July 17 2012 12:42 AM

Not everywhere can be like Florida or California, where the grass grows green all year round. so in the history of landscape maintenance, winter has been known to cause hard times for contractors. some had turned to prayers to survive. some collected unemployment, saved money, signed up for an equal payment plan with customers, or took a vacation. a few gave up entirely, becoming ski instructors and building snowmen with their family.

But the ones who were really smart made their business go year-round. Relax—they didn’t contact a witch doctor and dance naked on a mountaintop to get the weather gods in their favor. It was much simpler: they got attachments.

Many of you already know this. You already use at least one power tool to single-handedly tackle a slew of jobs with the help of power attachments. You de-thatch and aerate lawns in the spring, cut turf and collect clippings all summer, pick up leaves and debris in the fall, and then clear snow from walks and drives in the winter—all with one power unit and the versatile attachments available.

With the right tools, landscape contractors and professionals can exponentially expand their business volume by offering extra services to clients. Acquiring attachments for your existing equipment allows you to increase your capabilities and, in turn, your revenue. Now, not only can you get your work done more efficiently, you can also virtually eliminate any off-seasons. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular and versatile machines and its attachments, the skid steer loader.

The skid steer loader may be the most versatile landscaping machine in your arsenal. A light and compact machine, it offers a wide array of tool attachments that allow landscape contractors to work throughout the seasons.

The conventional bucket of many skid loaders can be replaced with a variety of specialized buckets or attachments, many powered by the loader’s hydraulic system. These include backhoe, hydraulic breaker, pallet forks, angle broom, sweeper, auger, mower, snow blower, stump grinder, tree spade, trencher, dumping hopper, ripper, tillers, grapple, tilt, roller, snow blade, wheel saw, cement mixer, and wood chipper machine.

Some models of skid steer even have an automatic attachment changer mechanism. This allows a driver to change between a variety of terrain handling, shaping, and leveling tools without having to leave the machine, by using a hydraulic control mechanism to latch onto the attachments. Hydraulic supply lines to power attachments may be routed so that the couplings are located near the cab, and the driver does not need to leave the machine to connect or disconnect those supply lines.

Brett Lemcke, vice president of RM Landscape Inc., Hilton, New York, attaches brooms and plow blades to the front of their skidsteer from December to March and rock hounds, augers, grading buckets, forks and trenchers throughout spring, fall and summer.

“We don’t have to double up any equipment or get one for one division and one for another, so that’s shown the attachments’ value,” said Lemcke, who says the company has been using the Bobcat brand of skidsteer loaders for the last 39 years.

“When doing lawns, I would highly recommend a RockHound attachment. A RockHound has saved us so much labor over hand raking.”

The Original RockHound Landscape Rake was designed to eliminate hand raking by removing rocks and debris and placing them into the bucket hopper, while leveling the surface for a seed bed preparation process. The RockHound was one of the first five Bobcat attachments developed more than 40 years ago.

“We use the Rock Hound for fine grading lawns,” Lemcke said. “We can do 20,000 square feet of work a day with the attachment. An equivalent would be four to five people on that job doing that same work. That labor is tremendously in our favor.”

Mike Mason, vice president at The Lawn Pro in Louisville, Kentucky, makes the most use out of snow pushers in the winter and harley rakes in the other seasons. Mason’s harley rake attachment allows his company to do a multitude of jobs, including grading, leveling, raking, removing debris, pulverizing, preparing seedbeds, de-thatching, removing old lawns and getting rid of weeds.

In addition to a harley rake, many contractors also purchase trencher attachments for digging trenches for utility and irrigation systems, power and water lines, and for laying cable. The attachment can cut into the ground and build a trench through all soil conditions.

“One of our most popular attachments is the trencher,” said Neil Borenstein, senior marketing manager at The Toro Company in Bloomington, Minnesota. “The most common is a 36-inch that puts in trenchs about six inches wide for putting in drainage systems or footing for foundations.”

“Attachments are the biggest thing for us, because they allow one piece of equipment to serve multiple functions, which allows us to put in more hours, as well as a higher use rate on our equipment,” Mason said. “It drives down the overall cost and allows for increased revenue streams in other areas.”

In addition to offering more services, having one machine handle several jobs can also be beneficial for training efficiency. “From a training standpoint, it’s a lot easier to train a worker on one single piece of equipment with power attachments rather than multiple pieces of special equipment,” said Lemcke, who does training sessions weekly and monthly to help his employees get familiar with the skid steer.

“The familiarity with the piece of equipment helps move things along, rather than having to get familiar with multiple pieces of equipment or multiple brands of equipment that have their own ways of turning on, operating or utilizing their power attachments,” explained Lemcke.

Attachments and beyond

Skid steer loaders aren’t the only power tools that come with attachments. The capabilities are almost endless for power tools, and investing in attachments can mean a whole new world of business and profit. Chainsaws can offer pruners for getting those hard-to-reach tree limbs and branches, multi-drills for power drilling wood, ice or dirt, or firewood cutters to cut down wood without grounding the chain, while also ‘holding’ the wood in place. Trimmers offer even more attachments, like bed redefiners for mulching or flowerbed edging, blowers for leaf blowing, paddles for grass and sod cleaning, and thatchers and sweepers, just to name a few.

You can get pretty much any piece of equipment to do more than it is currently doing for you by adding attachments.

While there isn’t much new being offered per se, manufacturers have been making strides in improving the existing attachments. With higher hydraulic flow, the loader can provide more performance to power high-flow, high-performance attachments, increasing productivity and enabling the attachment to perform work more efficiently and more quickly.

For instance, a high-flow trencher or auger attachment coupled to a high flow-equipped loader will run at a faster speed. It will have plenty of torque to avoid stalling in highly compacted materials.

“We’ve been increasing the hydraulic flow to our attachments, which make them work more powerfully, like a dedicated machine,” Borenstein said. “That’s the biggest change we’ve been working on with the newer machines. It makes the attachments dig faster or blow snow farther at a much stronger rate.”

To buy or not to buy? That is the question

In today’s economy, versatility is the key. Whether you decide to purchase or rent a piece of equipment, or simply add attachments to make the equipment you already own more versatile, the most important thing to remember is weighing your decision against the services you are able to offer your clients. Having a full fleet of nice equipment will get you nowhere if you don’t really need it or if it’s more cost-effective to rent it when you need it.

A good way to help determine if you need to purchase a dedicated machine is to try renting it first. Renting can help you decide if and what you should buy. It allows you to try different brands and build your customer base before you put out the money for brand new equipment.

For The Lawn Pro, who purchased their new skid-steer for around $40,000, renting Harley rakes made the most sense, since they don’t utilize rakes in the winter. Most attachments that the business uses cost around $150 a day to rent, in contrast to the purchase cost, which ranges from $3,500 to $4,500 per attachment. After renting for a while, Mason decided that purchasing eight foot push boxes for pushing snow for $3,500 a piece made the most sense, due to the of the amount of snow plowing business they were getting.

Mason relies on a formula based on purchase price and the hours per use in the year. “We want to look at how many hours we’re going to operate that machine, so we can figure it out and make a decision,” Mason said. “If we’re going to rent a harley rake at $150 a day and use it 60 days a year, it would make sense for us just to buy it. If we rented, we’d pay $6,000 a year when we could buy the rake for about $3,500.”

RM Landscape, Inc., agrees that it’s better to use a dedicated piece of equipment when there’s enough work in a specific segment. “When we started doing lots of footer installation or boxing out for patios, we bought ourselves a mini-excavator that we use often,” Lemcke said. “We want to know that we’re constantly going to have this machine running and not just bringing it in for a project here and there.”

Something else to consider when deciding on whether to purchase a dedicated piece of equipment is time management. Besides the per-day or per-hour rate of renting, you have the cost of transportation to get the equipment,and the time to go pick it up. Having to seek availability on a day or time when most rental facilities are closed can become a problem for you and your clients. There are times when it really pays to have a piece of equipment that is dedicated to doing one job. Having the equipment readily available is a huge perk.

While power attachments allow you to cut costs and train your employees more efficiently, weighing the costs of renting or purchasing can make all the difference in winning or losing. For the landscape contractor with an array of different jobs on his agenda, it’s a no-brainer that attachments are simply the way to go. Attachments can be a smart way to get more jobs done and to build profits in all four seasons. But one thing is always sure: you need to approach it strategically and do your homework.