Walker weighs in on state of the OPE industry


 Bob WalkerOutdoor Power Equipment recently asked several OPE industry leaders to shed some light on the state of the industry entering 2010. The first to respond was Bob Walker, president of Walker Manufacturing Company in Fort Collins, Colo. Our questions and his responses were as follows:

1. What is new and exciting about your company?

BW: Probably the most “new and exciting” news about our company is that we are still in business and are still an independent, family-owned business, and we are doing our best to stay that way in the face of the business slowdown challenges experienced in the last couple of years. Despite lower sales, we are moving ahead with new product development and new marketing initiatives. On the product side, we are offering significant improvements to our Model B Series machines for 2010, including offering upgrade kits to make these improvements on earlier units. Marketing efforts are moving ahead with a brand-new “www.walkermowers.com” design rolling out in early 2010 and an improved Walker Dealer Web site that was introduced in the fall quarter of 2009.

2. What impact will the federal government make on the OPE industry during the remaining three years of U.S. President Barack Obama’s current term?

BW: It seems to me in its first year under the Obama administration, the biggest impact of the federal government on our industry has been to create fear — fear of the unknown in what is going to happen in business and our personal lives. It appears that pattern may continue for the next three years with what seems to be an out-of-control Congress and a president long on rhetoric and short on leadership. I think that fear has had a paralyzing effect on business with everyone waiting to see what is going to happen before making further investments and moving ahead. Certainly, many of the initiatives undertaken or being considered by the government are not friendly to small business, which is the backbone of the economy, and this leads to more uncertainty and fear. However, from the optimistic point of view, as our marketing manager, Tim Cromley, has been saying, “We are all in the same boat; what we learn from this and what we do about it is up to us.”

3. How will the environmental and energy-independence movements impact the OPE industry during the next five years?

BW: The impact of environmental improvements and energy-independence will be more complex products, higher taxes and higher costs passed on to consumers. I don’t think anyone is against our stewardship of the environment and energy consumption, but some of this appears to be the law of diminishing returns, where customers pay a lot more for a little gain. Certainly, the development of cleaner-running, more fuel-efficient engines, and alternative fuels, including electric power, will all be a part of the future design consideration of outdoor power equipment.

4. What are your top-five OPE dealer survival tips for the next five years?

BW: Dealers who survive in this industry will be doing the following: 1) Focus on selling durable, serviceable equipment; 2) Organize to provide excellent service for the customer — before the sale, at the time of sale, and after the sale; 3) Take full advantage of information technology to efficiently manage all aspects of business operations; 4) Have a business succession plan that brings young people into the business and mentors them into leadership; and 5) Stay independent, and don’t let manufacturers or distributors make decisions about products offered or inventories kept at dealerships.

5. What will be the biggest trends to emerge in the OPE industry during the next five years?

BW: In the next five years, some OPE products will become more of a commodity-type product, while others will thrive as specialty products where changing technology will allow continuing innovation. The commodity-type products will tend to be sourced from overseas manufacturers driven by price points, while the specialty products will come from U.S. manufacturers. We see Walker Manufacturing staying and continuing to thrive in the latter category.

6. What is your overall outlook for the OPE industry in 2010?

BW: Cautiously optimistic for the beginning of a turnaround and a small increase in business in 2010.

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