Bob Walker sheds light on state of OPE industry





1. What is new and exciting about your organization heading into 2009?

We are continuing to make progress by offering one new model tractor (Super B with 26-hp. fuel-injection engine) and several improvements and new options for 2009. What’s exciting about our organization — after 28 years, we are still in business as a family-owned, independent company with a focus on being a dependable, stable supplier of power equipment to our customers.

2. What is your organization doing to weather the tough economic climate, and what should OPE dealers do?

My dad always used to say about tough economic times, “The first objective is to stay in business.” We are making the moves to follow that advice, including slowing down our factory production by 10 percent to better fit the current market demand and making price adjustments to respond to unprecedented instability in costs of purchased materials (steel, plastic, rubber) and components.

Dealers should follow the same advice as above about making “staying in business” as the primary objective. Also, I saw a recent article that suggested three other things to keep in mind during this time: 1) Things are never as bad as the media and naysayers are reporting — bad news sells; 2) Your action in hard times sets the rewards for good times. Make your own success by not getting distracted by the times, by focusing on what is important and what you need to do; you’ll benefit from being clear headed and keeping as stable as possible as you steer your business through turbulence; and 3) Good times follow bad times, there is a season. Credit article “Harder Times,” Nick Burkholder,

3. What are the three biggest challenges that OPE dealers will face in the next two years, and how should they address them?

I have four challenges instead of three. 

1) Making the transition away from selling products that are “consumable and throwaway” (mass merchant stuff), to selling durable, serviceable products where the dealer adds value by delivering service.
2) Bringing young people into the organization with a passion for business and for power equipment, blending youthful energy with the leadership and mentoring of the older generation; young people are still being born to be in this business — dealers just need to find them.
3) Dealers need to keep an independent attitude and stay independent. Some of the manufacturers and distributors in the industry have marketing strategies that eventually make the dealer captive (slaved) to them over time; demands for brand purity and high dealer inventories lead to a loss of dealer independence. If a dealer is going to make the investment to be in their own business and then allow someone (a big manufacturer) to run their business for them, they may as well go get an 8-5 job and forget being “on their own.”
4) Dealers are going to need to keep up with technology advances both in business operations and power equipment.  For example, the industry will be moving to more and more fuel-injection engines in the next few years; dealer technicians will need to be trained to troubleshoot and service these engines.
How should dealers address these challenges? In a word, see the trends and make the moves.

4. What are the hottest trends in the OPE industry today, and which new trends will emerge over the next five years?

Power equipment fuel efficiency and reduced noise levels are trends that will shape the OPE industry products in the next several years. Some major technology breakthroughs in lightweight, high-capacity electrical energy storage devices are needed, but given that happening, we could see more electrically powered power equipment.

5. What was the OPE industry’s biggest story in 2008, and what will be its biggest story in 2009?

I don’t have good answers to the biggest story questions but I would say that industry consolidations and “strategic alliances” continue to be some of the most interesting stories to me.

6. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry heading into 2009 and beyond?

I am an optimist in my outlook and so I think better days are ahead for the industry and for dealers, while understanding that it will probably be 2010 before we see some recovery and progress from the current state of the industry.

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