Attachments: Versatility Means Steady Work in Tough Times

IT’S NO SECRET—BUSINESSES ARE struggling to survive these tough economic times. Many businesses are taking some time to reevaluate their current strategies and develop new ways to grow while saving money. The landscape industry is no exception to this trend—savvy contractors are now trying to figure out how to do more with what they already have.

Most landscape contractors already have a tool carrier in their fleet, anything from compact utility loaders and compact track loaders to backhoe loaders, telehandlers and wheel loaders. These machines are designed for versatility and ease of use. With the recent tightening of budgets, contractors are relying more heavily than ever on these machines, and more specifically, on the attachments that make them so versatile.

Lance Schjenken, attachment marketing specialist with Terex Construction Americas, sees that more and more landscape contractors are looking at attachments as an alternative to purchasing a whole new piece of equipment. “There has definitely been an increase in the sales of attachments,” says Schjenken. “They’re cheaper than buying a new machine, and they allow you to be more job specific, while at the same time giving you more options with your current equipment.”

The economic stimulus package has provided a significant tax deduction for equipment purchases, as well as accelerated depreciation rates. These incentives, along with low interest rates, have enticed contractors to invest in new equipment, especially attachments. While diversifying your fleet may mean spending a little more money up front on equipment, Schjenken says that a simple cost-per-job analysis will help you determine your return on investment and how quickly you will start to see a profit.

Tools of the trade

Landscape contractors are always looking for tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently, because speed and ease can translate into greater profitability.

Michael Otte, owner of Whitewater Gardens, St. Charles, Minnesota, has learned that by carefully selecting the attachments he purchases, he is able to maximize his profits—the attachments he buys pay for themselves. “With the right attachments, I find ways to use my loader every day, handling all sorts of tasks, no matter if I’m constructing ponds, waterfalls or surrounding landscapes.”

According to Otte, because of the variety of attachments available, his compact utility loader can be used to haul and place boulders, gravel and rocks, carry tools and equipment to and from the jobsite, dig the pond, install waterfalls, put together the surrounding landscape, and even clean up afterwards.

On many projects, Otte’s compact utility loader is used in every step of the building process. With a bucket attachment, Otte digs out the pond basin and hauls boulders and other materials to the site. In fact, shuttling materials is one of the loader’s main functions.

With the loader, he can move rocks up to 1,000 pounds around the site with relative ease. He uses a multi-purpose tool, with swivels and straps, to then carefully set larger boulders in place. This attachment is invaluable, says Otte, because it is very important to avoid damaging the fragile rubber membrane that lines the water gardens while placing the boulders.

Also, he makes use of forks to set boulders higher up in his waterfall designs. Otte also uses his loader with one of his three bucket attachments to construct berms behind the waterfalls, as well as to backfill and smooth out the terrain during the clean-up phase.

And with a trencher attachment, he could lay the plumbing in his pond creations; he could use the backhoe attachment for excavation and backfill work, and a vibratory plow attachment would make short work of any irrigation project.

Fred Schultz, owner of Landsite Development based in Spokane, Washington, says that versatility and job diversification have become the main goal of many landscaping contractors looking to keep their businesses afloat. “We do everything from assisting do-it-yourselfers to handling an entire landscaping project from start to finish,” says Schultz. “A property’s value can increase up to 14 percent with the right landscaping.”

To complete a job on time, on budget and to the customer’s satisfaction, Schultz knows that having access to the right tools to get the job done really pays off. Schultz runs an ASV RC-30 and a RC-60 compact track loader, as well as a host of attachments, including a Harley rake, trenchers, augers, a snow plow and snow blowers.

“Using compact track loaders with different attachments has totally revolutionized our business,” says Schultz. “We are able to bid on larger projects, and we’re able to work in all weather and ground conditions. We can keep up to five full-time employees busy year-round with all the work we are able to do.”

With the right attachments in their equipment fleet, any business can easily expand its work beyond seasonal to year-round. Jeff Holliday, superintendent of The Salisbury Country Club in Midlothian, Virginia, has had a Toro Dingo for four years. “I have six crew members trained on the loader, and we use it year-round,” says Holliday. “With the trencher attachment, we do a lot of drainage work in the winter months. We also use it with an auger attachment to plant small trees and dig post holes for new fences. We use the soil cultivator attachment to prepare beds for seeds, and we haul mulch and sand with the bucket attachment.”

Holliday uses the stump grinder attachment to clear out small trees, and relies on the cement bowl attachment for small patch work and hardscaping projects around the course. Whatever the task, there are few jobs that a compact utility loader with the right attachment can’t do.

Invest in quality

Proper maintenance will significantly extend the life of your equipment, but every contractor knows no machine can run forever. To keep his equipment fleet up and running, Schultz invests the time and money needed to conduct all of the regularly scheduled maintenance tasks, as well as to keep up-to-date on the warranty work. He also makes sure that certified mechanics are involved with his equipment maintenance. “Keeping our equipment well-maintained is the key to our productivity,” says Schultz.

There is no exact way to determine the life expectancy of an attachment; however, there are some simple things you can do to extend the life of your equipment. “The life expectancy of attachments will ultimately depend on the attachment itself, the type of work you’re doing and how often you’re doing it,” said Schjenken. “But basic, routine maintenance is easy to do and will really only cost you a little bit of time.”

While there is no telling when the economy will turn around, investing in attachments for a tool carrier is a simple way to make more money without significantly increasing costs.

It’s time to get attached to attachments.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was provided by: Terex Construction Americas, Southaven, Miss., and The Toro Company, Bloomington, Minn. In January 2008, Terex Corp. acquired ASV Inc. and has since merged the compact equipment products under the Terex brand.

Many Attachments . .. . A Multitude of Applications

Considering that there are so many attachments available for use on tool carriers, evaluating the work required to complete a project is the first step in attachment selection. Whatever the job may be, there are numerous attachments that can help speed the work. Following is a list of some of the most commonly used attachments.

Buckets are ideal for moving rock, dirt, sand, snow and mulch and loading material into utility vehicles. In addition, the bucket can be used as a leveler for backfilling applications.

Adjustable forks are used for a number of heavy-material-handling tasks. Forks can move tools, posts, pallets, landscaping blocks and beauty rocks. Tree forks help operators transport, plant and position trees and shrubs quickly and effortlessly.

The box rake, tiller and soil cultivator are three attachments that all do some form of ground preparation, but each offers unique advantages that make them ideally suited for certain tasks:

The power box rake is used as a soil grader in some applications. It also has the ability to windrow rocks, either pushing them off to the side of a path or moving them to the end of a raked row for pickup later. This accessory is often used to clean up by removing debris and prepping soil for landscaping. The attachment can act like a land plane, cutting high spots and filling low spots, or it can be used to pulverize and fluff soil for seed and sod bed preparation.

Used primarily to break through hard soil conditions in areas like gardens or flowerbeds, the tiller attachment also can prepare areas for seed and sod installation. This attachment has the ability to break up tough soil (including clay and hard pan) up to six inches deep, which makes planting easier.

Crews like the soil cultivator because it can do three jobs at once. It breaks up hard soil, buries rocks, clods, grass, and other debris beneath the soil and creates a fine, fluffy soil bed that’s 5.5 inches deep—perfect for seeding, sodding or flower planting.

Trencher attachments are ideal for projects such as the installation of irrigation systems, pipes or cables, as well as edging applications. Optional crumber attachments are available to ensure a clean and debris-free trench bottom, as well as trench-filler attachments to expedite the backfilling process.

The vibratory plow is used for the installation of cables and irrigation systems. What makes this attachment different is that it optimizes pipe- and cable-pulling performance while minimizing turf damage through a less extensive cut.

The backhoe attachment can be used for various golf course activities, such as excavating bunkers and digging for tree planting, as well as trenching for irrigation and utility installation.

Another attachment designed for digging is the auger. Not only can the auger dig holes for tree and shrub planting, it can create holes for fence and other footings without disturbing the existing landscape.

A leveler attachment is used to grade, finish and spread landscaping materials, backfill trenches, and break up turf, dirt and rock clumps. It also is great for transporting landscaping materials, such as fertilizer, irrigation supplies and container plants.

Attachments, like the multi-purpose tool, include convertible pieces that perform a wide variety of tasks, such as carrying, ripping and transporting materials with just a simple adjustment. This attachment comes with a boom and chain, allowing the loader to carry and lift more weight. In addition, a tow bar can be used to easily move a trailer around the course, while a ripper breaks up hard soils and removes existing plants.

A hydraulic breaker attachment fractures concrete, asphalt, rock or brick when completing renovations and other demolition projects.

Other attachments are designed to be used for specific purposes, such as the snow blower, stump grinder, hydraulic blade, bore drive head, and cement bowl.