\It's appropriate that the annual product Showcase issue runs in the same issue as our 2011 Rural Lifestyle Dealer Business Trends & Outlook report. Dealers are anticipating a good year, and many are interested in taking on new categories and brands of machinery.

While it can be difficult to get a good feel for what the rural consumer market is doing when listening to general news reports, officials say the economy is growing — albeit slowly — and that’s building consumer confidence.

According to responses to our survey, dealers who cater to the rural lifestyle and lawn/turf market are overwhelmingly positive in their expectations for improving sales in 2011. Of the North American dealers who responded, 96.8% say their sales to those customers will likely increase significantly this year, compared to the last 2 years (see the report here). Dealers are anticipating growth in unit sales for several lines, and many plan to add new products at their stores. This issue is a good starting point, as it contains more than 100 products that your customers want and need.

For businesses that cater to the rural consumer, there are reasons to be hope-ful beyond the survey results. Government stimulus programs have been put into place to help rural economies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last fall that it would be spending millions of dollars in grants in rural communities.

The money would be used to create jobs and improve quality of life, which will retain residents while making a move to the coun- try a viable option for other families.

I’m not an economist or a dealer, but the situation out in the country looks OK to me, too. I live in rural Wisconsin, about an hour west of Rural Lifestyle Dealer’s suburban Milwaukee office. Even in the darkest part of the recession, my real estate agent friends talked about relative- ly brisk sales for rural property. The economic downturn did not ruin the appeal of the country life, and those who could buy a few acres were taking advantage of a buyer's market that existed.

I may be the new guy at Lessiter Publications, but not new to rural life — it's how I was raised and it’s how I choose to live as an adult.

Many of my city-dwelling friends don’t understand how my definition of a perfect weekend can involve firing up a chain saw, grinding brush into mulch, or simply spend- ing a few hours mowing the lawn. I even enjoy the wintertime chores that are part of life in rural Wisconsin.

To my friends, it seems like work. When they ask what I’m planning to do on a week- end when I’m staying home, I always say “play outside.” I’ll lose my sense of time working somewhere on the property.

When the work’s all done and a good friend visits, we’ll sit in silence on the deck. We’ll watch wild turkeys wander the yard or stare up at a night sky that’s free of light pollution. Then, she too, understands the appeal of rural life.

The toys I play with are no longer Tonka dump trucks in a tractor-tire sandbox, but engine-powered equipment. I’ve been a customer at local rural lifestyle dealerships for years.

There’s a confession in that: wild turkeys and the Milky Way Galaxy aside, it’s machinery that keeps me living in the coun- try. I love having a few jobs on enough land to justify owning a small fleet of new and antique equipment.

In this new position, I will take a role in the continuing growth of Rural Lifestyle Dealer. I’ve been a writer and an editor for nearly 20 years, and have been lucky in that I’ve always been able to cover things with wheels, in subjects ranging from collecting to designing to selling.

That’s me. Future installments will be about you and your business of selling to rural customers. We’d love to hear from you. Send us your questions, comments or thoughts on Rural Lifestyle Dealer.