Little fighters

Features - Design/Build

Compact equipment’s size, might and versatility make it an essential component of a landscape contractor’s arsenal of machines.

May 1, 2013
Jason Stahl

Joe Markell, president of Sunrise Landscape and Design in Sterling, Va., can’t imagine life without compact equipment. “We use them for snow removal, loading, digging, auguring and forking material around on a job site,” says Markell, referring to his skid-steers. Markell says that he has six different attachments, from forks to different size buckets to an auger. He will also rent other attachments like a Harley rake when needed. “Our mini skid-steer can fit through a 36-inch gate, which is nice and allows us to do heavier digging,” Markell says.

John Vranches, national sales manager for Takeuchi, puts it best when he calls the skid-steer loader the “Swiss Army knife” of landscape equipment. “This is due to the wide range of attachments available with a universal skid-steer bracket,” Vranches says. “This gives the customer versatility because they can either buy or rent these various attachments for multiple job applications.” And let’s not forget wheel loaders. With a lower operating cost due to reduced fuel consumption because of less horsepower and less tire wear due to the machine not skidding on surfaces, contractors have reason to pause when weighing a wheel loader versus a skid-steer.

“There is a higher initial cost with (wheel) loaders, but overall, the operational cost is reduced over time,” Vranches says. “Also, you have greater visibility because you’re sitting so high, you get more bucket breakout force and travel speeds are higher.”


The author is a freelancer based in Cleveland.

Photo Courtesy of Takeuchi


To own or not to own

Whether to buy or rent compact equipment comes down use.

The decision on whether to buy or lease a piece of equipment for Joe Markell comes down to one simple thing: Is he going to use that piece of equipment enough to justify owning it? If the answer is no, he leases it. Mini-excavators are a perfect example.

“It’s not worth buying an $80,000 machine that we’re going to use one to two times per month,” says Markell, president of Sunrise Landscape and Design in Sterling, Va. “We’re getting to the point where it can be a pain to rent because we have to go pick up the piece of equipment or have it delivered. But again, it’s really the cost of the machine versus our demand for it.”

Many landscape contractors prefer to buy, capitalize and depreciate their equipment, says George Chaney, international sales manager with JCB. But as in Markell’s case, Chaney says that contractors will typically only buy machines they use a lot. Buying versus leasing trends usually reflect the current state of the economy.

“During more difficult economic times, having rental options allows customers to complete their project while conserving their cash flow and lines of credit,” says Kubota Product Manager Keith Rohrbacker.

This has been the case the last several years, but now with the economy rebounding, things may change depending on whether people believe this rebound will sustain itself or be short-lived.

“We feel, however, that more contractors will be a bit more cautious and rent equipment rather than commit to a large capital investment,” Chaney says.

The rising price of construction equipment due in part to EPA regulations has contributed to a trend toward leasing over the last couple years since the monthly payment tends to be lower.

“We’ve seen a lot of that,” says John Vranches, national sales manager for Takeuchi. “Last year, 25 percent of our compact equipment market was rental.”

Vranches says, however, that with low interest rates that look as though they’ll stay low for the foreseeable future, it’s never been a better time to buy than now.