A Market For All Seasons

Sales in outdoor power and recreational equipment has revved up in recent years. From schools and training facilities for mechanics to the assortment of tools and accessories for enthusiasts, the industry is thriving, and many of your potential customers are flourishing.

In adjusting to the seasonal shortfalls of servicing just lawn maintenance equipment, many outdoor power dealers also sell snowmobiles and snowblowers during the winter months. Others have also expanded into recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and ATVs.

Engines powering all of these vehicles share a number of similarities with their larger brethren. The most important of which probably stems from the fact that they require routine maintenance to help minimize breakdowns and extend their lifespan.

The same small-engine mechanics that work on these units may also repair less exotic equipment like chainsaws, walk-behind lawnmowers, garden tractors, edge trimmers, generators and even go-carts. But in order to do so, they first need to understand the source of the problem, with the usual suspects ranging from mechanical and fuel-related issues to electrical failures.

Here are some examples of the products these customers will need in order to perform these diagnostic and repair duties:

  • Hand tools such as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers are an obvious norm. But be especially sensitive to carrying smaller socket sizes and driver tips for differing types of fasteners.
  • Power tools, such as drills, cordless screwdrivers, grinders and even impact wrenches for removing axle bolts and blades.
  • You might be surprised to learn that these technicians will also require engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters and voltmeters to help locate fuel, electrical system and engine functionality problems.
  • Fuel system testers can be especially helpful, with most lawn care equipment still relying on a carburetor, while higher-end models now boast the use of fuel injection systems.

The Numbers Don't Lie

The opportunities for tool sellers to serve these technicians are not only prevalent when looking at the tools and equipment they require, but also when examining their raw numbers. In 2004 there were an estimated:

  • 73,000 small engine mechanics earning $16.34 to $19.40/hr.
  • 19,000 motorcycle mechanics making between $13.70 and $21.95/hr.
  • 23,000 motorboat mechanics.
  • 31,000 outdoor power equipment technicians.

About 70 percent of all motorcycle, boat and small-engine mechanics work for retail hardware and garden stores, retail dealers, equipment rental companies, wholesale distributors and landscaping services. So be on the look-out for signage identifying these types of businesses, and their corresponding shop. About one-third of those in this industry are self-employed.

While most people complain when white-out conditions strike during the winter, many in this industry see nothing but green. Although snowblowers and snowplows represent a straightforward opportunity focused on saving a person's time and back, the real growth is coming from a $27 billion snowmobile marketplace. In New York, Wyoming, Maine and Vermont alone snowmobiling generates an estimated $476 million, $200 million, $460 million and $600 million, respectively. So opportunities abound for both mechanics interested in repairing these machines, as well as tool sellers that can keep these shops stocked and ready to fix them.

Lawnmower mechanics diagnose, adjust, repair or overhaul a large number of yard and garden machinery. And specialized repair for this equipment has become more and more important due to the complex computer systems, electronics and hydraulics that combine to provide greater functionality and environmentally-friendly operation. The only sacrifice in building more complex equipment is that the ability to repair them becomes more difficult. The result has been an increased need for specialized repair capabilities and training.

The combination of baby boomers who no longer have children to support and a strong consumer confidence level has produced a surge in recreational vehicles like motorcycles, ATVs and boats. All of which could be serviced by this group of technicians, as the engine functionality is quite similar.

The benefits of serving these types of repair shops offer both long and short-term benefits. But the bigger boost to your business stems from continuing to diversity your customer base.