Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer.

There’s no denying it: The last 12 months have been tough for equipment manufacturers with a major stake in the rural lifestyle market. They’ve been challenged by stagnant or falling sales, a sagging housing market, overcapacity issues and a credit crunch.

But as fall arrives, there are new signs of encouragement on the horizon. Housing starts were up late this summer, and experts believe the U.S. recession has probably run its course.

A look at our primary research of dealers reveals even more optimism. Nearly 70% of equipment dealers told us they expect sales of lawn-and-garden equipment in 2010 to be as good or better than in 2009.

What this means is that rural lifestylers could soon be returning in greater numbers to dealerships looking to buy tractors, mowers, implements and outdoor power equipment.

For manufacturers of mowers and outdoor power equipment, rural lifestylers aren’t just another market segment — they’re the lifeblood of the customer base.

In this special report, the editors of Rural Lifestyle Dealer touched base with some of the industry’s best-known manufacturers of mowers and outdoor power equipment to get their observations on the rural lifestyle market, and what the future holds for their companies and this unique market.

We use the term “rural lifestyle” as an all-encompassing description of a diverse market that includes hobby farmers, acreage owners, landscape contractors, golf course operators and more.

Our editors asked the manufacturers how they define the rural lifestyle market, how they distribute their products and what their best dealers are doing to be successful.

The aim of the interviews you’ll read on the next several pages is to offer equipment dealers broad insight into what it takes to better understand the uniqueness of this marketplace, and more importantly, be profitable in serving these customers.

Ariens: Diversity in Products, Distribution Brings Sales Strength

Dixie Chopper: Improving Its Product Focus

Schiller Grounds Care: Rededicating Brands, Expanding Dealer Networks