We hear about a shortage of labor that is a concern to all in our industry. We can get more business, but how will we be able to handle it? If we can't hire additional labor, how can we grow our company? There are ways.
A term used these days in the landscaping industry is 'lean management.' Lean management is the art of managing your business with minimum crews, new technology, and more efficient use of time. Lean management is working smarter, not harder, in an attempt to make life easier for both you and your crews.
Since the highest cost of doing business is labor and equipment, maybe you should review that area first. Take the time to accompany your crews to the jobsites. Watch them work. Make note of what they do, how they do it, and how long it takes them to do it. Is it possible for the crews to become more productive? While lean management is certainly one way of expanding your business, the other is using the latest equipment that will get the job done more effectively and efficiently.
Let's talk about the lawn mower, the one piece of equipment owned by every contractor who does any maintenance at all. It all started with a mower you had to push. Then there was the walk-behind; now you can stand or sit on it. If a crew member spends the day standing or riding on a mower and his counterpart pushes a mower all day, which one will be more fatigued at the end of the day? Which one will have more energy? Which one would be more likely to squeeze in another job?
These are the questions manufacturers have been asking. Today, they offer an array of machines and mowers to help keep your crews as efficient and productive as possible. The manufacturers understand that to grow your business, you have to be more efficient. To do this you must be able to constantly reevaluate your resources, and make the most of them. So, what are your primary resources? Personnel and equipment.
The key is to take the men and equipment and get the greatest amount of square footage mowed in the shortest amount of time. This is accomplished through self-propelled walk-behind mowers, zero-turn radius (ZTR) mowers, and mid-sized mowers with sulky attachments. Use the largest/ widest mower available that fits the particular jobsites you maintain.
Each year, manufacturers are making mowers more comfortable, more efficient, and more user-friendly. They address problems with fuel and emissions, ergonomics and comfort, safety and ease of use. New features include, but are not limited to, easier ways to discard clippings, power adjustment height and deck lifting, seats with lumbar supports, four-wheel independent suspension and shocks? all of which go a long way toward cutting down on operator fatigue.
There are several factors that influence speed and productivity in irregular spaces. A zero-turn radius (ZTR) mower is almost a necessity for contractors who frequently deal with tight spaces, flower beds, curbs or other irregularities.
Another feature that can impact speed and productivity in irregular spaces is independent suspension, which helps eliminate the impact of uneven terrain. The suspension absorbs the jolts that would otherwise be transferred to the operator and the frame. Fewer bumps and jolts results in less operator fatigue. Less fatigue equals greater productivity. This means that you don?t have to slow down for bumps and dips in the terrain as you would with a fixed-frame mower. This can enable an operator to add one or two jobs per day, which translates to several more jobs per week, which obviously translates to more profits.
Interchangeable attachments make riding mowers more versatile. With one machine you can do a number of things. When the grass stops growing, you can attach the aerator, dethatcher and other attachments. When the snow comes, you can attach a dozer blade or snow blower. Attachments ease the load placed on your crew, which means at the end of the week, they're not as tired and the productivity remains consistent.
One thing to look for is mowers with versatility. Versatility is a key to efficiency, and contractors at all levels agree that you need to balance speed and size with flexibility and maneuverability. You might spend more for a machine that is more versatile, but the versatility is going to pay off in the long run. Having an adaptable unit will increase the number of services you can offer and increase the services you bring to each jobsite. For example, with an aerator attachment you can cut and aerate in one pass and fertilize and re-seed on the next one, completing all the work in a minimum amount of time.
We all know that fuel economy is taking a front-and-center position in equipment purchasing decisions these days. Water-cooled and diesel engines have been gaining in popularity and market share, in part for durability and performance, but also for fuel economy.
Some manufacturers have developed a propane-powered mower. Alternative fuel sources are of increasing concern in the face of soaring gas prices and also important in light of emissions. As more and more states tighten their emission standards, the need for more fuel-efficient machines that produce fewer emissions increases. As these kinds of guidelines increase, it's fair to say that it will have an impact on productivity.
Manufacturers are also responding with greater emphasis on safety features, like better rollover protection systems. Injury prevention is a key factor in all business decisions. Understanding available safety features can help you choose mowing equipment that minimizes exposure to risk.
Features that reduce the amount of required maintenance, like permanent lubricated pivot joints, also make great financial sense. Less maintenance reduces downtime and keeps the mowers earning.
Some manufacturers offer a very useful and integral piece of technology'a little black box that is wired into the drive system of the mower. It logs the number of hours an employe e is on the mower, so you can know if someone is taking too long to complete a job. This technology also lets the operator know when the mower needs maintenance and what routine services need to be completed.
When you're looking for the mower that can do more for your company, you first need to understand just what niche your company fills'and what niche you want to fill in the future. Here are some questions to ask:
- What kind of properties do I currently service?
- Do I need to catch grass, mulch or discharge? Is it all three?
- Would I like to expand into new markets?
- What about fuel economy and emissions?
- What about comfort and ease of use?
- Do I understand the various safety features?
- What are my concerns regarding maintenance and serviceability?
When making your decision, always consider ways you can reduce man-hours while maximizing operating time. There are several factors that influence your decision -- size and speed of the mower should be first and foremost. Although a larger machine's cutting decks might translate into speedier jobs for some, bigger isn't always better.
There are many large machines out there that do a job and do it well. But it's a matter of matching equipment to what you do. If the majority of properties you service consist of large, open areas, a large, straight drive machine is great. But if your business is primarily residential, a large mower can actually cost you time, money and manpower. In these cases, correct size and maneuverability is critical.
Some contractors mistakenly purchase a bigger machine to do their larger areas more quickly. But they're better off with something smaller and more versatile if their customer base consists primarily of smaller residential properties.
Choose the equipment that best suits the needs of your clients. It isn't unusual to see contractors who are loyal to particular mowing equipment manufacturers. Certainly, many contractors have their favorites, but some will be quick to admit that most machines have their pros and cons. One size does not fit all. The best choice for one contractor might not work as well for you.
If you wish to increase quality and efficiency in your operation, you should be cautioned about choosing equipment based solely on price.
In one instance, a contractor bought some walk-behind mowers which appeared to be a bargain. What he didn't realize is that he did not buy the commercial grade. The savings were cut short as the decks began to crack, and the wheels needed to be replaced almost immediately. In the end, repairs and replacements cost him more per machine than the more expensive top-of-the-line brand that has been proven to last years longer. Buy the machine that has a proven track record, not what appears to be the least expensive.
Because productivity is such an issue, you want to complete any given job as quickly as possible. Chances are that when you're working in this manner, your equipment is not babied. This is to be expected. The less maintenance that is required, the better off you'll be. Manufacturers are making mower engines more robust, to withstand more abuse over a longer period of time. Make sure your equipment can handle the abuse.
When purchasing a new mower, be certain to check out and understand the maintenance requirements. If maintenance is easy, it's more likely to get done. Parts should be readily available and simple to change. How easy is it to change the belts? The oil? The air filter? Can you get to them easily? You never want to waste time completing what should be a simple chore.
Buy the best mower you can afford. If you buy a better machine from the start, your quality and productivity will be up and your business will grow a lot faster. Better equipment improved productivity = more profits. That?s an equation that everybody loves.