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BEST OF THE WEB: Divide and Conquer

Business Management

Should mowing and pruning crews be two separate entities, or is it more efficient to have one crew manage both? Online message board users share their methods.

July 15, 2008

Is there more than one right way to organize mowing and pruning crews and maintain productivity? Jerry Zezas wondered this as he examined the setup at his company, Blue Heron Irrigation and Landscape in Nokomis, Fla., and considered splitting the crew into separate groups to conquer the tasks. He enlisted the help of Lawn & Landscape online message board users to see if he was making the right decision in terms of efficiency.

TRYING TWO. Zezas’ project manager suggested separating the mowing and pruning crews on the company’s larger commercial accounts. “He says the efficiency of personnel just doing mowing or just doing pruning will make up for the additional travel time and fuel expense,” Zezas posts.
 
The manager proposed creating one mowing crew that mows properties weekly and one pruning crew that prunes monthly. “He’s convinced that two smaller crews will create more efficiency for our larger properties.”
 
Todd McCabe sees merit in breaking down the crews because it can be more efficient. “The thing I don’t like about having a mowing crew pruning is that you are going to have a truck or trailer sitting with about $10,000-20,000 in mowers and equipment that is not being productive,” says the president of McCabe Landscape Group in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. “I like for my mowers to be mowing and not sitting on the truck.”
 
Not only does Bill Atwood want his mowing crews to make the most of the equipment they haul, but he also doesn’t want to fill the trucks with additional items as the day goes on that would make it harder to access the mowers.
 
“(Mowing crews) do not do any pruning as that will fill the landscape trailer with limbs and other debris and make it difficult to get mowers in and out of the trailer,” says the owner of Bill’s Complete Lawncare and Landscaping in Trumbull, Texas. “We cannot afford to have $60,000 worth of equipment sitting still to prune a few trees or bushes.”
 
Atwood’s mowing crew’s responsibilities include mowing, edging, trimming and blowing off hard surfaces. They also perform some weeding and spray weed killer in sidewalk cracks when necessary.
 
His pruning crew maintains oak trees, palm trees, crepe myrtle trees and any other large shrubs or bushes in need of care. In addition, the crew tackles mulch installation, seasonal color, fertilization, aeration and any other tasks the mowing crew doesn’t perform.
  
Chuck Twist found a slightly different way to make the separation work. He has three to four crews that mow and one that trims and does odd jobs.
 
“Since there are not enough hours to keep the trim crews busy all day, they only work a half day trimming and then they come in in the evenings, after the mowing crews have finished for the day and clean and service all the equipment and trucks,” says the president of TNT Lawn and Landscape in Stillwater, Okla. “They clean the shop and organize everything so that the mow crews only need to come in in the mornings, grab their route sheets and go.”
 
The challenge Twist encounters is that many employees don’t enjoy working evenings.
 
Twist adds there is one other employee who mows on a tractor with a grooming mower two days a week, but his main job is attending to the mowing and trimming crews’ needs. He is responsible for finding the parts that are needed, making repairs in the field and monitoring the quality of field and shop operations.

COMBINED EFFORTS. Some posters think forming two separate crews might create the opposite of the desired effect. Pruning all day could get boring and cause the crew to work less efficiently, they say.
 
Another notion was that a combined crew can be the way to go if it’s managed properly, says Bob Keating of Liberty Land Management in Palm Harbor, Fla. He learned by experience that separate crews didn’t work well for his company because the pruning crew didn’t maintain properties frequently enough, leaving them looking unkempt between visits, he posts on the message board.
 
“The property, by getting a full trim each visit, looks better consistently. The weeds are tended to quicker. There are fewer trimmings to trim and pick up. The annual beds get tended to quicker. And more importantly, I have fewer vehicles on the road, along with fewer people,” he says. “I can just look at my maintenance profit margin now versus (with separate crews) and know for a fact that I run a well-oiled machine.”
 
In Keating’s case, the trim crew handles soft bed edging, tree canopies and palms to 12 feet, and the overall detail of the property. The mow crew edges the hard surface, mows, trims and blows the clippings.
 
In terms of enhancement and small landscaping jobs, Keating says a different crew is warranted because he bills clients extra for that work instead of billing it as part of the standard maintenance contract. LL


 

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