The year was 1989. Peter Helthuis (pronounced HELT’-house) made the long trip from the Netherlands to Louisville, Kentucky, like he had done so many years previously for the annual Green Industry and Equipment Expo (GIE+Expo). Traveling on behalf of Helthuis Tuin en Parkmachines (Helthuis), one of the Netherlands’ most distinguished distributors of outdoor power equipment, Peter Helthuis was confident a meeting with AriensCo could change the makeup of his company.
Ariens had been on Helthuis’s radar, but he had yet to see its 1990 lineup. Helthuis was looking to expand its product offerings and heard buzz from other distributors that the Ariens equipment line was taking off. Helthuis wouldn’t learn more until a meeting with AriensCo at Louisville’s The Brown Hotel.
“We could feel that we were doing business with people we trust, and that’s very important,” he said.
In the same year, Helthuis celebrated its own 30th anniversary. Founded in 1958, the expansion of its product line to include Ariens would mark a turning point in its international operations and kickoff the next 30 years. Helthuis signed on to sell the Ariens lineup in Europe, including lawnmowers and yard tractors, and has worked with AriensCo ever since.
Cut to 30 years later and Helthuis is a European power equipment powerhouse. Its offices in Heteren,Netherlands, boast more than 2,500 square meters of working space, not counting additional space in its Belgium and Luxembourg locations. The distributor’s presence across Europe helps it source expert employees, maintain fast delivery times and provide excellent after-sales service.
“The customer is our focus and we believe that building a long-term relationship is preferable to doing business quickly,” Helthuis said. “We strive for permanent and long-term relationships with customers because satisfaction, loyalty and customer value are our central concepts.”
The pace of change is moving quickly in Europe. Regulations targeting the use of chemicals and emissions are coming down the line, if not already in motion, and are expected to impact the landscaping industry in the region. Often, these factors that originate in Europe foreshadow impending changes in the U.S.
Helthuis makes it a point to keep up with these changes and prepare its customers for them, too. Whether these come from new laws and safety initiatives, or even new best practices for the industry, the company is adapting its product mix to keep pace with the direction of the industry. That includes offering the variety of products available in residential brands like Ariens.
“Ariens walk-behind trimmers are becoming very important for us,” Helthuis said. “We have heard in the news that a popular weed killer will soon be outlawed, and these machines are a great alternative. They ensure that a contractor can finish the job even when it’s windy or rainy, in which case if they used this chemical, they’d have to go back to the job site again.”
Rental companies comprise a healthy chunk of Helthuis customers. Helthuis said the ease-of-use of walk-behind trimmers makes them ideal for rental companies because operators don’t need much training to operate them. Also, the low noise of these types of machines introduced an important safety progression for operators.
“For municipalities, the machines also have to be simple, and they need to be safe, too,” Helthuis said. “The walk-behind trimmers are compact and can operate in a lot of tight working spaces. And then if you work on a public road, you have traffic islands. It’s important that the operators don’t have to use any hearing protection so that they can hear the traffic and there are no surprises.” Mulching is also a trend that is picking up steam in Europe. As city and town governments regulate when people can put grass clippings on the streets for collection — and big fines to match — Helthuis foresees an uptick in the use of mulching blades, like those in Ariens and Gravely mulching kits.
Issues around fuel are also factoring big for European companies. Helthuis engages them in increasing discussions about the green footprints of their machines, and is quick to point efficiency as a determining factor. Of the mowers it carries, the company is seeing a shift toward zero-turn mowers because their operational characteristics are more efficient, and thus more environmentally friendly.
“We think that zero-turn mowers will grow more and more,” Helthuis said. “It’s a very efficient way to cut your grass and sometimes customers are saving 30 percent to 40 percent in time — and that means you’re using 30 percent to 40 percent less fuel. It’s more environmentally friendly.”
In fact, environmental concerns loom large. The company is seeing lots of new laws in the Netherlands concerning engines, pushing automotive manufacturers and consumers toward hybrid and electric alternatives. Helthuis thinks this will trickle down to the lawn and garden industry, forcing equipment makers to release products that will comply with these regulations.
“I think for the future it’s very important to bring these new engine technologies to the market, and of course, we saw that in Louisville last year with the Gravely EVZT electric prototype,” Helthuis said.
As Helthuis continues to monitor the ever-changing lawn and garden industries and searches for new solutions for its clients, AriensCo remains a partner to the long-time distributor and looks forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary in another 30 years.
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