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Power Produces Productivity

ROBIN WESTMILLER | Power Equipment

The meaning of the saying “time is money” has never been better illustrated than by those in the landscape industry. The more green you mow in a day, the more green you’ll put in your pocket at the end of the day. The key to a successful landscape business is to get the job done, do it fast, do it well, return the equipment to the truck and move on to the next job.

As anyone in the industry can tell you, a lawnmower alone does not a landscape contractor make. Cutting grass is only one of the many duties the job requires. While you could complete a project with only a mower, a pair of clippers and a rake, the time it would take to do hand labor would be cost prohibitive.

It wasn’t so many years ago that the large scissor-design manual hedge trimmer was standard equipment on every landscape contractor’s truck. I can remember when contractors used clippers to trim weeds and long grass (the chore could take hours on a large piece of property). And what about the rake? It was the most common tool used for yard cleanup. When you think back to the way companies used to operate, it was much tougher for landscape contractors to make a living. Those who did suffered with sore muscles and aching backs. Fortunately, power tools have been created and designed to lower physical stress on you and your crew, increase productivity and thereby increase your profits.

The job of any power-driven machine is to make work easier and faster, so you have more time for other things. In the same way washing machines and clothes dryers replaced scrub boards and clotheslines, power hand tools have also mechanized chores that were traditionally done solely by manual labor.

When Stephen Crowe, founder and owner of Sunshine Landscaping Company, Cherry Valley, Massachusetts, started his business in 1982, a number of tasks his crew performed on a job were done by hand. “I remember how much time it used to take to get sand out of lawns using a hand broom. When power brooms came out, they made this task a lot easier, and faster.”

The speed and efficiency of using power tools frees up valuable time and allows you to increase your business by adding more clients. Roger Phelps, of STIHL Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia, recalls speaking with a contractor who had just purchased their Kombi- System, a multi-task tool, “He told me that his crew was returning to the warehouse much earlier because they were able to finish the jobs faster.”

Flower bed and mulch bed edges erode over time and need to be redefined to maintain a fresh, welcome appearance. The old way to redefine the edge was to use a shovel—but it’s tough, time-consuming work. “The bed edger is a great time and back saver over the old hand shovel,” says Andy Sykes, owner, Garrett Churchill, Abington, Pennsylvania. “We use it to define new flower beds and redefine existing ones. It cuts a crisp, beveled groove along the turf edge, leaving a manicured finish. It’s cut down our work by at least half, if not more.”

And the tools are not just for softscape. Cliff Raitz, founder and owner of Terra-Scapes, Costa Mesa, California, has his favorite tools as well. His company specializes in waterscapes and has been in business for more than 15 years. His tools of choice are handheld electric breaker hammers with diamond head spades, and grinders.

“Grinders are like chain saws, but with a big diamond, instead of a steel blade,” Raitz says. “We use them to cut rock. They’re very powerful. Some of our most productive handheld tools are the 4" grinders with 4" diamond blades on them. We use them for cutting and scoring rock, and cutting concrete in small areas. For digging, we use small electric breaker hammers. They only weigh about 45 lbs. and are especially versatile for doing rock features. It’s certainly easier and quicker than doing the job by hand.”

It’s not only the task that dictates what power tools to use, but the jobsite’s location as well. For Carlos Chavarria, owner of Total Properties Services in Stamford, Connecticut, his favorite power tool is the string trimmer. Because of the very rocky terrain in the Connecticut area, he can trim the grass and weeds without having to worry about breaking a propeller blade, or straining his back. “The string trimmer doesn’t toss pebbles around and the rocks won’t damage the string,” Chavarria said.

Saving even a small number of minutes can make a big difference in the landscape industry. The time spent driving a tractor back and forth to change a bucket to an auger to a stump cutter and back can add up fast. Power Trac, Tazewell, Virginia, solved this

An organized, easy-to-see interior makes these trucks an ideal vehicle for landscape contractors. It features a rear ramp for easy off-loading of mowers and other equipment.

Photo courtesy: Super Lawn Trucks problem by manufacturing not only the attachments and the tractor, but a trailer that carries them all to the jobsite.

This all-in-one product, the MultiCutter System, has eight different attachments.

Photo courtesy: Maruyama U.S. Inc

“It’s the best time-saving device, because the crew doesn’t have to stop working if you need to drive the truck away from the jobsite to pick up supplies,” says Kristie Asbury of Power Trac. “All the attachments stay right there on the trailer, onsite, along with the tractor. So instead of having to drive all the way back to the truck to change out the equipment, which could take a half-hour or more, now it only takes the crew a few minutes.”

While productivity and time-saving elements are essential to landscaping tools, versatility is also part of the equation. A number of companies are offering a variety of attachments with one power unit. A Swiss Army knife of landscape products, the MultiCutter system offered by Maruyama U.S., Inc., Denton, Texas, can be the hand power tool that is the equivalent to Power Trac. This all-in-one product can adapt to almost any application. “Our system is adaptable for a number of uses and is available with eight different attachments, including an edger, a hedge trimmer, a landscape blade and a pruner. You choose whatever tool you want to use, slip it into the holster and away you go,” says Mark Dyos, operations manager at Maruyama.

Crowe agrees. “With an all-in-one interchangeable unit, I can send one crew out with one tool and they can swap the heads so they don’t have to bring so many different tools on the truck. They’re much more productive because they can do a variety of things with one tool.”

Edgers, blowers, trimmers, augers, chain saws and more, all play an integral part in the day-today operation of the landscape business. “Having all the necessary tools ready to go in one place not only cuts down on time, but keeps the equipment clean and safe,” says Tony Bass, owner of Super Lawn Trucks, Fort Valley, Georgia.

In 1998, he created the first landscape “warehouse on wheels.”

Bass, a landscape contractor, designed the inside of a truck body—or a trailer—to carry all the equipment needed on a job. This landscape equipment transport carries and stores the tools in an organized, easy accessible manner.

“The one reason people don’t carry everything on their trucks is that they don’t have adequate room. Most people use trucks where the equipment, at the end of the work day, has to be off-loaded and carried into a shop for secure storage, then re-loaded on the truck the next day. Inadvertently, the crews will miss putting some hand tools or some power equipment onto the truck,” Bass said.

“Keeping an entire truck full of equipment allows companies to carry more supplies. Not only do the trucks have room for lawn mowers, but they also have ample hanging storage space on the walls. Equipment is now off the floor and stored neatly and everything is organized.”

The downside

Bass says that contractors lose between $1,000 and $1,300 per crew, per year, due to equipment being left on jobsites or falling off trucks. Too many crews simply toss the equipment into the back of the pickup, paying little attention to where the tools fall, or what falls on them.

Carelessness can be very costly and damaging to your trimmers, mowers and blowers. It reduces the effectiveness and decreases the lifespan of your tools. One of the easiest ways to avoid this is to teach your crews the proper way to transport the equipment. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. The right way will save you time and money. The wrong way will add to your costs.

Proper maintenance of the power tools is also essential to the efficiency and productivity of the tool.

Trimming with a dull blade can almost be as painful and time consuming as shaving with a dull razor. Sure, you’ll get the job done, but not nearly as well, or as fast. Your crews should know how to keep these power tools clean, so they can operate efficiently. You must also stay aware of new laws and regulations that govern your business. A small violation of a noise ordinance can be very costly.

One of the most common power tools in the landscape profession is the backpack blower. These blowers complete the cleanup job in a quarter of the time it would take using a manual rake, but as blowers became more popular, the noise and air pollution they caused became a serious problem.

Since most landscape crews start their workday at 7:00 a.m., they could get to their first client at about 7:30 a.m., when some people are just beginning their morning routine. Once the mowing is finished, the crew member revs up the backpack blower to complete the job. If you’re the next-door neighbor, your quiet morning is now shattered by deafening sounds and obnoxious smells coming from your neighbor’s yard.

As the backpack blower gained more popularity with the landscape contractor, it didn’t take long for homeowners to sound the battle cry; “There needs to be a law!” More and more local governments began to be bombarded by complaints, and more and more city ordinances were enacted. Combined with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restrictions on decibel noise levels and emission control standards, and well, you can see where this is going.



Trimming trees from the ground using a telescoping-handle power saw.

Photo courtesy: Husqvarna


Today, more than 400 cities and towns nationwide have either banned blowers completely, or passed strict noise regulations along with limitations as to the hours they can operate.

They’re listening

Equipment manufacturers heard the message loud and clear, and have responded above and beyond the call. They’ve not only found a way to lower the noise and emission levels—even below government standards—but have also improved efficiency and integrated new ergonomic designs to help relieve operator stress.

“Emission levels have been lowered by as much as 60%,” says Pam Everett, Husqvarna’s business development manager. “Since we’ve introduced our ‘Quiet Blower,’ we’ve reduced the sound level to 64 dB by utilizing a newly developed, high-powered engine with noise-dampening material in the housing.

“While we manufacture many excellent products, we feel the most important tool on the landscaper’s truck is the crew. While it’s important to keep the blades sharp, and the engines oiled, it is equally important to keep the human component happy, healthy and productive,” continues Everett.

Toward that goal, using ergonomics to lessen fatigue has been a spotlight for Husqvarna. “The crew needs to be comfortable with the work they’re doing. The less stress on a person’s body, the better they’ll be able to do their job,” Everett said.

Choosing and using the right power tools for your company and your crew can make all the difference in this highly competitive market. If you “sweat the details” today, you’ll achieve huge success tomorrow.

 
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