Feb. 22 2021 06:00 AM

Look for productivity enhancements and durability when purchasing a new mower.

Having a reliable mower is key to keeping your business running, and with higher demand from customers in the past year, it might be time to add to the fleet. New mowers this year continue to build on the standby themes of doing the work more effectively, and contractors are looking to get more features to help with labor issues.

In the past few years, there’s been an increased focus on efficiency from contractors in their mower choices, says Lenny Mangnall, product manager for Exmark, Beatrice, Nebraska.

“Whether it’s larger decks, more horsepower, less maintenance or increased versatility, we’re seeing machines that can do more with less input from the operator,” he says.

That comes as a result of having more lawns to mow to increase revenue, as well as a desire by company owners to work with smaller crews, says Brad Unruh, director of new product development for Hustler Turf Equipment, Hesston, Kansas.

“Our job is to make sure our mowers are spending more time in the field and significantly less time in the shop,” Unruh says.

Ride comfort continues to also be a key trend, says Nick Minas, go-to-market manager for John Deere, Moline, Illinois.

“Another major trend has been fuel, which comes as a result of customers looking for new ways to decrease fuel costs or exploring alternative fuel options such as diesel,” Minas says.

There’s been a transition to zero-turns in the past few years as contractors continue to look for performance with comfort remaining a priority, says Dustin Shivvers, marketing manager for Country Clipper, Corydon, Iowa.

“Zero-turn mowers provide increased productivity versus traditional riding mowers,” Shivvers says. “Enhanced comfort and features reducing operator fatigue allow more ride time.”

For any style of mower, increased equipment productivity and efficiency reduces labor requirements and helps improve the service contractors deliver, Mangnall says.

“As labor continues to be an issue for contractors, getting the available workforce cross-trained on all of their equipment is paramount,” he says. “Equipment needs to be easy and intuitive to operate.” The fewer adjustments or “tricks” required to get the machine to perform to meet customer expectations, the better.

Spotting the trends

Contractors have been more willing in the past few years to shop outside their “usual” brands and spend more for features that will enhance operator experience and work output, says Shivvers.

“Purchasing a mower is an investment where rational buying considerations should take priority,” he says. “Functionality and performance go much further than styling and novelties.”

That lines up with what Mangnall is seeing, as contractors are looking for machines that are highly productive, have a low cost of ownership and are easy to train operators on.

Minas has seen contractors’ interest continue to grow in machines equipped with electronic fuel injection engines, and uptime and fuel efficiency continue to be the other top concerns.

“Commonly used in smaller block engines, we are now seeing more and more options in the mid-block range and greater,” he says.

Making the right purchase When purchasing a mower this year, keep in mind that contractors aren’t the only ones feeling the squeeze from a labor shortage, says Mangnall. Dealers are seeing increased costs for projects related to service and equipment failures.

“As a result, it’s extremely important to pick the right equipment for the job and also choose machines designed to go the distance,” he says. “We talk a lot about total cost of ownership, and contractors need to keep in mind that the upfront purchase price of equipment is only about 15% of the total cost of the machine.” The balance of that cost lies in expenses like maintenance and parts replacement.

On top of reliable equipment, it’s important to consider flexible financing and dependable dealer networks before making a purchase.

Buying equipment with higher service or maintenance requirements will often make the mower more expensive over its lifetime, Mangnall says.

“Having the wrong equipment for the job could also have a cost in customer attrition due to poor performance or an inability to service customers in a timely manner,” he says.

Contractors should always look for reliable, heavy-duty mowers that will last and can be serviced by dealers familiar with the equipment, says Unruh.

“Productivity is also a significant factor when selecting the right mower for the job,” Unruh says. “Landscapers want their investment to go the distance.”

Irrigation & Green Industry would like to thank Grasshopper for sponsoring the 2021 Mower Comparison Charts.

The author is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at kylebrown@igin.com.