Lawn and Garden Tractors and Home Lawn and Garden Equipment

SIC 3524

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing farm equipment and machinery are classified in SIC 3523: Farm Machinery and Equipment. Those manufacturing hand lawn and garden shears and pruners are classified in SIC 3421: Cutlery, and those manufacturing other garden handtools are classified in SIC 3424: Hand and Edge Tools, Except Machine Tools and Handsaws.

Industry Snapshot

Lawn and garden equipment companies manufacture a variety of tools, including walk-behind power mowers, lawn tractors, tillers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, snowblowers, and other gas- and electric-powered equipment. In 2008, the value of industry shipments was $8.2 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Lawn and garden equipment manufacturers are influenced by a number of factors, such as weather conditions, the housing market, demographics, and the overall economy. In 2010, the industry, like many others in the United States, was struggling to recover from the economic recession of the late 2000s.

According to industry reports, 768 establishments employed 16,000 workers in the lawn and garden equipment industry in 2010. Ohio accounted for the most employees in this industry, followed by Georgia and Tennessee.

Background and Development

The nation's enthusiastic interest in lawn maintenance is relatively new, though the lawn mower itself (developed in England) has been around since the 1830s. During the same time John Deere was promoting his sod-breaking plow as the most important piece of equipment frontier farmers of the prairie could own, the push lawn mower was familiar to children of antebellum America.

In the 1930s, U.S. lawn mower sales held at about 50,000 units annually. Following World War II and the American migration to suburbs, homeowners began to take a growing pride in tending their lawns, hedges, and gardens. During this same time, new grass seed varieties were also being developed, and the quest for the "perfect" lawn became a popular hobby and a point of pride.

Reel mowers were the standard home lawn grooming device until the 1950s, when gas-powered rotary motors developed into more than a rough cutting tool. By the end of that decade, power mowers outsold reel mowers by a margin of 9 to 1. The rise in the popularity of power garden equipment was accompanied by a corresponding surge in lawn mower accidents--wounds from flying debris and toe and finger amputations. In the mid-1990s, design changes combined with news stories about equipment safety that appeared in the spring (as well as when the first mower-related accident was reported) raised public awareness.

Some of the first safety measures included attaching decks to handles with bolt-on brackets instead of cotter pins and the positioning of the starter cord away from the discharge chute. Through the development of safety standards, injuries from walk-behind power mowers decreased 40 percent in the decade following 1983.

An era of consumer activism began in 1969, with the publishing of Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader, a book focused on the automobile industry's "indifference" to safety concerns. In 1972, the federal Consumer Product Safety Act created a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); one of the initial concerns of that agency was power lawn mower accidents. At the time, an estimated 77,000 people each year were injured by the whirling blades of this equipment. Following 10 years of CPSC data gathering and testimony from experts and consumers, the first safety requirements for power lawnmowers--the deadman control and blade housing and shield designs to prevent foot injuries--were adopted.

The deadman control prevents hand injuries that can occur when operators attempt to clear the chute of wet grass without shutting down the engine. It is now standard for lawn mower (as well as snowblower) blades to stop rotating once the operator releases a spring-loaded control on the handle. Less expensive mowers may feature a simple control that shuts down the entire engine when the operator releases the handle; more expensive models stop the blade action but allow the engine to keep running.

Blade housings and shields prevent an operator's foot from accidentally slipping under the deck of the mower and into the blade. Manufacturers are required to perform a standard "foot-probe test" to ensure their product designs meet this safety requirement.

Another design change initiated by the industry requires debris (nails, rocks, small branches) be deflected onto the ground rather than flying out the chute. All these standards added more than $25 to the cost of mowers--which generally ranged in price from $100 for lower-end mowers to $700-plus for riding tractors for home consumer use. These design changes, combined with an increase in liability insurance for power mower manufacturers, accounted for a near doubling in the price of garden equipment.

After surviving a period of recession in the early 1990s--in which increasing numbers of consumers opted not to hire professional landscaping companies--the lawn and garden equipment industry recovered and was strong in the late 1990s, as aging and affluent baby boomers--those consumers born between 1947 and 1964--took up gardening and bought high-end equipment. At that time, the industry was comprised of 145 establishments. Wisconsin supported the greatest number of lawn and garden equipment manufacturers, followed by Pennsylvania and California. With shipments valued at $3.5 billion, consumer nonriding lawn, garden, and snow equipment outperformed the riding varieties. Nevertheless, the future of riding lawn and garden equipment looked promising, as baby boomers sought tools that required less manual labor.

According to a press release issued by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, 1999 sales for consumer and commercial lawn care products were "solid" for most product categories. The value of industry shipments in 2000 totaled $7.2 billion, while the cost of materials totaled $4.8 billion. The resurgence of lawn and garden equipment in the late 1990s was due to a number of factors. In addition to an overall booming American economy, new housing starts were up in 1998 and 1999--meaning that more consumers were responsible for lawn care. More important to the fate of the industry, though, were the demographics. The largest generation in American history--the baby boomers--had reached their prime years for gardening and lawn care (between the ages of 45 and 64 years old). These consumers were more affluent than most generations that preceded them and were thus more likely to purchase more expensive equipment. In the late 1990s, the National Gardening Association (NGA) reported to National Home Center News that boomers accounted for about 42 percent of all purchases in the lawn and garden segment. In 2008, the organization estimated that about 81 million households, or about 70 percent of all U.S. households, participated in one or more types of do-it-yourself lawn and garden care.

Current Conditions

After a surge in activity due to the increase in housing starts in the early 2000s, the lawn and garden equipment manufacturing industry started to decline along with the U.S. economy. The economic recession of the late 2000s negatively affected the industry, as the demand for lawn tractors and equipment fell along with the number of housing starts. Industry leader Deere & Company, for example, consolidated its six U.S. branches into two, and by June 2009, the firm had laid off more than 1,600 workers in Iowa alone. Sales of the company's lawn mowers and other commercial and consumer equipment had dropped 25 percent in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2009. Overall, sales in the consumer lawn and garden equipment segment of the industry fell every year between 2005 and 2009. By 2010, many in the industry were expecting a slow recovery.

In 2009, The Freedonia Group estimated that the power lawn and garden equipment would expand about 3 percent annually to reach $18 billion by 2013. North America and Europe were expected to continue to command about 90 percent of the worldwide market, with Asia holding less than 5 percent. Whereas residential equipment accounted for about two-thirds of sales in the industry in the United States, other countries, including Japan, focused more on the commercial market. As stated in a 2009 report by the research company, "Recovery in U.S. demand will reflect a turnaround in the current housing crisis, as well as continued enthusiasm for gardening by U.S. consumers."

Industry Leaders

The Bloomington, Minnesota-based Toro Company was a leading producer of consumer and commercial care lawn mowers, as well as snow blowers, in the early 2010s. With 2009 sales above $1.5 billion and 4,414 employees, the company offered its products under a variety of brand names, including Toro, Lawn-Boy, Exmark, and Dingo. About 63 percent of the firm's business came from the professional market and 35 percent from the residential market. In 2009 and 2010, respectively, the company grew by acquiring assets from Ty-Crop Manufacturing, a maker of material handling equipment for golf courses and sports fields, and outdoor power equipment manufacturer USPraxis Inc.

Based in Moline, Illinois, Deere & Company expanded its operations into lawn care equipment in the early 1990s and by 2009 had overall sales of $23.1 billion and 2,500 distribution branches in the United States and Canada. With 51,300 employees, the company sold products such as leaf blowers, mowers, small tractors, snow blowers, string trimmers, and utility vehicles.

As part of Kubota Corp. of Japan, Kubota Tractor Company (KCT) of Torrance, California, manufactured lawn and garden equipment, including 80 different under-40-hp tractor models, in 2010. KCT had sales of almost $2.8 billion in 2009.

Workforce

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, 20,544 workers were employed by the lawn and garden equipment industry, down from 24,731 in 2000. About 80 percent of employees in the industry were production workers earning $15.45 an hour.

Research and Technology

Environmental concerns drove a number of technological changes in the industry in the 2000s. A growing number of states and municipalities across the country were banning grass clippings and other organic wastes from local landfills, which was seen as an incentive to produce a growing number of mulching mowers and composting equipment. With increasing government concern directed at the amount of particulate pollution generated by the smaller motors that power home lawn equipment, a resurgence in the sale of the classic push mower was also emerging.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued to be a strong motivator when it came to improving lawn and garden equipment. It was the EPA's position that lawn mowers were significant polluters. One EPA-funded study compared gasoline mowers typically used across the country with cordless electric mowers. Gasoline-powered equipment emitted eight times more nitrogen oxides, 3,300 times more hydrocarbons, 5,000 times more carbon monoxide, and more than twice the carbon dioxide per hour of operation compared to the electric models. The EPA study concluded that if just 20 percent of U.S. homeowners with gasoline mowers switched to cordless electric mowers, there would be annual emissions reductions of 10,800 tons of hydrocarbons, 340 tons of nitrogen oxides, 84,000 tons of carbon monoxide, and 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Whereas automobiles had been regulated for 20 years, lawn mowers and other lawn and garden equipment remained unregulated and represented a significant source of pollution. The industry responded to many of these problems with cleaner mowers. For example, mowers manufactured after September 1997 used small, four-cycle engines that exceeded EPA emission standards for small spark-ignition engines.

By the late 2000s and early 2010s, many manufacturers were coming out with new models of lawn mowers in response to consumer demand for more environmentally friendly machines. For example, in 2010 Stanley Black & Decker introduced three new "noiseless" electric mowers in 36-volt, 38-volt, and 12-volt sizes, and several companies launched manual and automatic mowers that were powered by solar energy. Consumers could choose to pedal around their yard using the MowerCycle or never leave their deck by using the remote control that operated the RobotX mower, which ran on electric batteries charged by a gas engine. Other new technologies involved using propane gas in place of gasoline in mowers. According to the Property Environment Research Center, propane engines run clean without sacrificing performance. Some newer mowers, such as Dixie Chopper's Xcaliber Eco-Eagle, used compressed natural gas (CNG), which was cheaper than gas and better for the environment, according to proponents. The use of both propane and CNG were still in their infancy, whereas almost a third of European vehicles were running on gasoline alternatives by 2010.

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