Here is a brief Q&A session with experts from the John Deere Turf Division on what government buyers are seeking in the last quarter of 2014.

GPN: What is important for buyers of grounds maintenance equipment in 2014? The category includes everything from mowers, trimmer, mulchers, utility trucks, irrigation systems and other gear.

John Deere: The purchase factors for buyers have not really changed from previous years, despite the increased focus on Tier 4. The main concern for contractors and government agencies continues to be the total cost of operations for new equipment. When purchasing additional equipment, buyers factor in not only the initial purchase price, but also the predicted maintenance cost throughout the life cycle.

The ultimate goal of government agencies is to reduce the amount of downtime their fleet experiences. When selecting a manufacturer or dealership from which to purchase equipment, agencies look at parts availability, product support and prior history of the product as a critical factor in their decision.

The easier it is for fleet owners to obtain the necessary parts to repair a machine, the more beneficial the equipment and dealership is to the operator.  The history of the reliability and durability also plays a key role for buying decisions.

Another critical piece of the selection process is the dealer relationship. We often find that agencies select brands with which they have had a previous positive relationship. For new relationships, it is important for the agencies to find a dealership that can be an active partner in making proper equipment selections for their particular application. Agencies need to be confident that they can access the parts they need when their equipment goes down. By having an adequate inventory of parts available for these situations, dealerships will become an asset to the contractor. Having next day parts availability from their manufacturer is another tremendous asset.

A bonus benefit agencies look for is mobile maintenance. Dealerships are beginning to offer onsite visits to help limit the amount time contractors spend getting maintenance performed on machines. By having the dealer travel to the location of the agency, dealerships eliminate the burden on the agencies and increase the value offered to their customers. This valuable service can be a great way to build a lasting relationship with the contractor or government agency.

GPN: What about equipment selection in the buying process?

John Deere: When it comes to equipment selection, agencies also look at trade-in value. Many government agencies operate a piece of equipment for 2-3 years and then sell it on the open market. By reselling equipment, agencies are able to recoup a majority of the initial cost. One rising trend in the industry is to use online auctions as a means to resell equipment. These online auctions offer contractors a chance to maximize the resale value of the equipment. Agencies are also focusing on warranty options. It is common to purchase an additional warranty to take the product through the life cycle for that particular agency. The warranty and availability of the extended warranty becomes a factor for agencies when determining from which manufacturer to purchase.

GPN: Are there any grounds equipment trends among government buyers and maintenance crews that are important?

John Deere: One trend we have noticed is that government agencies are beginning to look at the advantages of leasing over purchasing. Government contractors are often required to use their capital budget for equipment purchases and the operating budget for day-to-day operations. Often, capital budgets get squeezed, so there is no way for companies to purchase the equipment they need.

By leasing rather than purchasing, contractors are able to use the operating budget for the monthly equipment payment, spreading out the cost through out the year. Some states that were not open to it are beginning to adjust statutes to allow for it. For states that do not allow leasing over several years, John Deere Financial was able to create a series of one-year renewable leases to help the contractors to benefit from leasing. The trend is still growing in popularity, but over the past years we have seen more government agencies seeing the advantages.

Additionally, we are seeing more government contractors selecting propane models over traditional gas models. The propane models can decrease operating costs for contractors or government agencies, making it a great option for maintenance crews looking for a cost-effective alternative.

GPN: Thank you, Jack Switzer and Bill Frank, for providing this information.

Jack Switzer and Bill Frank are government business managers for the John Deere Turf Division. The division is based in Cary, N.C.

This video shows several Deere commercial mowers in action, including the ZTrak 900 Series of zero-turn mowers.


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