Five straight years of declines in U.S. propane gallon sales, between 2007 and 2012, serve as continuous reminders of the pressing need to develop new markets that could elevate gallon sales to previous high levels.
Sales of odorized propane are up since 2012, based on data from the American Petroleum Institute for 2013 and 2014.
Still, propane gallon sales remain short of peak levels. Plus, the industry is coming off a mostly mild winter heating season that will likely bring total U.S. gallon sales down for 2016.
To offset gallon losses, alternative sources of consumption are as coveted now as ever. Propane mowers represent one avenue in outdoor power equipment that retailers can take to elevate sales in the coming years.
“I’m not saying this is exactly what you need to be doing to replace what you maybe lost in the residential market,” says Jeremy Wishart, deputy director of business development at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “It’s not exactly a one-to-one replacement for residential gallons going out the door. But propane mowers are an opportunity to backfill gallons you may be losing.”
Wishart walked propane retailers through the propane mower opportunity in a special presentation delivered at the LP Gas Growth Summit. Propane mowers are an opportunity due to their growing market demand, gallon potential and counter-seasonal use, he says.
“There’s a growing demand even right now when propane mower sales aren’t the strongest,” Wishart says. “The commercial mower market is not buying a lot of mowers right now, but there is a growing market that we as an industry have created.”
According to Wishart, more than 19,000 propane mowers have been sold and put to use over the last 10 years. Depending on location, a commercial mower can consume between 700 and 1,250 gallons per season, Wishart adds.
“In Florida, that figure may be 1,250 [gallons],” he says. “In Madison, Wisconsin, it may be 600 to 700.”
In addition, with support at the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) level, the future for propane mowers is bright, Wishart says. Fifteen manufacturers currently provide propane mowers, and two more are expected to develop propane offerings in 2017, he adds.
A growing number of landscape contractors are aware of propane’s presence in their market, as well.
“There’s probably 400,000 landscape contractors throughout the United States, and 85 percent know propane is out there,” says Wishart, citing a PERC study. “This is a fuzzy metric, though. Does it mean they’re going to buy? Not necessarily. But we (PERC) were able to talk with one-third of them, and they’re looking at propane with a very serious intent in the next three years.”
In addition, 55 percent of outdoor power equipment dealers tell PERC they are likely to start selling propane mowers sometime in the next three years. A dealer commitment to propane, however, requires added effort by retailers, Wishart says.
“Both customers and dealers are looking for more relationships with propane,” he says. “I don’t expect [retailers] to be experts on mowers. But together as a team, you can be the expert on the fuel and [dealers] are experts on equipment. Find out who the key dealers are in your area, and partner with them to go sell.”