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Mowing lawns and controlling weeds are only part of the responsibilities of a landscape professional.
To succeed in this highly competitive and versatile industry, you must offer a wide variety of services to your clients.
Of course you mow and rake, but you also spread seeds, chemicals and fertilizer. You may dig trenches, install irrigation systems, build patios, remove snow and spread salt on sidewalks and driveways when the weather turns cold.
It would be foolish—not to mention cost-prohibitive—to own, store and maintain individual, dedicated pieces of equipment to perform each of these tasks, unless used consistently on a daily basis. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of attachments for utility vehicles and skid steers that can do these jobs quickly, efficiently and with a minimum amount of labor.
“I’m very familiar with skid steers, tractors and compact utility vehicles, but if I were just starting a landscape company today, I’d first buy an all terrain vehicle (ATV) and a few specialty attachments,” says Mark Borst, president, Borst Landscape & Design, Allendale, New Jersey.
“We have one ATV to which we attach a plow on the front to push snow and put a spreader attachment on the back that applies salt to sidewalks in the winter. Then, in the spring, we attach a fertilizer spreader on the back and a bucket on the front. In the summer, depending on the job, we attach a trencher, a sweeper to clean up debris and whatever else is called for. Using attachments keeps our business—and our crews—going all year long.”
Even though there are a number of attachments available, Borst says the three essential add-ons he always purchases with each utility vehicle are a tooth bucket, a smooth utility bucket and a pallet fork to move pallets of plant material or small machinery. In addition to the one ATV, his company now has a total of seven skid steers, all equipped with those three attachments, which accompany each crew to every jobsite.
“Over the years, we’ve added a sweeper, a rototiller, and nursery jaws to our attachment inventory,” said Borst. “But even though new attachments are introduced every few years, the most important aspect of purchasing an attachment isn’t so much buying the newest, coolest one on the market, but knowing how much use you’ll get out of it, and that will depend on the types of jobs that you’re called on to do.”
Andy Sykes, president of Garrett Churchill in Abington, Pennsylvania, has an extensive collection of attachments for his skid steers and compact utility vehicles. Like Borst, his design/build and maintenance company builds patios, installs water features and landscape lighting, and maintains the general landscape of his client’s properties.
“The more services your company offers, the more attachments you’ll need,” says Sykes. “We have several pallet forks and a number of buckets in a variety of sizes and types that attach to our skid steers. One crewman moves, plants and clears debris on one site while another is able to dig, mow and level another. When you have the right attachments, you can do almost anything. The key is to find the right tool for the job.”
For example, Sykes says that when his crews need to grade an area, they’ll use the box b l a d e s or laserg u i d e d grading attachment.
If t h e y have to smooth and level the s o i l , t h e y ’ l l attach landp l a n e s a n d l a n d s c a p e rakes and use dozer blades and buckets to push and haul soil around.
“ D o z e r blades work in tandem with landplanes and b o x r a k e s , ” s a y s S y k e s . “With a power box rake, we can dig and plow, aerate wet soil and recondition turf. When the ground needs to be prepared for seeding, we attach the tiller to break up and mix the soil. Effectively, one crewman is doing two jobs at once, which makes the client happy because the job is finished in half the time and at a lower cost,” he added.
Keeping labor costs to a minimum and having the ability to keep your crews on the job twelve months of the year are major motivators for owning attachments.
Even if the initial investment seems high, over the long run, you’ll more than make up the cost.
“It’s a cost-benefit analysis,” says Howard Mees, vice-president of operations and equipment for ValleyCrest Companies, Calabasas,
California. “Buying a utility vehicle with a few basic attachments might cost you around $28,000, but without it, you might only be able to service and get paid for one property. However, you can easily do six or seven jobs in one day with one machine and the right attachments. Additionally, you’ll be able to complete the jobs using fewer workers, so attachments will more than pay for themselves in the long run,” says Mees.
Once you’ve inspected the site, you’ll have a good idea of the specific job that you want to do, and which attachments you’ll need. Attachment manufacturers say the best sellers are fertilizer spreaders, snow blowers, grapples, cement mixers, backhoes, snow blowers, forks, hole diggers, ditch trenchers and tillers. Buckets and augers are considered the most popular.
“Buckets come in various sorts and sizes,” says Kristie Asbury of Power Trac, Tazewell, Virginia. “There are at least four different types of skid steer buckets. Many of these have a flat cutting edge designed to scoop up various material. Some buckets have teeth on them rather than a cutting edge that can be used for an assortment of digging applications.
The augers are another group of attachments that see wide usage, as they allow the operator to use two-stage auger bits to plant trees. “We use augers in conjunction with tree huggers,” says Sykes. “They work faster and with more accuracy than any crewman working with a shovel. When time is money, you’ll save a great deal of both by using attachments for your ATV, compact utility vehicle or skid steer.
While you may have several different attachments on hand, it’s not usually necessary, or practical, to haul around every one of them to each jobsite. Several equipment manufacturers, like Toro and Power-Trac, also make trailers that are designed to transport all the attachments they need, along with the tractor or whatever utility vehicle they’re going to use, to the jobsite.
“The crews can save a lot of time transporting all of the equipment to a jobsite at once, and the system is designed to make it very easy to change attachments,” says Ashbury. “All the operator has to do to change an attachment is to drive the tractor up to the trailer, put the attachment onto its slot in the trailer, flip a release switch to replace one attachment, then he drives over to the other attachment and connects it in the same way. Then he’s off to the next location in very little time.”
Attachments aren’t only available for utility vehicles and skid steers. Lawnmower manufacturers like Walker Mowers, Fort Collins, Colorado, offer a number of attachments and accessories for zeroturn mowers. Some of the more popular attachments for the zeroturns are dethatchers, boom sprayers and blade edgers.
“The attachments really finetune the service, so where before you could finish one or two properties in a day, with the attachments you can more than double that, because the mower is doing two or three different jobs at once at a much faster pace,” says Tim Cromley of Walker. “We had a client tell us he was able to cut 20 percent of his manhours just by using an edger to maintain the area between the lawns and the sidewalks. They also added a power lift hitch in place of the mower deck and purchased a rotary broom, dozer blade, loose material loader bucket, debris blower and a two-stage snow thrower.”
In addition to added functionality, attachments do a job faster than their manual equivalents. Cromley points out, “Our aerator attachment sells for about as much as a walk-behind, but it does three times as much work. So if you’re looking to save money up front, I wouldn’t say this is the best way to go, but once you realize the cost savings, it’s a no-brainer.”
Cromley says that approximately one-third of Walker Mower buyers purchase at least one extra attachment; the most popular has been the springtime dethatcher, because it does a multitude of tasks at once. “The dethatcher scratches up the thatch on the grass, then the mower deck vacuums it up, so in one pass, you can collect the thatch, mow the lawn down a bit and prepare it for the springtime watering and fertilization.”
Grasshopper, Moundridge, Kansas, is another lawn mower manufacturer that offers attachments such as broom sweepers, boom sprayers, show throwers, etc.
Another money-saving way to use attachments is to rent them. This is especially advantageous if you have a special one-time-only project, or if you want to try something first before you buy it. Mees says he lives by a 3-day rule when it comes to deciding whether to buy or rent an attachment.
“If I only need a particular attachment for three days or less, I’ll simply rent it,” says Mees. “If I find that I’m using it a lot more, to where the cost of the rental is more than the price of the attachment, of course it is more cost effective to just go ahead and purchase it. If we find down the road that it’s not something we’re getting our money’s worth out of, we’ll sell it.”
Borst says that when he’s working on a job that is unusual, renting is definitely an option he uses frequently.
“Attachments can be extremely costly,” says Borst. “It doesn’t make sense to buy something that I only use once or twice a year, like a cement mixer, so when we have a project which requires one, we’ll just rent it. That way I don’t have to worry about any maintenance or storage problems.”
In general, Borst will rent any new attachment before he buys it. “I always try out new tools by renting them when I can,” Borst says.
“It gives me time to really understand how they work and if they’re right for us. I don’t just see it at a trade show and say “It’s cool, let’s buy it.” No matter what bells and whistles the attachment may have, it has to be right for our business or there’s no sale.”
With so many attachments to choose from, and several different manufacturers, you can bet there’s an attachment out there that will help you do any job you can imagine. What’s more important, you’ll be able to do whatever job your client asks for, and do it efficiently and cost effectively as well.