We sat down with Doug Nord, president of Nord Outdoor Power, Bloomington, Ill. Nord Outdoor Power sells tractors, utility vehicles, homeowner and commercial mowers, trimmers, blowers and other products from Kubota, Toro, Spartan Mowers, Land Pride, Stihl, Echo, Billy Goat, BCS Two Wheel Tractors and more at a single location.
We got Nord’s thoughts on the key factors driving current buying habits in the market, the most innovative equipment advancement in the last decade, product innovations for the next 10 years and more.
Rural Lifestyle Dealer: What key factors are currently driving buying habits in the market?
Nord: First, customers are becoming aware of the limited availability of a lot of products, so if they find it, they want to purchase it quickly, maybe with or without doing their research. They don’t want to sit and think about it too long because then they might lose the ability to get it. As always, there are customers who need replacement products. Especially at this time of year, they’ve gone through the season, trying to hold off, and not been able to replace an older unit, but maybe now it’s breaking down, and they still need to get things done, but they’re still having a tough time trying to find product.
RLD: What has been the most innovative equipment advancement in the last 10 years?
Nord: Battery powered products have made tremendous strides with some manufacturers as far as quality and run time. They’ve become very competitive for many applications with gas powered units. We’ve also seen a major shift in how we’re fueling products. If you look at fuels, how they’re marketed and the application they’re marketed for — for example, with small engines, manufacturers all have their own branded fuel that lasts much longer than pump gas, which is made under stringent price considerations. We have continued to see electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems advance and be higher quality. If you look at the Michelin Tweel, that has been a big benefit, because before, we were dealing with a lot of flat tires. Briggs just released a 40-horsepower unit on a Spartan. It’s the only manufacturer where the engine runs at lower than 2,800 rpms, with less noise and better fuel economy. We could see more engines go that path.
RLD: What is your outlook on the outdoor power equipment market for this year and beyond?
Nord: Depending on the economy, it’s going to remain very strong. That’s the real uncertainty — is inflation going to rear its ugly head, or is another national crisis going to occur that scares people? It’s outside our control and we just don’t know. People are looking and buying now. If the products are available, they’re trying to find it. The bad part is we’ve never had to look forward as far as we do right now. If we look at handheld equipment and mower lines, we could generally go to the manufacturer and order in season without too much problem, and it wasn’t long before back orders could get filled. That’s totally been turned upside down.
One manufacturer’s open order window is projected for the end of 2022 and into 2023 right now. For businesses that have only looked a month to a few months in advance, looking a year ahead brings a lot of factors in that many in the outdoor power equipment industry haven’t used before. It’s creating a lot of problems for dealerships to make sure they have the right product on order. If it turns around and consumers stop buying, then we’ll have a lot of product on order and that’s another problem to deal with.
It’s a pretty tough time for dealers, trying to keep orders where they need to be to protect inventory. Customers coming in think it’s good for the dealer, since you’re selling everything you can get and making money. They don’t realize the dealer is not getting the amount of equipment they need and is trying to keep the business going on less units.
RLD: What keeps you up at night?
Nord: Today, it’s inventory issues. Customers that we are trying to find units for, but they just aren’t available. Waiting on units. The lack of information when a customer orders something. We get confirmation that it should be in the following month, but then it goes multiple months, and customers and dealers aren’t getting any information from the manufacturer. It’s not a good situation for business. Finding qualified and dedicated employees. I hear this from many other dealers and we’re no different. In our area, we’re seeing explosive growth that has seriously impacted employers across the board. The next few years look like things may get worse and get worse quickly.
RLD: What is one bit of advice you’d give a younger version of yourself just entering the business?
Nord: Hire the absolute best people you can find, even if it’s going to cost you more to get that expertise in the area you need it. Don’t be afraid to cut people loose who are a detriment to the business. People are what make your company. It’s going to be tougher and more technical than you think, inventory management is crucial, and shop efficiency is key to your business.
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