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Kris Kiser talks OPEI’s 70th anniversary and the future of Equip Exposition

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Left to right: Lee Sowell, president, outdoor products group, Techtronic Industries; Cleo Battle, president and CEO, Louisville Tourism; Mike Clancy, CEO, Chervon North America; Tom Duncan, CEO, Positec; Brian Melka, group president, power, Kohler Co.; Joe Wright, president and CEO, Excel Industries; Mike Berry, secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage; Tim Dorsey, president, Echo; Kris Kiser, president and CEO, OPEI; Rick Olson, chairman of the board, president and CEO, The Toro Co.; Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky.; Dan Ariens, CEO, Ariens Co. cut the ribbon on the Equip Exposition office on Main Street in Louisville, Ky. (Photo: Allie Filley)
Left to right: Lee Sowell, president, outdoor products group, Techtronic Industries; Cleo Battle, president and CEO, Louisville Tourism; Mike Clancy, CEO, Chervon North America; Tom Duncan, CEO, Positec; Brian Melka, group president, power, Kohler Co.; Joe Wright, president and CEO, Excel Industries; Mike Berry, secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage; Tim Dorsey, president, Echo; Kris Kiser, president and CEO, OPEI; Rick Olson, chairman of the board, president and CEO, The Toro Co.; Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky.; Dan Ariens, CEO, Ariens Co. cut the ribbon on the Equip Exposition office on Main Street in Louisville, Ky. (Photo: Allie Filley)
Left to right: Lee Sowell, president, outdoor products group, Techtronic Industries; Cleo Battle, president and CEO, Louisville Tourism; Mike Clancy, CEO, Chervon North America; Tom Duncan, CEO, Positec; Brian Melka, group president, power, Kohler Co.; Joe Wright, president and CEO, Excel Industries; Mike Berry, secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage; Tim Dorsey, president, Echo; Kris Kiser, president and CEO, OPEI; Rick Olson, chairman of the board, president and CEO, The Toro Co.; Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky.; Dan Ariens, CEO, Ariens Co. cut the ribbon on the Equip Exposition office on Main Street in Louisville, Ky. (Photo: Allie Filley)
Left to right: Lee Sowell, president, outdoor products group, Techtronic Industries; Cleo Battle, president and CEO, Louisville Tourism; Mike Clancy, CEO, Chervon North America; Tom Duncan, CEO, Positec; Brian Melka, group president, power, Kohler Co.; Joe Wright, president and CEO, Excel Industries; Mike Berry, secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage; Tim Dorsey, president, Echo; Kris Kiser, president and CEO, OPEI; Rick Olson, chairman of the board, president and CEO, The Toro Co.; Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky.; Dan Ariens, CEO, Ariens Co. cut the ribbon on the Equip Exposition office on Main Street in Louisville, Ky. (Photo: Allie Filley)

Kris Kiser wears many hats.

For the last 16 years, he has served as the president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and its massive trade show, Equip Exposition. He also serves as president and CEO of OPEI Canada. And he also leads the TurfMutt Foundation and Mulligan’s Mutt Madness, two programs directly connected to OPEI that allow him to carry on his passion for rehabilitating and rescuing dogs.

In just the last few years, Kiser managed the association through a rebranding and change in ownership of Equip Expo; through the choppy waters that COVID-19 brought to all public gatherings; and in the grand opening of a new headquarters
in downtown Louisville, Ky.

As part of the celebration of OPEI’s 70th anniversary, Kiser took time out of his schedule to discuss the current health of the association, the future of Equip Expo and why he loves his job.

Landscape Management: Kris, as always, thank you for taking the time. My first question is also my most basic. How would you describe the current health of OPEI?

Kris Kiser: First and foremost, the association is its members, and it’s also the staff. It’s the staff that does work of the association. It’s the staff that does the work of Equip Exposition. They put in the time and the effort to make it all possible. My job is easy: I hire good people and get out of their way. The association is sound.

We have significant challenges with the implementation of California’s new air emission rules. We have a very significant challenge with the Consumer Product Safety Commission on UTV safety. The right-to-repair issue in the States is significant and ongoing.

The evolution of the marketplace is dramatic. We have significant battery entries, robotic entries, remote control products, etc. All of those new products have challenges associated with them.

Our role is to assemble these manufacturers so they can act collectively. Whether it’s an evolution of safety standards, or the creation of a new standard for a new product, that’s our responsibility.

LM: These challenges are almost overwhelming, but there is also a lot of good news.

Kiser: Absolutely. Our membership is at an all-time high. Our trade show is as successful as it has ever been. We’re celebrating our 70th year with our annual meeting coming up. And this year is our 40th anniversary for the trade show. Last year was our largest show ever. Equip Expo continues to grow and excel.

LM: Looking across the spectrum of all things OPEI, is there one thing that stands out to you that makes you feel excited for what the future holds?

Kiser: During COVID-19, with all the travel restrictions and challenges, we saw a significant drop in international exhibitors. But the show stayed strong. We had one remote show, then we came right back. This year, we’re seeing a return of the international players. We’re seeing very significant participation from Japanese companies, Chinese companies, Australian companies and European companies.

The reason we expanded to the West Wing is because Equip Expo is the place to be. We really have become an international showplace for our industry.

Remember, our show is unique in that it’s just us. We’re not sharing it with construction or agriculture. It’s a show based on our industry, our users, dealers and landscapers.

LM: How far out are you and your team planning these shows? Are you already thinking about the 2030 Equip Expo?

Kiser: Your timing is fantastic. I sit on something called the Client Advisory Council for Kentucky Venues. (Kentucky Venues) owns the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) and KICC — the Kentucky International Convention Center downtown. They listen to us; we engage with them. We’re space challenged now with the current structure of KEC, and it’s actually one of the largest facilities of this kind in the country.

There are very significant expansion plans for the KEC that are underway. The preliminary funding has been done by the state government. We’re part of that process.

The 2025 contract is literally sitting on my desk. We’ve exercised the 2025 option. We now have 2026, 2027 and 2028 as contract opportunities. Hardscape North America has asked to partner with and continue our partnership through those dates. We’re here to stay.

LM: What is the best part of having your job?

Kiser: It’s the people. It’s getting people together. It’s a forum. It’s getting people to work together on a common problem, common challenges or common opportunities. We help them find consensus on a particular issue or challenge and work toward the solution.

I could not be happier. We have terrific companies but most important, it’s about the outdoors and community. Our education is told from a dog’s point of view — our beloved Turf Mutt is going to be a character on CBS’s Saturday morning program Lucky Dog — which thrills me. I’ve been involved in animal rehab and rescue for decades, and my board of directors allows me to be in that space at the same time. To me, it’s the perfect job

Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

Seth Jones is is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. A graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Seth was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. He has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories.

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