Make Your Mowers Do More

Jim Myers, production manager at Jrco Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesotta, says, “A lot of the attachments on the market allow landscapers, especially the smaller contractors, to add a new service or improve a service they are already providing.” A leaf plow or leaf blower, for example, gives contractors a tremendous boost in efficiency of leaf collection and spring cleanup processes. Similarly, a tine rake, dethatcher or rotary broom allows contractors to more efficiently comb and green their customer’s lawns. Other attachments, like snow blowers, transform the simple lawn mower into a four-season profit center.

Kevin Pfeifle, manager at Quality Care in Coralville, Iowa, says, “The biggest thing we’ve found is that using mowing attachments extends our week a little better. These guys are doing hard work. Mowing attachments ease the load and give them more productivity at the end of the week when they’re tired.” And more productivity typically equals more profits, which is a plus in everybody’s book.

Jim Zylstra, owner of Tuff Turf in Byron Center, Michigan, relies on two after-market aerator attachments to boost his business. He says, “These attachments are a huge help to our business. They save lots of labor time. In fact, one attachment can easily out-aerate five walk-behinds put together.”

Most mowing attachment are user-friendly add-ons. Indeed, Patsy Penner, marketing coordinator at Grasshopper Mower, Moundridge, Kansas, states, “It’s a simple, quick operation to change from mowing to an attachment and back again.” Another plus? Frontmount attachments are quite maneuverable and allow contractors to squeeze into tight spaces where larger equipment doesn’t fit. With all of the advantages to attachments, it’s easy to see why smart contractors are investing in mowing attachments to ramp up their business, increase productivity and profits and stay busy yearround.

A wide selection

The mowing attachment product line is wide and diverse. It seems as if there is an attachment for most of the tasks or services that a landscape contractor might provide. A rotary broom can clear debris in the spring and snow in the winter, and it can dethatch lawns and rake and clear leaves. A dethatcher can turn spring clean up into a onepass deal by raking up winter debris and dethatching as the operator mows the lawn. Front blades can be used to push dirt, sand and snow. There are also heavy-duty snow blowing attachments suited for areas where snowfall often amounts to a dumping rather than a dusting. Pluggers and aerator attachments can simplify seasonal maintenance work. And attached sprayers and spreaders make it easier to get fertilizer down. Finally, don’t forget about operator comfort. Cabs featuring heating or air conditioning can be attached to some front mowers. They just might increase productivity and will certainly help keep operators happy.

The decision-making process

With so many attachments to choose from it can be difficult to decide which mowing attachment makes the most sense for your business. Pfeifle explains, “You really have to do some soul-searching. Then you need to get out the pencil and paper and figure out which attachment will give you the biggest bump in business.” Zylstra adds, “A lot of contractors don’t want to make an investment in an attachment like an aerator. But when you look at the money you make aerating vs. the money you make mowing, you realize you can make a lot more money aerating than mowing.” In fact, Greg Perkins of Cross Cut Lawn Care in Champaign, Illinois. claims his client’s neighbors have attempted to drag him away from his work so that he could aerate their lawns and beds as well. Perkins is all too happy to comply and make some extra cash with his mower/aerator combo after he completes his scheduled projects.

There are two ways to assess your business. You can look at your workload over the course of the year and determine which times are busiest or you can determine where you have room to grow. Pfeifle says, “If you find that you’re really busy in spring and fall you might want to add an aerator or spreader to ease your load in the busy time.” In some parts of the country, the aeration season may last only two to three weeks, but because it’s a high dollar service, a contractor can bill a hefty amount in that period. Investing in an aerator attachment can increase productivity by speeding up aeration jobs. Take Perkins, for example. He completed a flower bed aeration in a few short minutes after the homeowner had struggled with the project without progress for over an hour. In other cases, a contractor might already have a tool for the job, but the

Photo courtesy: Jrco Inc.

attachment allows him to service more customers by doubling equipment available for a job.

Wes Freeman, brand manager for commercial mowing equipment for John Deere Turf Care, Moline, Illinois, says contractors need to determine what they want to do. If they want to extend their season and boost income over the winter then a snow blowing attachment could be the right choice.

A dozer blade for snow clearing was just the ticket for contractor Monty Thompson, owner of Thompson Mowing Inc., Kansas City, Missouri. He explains, “Being able to clear snow is a real added value to offer my clients.” Thompson says his dozer blade and mower let him get into spots that be reached with larger, less maneuverable equipment. Plus, he says the combination is a lot faster than smaller, hand-pushed snow blowers.

Freeman continues, “It’s important to keep in mind that every industry consultant says that the equipment investment is minimal compared to labor costs. Contractors want to find an attachment that will increase productivity and decrease their labor costs.” Consequently, it’s important to not only consider the initial upfront costs of the equipment but also project time and dollars that can be saved with the equipment.

Another way to evaluate the attachment investment process is to consider where your business has room to grow. Bob Walker, president of Walker Manufacturing, Fort Collins, Colorado, points out, “Customers tend to enjoy having full services from one company rather than having to go to multiple businesses. The contractor can avoid having to subcontract to another business for these services.”

A final factor to keep in mind during the decision-making process is the local climate. Steve Newton, general manager of James River Equipment in Richmond, Virginia, explains, “Last year contractors were really busy cleaning up after the hurricane, and customers weren’t as concerned with aeration. But this year, we had a lot of rain and a good growing season, so aeration has been booming. A lot of contractors are using mowers with attached aerators to cut and aerate in one pass and fertilize and re-seed in the next, completing fall work in minimal time.” In addition to considering your equipment inventory and current services, it’s also a good idea to consider local trends, including climate. Could recent weather patterns have an effect on high-demand services? If so, it might be the right time to invest in an attachment that facilitates those services.

While smart contractors realize that the right attachment can help them maximize their investment by turning a mower into a more versatile piece of equipment, it’s also important to remember that adding an attachment means than the mower will be used more frequently, so it is important to consider equipment maintenance and upkeep as you make your decision. For example, if your mower is close to retirement, adding an attachment may inch that date ahead. This may work to your advantage and let you get the most life out of the mower—if you’ve planned and budgeted for a replacement. In fact, Zylstra says buying a new mower may be the perfect time to invest in an attachment as well. He explains, “You can use the old mower for the attachment. Often the old mower won’t cut as well as the new mower, but as long as it runs it works great for leaf blowing or aerating.” This approach allows the smart contractor to double his services and extend the life of older equipment.

One way to potentially limit the wear and tear on the mower is by investing in attachments engineered by the original mower manufacturer. Attachments sold by the manufacturer should be specifically engineered for that mower, and if problems arise, the contractor has one source to turn to for a solution.

On the flip side, however, mowing vendors don’t necessarily develop and market the full range of mowing attachments that specialists do. On the other hand, companies like FFC Attachments, Lee, Illinois, and Jrco manufacture and market high-quality attachments that fit and work well with a variety of mowers. Jrco’s fertilizer spreader and FFC’s V-plow fit multiple mowers. Ultimately, the best course of action is to check with the mower manufacturer to determine if it markets the attachment that is right for your business and which other solutions might be appropriate for your machine.

In addition to talking to manufacturers, Zylstra recommends that contractors in the market for a mower attachment study trade magazines and talk to other contractors about which attachments they use and recommend. Another good option, he says, is to demo the equipment to find out if it suits your needs.

Bumping up customer service

There are customer service and marketing issues to consider when adding a mowing attachment. One of the biggest pluses is that the company may be able to market itself as a full-service operation. The customer no longer needs to locate and schedule separate contractors for tasks like dethatching and aerating. Or if the contractor takes on the task, hassle and expense of subcontracting those services, he can cross that item off the to-do list. Eliminating the time and hassle of subcontracting also figures positively in the labor cost analysis.

Pfeifle points out that jobs may be done differently with attachments than with dedicated equipment. It’s important to take the time to explain the differences to customers. For example, Quality Care uses a Jrco’s three-pronged fertilizer spreader for residential fertilizing and weed control. Pfeifle says. “Some homeowners don’t want the equipment on their lawn. Sometimes they think it’s too big and they’re not getting great service with it. In fact, it actually improves services. We try to talk to and educate our customers, but in the end, if they don’t want us to use it, we don’t.” Quality Care also relies on a hook aerator for aerating lawns. But unlike manual methods, the hook aerator does not leave cores on the lawn. Pfeifle sums, “You have to get your customers used to aeration without cores.” Ultimately, however, mowing attachments come to the rescue in a more roundabout way. Pfeifle explains, “These attachments free up our time to do what we do best—customer service.”