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Equipment, Lithium, and Robotics

June 10, 2021

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Kris Kiser, President & CEO of OPEI. 

Kris began a career in local politics at an early age. Eventually, his career took him to Washington, DC, where he worked for senators and members of Congress for a decade before becoming a lobbyist. Today Kris lobbies and represents the Green Industry before congressional and state legislatures. Because Kris interacts with and represents many of the major companies in the industry, he brings a unique perspective on issues facing the green industry: technological advances, current and future regulations, and H-2B visas.  

You can tune in above on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or anywhere you get your podcasts.

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL LEARN:

  • Understanding the state of H-2B visas 
  • Why the future is battery powered 
  • How software and equipment can help overcome labor challenges 
  • What to expect from GIE + EXPO this year

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Ty Deemer:

You are listening to the Green Industry Perspectives podcast presented by SingleOps. A podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics, and tips in running their tree care or landscape business.

All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. I’m your host Ty Deemer. I’m in the marketing team here at SingleOps. And today, we’ve got a great episode for you. We’re talking to Kris Kiser. Kris is the president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, otherwise known as OPEI. And we’ve got a ton of great topics planned for you today to provide value. Kris, welcome to the show.

Kris Kiser:

Thank you, Ty. Good to be here.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. So Kris, we start off every episode with a similar question to provide immediate value for our audience, and it’s pretty straightforward. And your experience at OPEI over time, what have been the top two to three things or common threads that you have seen in successful green industry businesses?

Kris Kiser:

It’s adaptability, innovation, leadership, right? The ability to change, the ability to innovate. Obviously huge challenging times. And COVID was a monumental hit to the business and yet a lot of people really thrive. It’s certainly good to the equipment industry. Those folks who can be adaptable and evolve. Obviously, big labor challenges. And so, the utilization of whether it’s software or technologies or labor devices to keep your people on board. Just the ability to innovate and lead.

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah, and I’m sure we’ll be able to kind of talk through some of those points in a little bit more detail later on, but Kris, I always like to have the guest just provide their background. Tell us about you, tell us about your career and kind of how you landed at OPEI and what you do today as well.

Kris Kiser:

Ty, I started out in politics. I was 16 and became… My first campaign, 17. I was deputy registrar, 18. My first year in college, I was an assistant to the mayor of Bloomington Indiana where Indiana University is. Been in politics all my life. That’s what brought me out to DC with a member of Congress. Worked in Capitol Hill and the House and Senate side for a decade, turned to the dark side lobby. And that’s how I got me into the association business. I came from automobiles over to OPEI 14 years ago. So, we’re a trade association. We represent the industry before Congress and state legislatures. Folks like EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission and with our communications arm and we own GIE+EXPO.

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. So, what does OPEI do for businesses in the green space? How do you interact with them? How do you serve them? What does that look like?

Kris Kiser:

We’ve got 110 members. It’s the names you know. All the big companies and small companies that make equipment and.or supply equipment, parts suppliers as well. So, again, we represent their interests before legislative and regulatory bodies. We’re the communications arm for the industry writ large. We run and own the trade show 40 years now, 40 years young. It’s the sixth largest in 2019 in the country. It’s a big, big show in Louisville, Kentucky every year with the TurfMutt Foundation. That’s the education arm. TurfMutt has reached 70 million kids, teachers and families in the past decade. So, it’s been an extraordinarily successful program, but we are the voice, the organized voice of the equipment industry.

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. So, that’s kind of where we can segue into the more of the topical conversations that we’re going to have today. Equipment is one of those things that in the green space, people get excited about it. If you’ve been to GIE or you’ve been to the Tree Care Industry Association expo, people walk in there and it’s exciting. People look at the new shiny equipment and they get excited. It’s something that people look forward to.

So, the first question I kind of have for you and your opinion with you seeing what the landscape of equipment is, what are some of the greatest equipment innovations that you’re seeing right now that are changing the industry for the better?

Kris Kiser:

Well, like the auto industry, battery lithium-ion has reshaped the business and it looks like it will reshape it going forward. So, the ability to store that much power… Obviously, our equipment, you need a lot of torque. You need a lot of startup juice. The ability to store that much power has really resonated with consumers. So now more than 50% of the handheld market is battery. Probably 40% now in the walk-behind segment, not yet in commercial, but just battery. And the related. So, robotics interconnected and the software that drives them. So, all of that kind of technology is here to stay.

Ty Deemer:

And what are some of the benefits that you’re seeing or maybe they have… Do you see it going into the commercial space as well?

Kris Kiser:

Sure. This year we’ve seen… I know a number of manufacturers that have delivered two big landscapers; 100, 200, 300 units. That’s the kind of data they’re going to need. They’re going to have to put that equipment through its paces. We’ve not seen zero turns run eight hours a day, six days a week on battery to see how they work. So, they’ll be really tested now. Now, they’re in the commercial space, they’re going to get a lot of tests and they’ll evolve, but it certainly is a trend. California is going to be very challenging for us on the regulatory front. They’re likely to regulate the internal combustion engine, not just us, cars as well out of the space.

Now, we don’t think the rest of the states are going to go there and certainly not globally, but there are some regulatory challenges, but the engine side has also evolved. You’re going to see a lot more electronic fuel injection. Heavy catalysts for us are tough because of potentiality for fire, but certainly battery and robotics. We really think robotics are going to be… And they help address the labor issues as well. So, we have a lot of big robots. If you’re coming to GIE this year, I hope you do, there are some robots you’re going to see there that are huge in the sports space, the field space, the commercial space and the battery stuff lets you run it. Hospitals and hotels and motels where you want to acquire a piece of the equipment, just more opportunity, right? And that’s what we’re known for is just… There’s a product and a price point for everybody regardless of your need and a power supply.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, it’s really interesting talking about the benefit of the electric space and really talking about the different services you offer. I’m sure in a lot of commercial property space, it’s that quiet service offering could be a huge benefit. I had never really thought of it from that perspective before.

Kris Kiser:

We’ve taken out a lot of brief as you might suspect with leaf blowers. Certainly with COVID and a lot of people at home working from home, I’m in my office as we speak. I’ve been working from home. People have suddenly… They’re aware of them and oftentimes it’s a behavior issue. If you’re starting them at 7:00 in the morning or you’re running five of them at a time because time is money for these professionals, it’s become an issue for some. And so, on the battery side, you get a little break there, but that’s driving the debate.

The other thing is just ease of use, right? So, I’ve been [inaudible 00:07:07]. I’ve got a lot of stuff in here, but there’s an applicant… They’re not good for power, not yet relative to snow throwers and portable generators. And some chainsaw uses fire, et cetera. There’s always going to be a need for diversified power.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. Because that’s kind of the interesting premise behind it to me is that you could have… Even if it’s considered a morning crew that uses all electric to the silent side of things and you… Especially talking about the capability of the battery today, it might not last eight hours, but could it last you four? And then just have your crews planned for their 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM job sites, “Hey, we’re all electric for those,” and then you switch to gas in the afternoon.

Kris Kiser:

And we’re also seeing landscapers, the significant crews. They’ll take a portable generator out on the unit, right? They’ll put it on the trailer. And so, they’ll run a portable generator to recharge the batteries while they’re at a particular site. Nowadays with a lot of manufacturers, they’ll have the flip in, flip out battery systems for a bunch of different equipment. So, as long as you have a bank of batteries, you can run extended periods of time.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. Do you see the battery space? Obviously, we’re seeing electric vehicles, EVs, take over the consumer market. A lot of people are adopting that. We’re based out of Atlanta. It’s so hard to drive 100 feet without seeing a Tesla or something of that [inaudible 00:08:30]. And I know there’s a company called Rivian that’s kind of going into the Amazon space. They’re committing to building out delivery vans. Do you see a point where it’ll be that way in the green industry as well, where it’s like, “Hey, your cruise truck is electric?” Or what what’s kind of your view on the scope of how battery powered vehicles could go in that direction?

Kris Kiser:

Well, that certainly be an option. Obviously, again, I have significant contacts in the auto industry, again. I came from the auto trade group. It will be an option. And a lot of it would have been on regulation the way the governments want you to go. There’s a lot of fundamentals whether it’s infrastructure charging, the Chinese systems where you flip out batteries more like a propane unit versus a charged session. So, part of it is just figuring out how you want it to go. Now, look, you’re talking of fleets in the tens of millions fire equipment and hundreds of millions.

So, there’s a lot of legacy product there. We’re a long way away from switching over, but you’re going to see a lot of offerings, right? And so, we’re in a very distinct period of change. And again, I think it goes to leadership and evolution, adaptability. Your ability to champion those technologies and utilize them in a way that benefits your business. You just are going to have to stay adaptable.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I think it’s just such an interesting conversation to have because I’m thinking of the business owners listening to this and they’re trying to think ahead, not necessarily a year ahead, but really like five, 10 years ahead. You’ll think of a situation where I’ve heard stories of companies out in California that really ended up getting screwed by the regulations because they would have just bought a new truck a year in advance and then regulations were passed and no longer was there the boom [inaudible 00:10:16] truck legal to use. And then they had to sell it to somebody in Missouri so it could be used. And I’m just thinking through. It might not make a ton of sense now based off of your current state’s climate or policy, but in five years from now, you might want to be ahead of the curve.

Kris Kiser:

Regulators and particularly California, they want to drive the marketplace, right? They want to drive you into a particular they want to choose. They want to drive you into technology. Well, what’ll happen is we’re not registered. Our products aren’t registered truck the way an automobile or truck is. So, if you say, we don’t want California to turn into Cuba for our equipment where you got a bunch of old stuff that people just repair and repair and repair, what they can do is simply drive the kind of change you don’t want. California, Oregon… What is it? Oregon, Nevada, Arizona on their border, right? And so, you can’t have just… You know how we Americans are. You tell somebody with something they can’t have, “Well, want to bet? I can cross the border and buy it.”

Ty Deemer:

Like a lottery ticket.

Kris Kiser:

And I just trailer it over. It’s not like it’s a registered item. And then are you going to have enforcement police or battery cops? How does that work? You’re also going to find that batteries are not the panacea. Look, I represent engine makers and battery makers and people that use both. I love them all. But recoverability, recyclability, fires, disposal, there’s all kinds of issues associated with batteries, right? So, you start using a lot of them. How are you going to recover? Is there enough lithium for everybody? Or then you’ll see another battery technologies at solid state it’s in a different kind of storage system.

So, we’re just in an evolutionary period and that’s the key is staying on top of that. COVID is a dresser also brother. Bang, big changes. Those people who adapted thrived. Lot of folks thrived in this past year as did my industry. So, a lot of people didn’t. So, that’s the key. Adaptability and accepting change.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, I think it’s so interesting of all the ways you’re talking through it because there’s companies that… Especially when you talk about the fleet side of things and how they think about their team and rolling out their crews, there’s companies… We had a guy on the podcast earlier this season that he… One of the best innovations he made for his company was just getting an oil pump on his property to where he could fill his trucks up and not have his crews go to gas stations for them to fill up. It saved the liability of having their truck parked on a parking lot in a gas station where someone could steal something from it. It didn’t have the track receipts. It was just on his property. That’s a level of innovation that’s great. They really saved a lot of money and became more efficient by doing it. And I’m just imagining the day where instead of having a gas pump at your own property, you have EV plugins for all of your trucks and what that will look like. I just think that’s pretty fascinating.

Kris Kiser:

It isn’t. All kinds of storage systems… And again, a lot of my major manufacturers… One of my big engine makers are now providing or building power storage systems. And it’s just a drop in power. Look for hybrids, right? You may see a small engine on a big piece of equipment and it’s simply running a generator and the generator is producing the juice that runs the operation of the mechanics. Who knows? What we want regulators to do is let the market innovate, right?

So, the California regulators said, “Hey, we want battery in the marketplace.” Well, lithium came along. Our manufacturers, every major manufacturers put that product into the space and consumers adapted. And there’s a single shift. A monumental shift in that space. So, let the marketplace work. It’ll do it. Business will work, let them do it, but give them the flexibility and the production timeline, the design line to get it done.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. So, just shifting the conversation a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about batteries and how that’s impacting the space. You talked about robotics as well. Where do you see the future of robotics going? I know we’ve talked to a few companies like Greenzie who is partnering with Wright Outdoor to do automated mowers for big commercial properties, field striping, and that sort, but where do you see robotics going in the lawn care space? But what other types of robotics are you seeing pop up?

Kris Kiser:

I think in the short term, you’ll see landscapers who maybe challenged with crew issues or labor issues. Buying the units, as you know the price point on them, they’re pretty high or the typical homeowner is buying them and maintaining them, right? So, they’ll buy the unit, place it at the house and be able to do the tax deductability with it and simply maintain it. And so, hopefully if it’s an interconnected product, that robot’s doing its thing. That’s the lion’s share of the work for a lot of properties, obviously, it’s the mowing, right? So, you go by every couple of weeks and you do the trimming and blowing, et cetera, but if the machine has an issue or it gets stuck, it’s going to send you a text or an email and say, “Hey, I’m stuck. Come fix me.” That’s the beauty of interconnected product. They’re likely here to stay because you’re seeing them scale up in a commercial way. I’m going to sneeze here in a second. The pollen’s getting me.

Ty Deemer:

You’re good.

Kris Kiser:

They’re going to… Oh my gosh. Just did it. They’re going to come in a meaningful way. And the results… One of my neighbors… See my yard behind me. I’ve got about an acre and a half here. A lot of it’s wild area. Okay. I’m sorry, Ty. This is absolutely killing me. I’ve sucked something in. Because the yard… My neighbor just put one in. And it looks fantastic, right? Because the yard always looks the same. It’s not mowing the grass. It’s shaving the grass. And so, we think they’re here to stay. We thought in the beginning. A lot of folks thought. They were big in Europe before they got here. They were much smaller yards. And so, we think the units, obviously, are going to get bigger. They’re going to get heftier, but they’re likely here to stay. Americans love technology.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That was kind of going to be my followup question is, where do you see the adoption or how do you see the adoption with… Especially on the commercial side there. Are you seeing landscape companies seeking out robotics or is there a little bit of timidness towards it?

Kris Kiser:

Right now, [inaudible 00:16:49] case by case depending on what your specific needs are. Certainly, there are folks we know in California, for instance, that are working… They may have municipal contracts. The municipal contract is maybe driving the contractor to say, “What can you offer me in X space if I want an electric?” And they give different price points and the contractor may say, “Yeah. Okay. I can do it with an all electric crew. It’s going to cost you this. If I can use my gas equipment, it’ll cost me that.” I think robotics here on the professional side is still in its infancy. It’s still… But you don’t have technologies here. Once it’s accepted, it’s a firestorm. It goes fast. Once it’s a proven technology, once you know it works in the field, once you get enough acceptance in the marketplace, then you obviously you’re going to drive costs down and get economies of scale. What was it? Five years ago, I think I saw one or two robot manufacturers at Expo, right? How many were there last year? 70? That tells you all you need to know. And the biggest names in the business are providing robots. It tells you that they’re here to stay.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s really cool. I mean to that point, what would you say to a landscape owner listening to this podcast about robotics? What would your encouragement be or what would your advice be about how to approach implementing that into your business?

Kris Kiser:

Just if it works. It’s a technology that it’s available. If you have labor issues, does this address it? Does this address… And again, you’re not delivering a crew to a home site per se, right? The machine is there doing its work. It’s communicating to you through its software. Does that make sense? It may not make sense for everybody. It just depends on your market, your customers, but what it does do is allow you… When you talk to your customer, you’re giving them options. “I can use this kind of equipment. I can use this kind of crew. I can use this kind of technology.” You’ve seen it with remote control and stuff. I saw a demo not too long ago with a very steep slope on a lakeside and it was a mower, but it was remote-controlled.

And so, then it’s a safety aspect. I can mow that hill for you. That problem hill and take care of it. Not put a laborer on it. So, part of that is your customer base, your landscape base, the underlying assets that you have. Well, we just don’t want to say is, “This is the model,” or “this is the way,” or “this is the technology.” We want to provide options to those landscapers. And the best place to see that obviously is at the Expo is where you can literally see them in real time and test them in real time.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I like that point you just made because it really is a case by case basis with how this equipment is effective and can be used. I don’t think there are some people in the robotic space or the automation space that they want to go to you and say like, “Hey, this is the future. Either hop on board or you’re going to be left behind. This is the only way you can run your business.” And I’ve never really felt like that was the realistic way to approach it.

I feel like it’s a way to add what you said, options to your services. If it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint, do it, especially when you think about companies that are full service landscape businesses that offer both commercial and residential services. Residential services, you’re never going to need an automated mower likely that stripes the lawn just because it’s not going to be as effective. Realistically, you can do a smaller robot mower or just have a laborer do it with kind of that artisan touch, but for a commercial property, that’s a giant soccer field. The commercial mower might make sense. It can save you a ton of time. And while the commercial mower is running, you could be edging the property. That’s where the benefit is to me in the robotic side of things. It’s understanding what work does it make sense for? And if it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it.

Kris Kiser:

Right. I like doing it, right? I mean, I live in Downtown DC for 30 years with the condo life, but I came out here for my dog. So, [inaudible 00:21:10] I bought a house with a big yard for the dogs, but I like doing it. I like mowing. I like working in the yard and so I don’t want a robot mower. And what we saw during COVID was just this reconnection to the outdoors. In the consumer space, our sales were incredible. Biggest [inaudible 00:21:27] behind by biggest [inaudible 00:21:28] year ever. So, a lot of folks got into that, right? A lot of millennials, first time homeowners, and they’re into that space and enjoying that work. And so, again, the robot may not be right for everyone. Again, it’s just one of those available technologies that you can use.

Again, you talked about, “This is it. This is the way it’s going to be.” I’m not a young person, but I remember Betamax. We bought a Betamax. It was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, now it’s the toaster oven. So, I mean, you never know where technologies are going to go and at the speed of which things are evolving, the next best thing might come out next week.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, no doubt. So, kind of shifting the conversation again. It’s been brought up a few times, but labor in the green industry is something that’s always talked about. I felt like for the last three years and beyond, it’s been a discussion of, “Hey, I just don’t have enough workers.” And I think that’s only escalated with the current political climate. You have a lot of people that are preferring to take unemployment benefit, and I think you’re seeing a lot of companies try to have to reevaluate like, “What does it look like to run my business?”

And I think there isn’t a… Just like there’s not a silver bullet for finding and retaining great employees, there’s not a solution on the equipment side, but I do believe there’s ways equipment can help fight the labor issue. And I’d love to get your opinion on where you see equipment really being able to help make companies more efficient despite labor shortages.

Kris Kiser:

Well, that may be in addition to the equipment, it’s the interconnectedness of it, right? [inaudible 00:23:12] tracking the equipment or tracking the crews and evolving the crews. And so, what we’ve seen in the Expo is, how do I keep my people year round? If H-2B or the visa issue is going to be challenging or problematic. There’s not certainty that these people are going to be available in the labor space, then how can I keep my people year round? Well, it means you may have to pay them, but we are seeing people getting into the hardscape space, the tree space. They’re doing some lighter tree work. So, that’s a couple of things we’ve introduced at Expo is helping landscapers evolve their operations. How can I keep my year round or keep them coming back into this space?

Now, you’re competing in the temporary visa market. I mean, you’re competing with motels, hotels, restaurants, all the seasonality stuff. It’s extraordinarily challenging. And so, then it may be a compensation issue and maybe a benefits issue. We’ve got to do a better job of… And you’re seeing it a little bit. Making working in the outdoors attractive. Giving them different machine options. Maybe the ability to work with batteries and robots and interconnected product and robotic product. That may induce others to come into the space.

So, it’s going to change dealers. It’s going to change what gets repaired, what’s in the back of shop, et cetera. You’re just going to have to think outside the box relative to your labor. It’s also going to depend regionally. Where are you located? So, some folks are going to have a tougher problem than others. Again, some people are year round where you are. I mean, this stuff grows year round. I just think you’re going to have… This is not going away. And now that it’s become politicized, it’s really not going away. So, manufacturers and their buyers and their customers, contractors, you’re going to have to figure it out.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I think you bring up a bunch of interesting points there because again, there’s just so many ways that you can kind of address/tackle the issue. One is what you just brought up there. Offering multiple services if you can year around. If you’re a company in the Northeast and you have the capability to offer snow removal services, you almost… You don’t have to do it and no one’s making you do anything, but you should consider it so you can keep people on all year round.

You have the companies that are lucky like Florida, California, the evergreen states where that’s not really a big of an issue, but you see companies in the Midwest where there’s some seasonality to it where offer Christmas light services-

Kris Kiser:

You bet.

Ty Deemer:

… during the winter. You just have to be able to adapt to where an address like. You might not want to offer that service, but if it’s a means to keeping your team fully staffed year around, that’s a huge benefit.

Kris Kiser:

That’s a big moneymaker. A friend of mine has a business in the Midwest and the whole Christmas lights business. So taking them out, putting them down, storing, et cetera. He’s turned into a bonafide moneymaker. Now, he’s also in an area like here. If you push to know, oftentimes that’s found money because here, we don’t have regular snow, but when it does snow, we get it typically to North Eastern. It snows in buckets. So, you might not get three years of any snow, an inch here, inch there. Although you might get 30 inches. So, it becomes challenging how to… You can’t keep your people on in the event of hoping for that nor’easter.

And so then, again, it becomes [inaudible 00:26:41] money, but again, you just said it. The lights. Lots of little things along those lines may in fact give you the cash you need to keep your people on year-round. If that’s the right mix for you, again, I think the nature of our business… Obviously, because the difference is in climate zones. You’re just going to have to be innovative and creative.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, I agree. And I like what you said too and the same point about how equipment can make you or make your business an attractive place to work. I think there’s a stigma around outdoor service where it’s very rough, right? In my mind, when I first thought of the space, it’s like, “Okay. It’s an old beater pickup truck with a few mowers in the back and you’re going around.” And even if your fleet is just impressive. It’s like, “Hey, we have good trucks for our team to run around. They’re well equipped, they’re new.” Maybe they’re wrapped. Maybe they… Or something where it’s like, “Hey, I would be proud if someone like a friend passed me on the road and saw me in my truck.” Or to your point in the actual equipment side of things like, “Hey, I’m using state-of-the-art equipment. I’m not using an outdated mower or an outdated chainsaw. I’m using a nice piece of equipment.”

That’s something that I don’t think many businesses think about the value that brings to their employees. I think they just view it as like, “Okay, here’s our equipment. And this is what we have, and this is how much it costs. And we need it to last this long for us to get our return on it.” And I just like what you said because that’s a very… It’s a little bit anecdotal. There’s no concrete evidence to it about how that could impact your employees’ happiness or your willingness to recruit, but it is a point to be made for sure.

Kris Kiser:

Manufacturers have honed in on that. And so, it’s not just ergonomically designed or lightweighted. These things are now thought of as… Look, the big commercial mowers, it can be $20,000, right? $20,000. So, they really have figured out a way is to make it as comfortable as possible, as economically efficient as possible, ease of use, so manufacturers have gotten much, much better at that. So, we’ll look at a big news stand-on, ride-on or mid-mount, mid steer. I mean, there’s all kinds of options. These are big sophisticated pieces of equipment now and you can offer a wide range of a piece of equipment. So, something you stand on, you ride on, you walk behind, you name it.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah.

Kris Kiser:

And that’s what I think our manufacturers are giving to commercial customers is there’s a product for you. And again, to your point, and maybe it’s a battery chainsaw, maybe it’s a battery trimmer, or maybe it’s a stand-on, ride-on. It’s just that those products are available for you in the latest available technologies. They know that. So, they’re smarter about sound. They’re smarter about efficiency. They’re smarter about ease of use. And to that point is, again, we’re helping change the look of the business, right? So, you see a professional crew and then not professional crew. And you know which one you want to work for, right? And that’s, I think, the direction you’re going or under niche. So, I’ve got a tree service coming out. We’ve got to scale on all the evergreens. So, you’re either very, very niched or open. So, my landscaper folks are doing some light planting now. They’re not a garden center and they’re not a landscape designer, but they’re doing some light planting. So, you say, this is what I want. I’d need a four or five Nellie Stevens Hollys. We’ll pick them up and we’ll put them in.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah.

Kris Kiser:

So, that keeps them relevant. That keeps them onsite.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I love that point. So, kind of one of my last questions, so to speak on the equipment front, I think from a industry perspective, the green industry, the publications do a really good job of letting people know of new equipment releases. That’s one thing, Ryan, was in our green industry pros, does a great job of. It seems like every time I go on their website, they’ve got a new [inaudible 00:31:00], but I do think there’s an element of equipment that maybe there’s something that someone listening to this podcast doesn’t know about. So, what is one piece of equipment or one recent innovation that you think like, “Hey, the regular green industry guy really needs to know about this or needs to hear about this.” What is that in your opinion? Or maybe if there’s one or two of them that you can think of.

Kris Kiser:

It would be the latest iteration and it’s not just also the equipment, it’s software. What’s the latest software relatively to a particular piece of equipment that’s allowing me or assist me? Helps me run my business. So, nowadays, a lot of changes… There are going to be some changes in internal combustion engines, obviously, lots of changes in developments and battery. The interconnected stuff, the robotic stuff. You’re seeing lots and lots from remote controlled stuff, the big spiders, and sizing. Remember the little… The mower that we saw five years ago looked like a Roomba, right? It looked like a little vacuum cleaner. Well, now you’re going to see in the next one this year that [inaudible 00:31:59] the size of a car and that’s just it. They’re operational on their own.

So, I think what you want to do, I’m a shameless self-promoter here, is go to Expo. There’s a thousand exhibitors with their latest and greatest. A number of folks are going to debut a new product, but if it’s coming and the nice thing about Expo now, they’re actually starting to showcase products that are likely coming, right? They’re a potential future product and they want to test it. They want to see how folks interact with it. So, I would just say, I don’t know what’s coming, but look for the latest iterations of the product you know, and they’re likely to do something new as well. I do happen to know there’s a couple of new ones coming that you’ll see at Expo.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, for sure. So, kind of two more questions as we begin to wrap up this episode. One, I think people like to know ROI on things. They need to know like, “Hey, if I’m spending money on this, what is it going to result in my business?” And a lot of that goes into people’s ability to sell the work that they have, that they’re completing with the equipment they’re buying. So, in your opinion, how does equipment align with sales and business development for these companies and how should the green industry owners be thinking about their equipment in terms of how it can help sales?

Kris Kiser:

Well, it’s the life’s blood, right? And so, anytime you have efficiency of product, efficiency of use, durability, repairability, all those things that go into a machine. I think one of the keys also that we’re selling now, and it’s not just the latest and greatest equipment, because manufacturers recognize that. They want something that’s reliable and durable and meets the needs, et cetera. But what we’ve done since we brought TurfMutt a decade ago is connect people to the outdoors that this outdoor space isn’t just pretty. It’s purposeful. And certainly the newer homeowner, millennial, gen X, et cetera, they want to know that. So nature starts at your back door. This has been some of our key messaging at the association now for a good long time and it works.

We’ve done some TV. We’ve done… Again, during COVID, we were at one point the number one ad home downloaded education curriculum because it’s helping parents educate their kids or helping kids educate the parents about the right plant, right place, wise water use, pollinator support. If you’re into climate change, the largest carbon sink in our country are our lawns, right? If we don’t have pollinators, we don’t eat. Well, that’s as easy as putting in a flowering plant. Well, what’s the right plant for your right place?

Arizona is different than Hawaii. Hawaii is different than Alexandria, Virginia. Know that kind of stuff. And so, knowing that your yard is [inaudible 00:34:36] and at TurfMutt, we actually call them backyarding types. People are backyarding now. So, whether you’re an athlete or here I am in my home office, you’re a Zen… In the Japanese called forest washing, a place to chill, rest, recharge or if you want to entertain, our outdoor space is an extension of home. It’s an outdoor room. Safe space. So, that’s part of it. And that’s where I think landscapers can work with a home owner or even a commercial customer. How best to maximize that value is my space is not just aesthetic. It’s not just [inaudible 00:35:10], but it’s purposeful.

Ty Deemer:

For sure. Yeah, that answers my question. So, I always like to wrap up the episodes with a question. We kind of spent a lot of time on this podcast reflecting or talking about things that we’ve analyzed in the past, but forward thinking to finish, what kind of comes next for you? What comes next for OPEI and what are you most excited about going into the rest of the year?

Kris Kiser:

I discovered 14 years ago going to Expo, it was a family reunion. I was struck by and I did a lot of work at our auto shows as part of my gig around the world. Whether it’s in Tokyo or Geneva, we spent a lot of time with the auto shows and working those, but what I discovered at Expo was, it’s a family reunion. It’s a connection of users and contractors and manufacturers, all peer to peer wanting to help one another. It’s not just having a good time, but learn, get some education. It was a bonafide event for me.

So, where is that going? And this year is the last year of the partnership with PGMS and NALP. And so, OPEI, once again… Again, this is a 40 year show that we’ve had. It’s always been in Louisville, Kentucky. I got my Louisville hat on, got my quip shirt. I’m wearing it today. We’re reinventing the show for two-two. And so, what we want to do is have in place the kind of education, the kind of programming that landscapers genuinely need while providing them an opportunity, but I used to get an earful for my [inaudible 00:36:40] on the plane is, there’s too much. There’s landscapes downtown and you’ve got a million and a half square feet, 20 acres outdoors. Figure out a way to put it together and make it work, right?

So, my job now, and we’re opening an office in Louisville, Kentucky for our trade show. We’re going to bring all that staffing, which is currently a vendor model, all that staffing in-house. So, they’ll become employees of OPEI and we’re going to create a new trade show for the next 40 years. And we want to do it in a way that brings landscape contractors and hardscapers and influencers and manufacturers from across the globe. We’re an international show. And so, that’s what I’m looking forward to is the reinvention now is on my shoulders. It’s obviously a team effort. There’s lots and lots of people, lots of moving parts, but we want to re-imagine that show and Ty, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that at some point. We’d like to re-imagine that show for our customers on a going forward.

That’s awesome, kris. That’s really cool stuff. So, if people have been listening to this episode and they’ve enjoyed the conversation, they’re recognizing, “Man, I need some resources on equipment. I need a better understanding of the space.” How can a landscaper or a tree care professional listening to this podcast connect with you or connect with OPEI and get the value that you all produce regularly?

Ty Deemer:

You reach out to us any time, opei.org. The education side is the TurfMutt Foundation is turfmutt.com. Obviously, all the manufacturers and the names you know, you can obviously work through them individually in their respective cases. Oftentimes, people, they’ll work with their nearest dealer, right? The nearest dealer to the business or they have special relationships with certain manufacturers. So, there’s a really… And nowadays with big boxes in the space. That too. That model is evolving and changing as we speak. So, there’ll be big changes that come along with the dealer model. So, just stay tuned and anytime, opei.org.

Kris Kiser:

Awesome. Well, Kris, we covered a ton of great topics today. I really enjoyed kind of diving in and talking about kind of the future of battery and robotics. And then just talking about how equipment can solve so many different problems across your business. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us and we look forward to connecting at Expo and throughout the rest of the year.

Ty Deemer:

Thank you for having me. Look forward to seeing you in October.

Kris Kiser:

Absolutely. Thanks, Kris. Talk soon.

Ty Deemer:

You bet. Thanks a lot.

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