Regulations, and trends, impact the OPE mix
The years-in-the-making trend toward battery-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers and other species of outdoor power equipment is gaining a push from legislatures that are either moving to ban gas-powered OPE, or considering to do so.
California is moving toward such a ban that would include gas-powered lawnmowers, and it could take effect as early as 2024. Some cities — including Washington, D.C. — have already banned certain gas-powered OPE products.
The retail responses vary, but battery-powered product is gaining prominence on shelves everywhere, according to Memphis, Tenn.-based Orgill’s Alan Shore, director of seasonal merchandise, and Matt Ray, senior category manager, outdoor living. “Nearly all retailers seem to be transitioning some of their power equipment assortment to battery-powered alternatives,” said Shore.
“Many of the traditional gas equipment manufacturers are adjusting their assortment to incorporate more battery-powered options,” added Ray.
Demand and competition are charging forward.
“There is far more promotional and buying activity surrounding battery-powered categories as vendors compete to get their platform/batteries into the marketplace,” said Brad Schieber, merchandise manager for outdoor power equipment at Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Do it Best Corp. “This is especially true for handheld OPE.”
Gas powered product “will never go away completely, barring nationwide legislation,” Schieber said. “But down the road, we might be hard pressed to find it in residential areas.”
On the merchandising side of the business, the move to battery powered product raises the stakes for that initial sale into a specific battery platform. “Once they buy our platform, they’re in our platform,” said Todd Zimmerman of Worx, a popular brand of Positech.
STIHL's new battery platform
Describing itself as a company rooted in sustainability, STIHL says it is continuing to improve its lineup of low-emission and zero-exhaust emission offerings.
Mike Poluka, STIHL product manager, pointed to the new STIHL Professional Battery 135 Platform offering commercial-grade power. Also, STIHL "is developing a new multi-tier charging infrastructure which offers users multiple ways to store and charge STIHL AP and AR batteries," he said. "Professional users will be able to recharge their STIHL batteries while at the job site, upon their return to the shop for the evening, or even on the go."
Meanwhile, the battery powered movement has its own challenges — the availability of lithium ion is limited by the general supply chain issues. And as electric cars become more popular, that could add to the scarcity.
And battery-powered products reduce air pollution and noise pollution, the environmentally friendly story of batteries is clouded by less visible factors — the energy required to harvest precious metals to produce batteries, for instance.
Gas-powered product is particularly strong among the pro segment, who rely on the run time and power of the gas products.
Tom Cost, owner of Killingworth (Conn.) True Value told HBSDealer: “I am on the side of advocating for cleaner burning gas engines along with cleaner burning fuels.”
In California, Augie Venezia of Fairfax Lumber and Hardware told HBSDealer: “We face the fact that the state does not have the infrastructure to distribute the increase in needed electricity to take the place of gasoline, diesel and propane.”
Meanwhile, the market continues to see gas-engine innovations that boost fuel efficiency and reduce noise.
The battery powered movement is still looking for its holy-grail moment, Zimmerman said. “Whoever’s the first manufacturer out there that can provide a battery technology that can give them the run time of a gas blower at the power of a gas blower will change the game forever. But that’s going to take a little while."