Greenworks Commercial is a mid-sized company with big ideas: Disrupt the power tools market in the same way that Tesla is disrupting the auto market, through Lithium-Ion battery powered electric models that replace their dirty gasoline and diesel counterparts.
What does this have to do with sports?
That’s because it turns out that sports stadiums, arenas and golf courses use a wide variety of power tools for their daily operations.
An important part of the clean energy future can be found in a former cotton mill in Mooresville, North Carolina, not far from Charlotte.
That is where Greenworks Commercial, the B-to-B division of China-based parent Greenworks Tools, calls home. The company is pioneering the use of a wide range of electric power tools among landscape professionals, many of which are used at sports venues.
I visited Mooresville earlier this summer to see how 15 year-old Greenworks Tools is doing in its efforts to revolutionize the power tool market by electrifying/greening it, and to get a sense of where sports fits in on the Greenworks Commercial side of the business. And, in the I process, I also got to take a spin on electric power mowers that can trim the grass at a stadium or on a fairway and to use a zero-emissions leaf blower that can clean the aisles in arena seating bowls.
While Greenworks Commercial’s share of the North American power tool market is in the single digits, the three year-old Business-to-Business (B-to-B) focused division is poised for growth.
“More battery/electric-powered mowers, leaf blowers, and trimmers were shipped than gas products in North America in 2018,” reported Anthony Marchese, Business Unit Leader for the Greenworks Commercial Americas region. “Battery/electric powered mowers sales are up 200 percent since 2015, while gas powered mowers are down seven percent. That’s because the electric powered products perform better than gas, offer better value, and of course are better for the environment.”
Tony Marchese (Photo credit: Greenworks Commercial)
Three key performance benefits were evident when I tried Greenworks Commercial mowers and leaf blowers in Mooresville:
- Their products start with the push of a button or the squeeze of a trigger — no more pulling cords and hoping the mower starts.
- The electric motors weigh and vibrate less as compared to their gas-powered counterparts. That means far less user fatigue.
- Like the Tesla, Greenworks products are really quiet. As in you-can-have-a-conversation-without-raising-your-voice quiet. The auditory and mental health benefits are obvious. “Inside voice” volume levels allows landscapers to work in the growing number of cities and towns with noise restrictions in place. And, according to Marchese, quieter operation means, “workers can start their days earlier and work later – all without disturbing their clients.”
Electricity generated from Lithium-Ion batteries costs much less than gas¹, so Greenworks Commercial users can expect to save up 40 percent over a product’s lifetime. And with no carburetors to service, no oil to change, and no spark plugs to replace, downtime and maintenance costs are far lower for electric power tools.
Switching from gas to electric should mean a significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Founder and CEO Yin Chen has challenged the Greenworks team to figure out the carbon footprint of every product by the end of 2020 at the latest to help determine the scale of the company’s environmental benefits.
Yin Chen (Photo credit: Greenworks Commercial)
The time is of course right for the move to Lithium-Ion battery-powered products in the $16 billion global outdoor power equipment (OPE) market, $8.5 billion of which comes from the USA.
There’s the carbon cliff humanity is headed for at the end of the next decade if not sooner.
You know, THAT!
With the climate catastrophe, as well as air and noise pollution in mind, over 500 cities in North America have banned gas powered OPEs. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated an 80 percent reduction in GHGs from OPEs by 2030.
Sports Begins to Go Electric, Outdoor Power Tools-Wise
When Bob Dylan “went electric” in 1965, the music world convulsed.
In contrast, the sports venue world did not bat an eye when Mercedes-Benz Stadium went electric with their shift to Greenworks Commercial leaf blowers.
But that should change, given the results enjoyed at the two year-old LEED Platinum home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United.
It used to take 40 people 90 hours to clean the aisles in the stadium bowl after an event. Now, after switching to Greenworks Commercial, the cleanup effort takes six people working a total of five hours to clean the entire 80,000 seat stadium. “We saved $500,000 in a year by using Greenworks Commercial leaf blowers,” said Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance. “It’s been a home run to go electric and get out of gas. The environmental benefit is real, and it’s a money and a time saver.”
Yin Chen sees Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the launch pad to a deeper involvement for Greenworks Commercial in sports: “We shared the Mercedes-Benz Stadium case study at the recent ACC and Pac-12 Sports Sustainability Conferences. As a result, a half dozen universities expressed interest in integrating our lithium-ion powered solutions into their facility maintenance activities.” That interest was converted into sales recently as Duke, NC State and the University of North Carolina all placed orders.
The golf industry is also proving to be a fertile market for Greenworks Commercial.
“Golf course superintendents are always enthusiastic when they come to our booth at trade shows because of our products are so quiet,” Marchese noted. “And many courses choose us because gas can’t be used in environmentally sensitive marshes. Greenworks Commercial leaf blowers cleared the greens at this year’s US Open at Pebble Beach.”
One brake on the growth of the company’s sports business has been the insistence on the part of some venues and teams that the company become a sponsor as a quid pro quo to getting the contract. Thing is, sports sponsorship is a classic Business-to-Consumer (B-to-C) marketing tactic and Greenworks Commercial sells to businesses (B-to-B). Chen believes that enlightened venues and teams will be motivated by the significant cost savings and potential carbon footprint reductions to give the company’s electric powered mowers, leaf blowers, and more a try without the precondition of sponsorship.
Widening the lens beyond sports, the Greenworks CEO thinks very big.
“Major technological change in a business category happens only once in a lifetime,” Chen offered. “We are at the early-to-middle stage of the gas-to-electric transition in OPE. Our prime objective, for both the Greenworks consumer and commercial businesses, is to be number one in the battery-based, electric powered OPE within the next five years. Accomplishing that goal means we will have saved our customers money, enhanced the health of the people who use our products, and helped to improve the earth’s environment.”
GSB’s Take: We were very impressed with Greenworks’ lineup of quiet, clean battery-powered electric OPEs. The category is small by sports marketing standards — the US beer market was $111 billion in 2018 vs. $18 billion for OPE — but it is not insignificant. That is why it is important for the company to add to its roster of sports venues on the commercial side and to promote its greenness to consumer audiences.
One approach going forward could be for Greenworks to work a double play of sorts: Commercial would engage with a venue/team as a supplier, while the consumer-focused Tools division would sponsor that venue/team, sharing the company’s uniquely powerful performance, value, and green benefits with fans.
¹ A 2018 study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that the average cost to operate an EV in the United States is $485 per year, while the average for a gasoline-powered vehicle is $1,117.
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