Using specialized mower attachments can free up time, manpower and cash, allowing contractors to take on more clients and streamline their current workload. Contractors say it just takes time and practice to find the right fit.
Geoff Proffitt, president and director of sales and marketing at Hedge Above, based in Wapello, Iowa, has one “go-to” attachment: the Grass Gobbler. This small metal cage with handles sits on a mounting bracket and is designed to catch grass while mowing for customers that want their lawns bagged. However, Proffitt uses his attachments for spring and fall cleanup to pick up leaves. He does not bag regular clippings for customers throughout the year.
It comes on and off the mower in 30 seconds and is so easy to remove, Proffitt says his 12-year-old daughter could do it. This is key to the efficiency of the attachment as crews will often remove the attachment to dump debris several times during use.
“You want to consider safety,” he says. “When a guy’s out in the field, or a gal, and has to take that off repeatedly and dump the leaves out, you don’t want something that they’re going to struggle with.”
Hedge Above provides landscape and bed maintenance to residential and commercial customers. The company employs 16 people and annual revenue for 2015 is projected at $850,000.
Ed Hoffman, director of production for Clarence Davids & Company, serving the Chicago area, says his top attachment is a mulching kit that mounts under the deck where the mower blades are. The kit helps grind clippings during mowing and provides a clean cut without any collection of clippings on the turf.
“It’s staying right on the lawn,” he says.
The right time
Different attachments aid different seasons. Proffitt says he uses Grass Gobblers primarily in the spring and fall for cleanup of leaves. The attachment is meant to pick up clippings year-round, so other contractors may find this tool to be something they use on an ongoing basis.
Mulching decks are used year-round at ArtisTree, based in Florida. The turbine blower and edger attachments are typically used most in the summertime, Casper adds.
“Our season is in the summer here. When it reaches temperatures in the mid-90s to upper-90s, obviously plants are growing very aggressively – the grass and the shrubs,” he says. “We mow every week in the summer so when we get around back to cutting a certain area, there could be 3 or 4 or 5 inches of growth on the grass itself. So imagine that being cut off and kind of spit out onto the roadways and sidewalks.”
At Clarence Davids & Co., Hoffman says that the mulching kit is a huge benefit in the fall when leaf buildup is at its height.
“Usually I just leave them on the whole year,” he says. “(They are) a big benefit in the spring with spring cleanups, blowing out the beds and then you mulch up all the debris that comes out of the beds.”
Michael Casper, operations manager of production for ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design, headquartered in Venice, Fla., says his company also uses a mulching deck on all 60 of its mowers.
ArtisTree is a full service maintenance and design company focused on serving large residential communities. They employ 250 people during peak season and annual revenue is $16 million.
“We do not discharge any grass. We mulch it, and we do that for many reasons … for the health of the turf, the environment,” Casper says.
Additionally, Casper uses a turbine blower attachment on some mowers, in particular when mowing roadways. The attachment provides cleanup along the way and is quicker and more efficient than a simple backpack blower, he says.
Saving time and money.
In every case, the use of attachments saves both time and money, the contractors say.
“It benefits our company timewise because we’re using less time to mow because we’re not collecting clippings,” Hoffman says of the mulching kit. “That is really time consuming – to bag your clippings. And it helps with your disposal costs because all your debris is staying on site where it belongs, and it also helps environmentally because you’re recycling that debris back into the lawn.”
This means Hoffman has fewer employees assigned to each job. Hoffman estimates the use of the mulching kit, along with not bagging clippings, has led to a 15 to 20 percent reduction in manpower on a job. “It’s significant,” he says.
Company-wide, Clarence Davids & Co. employs 250 people and annual revenue is at $18.5 million. It offers maintenance and landscape construction primarily to commercial and multi-family living spaces.
Casper says he has done internal case studies with the turbine blowers. In a year’s time, he found he was able to reduce a six-man crew to a five-man crew because of the time saved using the blower. One challenge, however, has been customer perception associated with this smaller and more efficient crew. “You have to put yourself in their shoes to kind of see that those efficiencies can actually hurt you because it’s very competitive business,” he says.
“The faster you go or the more efficient that you are, the perception is that you’re going too fast.” Some customers, in turn, think they should be charged less for service, Casper says.
In order to combat this, Casper says he points out how thorough his crew is, showing an employee will still use a backpack blower to double check the job. With the Grass Gobblers, Proffitt estimates that using them reduces time spent on a job by 60 percent.
“I know the amount of time that it takes to do a typical fall cleanup using nothing but backpack blowers, tarps and rakes versus the way we’re doing it now,” he says. “It’s just a huge, huge timesaver.”
Both Proffitt and Hoffman say the training involved with the attachments they use is minimal. In the case of the mulching kit, once it’s installed, the kit simply stays in place, Hoffman says.
Advice for research and purchasing.
Contractors say it’s important to thoroughly research and think about the intended purpose of an attachment before buying them for the entire fleet.
Proffitt purchased his Grass Gobblers new after deciding it would be too challenging to try and fabricate his own. “That’s not what we’re in the business of doing,” he says.
“Let’s stay focused on our core business of mowing and chemical lawn applications.” For busy contractors, it can help to have an employee designated to perform the research and sourcing of these attachments. For Proffitt, that responsibility fell to his director of retail services, maintenance and safety.
Casper also recommends purchasing equipment new and building a strong relationship with a local vendor.
“You don’t know what you’re getting when you buy a used piece of equipment,” he says. “You don’t know how it’s been treated. You don’t know whether that person used that equipment properly in the manner it was made to be used, so therefore we just buy everything new.”
Other considerations include if an attachment will impact mower size, and if it will impact the organization and size of the company’s trailer, Casper adds.
“If that attachment goes down, every minute it’s down obviously you’re spending more time on the job manually than you would be with that attachment,” he says.
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.