Although the economic landscape in 2002 was, at times, a bit rough, Model Year 2002 ended on a high note for the outdoor power equipment industry. And, OPEI has an optimistic outlook for Model Year 2003, in spite of some high-profile bad economic news.
Negative stories in the business press, during the year, talked about corporate corruption, bankruptcies, and concerns over a possible war with Iraq . These caused a decline in consumer confidence which, in turn, contributed to a slower growth rate for the outdoor power equipment industry in 2002 than in previous years. But nevertheless, there was growth in shipments of several major product categories. OPEI's econometric forecast reported a 4.5-percent increase for all consumer riding units ( rear engine, front engine and garden tractors); a 3.9-percent increase in rotary mowers; and a 2.1-percent increase in commercial riders.
Some OPEI members reported that among the best-selling products in 2002 were lawn tractors and zero turn radius mowers, snow throwers, trimmers, and more powerful backpack blowers.
OPEI's forecast for Model Year 2003 is cautiously optimistic and predicts measured improvements in shipments in all categories as follows: a 3.1-percent increase in all consumer riding units; a 2.1-percent increase for walk behind rotary mowers; a 10.9-percent increase for walk behind rotary tillers; a 2.6-percent increase for commercial walk behinds; and a 4.3-percent increase for commercial turf riders. And, again with a cautiously optimistic eye, OPEI members think that while the industry may not experience the explosive growth of previous years, the fact remains that grass will still grow, trees will still fall in storms, pavements will still need repair and the basic demand for outdoor power equipment products will continue.
In 2003, OPEI members will be facing new challenges relating to some crucial issues and trends. Needless to say, the economy is at the forefront of everyone's minds, especially when it comes to making business decisions. Consumer spending could be a problem for this industry with consumer debt level so high; the potential for war in the Middle East and the continuing threat of terrorism is a constant concern; and although the forecast for this industry for 2003 is bright, the outlook could be dampened somewhat by a fall in housing starts. Government regulations, especially in California , will also be on top of the list; and, members will need to be especially vigilant about compliance issues relating to emissions.
Additionally, members have noted that with continued growth in commercial and consumer segments, fueled by dual income households , premium grade outdoor power equipment will continue to be a necessity. Many power equipment manufacturers have recognized these realities and have responded accordingly with new product innovations and equipment service remedies to keep customers satisfied. For the future, the role of the independent servicing dealer is crucial because of the fast, effective service they can deliver that keeps commercial customers on the job. Further, it can be surmised that recent election results and Federal Reserve cuts will be good for outdoor power equipment manufacturers and independent servicing dealers as capital investments in manufacturing facilities and servicing dealerships attempt to keep pace with market demands.
OPEI is continually making creative changes and launching new features to maintain the association-owned industry trade show, the International Lawn, Garden and Power Equipment Exposition (EXPO) as the industry's marketing event. This year, the OPEI Board approved a change in dates from July to October 18-20, 2003 . The Association has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both exhibitors and attendees on this change.
OPEI is looking forward to some exciting new programs in the coming year. Our communications programs will be extensive and will cover several important topics: To help teach users of some types of outdoor power equipment how to protect their hearing, the Association is partnering with the National Institutes on Deafness and other Communications Disorders (NIDCD) in an extensive consumer education program called "Wise Ears." OPEI will also participate in the national program for high school students - Life Smarts - by submitting questions on this industry and the environment. There will be some new radio public service announcements on safety and the environment; news stories and press releases on safety; and updates to OPEI's web site, Cyberlawn that continues to increase its usefulness as a portal site for industry information.
In the coming year, OPEI will: feature a new, improved web-based statistical program for members called "Blade"; begin developing a training aid for commercial leaf blower operators; look into expanding its forecasting program to include handheld products; continue new initiatives in the international arena through the work of the association's new International Committee; work with the European Garden Machinery Federation (EGMF) and various European Union officials on trade issues and the noise directive; enhance its efforts on behalf of the industry relating to environmental issues and regulations as proposed by EPA and CARB; and work with ANSI on developing standards for utility vehicles and cut off machines and a fuel tank material standard.
We have a busy and productive year ahead of us. And on top of these, OPEI staff will be available and ready, as always, to help members where needed and take the lead in overseeing any important industry issues that might arise.