April 24 2019 06:00 AM

Mini skid steers and compact loaders may be small, but the advantages they add can make a huge difference to a landscape business.

The physical demands of a career in landscaping can be challenging at times, but it makes the job a whole lot easier when you have powerful tools and equipment. Mini skid steers and compact loaders are tough little machines that serve as a valuable part of a landscape team, helping your crews accomplish superhuman feats in record time.

It’s safe to say that landscape contractors rarely regret buying a mini skid steer or compact loader. In fact, it seems like the only regret they have is not getting one sooner. Maybe you’re considering investing in one for the first time or are simply looking to upgrade.

The landscape pros featured in this story share what their purchasing processes were and how these machines have helped their operations. Their experiences show why mini skid steers and compact loaders have become a must-have for many in the landscape industry.

Getting more work in

One of the biggest draws to using these machines is their ability to operate in a variety of site conditions and navigate tricky terrains thanks in part to tracks that offer stability on soft terrain.

“When you have a track machine, you’re able to get anywhere on a job site at any time no matter what kind of conditions there are,” says Andy Mulder, owner of Mulder Maintenance and Services in Crown Point, Indiana. We’re able to get more productive days in the season because of this machine and with it being tracked.”

The 2018 Takeuchi TL10V2 compact track loader he bought in late 2017 has become essential to his business. It’s allowed his crew to work in any type of conditions. Mud, rocky ground, sand, you name it.

“Honestly, it just helps us do more work,” says Mulder. “It helps our company be more efficient and more profitable, and we get more workable days because of the equipment we own.”

Simple and safe

Mulder did his research before investing in this workhorse and shopped around for six months before ultimately making his choice. While working at other companies, he operated a couple of other machines from different manufacturers, so he had a few ideas about what did and didn’t like.

While price was a factor, scoring a bargain wasn’t what Mulder was after. He was more concerned with things like horsepower, lift capacity and other features.

“I’m not going to stay in this business for only a couple years. I’m in it for the long haul, so I knew that I wanted to purchase something that was going to last,” he says.

He liked the hydraulic system and controls of the Takeuchi unit. For him the machine provides precision and wasn’t as jerky of a ride as some of the others he’d tried. “Overall, one of the reasons I went with Takeuchi was the ease of operation and how smooth they are to drive,” he says.

He’s also a big fan of the how the door works. “It comes up over your head, and it doesn’t swing out,” Mulder explains.

That functionality allows operators to open the door with the arms in any position. They can get in and out of the machine even if the arms are up slightly. This was a critical safety feature for Mulder, knowing that his crew members can get out of the machine quickly if needed.

Needless to say he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse.

“It’s just overall a great machine to run, especially when you’re using attachments,” he says.

Of course many other makes and models are available, and just like buying a truck or picking out a new outfit, nothing is one-size-fits-all. Luckily, there are many sizes, styles and manufacturers out there to accommodate varying needs.

Moving mountains

So-Cal Ponds Inc. in Los Angeles understands the power and lift benefits that skid steers and compact loaders can provide. The company specializes in designing and building koi ponds and water features, as well as the occasional design-build of landscapes.

Its owner, Dominic Carone, says that for a long time he and his crew were doing pond repairs and maintenance. But now that they’re working on bigger projects, they needed the ability to lift more weight easily.

The company got its first mini skid steer last fall, a Vermeer S925TX. With the rate the company has been growing, Carone says that he either needed to hire two more guys or buy a machine. Simply put, the machine won.

“We’re using large boulders that weigh up to 1,000 pounds, so having that piece of machinery onsite just makes us way more efficient,” says Carone.

Their average project has 10 to 20 tons of large boulders, and moving them by hand just isn’t practical or safe. “It’s a lot more fun to use a machine moving a 1,000-pound rock than our backs,” he says.

The mini allows his team to move material with less risk of injury, fatigue and pinched fingers.

Solid support

Because the yards in LA are on the small side, finding a mini skid steer with a compact design was key. On average, the yards they work in are 10,000 to 15,000 square feet. “I needed to be able to get into backyards that have 36-inch-wide gates, so anything bigger or wider wouldn’t have worked,” he says.

The mini skid steer allows them to quickly get around sites without destroying the yard, as well as better position rocks around the landscape or pond.

But it was the good dealer support that sealed the deal for Carone. When he reached out to Vermeer, he says a rep promptly responded and answered all his questions. “Because they called me and provided a quote right away and then followed up for two months before I actually bought the machine, I felt like they were going to take care of me.”

Carone adds, “If there’s any issues with it, they come pick up the machine and do the service. If there’s any problems with it for more than a day or two, they give us a loader for free, so I really like that support.”

A mighty team member

Just about every contractor who uses mini skid steers or compact loaders talks about the incredible efficiency they offer. Caleb Auman is no exception. “It’s been a huge labor saver and labor replacer. It’s allowing us to get more productivity out of our guys.” Auman owns and operates Auman Landscape LLC in Carroll, Ohio, together with his wife, Brittany. He says the biggest gain they’ve had by using these machines is they’ve allowed their company to grow without adding staff. Even moving a small pile of dirt, using a mini skid steer is a whole lot easier than doing it with a shovel and wheelbarrow. “It’s helped us be more productive with less labor and less strain. I just can’t even understate that. It’s just such a layer of efficiency, it’s incredible,” says Auman.

Three years ago they upgraded from their well-worn starter machine, a Ditch Witch SK500. Looking for a newer, lower-hour machine, they purchased a Ditch Witch SK750, which is what they use now. “The 750 was a total game changer for our company because it was so fast and reliable.” While Auman also has a Bobcat T595 skid steer, he says the mini is great for certain projects, like small residential backyard patios, where you physically can’t use a full-size skid steer.

Purchasing considerations

“Whoever’s offering the best warranty is a big consideration,” says Auman. Machines today are very complex with intricate mechanical parts and electronics. Long gone are the days of playing mechanic and fixing issues yourself. Auman says that just about any issue you have today requires going to the dealer, and nobody wants to pay a dealer to fix a problem if it’s not covered by the warranty.

When it comes to buying used or new, Auman recommends buying new, if you can afford it. “It doesn’t make sense to buy used machinery right now, because we looked at used machines and the hours on them were sky high. They were a couple of years old, and they were only 20 percent below the dealer price of a brand-new similar model,” says Auman. “It makes zero sense to buy a machine for that many hours when you could buy it brand new with a warranty.”

But, with that said, Auman says that when you’re getting your first mini skid steer, it doesn’t matter too much the exact brand, model or year you go with. Why? Because it’ll get the job done and “the efficiency gains are just insane.”

The Takeuchi, Vermeer and Ditch Witch mini skid steers and compact loaders are just a few examples of what’s available on the market. Just remember, no matter what you decide to go with, you’ll most likely be satisfied with the power and efficiency these machines add to your team. It’ll have you wondering why you didn’t start using them sooner.

The author is digital content editor of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at sarahbunyea@igin.com.

Dig deeper

How do these models stack up against the rest of the skid steer and compact loaders on the market? Check out the 2019 Mini Skid Steer and Compact Track Loader Comparison Chart available here.