Interview: Kris Kiser, Equip Expo

I chatted with Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute and Equip Expo, just a few days ahead of the annual industry event. And it will be my first Expo! Glenn Hansen, Editor

Rookie Year

OPE Business: It’s my first year attending Equip Expo, and everyone says, I can’t believe you’ve never been to this show! What should I know before attending?

Kris Kiser: It’s a great year to attend for the first time. This is our biggest show ever, with the largest exhibit space in our history. Our attendance is tracking well above last year, which was a record-breaking year for us. We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in landscape contractors attending and a three percent increase in dealers, despite some consolidation in the dealer industry.

Kentucky Expo Center front entrance
The Equip Expo puts final touches on the KEC location for its 40th show.

OPE Business: Thinking of both visitors and exhibitors, what types of businesspeople will I meet at this show, and what sort of professional discussions happen?

Kris Kiser: Originally, the show was for dealers, distributors, and landscape contractors. It’s evolved as have the businesses in this industry. We now see a more diverse group of professionals attending, from tree care to technologists and many other related fields.

Exhibitors cover a wide range of equipment and products, and it’s a global event with more than 1,000 exhibitors. Any company in the industry looking to showcase its products is here, including major retailers like Home Depot. While there used to be a strong consumer focus, we’re now seeing significant activity on the commercial side, with a particular emphasis on new product showcases featuring various battery-powered and robotic technologies.

If you’re interested in the latest technological advancements in our industry, this is the place to be, and the unique part is you can even try these products at outdoor booths.

The event is not just about products; it’s also a hub for training and peer-to-peer education. This year, we’re excited to see more women attendees, and for our new Women’s Reception, we’ve even had to change the venue twice due to high demand.

Products and People

OPE Business: Which brands might be making a bigger splash? And is it all about batteries and robots?

Kris Kiser: Battery-powered equipment and robotics are indeed significant trends. I remember seeing my first robot at this show about a decade ago, and the technology has advanced significantly since then. However, it’s important to note that gas engines will continue to be a part of the industry for a long time. There’s a dual-track business approach where both new technologies and new fuels are being explored.

While batteries are promising, they still face some challenges. The industry’s transition is exciting to watch with innovation happening across the board.

robot mower equip expo
Autonomous and robotic mowers will get much attention at this year’s Equip Expo.

OPE Business: What are you most excited about seeing?

Kris Kiser: This year is special as it marks the 40th anniversary of Equip Expo, and it’s my 17th year. It feels like a family reunion. We typically see about 50% of return attendees from the previous year and 50% new faces, which creates a nice mix. Attendees range from large multi-million-dollar landscape companies to small businesses with just a worker and a pickup truck. What excites me the most is witnessing the growth of these small businesses over the years. They come back, share their stories, and it’s a special experience for me. I’m a social person, and I genuinely enjoy the camaraderie.

The event is a combination of work, socializing, and more. We have planned activities every night.

Make a Plan

OPE Business: Equip Expo was already one of the largest trade shows in the country, but it continues to expand. What is your advice to attendees for taking it all in and getting the most out of their time at Equip Expo?

Kris Kiser: The key word is “plan.” This is one of the largest shows in the country, so it’s crucial to plan your visit. I often joke about it, but comfortable shoes are a must. Don’t wait until the last minute to attend a special class or training session; plan it in advance. Dress comfortably and be prepared for all kinds of weather; last year, we had a few cold days. And keep in mind, the outdoor products areas can get dirty so forget the polished dress shoes.

Remember to schedule in some fun too; this event isn’t just about work. It’s an exciting week, and you can make the most of it by planning ahead.

equip expo outdoor demo
This is not the event for those new dress shoes you bought.

OPE Business: Equip Expo has a long history in Louisville, and you recently opened new offices in downtown Louisville. What have those ties to the city meant for the success of Equip Expo?

Kris Kiser: Our ties to Louisville are strong, and we’re proud of our history here. We still need to remind the city of how much economic activity we bring in during the event. Since we opened our office in downtown Louisville, we’ve actively engaged with local elected officials and invite them to the expo. We understand our value, and we see ourselves as strong corporate citizens, contributing to the community. We use local facilities and support local businesses during our stay.

Louisville is a fantastic host city; it’s just the right size. Some have questioned why we don’t move to a larger city like Orlando, but we are committed to Louisville. This city fits us perfectly, and we have a great working relationship with local authorities. While there’s a plan in place to expand the Expo Center, there haven’t been shovels in the ground yet.

Growth Challenges?

OPE Business: What are the challenges you face with continuing to innovate and add to the show to keep industry professionals coming back?

Kris Kiser: Logistics are becoming increasingly challenging as we continue to grow. This is a city-wide event, and we fill up hotels and restaurants, which is a testament to our success. Some attendees do inquire about different locations, but it’s important to remember that we are a business-to-business show, and coming to Louisville is cost-effective for attendees. When the expansion at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) is completed, it will be incredible and transform the entire place, but that takes time.

Equip Expo is a unique event that blends everything together in one place. We often hear from attendees that they wish they had come sooner. Everyone is here for the same reason, so you meet people from all over and have valuable conversations and connections all around the city.

For me, this event is more than just a job; I genuinely enjoy my work and the people. That’s what makes Equip Expo fun and a great experiential event.

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