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The Right Attachment for the Job

TED RABINOWITZ | Landscape

There was a time when building landscapes was really back-breaking work. The main reason why it was hard work is because there was very little equipment that was made to do the job; therefore, almost everything had to be done with manual labor.

Although there are still some areas of building landscapes where there is no other choice other than manual labor. However, over the past number of years, more and more power equipment has been available to the landscape contractor. Not only has some of the equipment been miniaturized, to allow it in narrow openings, lots of attachments have come on the market as well.

Smart landscape contractors have found the tools and equipment to help alleviate the back-breaking work, while others are still doing lots of manual labor. Some of the smaller landscape contractors seem to feel they can’t afford to buy the equipment while other contractors haven’t put the pencil to the paper to figure our how much time equipment will save their company, and how much more dollars will go to the bottom line.

We are all creatures of habit, and habits are hard to break, whether they are good or bad. There are still contractors that are doing work the way they did it 30 and 40 years ago. This article is written to inform them of many of the new products that are available to them.

Now, there is a new twist to power tools and equipment. Attachments! These attachments are available in various assortments, so you can pick and choose the ones you want. Where you would have to buy a dedicated piece of equipment, now you can buy an attachment to add to your existing equipment.

Let’s say for example you think you would like to get into the snow business, if you live in the climates where it snows. However, you’re not sure if that is the service you want to add to your menu, so you’re kind of reluctant to make any heavy duty purchases of this type of equipment. If you’re in the maintenance business, you can add an attachment to a lawnmower and bingo, you can handle snow.

If you use a trencher, or a stump grinder, and you need it almost full time, you would go out and buy a dedicated unit. But, if you only need a trencher, or a stump grinder periodically, you can buy an attachment to add to let’s say a mini skid steer loader. That helps hold down your cost and gives you the flexibility do the work.

Photo courtesy: Grasshopper

So let’s look at an array of attachments that can make your business more productive and more profitable.

“When I did maintenance, about ten years ago, most everything was dedicated,” notes Doesburg. “There wasn’t a lot of flexibility.”

Times have changed. Now companies like Walker sell mowers that aren’t so much grass-cutting machines as they are lawn-care systems, with attachments from dethatchers to snow blowers.

The current crop of mower attachments offer a unique advantage to the lawn-maintenance specialist: increased functionality. “If you’re a one-man band, this is really helpful to you,” says Tim Cromley, of Walker Mowers. Not only does this allow you to take on a wider variety of jobs; it also lets you offer new singleton services that generate separate revenue streams.

Coupled with added functionality, attachments can often do a job faster than their manual equivalents. Cromley points to his company’s aerator attachment as a good example of this. “Our aerator attachment sells for about as much as a walk-behind, but it does three times as much work.”

Photo courtesy: Compact Power

Jim Meyers of JRCO, which makes front-mount mower attachments, agrees. “Contractors have been able to pay for their dethatcher the first time they use it,” he says. “Guys who can line up the clients for a particular service can do well.”

With the current popularity of aeration to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, an aerator attachment can be an especially good candidate for the singleton service. “Contractors seem especially able to do this for aeration,” confirms Meyers. “They put up fliers and get a whole neighborhood.”

Both Meyers and Cromley point to the dethatcher and the aerator as two very popular mower attachments. “The dethatcher will make the grass green-up instantly,” says Meyers, “and give the lawn that hand-raked look.” He also notes the speed advantage, “It could easily take all day with a hand rake, where as it could be twenty minutes with a dethatcher.”

Cromley calls Walker’s dethatcher “very simple, but very powerful. One pass will take up the thatch from the previous year and help the lawn breathe.” The dethatcher sells briskly in the spring as a clean-up tool, as do some leaf clean-up attachments, and can pay for itself in a few uses.

Attachments can reduce operator fatigue, which translates to more work accomplished. “If you’ve ever been behind a walk-behind tiller, well, it walks you instead of you walking it,” notes Lisa McCarley, of Compact Power Equipment. A walk-behind unit will often fight its operator for the whole job and wear him out; a mower attachment will do the same job as the walk-behind, while allowing its operator to ride in comfort. The crew stays fresher longer, and is able to take on more assignments per day.

Photo courtesy: Compact Power

Meyers mentions JRCO’s electric broadcast spreader as another popular attachment that adds functionality. “Where you were once just mowing, now you can be mowing and fertilizing,” he says. JRCO also offers a spray attachment that can be used for pesticides. Once again, separate services for a separate charge. Some lawn attachments allow you to extend your maintenance services into new areas and seasons.

Snow attachments are a way to grow business in a part of the year that’s typically fallow for lawn maintenance. “A lot of people like our plow-blade for snow,” says Cromley. “And our single-stage snow blower is quite popular. It’s an augur-type blower that pulls in snow and blows it out, all in one movement. It’s at least four times as fast as a guy with a shovel...and it’ll last a lot longer, too.”

Attachments can save money on storage and maintenance. Without engines of their own, they tend to be lighter and smaller, allowing you to bring more of them to a job site. They don’t need separate motor maintenance or specialized fuel mixtures. “You’re maintaining one power source,” notes Cromley. “That can be very attractive as opposed to maintaining a lot of engines. Of course, if that engine goes, you’re in trouble.”

Instead of a source of added revenue, loading and earth-moving attachments are a cost of doing business, part of the capacity you must have to tackle the job. There usually aren’t new revenue streams with a new attachment; profit comes from the ability to take on new projects, and savings accrue in time, labor, maintenance and storage.

Photo courtesy: Bad Boy

Those savings can be impressive. McCarley notes that on a basic landscaping package from Compact Power Equipment, a skid-steer or loader with attachments, a contractor could save $9,000 - $10,000 a year, by moving from hand labor and dedicated equipment to an attachment system. That’s comparing a high-end, $30,000 package to a $10/hr full-time employee. “It’s not unusual for a five-man crew to drop to a three-man crew after a company gets one of these packages,” says McCarley.

The sheer volume of attachments has grown enormously in the past decade. Compact Power offers two separate loader families, each with dozens of different blades and attachments for every conceivable job. There are even companies like CE Attachments and Quick Attach that sell nothing but attachments. Then there are attachments like the EDGE Skid-Steer Hitch System, a “universal mounting system” for skid-steer add-ons.

“For any landscaping, we use a bucket, a forklift, a trencher attachment, and a backhoe attachment,” notes Rick Doesburg of Thornton Landscape, in Maineville, OH. “We have walk-behind roto-tillers and skid-steers with forks.” He will acquire whatever is needed to get the job done, even if it involves renting a piece of specialized equipment.

Photo courtesy:CEAttachments

A typical landscape kit for a Kanga, or a heavier, tracked-loader Boxer, would include a trencher, an auger power-head, and 9”, 18”, and 36” auger-power-head bits. It would also include a leveler, for hauling, grading and backfilling trenches; a set of adjustable forks for moving palettes and trees; and then “a few specialty attachments,” according to McCarley. These could include a power rake to fluff up soil in preparation for sodding or seeding, or a power tiller, which performs the same operation about four inches deeper into the soil.

A walk-behind, even a light one, will tire out an operator eventually, so when the walk-behind in question is a powerful auger or trencher, fatigue becomes a vital limit on the work your crew can accomplish in a day. With the proper loader attachments, this becomes a non-issue. “I tell my people I have no calluses on my hands and I was working in my yard all weekend,” says McCarley.

Chapel Valley Landscape in Dulles, VA, specializes in irrigation, and doesn’t use many attachments. “It’s just not as practical for the irrigation business,” says Robert Latham. “There’s a minimum amount of equipment that we rely on, and we use that equipment 95% of the time, so we don’t need adaptable, we need rugged and reliable.” He uses three riding trenchers and some walk-behinds, but no removable items. He notes that attachments are often extremely practical for landscapers, but even they use dedicated equipment when power and size are crucial.

Photo courtesy: Bad Boy

Doesburg agrees. “The dedicated machines tend to sit more,” he notes, “but we have a track-hoe that hardly ever shuts down, with one dedicated bucket.”

Power and ruggedness seem to be the two concerns that landscape contractors have about attachments. “We have one small Dingo skid-steer that we use on smaller residences; it has attachments from augers to trenchers.” says Doesburg. “The Dingo with attachments is the labor equivalent of one employee.” He is phasing out his walk-behind trenchers and says the roto-tiller is the biggest walk-behind he has left.

In general, jobs that demand a lot of power, or require very repetitive tasks seem best suited for dedicated equipment. Smaller jobs or ones that are done not too frequently may best be approached with attachments.

There are some items that straddle the line between attachments and accessories. Without having an immediate impact on profitability, they can still make life easier for a crew. CE Attachments offers soft tracks that fit over tractor and skid-steer tires, helping to reduce damage to soft earth and new turf. Gate-Flexor is a system that makes it easier to lift, open and close gates on trucks and trailers. There are mini-ramps to help mowers over curbs, and Walker offers the hi-dump option, which enables operators to dump grass clippings directly into a truck or trailer from the mower.

Photo courtesy: JRCO

There are attachments that can be used with a truck instead of a loader. In addition to rakes, dethatchers and aerators that can be pulled by trucks, there’s also the Hitch-N-Ditch, which can be pulled by any four-wheel drive vehicle. It threads a flexible pipe or cable through solid earth, leaving only a narrow ditch in the topsoil.

In the end, balancing power and flexibility, manual labor, dedicated equipment, and attachments, means the contractor should understand both the requirements of his current jobs and the requirements of the jobs he wants to grow into. He has to be able to weigh the immediate cost of new attachments with the savings they can generate. But as attachments become more and more powerful and flexible, that choice is sure to grow easier.

Attachments can help you add an array of services to your business. Your crews can complete their work faster, and with less fatigue, making them more productive. With these changes, attachments have a fantastic potential to add profitability to your business.

 
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