Rural Lifestyle Dealer talked with STIHL Inc. President Bjoern Fischer at the 2018 GIE+Expo to get his views on the company’s newest products, developments in battery-powered equipment, robotics — and the idea of STIHL dealers competing against each other.

Rural Lifestyle Dealer: Can you comment on STIHL’s newest products and how they complement the existing lineup?

Bjoern Fischer: We have a lot of new products, starting with our professional chainsaw range. We’re introducing the STIHL MS 462, which is a really exciting professional chainsaw, and we’re also introducing our most powerful blower, the STIHL BR 800 C-E, with a unique starting handle on the side of the unit.

The great thing about that is that operators can leave it on their back if they need to turn off the machine. So, if someone is walking by and they don’t want to have the engine running, they can switch off the machine, let the person go by and start the blower again without ever having to take it off their back. That is a phenomenal invention that helps the efficiency of our customers and our landscapers.

RLD: What is the technology you have under development that you are most looking forward to?

Fischer: In addition to all our gasoline products, we have a wider slew of new battery products available, starting out with the new professional STIHL FSA 130 R trimmer that you can pair with different batteries that allow you to work the entire day.

We have also extended the range of our KombiSystem with the new KMA 130 R KombiEngine. The STIHL KMA 130 R allows an operator to use battery power for all the hand-held attachments that were available for our gasoline KombiSystem. We have a new top-handle chainsaw, a STIHL MSA 161 for tree climbers, which can now either gasoline or battery.

Another exciting product, available later in 2019, is our new robotic mowers that are connected by a mobile app, allowing you to control the iMow remotely.

RLD: How do you see the STIHL product line evolving over the next 5 years?

Fischer: We are really working on making our products more ergonomic and easier to use. Our goal is to make the life of our customers easier; that’s our mission. To do that, we always look at how we can make our customers more efficient — reducing the weight of our products, reducing emissions of our products, making them easier to start or run — all those things are important.

There are also a lot of emerging technologies and digitization and we’re spending a lot of R&D on connected versions, like our robotic mowers that can now be controlled via an app. These connected products allow fleet managers, for example, to manage their entire fleet and monitor things like many hours they’ve run so that they can do the right maintenance at the right time.

A lot of development will happen in the digitalization space in terms of products being connected to each other, being able to communicate information back and forth. The field of robotic mowers is obviously in its beginning, so I think we’re going to see a lot of exciting developments in this field.

RLD: Do you hear any concerns from dealers about market saturation?

Fischer: Today, we have over 9,000 servicing dealers across the country and we spend a lot of time trying to see how well they’re doing because their well-being is our well-being. We look at same location year-over-year growth and it’s really great to see that our existing locations are growing above market average. That’s a really good indication for us to make sure that our existing dealers are doing very well.

We’re also opening new locations every year and whenever we do that, we actually see that the entire region becomes more aware of STIHL, so the STIHL gross for existing dealers goes up in addition to having set up new dealers in the area.

Our challenge for our servicing dealer is to draw people out of mass merchants that have maybe never seen a servicing dealer — or that have never been around a dealership — and to make them aware that these dealerships exist and that they can provide the right service and the right recommendations. It’s something that they would never experience in a mass merchant.

We do have a new generation of customer that is used to mass merchants and buying things online, so we need to figure out how we make sure these customers start owning their first STIHL tool and then become familiar with our dealer network. This is why it’s so important to have many locations close to where people live.