Good Things Come in Small Packages

When it comes to your business, you’re always thinking big. But, sometimes, bigger isn’t better. Sure, this may sound like common fortune cookie wisdom at first glance—but, when you’re focused on success, it’s a philosophy that can easily be overlooked or forgotten. So when you’re considering investing in full-sized equipment, it’s this food for thought that’s especially important to keep in mind.

Tractors, utility loaders and skid steers take up a lot of space and can weigh up to 6,000 pounds. These generally cannot squeeze through narrow gateways and passages. If you can’t get your equipment onto the jobsite, your crew may end up hauling by hand. A once-simple job can soon become a tiresome and a tedious one, and may even require many more employees than expected.

There is a special place for compact equipment in the landscape contractor’s arsenal. Because full-sized equipment is so heavy and big, when working in a small space, this equipment would not be feasible. And because full-sized equipment has a tendency to tear up the turf, you may suddenly find yourself spending all kinds of time repairing the damage caused by the machines instead of building profit for your business.

In recent years, many contractors have found it more prudent to invest in the miniature versions of these mechanical monsters instead. Compact tractors, skid steers and compact utility loaders are easy to maneuver around planting beds and generally can go through narrow passageways .

These mini-machines are also lighter in weight and cause considerably less stress on the turf.

Small, but mighty, these compact machines combine versatility, a lot of speed and payload capacity. They also help users get more work done in less time. Using a variety of attachments, the machines can tackle abounding applications. They can take on many of the jobs that their full-sized cousins can and in some cases, do it more profitably.

“There are a couple of benefits to these machines,” said Neil Borenstein, senior marketing manager for Siteworks, a division of The Toro Company. “You can get into areas where you had to use hand labor before, and that makes you more productive. Equally as important is that these machines are easy to operate. Now you can have less skilled operators do the job or make skilled operators even more productive.”

Emerging during the last decade as a significant class of equipment, compact equipment is coming into its own as manufacturers refine designs, brainstorm more implements and better exploit the strengths this equipment has to offer.

Breaking it down to size and performance

Words like “mini,” “compact,” and “small” aren’t just different ways to say the same thing. Tractors and loaders come in a variety of sizes, depending upon the manufacturer.

Before choosing which one will best enhance the needs of your business, you should closely examine model specifications. Think about the types of properties you access on a regular basis and the kinds of lifting, moving and other work that you do. Now, weigh this information against the equipment. Consider the size of the machine itself, its operating capacity, dumping height and any other added features that you may find to be helpful along the way.

When considering investing in a compact piece of equipment, you should also assess if the machinery will, at the end of the day, have conserved valuable time and labor.

Time and labor savings, which eventually contribute to cost savings, can add up quickly when you work with mini-skid steers, compact utility loaders and compact tractors. A single operator is able to tackle many tasks simultaneously—all on his own. Some of these chores might otherwise require a few extra workers, shovels and wheelbarrows.

“Actually, we only got our Bobcat four years ago and prior to that, everything was done just with men and wheelbarrows,” said Jim Nicholson, owner of Densmore Landscape, Santa Clara, California. “The tractor probably saves us at least 30 percent of the time we’d otherwise spend if we didn’t have it. It speeds things up.”

These mini-machines fill a niche.

One piece of equipment and one operator can now do the work of a crew of hand laborers. What’s especially nice about them, though, is their versatility.


Compact utility loaders, compact tractors and mini skid steers are multi-tasking marvels. A cost-effective way to expand the services your business provides, these mini-machines can do a lot of different jobs. “By investing in one power unit and attachments, you can take on a variety of tasks,” said Kristie Ashbury, national sales manager at Power Trac. “We have 30 different attachments, including those to haul heavy material, dig trenches, remove debris, auger holes, sculpt the ground and rake uneven terrain.”

There are many different attachments for you to choose from.

Whether you have a need for trenchers, buckets, augers, tillers or backhoes, they are all available and can easily snap onto the machine’s universal mount plate in a few minute’s time. When winter comes, you can add snow removal tools to keep the machine working year-round.

While some people only make use of one or two different attachments, others like to have an assortment of options. With a variety of uses possible, you could just as easily spend as much money on accessories for your new machine as you did on the equipment itself.

To ensure that you are picking attachments that fall in line with both your needs and your budget, sit down and have a nice long chat with your dealer. Determine your goals and plans for your business. Look at what your business is like and what overall operations are in order to help figure out which equipment will prove to be profitable.

Do you plan to install hardscapes? Do you need a trencher attachment for trenching an irrigation system or for wiring landscape lighting? Think about where this prospective equipment can be used.

Another thing you have to consider is the kind of truck and what size trailer you’ll need to transport this equipment. Will your existing trucks and trailers do the job or are you going to have to invest in some new ones? Some manufacturers offer a complete package: a mini skid steer, attachments and a trailer where it all fits perfectly.

Treads vs. wheels

Skid steers, mini skid steers and compact utility loaders move around either by wheels or by tracks. So when you’re choosing a loader, you also have to decide whether you’ll be best served by a machine with treads or wheels.

Tracks travel around on treads like a tank or a bulldozer. This provides improved traction and allows for a smoother, safer ride, even in wet weather. They take the weight of the machine and distribute it evenly across its length, allowing for better weight distribution and more overall stability, which comes in handy when you’re riding over hilly or bumpy areas. Because of the way they distribute weight, tracked units also put less stress on the turf.

Boxer Equipment, based out of Ponca City, Oklahoma, offers seven different skid steer models; a number of them are on treads. While tracked units offer great traction, units that run on wheels move slightly faster than their treaded counterparts. They also take up less space than tracked units, which allows for more storage room when stuffed inside of trailers.

“Boxer has been following the growing trend of putting tracks on the equipment, but they still have a wheeled unit in their arsenal,” said Lisa McCarley, domestic sales manager for Boxer Equipment. “There are a lot of people who still use a wheeled unit. Typically, a wheeled unit isn’t quite as bumpy; it’s a lot smoother ride and it doesn’t wear out as fast on asphalt or concrete.”

It’s important to note that investing in a wheeled machine may not cost you as much as a machine that runs on tracks. “For us, it was a cost factor with regard to wheel or track,” said Patrick Bush, administrative manager at Hermes Landscaping, Lenexa,

Kansas. “It’s obviously less expensive to have wheels instead of track, and maintenance is a lot easier on the wheeled models.”

Sit, stand or walk?

Another important aspect to consider before you purchase one of these pieces of equipment is: would you choose sitting, standing or walking? Your operator’s comfort can make a huge difference in productivity.

With a ride-on machine, you’re controlling the equipment from a control console that’s actually mounted on top of the machine. The perk of a ride-on machine means that the operator can see perfectly in all directions. Standard skid steers and some mini-sized machines have an enclosed cab.

This decreases visibility but increases operator comfort, especially when working in hot or snowy weather. In some weather conditions, a loader without a cab would be unusable.

Walk-behind loaders offer greater visibility and easy-on/easy-off agility for the operator. If you’re operating a walk-behind unit, you can let go of the machine at any time and it will stop on its own. Many machines that are run by a standing operator offer platforms to decrease fatigue.

“All of our machines are stand-on units,” said McCarley. “You’re not seated at all. Our philosophy is that most people who are operating in muddy conditions are safer if they’re riding on the back of it, so that they don’t slip and fall or get fatigued.”

Try before you buy

Trying out the machine is one of the most important aspects of the decision-making process. Brochures and website tutorials can help to give you an idea of what the equipment is like, but it’s difficult to determine how it actually performs on a job if you don’t try it out first.

For instance, some machines offer stronger hydraulics or more horsepower than others, but these numbers don’t really tell you the whole story. When it comes down to it, what is most important is how the power is used and the efficiency of the machine. Rent a few different models and compare them by trying them out side by side.

Many contractors start out with a piece of compact equipment and discover that it’s all they will ever need. Others start with full-sized machinery and add mini-loaders later. Whether you make the decision to go big or small, it won’t take long for your business to save a lot of time and labor by making use of these strong, reliable pieces of equipment.