Each year Central’s leadership team visits the national Irrigation Show to meet with industry experts and to see the trends for the coming season. This year’s show was packed with ideas and opportunities. Here are some key takeaways:
2017 Will Be a Strong Sales Year On the heels of a great 2016 season, the show was brimming with optimism about a record growth year in 2017. Both category leaders and second-tier suppliers were optimistic about the year ahead. Larger manufacturers and commodity suppliers (pipe, wire, fittings) mentioned they planned price increases to take advantage of robust demand. Vendors praised Central for carrying a consistently higher level of inventory than other distributors, noting that distributors who were “running lean” had many more complaints of shortages and unhappy customers.
Web-Enabled Controls Internet-connected controls for irrigation and landscape lighting were the talk of the show. Rain Bird, Hunter, Toro/Irritrol, Rachio and others were showing their latest product introductions. The best of these systems allow contractors to remotely monitor and manage their customers’ irrigation systems, opening the door to a new stream of revenue from loyal customers. Experts noted that homeowners would be dazzled by the ability to remotely-control irrigation from a smart device but the maximum benefit would be gained by the contractor who embraces these systems as a management tool.
Hiring and Training Challenge Industry leaders pointed to a shortage of qualified employees as the biggest roadblock to industry growth. The Irrigation Association has begun some initiatives to better market the industry to young people. One of the industry’s most respected marketing consultants concluded “finding employees is now the contractor’s biggest marketing challenge”, noting the need for contractors to continually recruit through their website, on-line advertising and with a strong local community brand.
A New Generation of Leadership As the “Baby Boomer” leaders move toward retirement, a new group of leaders is stepping forward in the industry. Greg Hunter of Hunter Industries, a Gen-Xer, became President of the Irrigation Association, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Among professional contractors, sons and daughters of established contractor owners were seen getting active in leadership of association committees and initiatives. The growing involvement of the next generation will bring new energy and enthusiasm to the industry.
Outdoor Living is a Powerful Sales Trend The Irrigation Show isn’t just about irrigation. The show included exciting new product innovations from the top names in landscape lighting and outdoor audio. Industry pundits agreed that sales of landscape lighting and outdoor enhancements will continue to grow at nearly twice the rate of the overall industry. Savvy contractors continue to benefit from diversification into outdoor living products, particularly as home remodeling grows at the fastest rate in over 10 years.
Take action on these trends. Start planning your competitive edge in 2017. Your Central representative can help by connecting you to product information, training and business strategies.