel marketplace has become more complicated, are you referring to E15 ethanol?
A: Yes, one of the great challenges is the approval of E15 fuel, which is 15 percent ethanol. E15 is only for the subset automobile fleet 2001 and newer; they specifically did not approve E15 for any non-road product and any pre-2001 automobile.

This is a legal fuel available in the marketplace that is not safe for your non-road products. This is a paradigm shift; it is the first time in American history that a fuel at the pump good for an automobile (pre-2001) is no longer safe for your non-road products. In the past whatever went into your Ford or Chevy went into the jerrycan and then into your chainsaw or lawnmower.

The frustrating thing is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to educate 150 million people using 400 million engine products, and their attempt is woefully inadequate. They have come up with this little 3x3-inch pump label in one language, which says "for use in 2001 and newer automobiles only."

All other products are prohibited from using E15 fuel and we (OPEI) don't think it is goes nearly far enough to educate people about the consequences.


"I believe government regulations and the uncertainty of the fuel business is the number one concern (facing the industry as a whole.)"


No product (OPEI equipment) in existence today has been designed, built or warranted to run on any fuel containing more than 10 perfect ethanol. You are likely to void your warranty if you use fuel with ethanol content higher than 10 percent.
The Department of Energy (DOE) tested our products on E15 fuel and the marine industry tested their engines, the results were catastrophic. The machines our members have built were not designed for this fuel and we don't want it in our products.

A vast majority of our products are internal combustion engines, so the fuel they run on is very important. Engine makers can make an engine run on anything; however they design the engine based on the certification fuel, therefore they have to know what the fuel is going to be.

Our products are designed (manufactured, retailed, sold) a few years out, so the last thing you want is something coming off the line today with an engine certified emission compliant on a fuel that doesn't exist. The certification fuel has to match what is in the marketplace.

Another problem is they have not mandated a legacy fuel; this was done when we went from leaded to unleaded. Stations were required to carry leaded for a certain period of time and that is not the case now.


With the ever-changing fuel marketplace diversified fuels are becoming more popular. Kiser said, "People are looking at different kinds, such as propane, compressed natural gas, battery and electric." Thus making the Ferris IS 3100Z a good option, as it runs on propane. The mower also features the iCD cutting system, as well as a Vanguard BIG BLOCK engine.


Q: Which equipment categories are experiencing the best sales growth?
A: When the economy went south, a lot of homeowners stopped using landscape services. Consumers were going into the marketplace and buying products to manage their properties, so we didn't see a catastrophic fall when the market went down.

Now that the market is slightly rebounding, chainsaws and trimmers are growing strong, we have also seen a little growth in mowers, as zero-turn remains popular.


According to Kris Kiser, lightweight and ergonomically designed equipment is an industry trend on the rise. Products with these features are easier to use, such as ECHO's string trimmer, which also has a powerful professional-grade, 2-stroke engine to enhance productivity.


Q: How would you characterize the "mood" of equipment manufacturers overall?
A: Our business is largely weather and housing-dependent. The housing market has shown some strength and new home construction is up modestly. Typically when new home construction numbers are on the rise, our numbers look better.
If someone buys a house they are likely to buy some outdoor power equipment. Foreclosures are slowing, which is good, housing stocks and retail sales are up, that all bodes well for us.

The other factor is weather; we are so weather-dependent, if there are heavy snows then the snowblowers sell, if grass is growing then mowers sell. We had a good spring, but as it dried up, it slowed down.

A couple of years ago when the economy was tougher, some of our guys weren't doing so bad because of the massive snows. Many landscape contractors push snow in the winter, so a lot of them were in a pretty good cash position for the commercial market. We were down, but it wasn't catastrophic.

I think my guys are cautiously optimistic, they have had a good year so far with modest growth, if the economy continues to improve I think the outlook for us is solid.

Q: How important do you think the election is in regards to the equipment marketplace?
A: That is a fundamental question. I don't know who is better for the economy; I don't want to answer that. Republican or Democrat, everyone wants the economy to rebound, and people to go back to work, but I don't know who will bring the economy back.

I do think there is a common belief that Republicans are more pro-business. If they come in they might restrict some of the EPA rule making, but that is just speculation.


"The frustrating thing (about E15) is that the EPA is trying to educate 150 million people using 400 million engine products, and their attempt is woefully inadequate. They have come up with this little 3x3-inch pump label in one language, which says 'for use in 2001 and newer automobiles only.'"


Q: How are the smaller specialty equipment manufacturers doing when compared to the larger players? Is there a trend toward consolidation?
A: As of late we have not seen consolidation like we did a few years back.

Q: What are the major challenges facing the industry as a whole?
A: I believe government regulations and the uncertainty of the fuel business is the number one concern.

There are some folks at the EPA that don't like turfgrass, they believe it takes too much water, pesticides and fertilizer to maintain, and that it is not bio-diverse.

The grass is not the problem; it is the people planting lush Kentucky bluegrass in Las Vegas.

Grass is planted along roadsides and parking lots for a reason; it is great at capturing runoff, great at filtering runoff and rainwater, and great at producing oxygen.

It does all these things, but the agency is only looking at it through a very specific prism, that is a huge challenge for us.

Q: Is the pick up in new home construction having a positive effect on equipment sales yet?
A: Yes, modestly, I think the housing situation is improving, but it is not dramatic. There are signs of strength and I think people are feeling a little more confident about the market; with that they are more likely to buy consumer products for the house. Historically, as home sales rebound and new starts pick up it benefits our business.

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May 19, 2019, 8:28 am PDT

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