Talking points

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Contractors had a chance to give John Deere their input on a variety of issues.

August 13, 2012
Brian Horn

RALEIGH N.C. – Business is steady, delegating is a difficult process and alternative fuels aren’t catching on according to contractors who attended a John Deere customer fly-in held at the company’s Turf Care factory near Raleigh, N.C.

The topics came up during roundtable discussions as part of the two-day event that helps the company understand current and potential customers. Contractors also got a tour of the factory and a chance to ride some of the company’s mowers, skid-steers and ATVs. The overall feeling from contractors was that, while business is steady, it’s been a struggle the past couple of years for some to stay ahead of the game.

Stephen McFarland, president of Grounds Management in Maryland Heights, Mo., said when cash flow catches up, he’ll put some of that into savings, but it’s hard to build up reserves.

“Our cash flow,” he said “has been an issue for the first time in a long time.” Other topics contractors touched upon included:

Stepping away. Dave and Jeff Sajovie, owners of Sajovie Brothers in Northeast Ohio, have gone through a ten-year battle trying to step out of the field and concentrate more on the business and office work. Their thought is that they would rather pay someone to do work in the field where they can make money, rather than hire office help. But the key to being able to step away is to develop foremen so you can feel comfortable being away from job sites.

Alternative fuels.
None of the contractors were hearing from too many customers asking for alternative fuels like propane or ethanol. But, some were seeing it from dealers. “It’s not a hard push, but it’s a push,” McFarland said.

Less cleanup. Saving time is always something contractors value, which is why many there were impressed with Deere’s riding mower mulch-on-demand option – an option they’d like to see on 60-inch decks and walk-behind mowers. While mulching kits are an option, they don’t do the job as well because operators have to slow the mower down to make sure it mulches correctly. Even then, in high, wet grass, it still leaves clumps.

“You have to find ways to save that extra step,” Duncan said.

Comfort versus cut. When it came to spending money on a comfortable ride versus one that gives a better cut, contractors had mixed opinions. The pro-comfort side said that they think their crews will mow more and work harder if they are able to enjoy a smoother ride.

The Sajovies raved about stand-on mowers saying there wasn’t much difference in quality, adding their operators had an easier time getting off and on them to pick up debris. “They hate them the first two days, and then they don’t want to sit down,” David said.

Buy or lease. James Duncan, owner of Outdoor Precision in Foristell, Mo., said he prefers to lease equipment that will be driven by a number of different employees, like his skid-steer. “When you have multiple guys using it, it just gets torn down,” he said.

Stocking parts. Contractors said they had issues with buying extra parts, putting them on a shelf and either losing them or forgetting they had them. Then, after realizing they have too many of one part, they have to waste time taking the part back to the store or the dealer.

Setting a minimum number of parts in stock left on a shelf is an effective way to remind workers when they need to place an order.

Easy money. A couple contractors pushed low voltage lighting as an easy way to improve your profitability.

“We pushed it as a safety issue,” said Zac Terrill, owner of Terrill Landscaping in St. Louis.

Terrill said he does free demos for customers as a way of enticing them to buy the service.