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October 4, 2013
Lawn & Landscape

Briggs unveils new engine

The company wants to fill a need in the turf market.

By Brian Horn

Auburn, Ala. –Briggs & Stratton engineers had you in mind when they designed their latest line of engines.

The company’s new line of Vanguard 810cc engines, available in 24 or 26 gross horsepower models, for commercial zero-turn mowers were designed specifically to withstand the most extreme conditions a landscaper will face. The company invited Lawn & Landscape to its Auburn, Ala., plant to get an up-close look at the engines, learn how they are made, and to speak with company executives about the product. Dan Roche, marketing manager of commercial power, said company officials visited with contractors and service personnel at companies of all sizes and in all different parts of the country to find out what they wanted from an engine.

“What they told us was they are looking for an engine tht won’t back down and has enough torque to get the job done every day,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of turbulent weather throughout the last couple of years. We’ve had contractors trying to catch up on the grass they haven’t been able to cut, so there’s a lot of thick heavy wet grass being cut.”

The engine was designed with an improved debris chopper fan, which will provide up to 30-degree cooler engine temps, and a high-flow blower housing, which Roche says has a 30 percent larger intake surface area than the next-closest competitor.

In addition, contractors will feel less vibrating from this engine because it has a dynamically balanced crank shaft and fly wheel, which provides a smoother ride, Roche said.

“They are also going to be very satisfied with the amount of sound that’s coming out of the engine,” he said. “We’ve really controlled that as well.”

The engines will not be produced on a mass assembly line. Instead certified Briggs & Stratton Master Service Technicians (MST) will build them at the all-new Vanguard Certified Production Center located in the company’s Auburn plant. While the MST will have to pay very special attention to detail, the project was also a massive undertaking from an engineering perspective.

“(It’s) the biggest commercial engine effort Briggs & Stratton has put forward since the Big Block engines were introduced in 2005,” said Steve Lavender, senior director of engineering – engines group.

The 810 is the only commercial engine being built in America by Briggs & Stratton, and company officials expect it to be ready to go Jan. 1, 2014, although they couldn’t say which mower manufacturers would be using the engines. More details on that will be available at the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky., Oct 24-26.

Other features include:  

High-flow blower housing
More than 30 percent larger intake surface area than the next-closest competitor.  

2014-compliant static guard
Conforms to new ANSI B71.4 safety regulations and ensures proper cooling.  

Remote cyclonic air cleaner
Provides longer life in dusty conditions.  

New Vanguard head and seats
Gaseous engine valve seats and high-temp valves withstand all-day cutting head temperatures.

Automotive S2N material pistons
With advanced pin-design and the top compression ring is plasma-coated for durability and oil control.

Forged connecting rods
Large bearing surface and BIG BLOCK aluminum casting process for added density and strength.  

Fire ring head gaskets
Motorsports design maintains seal of higher combustion pressures.


Photos courtesy of Briggs & Stratton and Brian Horn


Summer ’storming

J.R. Huston’s 2013 summer Brainstorming Meeting proved to be enlightening and valuable for contractors. By Heather Tunstall

MARLBORO, Mass. – This year’s summer Brainstorming Meeting, put on by Jim Huston, industry consultant and Lawn & Landscape columnist, took place in August in Marlboro, Mass. With about a dozen contractors in attendance, the group discussed common problems, strategies and equipment.

The event included a day and a half of brainstorming meetings and a full day of job site visits around the greater Boston area. “We want to provide substance dealing with company structure, other topics such as employee issues, production issues, those types of things,” Huston said.

Despite the varying geographic and economic situations of each contractor, many had the same concerns. “It’s amazing that we are all experiencing the same problems,” said Greg Wrenn, owner of Past the Gate, Martinez, Calif.

Man hours. Labor production rates became one of the hottest topics of discussion, with contractors offering how many man hours it takes their crews to complete certain tasks.

Mowing, hardscaping, softscaping, design work – all of these have different production rates and vary based on a number of factors such as difficulty, terrain and materials.

Huston said when talking about softscape, commercial production rates are dramatically different than residential, and it’s likely to be the case for masonry as well.

As for warranted time, he suggested adding one man hour per crew day.

Outfit crews. Stephen Roberts, owner of Stephen A. Roberts Landscape Architecture & Construction in Springfield, Mass., uses storage bins with each crew assigned to specific tools. Employees were losing tools and there was no accountability.

So, he purchased large shipping containers, rather than trailers, and assigned and color-coded the equipment for his crews. The investment was $3,000 for 4 x 4 x 5 ft. boxes and equipment expenses, and it has virtually eliminated his problem of lost tools, no accountability and one crew taking tools that another crew needs.

Project management. The group talked about different ways to keep track of jobs. Options included implementing white boards or using timeline sheets and project management and estimating software to determine how long it takes to complete a task, then managing a project based on the estimate.

“I think it was helpful to drill down into some of these companies and think about the specifics of managing the people and the production rates related to what we do,” said Mark Olsen, a landscape architect at Landwright, North Hampton, N.H.

“They’re questions that you always struggle with, and it’s important to see how different systems can be helpful.”

Young Leader Scholarship winner announced

CLEVELAND – Matthew McKernan, a junior at Kansas State University, has been named Lawn & Landscape’s 2013 Young Leader Scholarship recipient. “I am honored to have been chosen for this scholarship,” McKernan said. “I am looking forward to a great junior year ahead of me and I know that there is a lot that I can learn!”

Lawn & Landscape chose him as the recipient of the 2013 Young Leader Scholarship winner in recognition of his ability to make a lasting impact on the green industry.

“Choosing one winner from a field of more than 30 strong applicants is difficult,” said Chuck Bowen, L&L editor. “But Matthew has clearly demonstrated his ability and motivation to make a positive difference in the landscape industry. We’re happy to help him along that path.”

McKernan is a 4.0 student who is heavily involved in extracurricular activities as well as community volunteering, concentrating his academic and personal contributions on the green industry. Majoring in Horticulture with a Landscape Management focus, McKernan has developed leadership experience as the KSU Horticulture Club Vice President, and as chair of several horticulture club committees, including the Christmas Wreath Sale Committee and the PLANET Landscape Contracting Team Committee.

McKernan’s efforts and abilities have been acknowledged by the KSU faculty, as well as community members with whom he has volunteered.

At this year’s PLANET Student Career Days competition in Auburn, Ala., McKernan placed 1st overall in the individual landscape plant install competition and 24th in the Leadership Skills competition out of 71 schools. He and his fellow KSU team members placed 7th overall at the competition.

McKernan is also KSU College of Agriculture’s Secretary and Treasurer of the Agriculture Competition Teams Council, which raised $19,000 for competition teams through the Student Government Association this year.

Off campus, McKernan improves his community by putting his horticulture skills to work. He has logged more than 970 hours of volunteer service at Botanica, The Wichita Gardens in Wichita, Kan., where he has led a diverse group of volunteers. In addition, McKernan volunteers his time maintaining the St. Jude Church and School flowerbeds in Wichita.

Goldenberg says goodbye

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Norman Goldenberg, senior vice president of government affairs and industry relations for Terminix, has announced plans to retire from the company at the end of this year. He plans to continue working with Terminix on a consultative basis through 2015.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to have Norm on the Terminix team for the past 23 years,” said Larry Pruitt, president of Terminix. “We will miss him greatly, and are indebted to his efforts and contributions that have helped propel Terminix and the industry to where it is today.”

Goldenberg graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in entomology. He held various management roles in the pest control industry before launching his own company in the late 1980s. Goldenberg joined Terminix and TruGreen in 1990, representing industry issues on the local, state and national levels. He also was responsible for helping to strengthen relationships with franchisees, manufacturers and distributors, as well as overseeing the company’s product sales division.

He is past president of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), the Florida Pest Management Association (FPMA), Project EverGreen and the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) and currently serves on the board of directors for Project EverGreen and PLANET.

In 2004, Goldenberg was bestowed the highest honor the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) can award – the Pinnacle Award. This honor recognizes lifetime dedication to the pest management industry. He has received numerous other industry commendations, including the President’s and Pioneer Awards from the FPMA, Hall of Fame, 25 Most Influential, and Professional of the Year honors from Pest Control Technology magazine. He often lends his pest management and lawn care expertise to various forums and has presented to legislatures, regulatory agencies and Congress.

5 Questions with Dan Ariens

L&L Publisher Pat Jones caught up with Dan Ariens at the Delta Center in Milwaukee as he finished last-minute preparations for the company’s 80th birthday party for 350 dealers and guests.

1. Why do anniversaries matter to customers?
I think knowing that the company had been around long enough to weather a lot of storms and keep innovating is important to any customer. I think it shows we have stamina. It tells customers we’ve been around, we’re going to be around and we’re going to be here when they need us.

2. What lessons from your business experience do you try to share with contractors and the other businesses you serve?
The older I get the more I come back to the simple idea that it’s really important to have strong people who really care about what they do. Everything else – process, procedures, business systems – are all kind of secondary. It’s who does them and how they do them that matters.

3. Ariens motto is about “astounding customers.” What’s one thing people probably don’t know about Ariens that would astound them?
I’ll give you one great example. We have a lot of Sno-Thros out there that are over 30 years old and our people will go to great lengths to help customers keep them running. We seem to have a lot of products that run for 25, 35 or even 45 years so customers are sometimes amazed that we’ll help them keep them going.

4. What do you admire in other companies that you’d still like to see within yours?
Being consistent year over year for a century or more. We have some great competitors who’ve achieved that and I really admire that kind of track record.

5. Ariens has touched millions of American lives over eight decades. How does it feel to know you’re part of that history?
It’s a very proud moment. I’ve been here 30 years and my Dad (Mike, the previous CEO) has been part of the company for 54 years. It’s momentous for us. Not all of us (in the Ariens family) are in the business but we all share the pride.

We’re a small company in northeast Wisconsin that employs thousands. It’s an important moment to pause to remember that ... and then get back to work!

Sebert gets the gold

BARTLETT, Ill. – Sebert Landscaping, based in Bartlett, Ill., was first notified by the U.S. Green Building Council – Illinois Chapter in January that it’s corporate office achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. In August, the USGBC’s LEED Gold plaque arrived to make it even more official.

USGBC – Illinois chapter executives presented the plaque to owner and founder Jeff Sebert at an event Sebert hosted for the chapter.

Members toured the building, whose eco-friendliness includes a 6,500-square-foot green roof, a 5,000-gallon water feature, a rain garden, native plantings and permeable paving that all help to detain stormwater and reduce local flooding, along with solar panels and an array of other green building features. “A project like this would be nearly impossible without the talent and commitment of a whole team of professionals,” Sebert said. “From our architect to our own senior managers, a lot of people really delivered to make this vision a reality.”

Sebert was one of L&L’s 2012 Environmental Business Award winners, which you can read about by visiting bit.ly/lleba2012.

ValleyCrest adds Asten as executive vice president and chief financial officer

CALABASAS, Calif. – ValleyCrest Landscape Cos. announced the addition of Gareth Asten to its executive team. Asten joins the Calabasas, Calif.-based firm as executive vice president and chief financial officer.

“We’re excited to have Gareth on board. His blend of operational experience and financial expertise, coupled with a proven track record of cultivating sustainable growth is a valuable combination,” ValleyCrest CEO Roger Zino said.

Asten said: “ValleyCrest’s market leadership is impressive; the opportunity to have a hand in shepherding that continued success is an attractive one. ValleyCrest is a company with both a storied history and a promising future. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.” Asten has more than 20 years’ experience in corporate finance, operations and business leadership. His experience includes strategic planning, driving profitable growth and capital and financial strategies.

Prior to joining ValleyCrest, Gareth served in various roles at Bolthouse Farms, a grower and processor of fresh carrots, natural juice beverages and smoothies. Most recently he served as vice president of finance and planning, and played an instrumental role in building the finance team.

Previously he served as senior associate at Willis Stein & Partners; acting chief financial officer/vice president of business development and planning at Ubiquity Brands; and mergers and acquisitions analyst at Lazard Freres.

Asten holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from DePaul University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

ServiceMaster names new CFO

Memphis, Tenn. – Alan Haughie has joined ServiceMaster as senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer. He will report to ServiceMaster CEO Robert Gillette.

Haughie joins Memphis-based ServiceMaster from Federal-Mogul, a diversified $6.7 billion global supplier of aftermarket products for automotive, light commercial, heavy-duty and off-highway vehicles, as well as power generation, aerospace, marine, rail and industrial equipment.

“One of my top priorities since arriving at ServiceMaster has been filling key positions on my executive team with talented leaders who are passionate about what they do and want to win,” Gillette said. “Alan’s background is an excellent fit for us.”

Haughie’s career with Federal-Mogul included more than five years as vice president, controller and chief accounting officer for the company’s global operations, as well as various financial planning, analysis and management positions in the company’s European aftermarket business, based in Manchester, U.K.

He joined Federal-Mogul in 1994 after working in a number of audit roles with Ernst & Young L.L.P. in the United Kingdom. Alan is a chartered accountant and earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at University of Manchester (U.K.).

David Martin, who has been serving as ServiceMaster’s interim CFO since November, will assist Haughie during the transition while the company identifies other significant executive opportunities for him within the company.

Martin has held a number of executive roles within the ServiceMaster finance team since joining the company in 2005 as vice president and CFO of the company’s Terminix subsidiary. He also previously served as ServiceMaster’s senior vice president, controller and chief accounting officer.


We struck a nerve

Our August cover story – a first-person account by contractor Phil Sarros about his struggles with his work/life balance – really struck a chord with you. Here’s what Sarros told editor Chuck Bowen, followed by letters he received about the article.

I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that I’ve received several emails from other contractors in various parts of the country that have thanked me for the last article. I really feel honored because I am just like them in so many ways.

Their messages got me thinking more and more about ways to keep up with taking care of ourselves and my thoughts are now building momentum. What I’ve realized is that, as contractors, we really don’t have a lot of people we are close with. We talk to our customers our employees and our families but we really don’t have much time for friends or the “co-worker experience.” I think an online community of contractors working on the common goal of reducing stress and burnout might be a great way to help a large group of people. – Phil Sarros

Major emergency

In our business, right at the time when my husband Tom was the president of ALCA – one of the two legacy organizations that later became PLANET – Tom became very ill. He was at the epitome of his career – had built a successful landscape business here in Colorado, was president of the national organization with which he’d been involved for many years and a dad with two young children.

He also worked hard to stay in shape and ran a few miles almost every day. He was on an ALCA leadership retreat in the wilds of Wisconsin (Crystal Ball) and thought he was having a heart attack and was rushed to the ER from O’Hare before catching his flight home. He had a heart procedure and also developed serious panic disorder as a result.

The trauma of all of that and the pressure of the business were just more than he could bear. Fortunately, he survived the initial heart event, but has since had a heart attack and bypass surgery – but was never able to find his way back to his former self. That initial event happened about 20 years ago and the business survived just a few years after he became ill. Tom lives a much quieter life now in California.

I think the point in our story (that applies to many businesses) is that when businesses are built around a charismatic leader/entrepreneur who’s the “front man” primarily to the public (clients) and also the leader within the business, it’s a serious challenge to maintain momentum when that person is no longer in the picture. Internally, it impacts morale and externally, it threatens client trust.

Because I have lived the worst case scenario in Phil’s story, I am grateful that you have printed it – and hopefully, he can be an inspiration to others so they and their businesses stay on a healthy track. 

Becky Garber, director of communications, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado

Dancing shoes

Just sitting here after working in the field this 75-hour short week. Not my typical week. I usually don’t work in the field, but have to work on Saturday to catch up with bidding. My son just walked in and I invited him to go out with me next weekend to have a few brews. I appreciate your column. I want to give up and walk away from my business too. I have been in business for 31 years. I use dancing as my way to relax and unwind. It keeps me sane when I start to feel like I am going crazy. Thank you for being honest about how things really are. It makes it easy to face life when I know others are experiencing the same challenges I do.

Fred Anderson, president, Anderson Landscape Construction, Sterling, Mass.  

Strength in numbers

I wanted to write you today to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your article in the Lawn & Landscape magazine. It was very timely. I own a lawn care and landscaping company up in Franklin, Tenn., and have been growing it since the 1990s. I, too, am starting to get the “burned out” syndrome. It is good to know that there are other landscapers who are going through the same thing and yet overcome daily obstacles to become successful. Thank you for your advice and I hope that you continue to have a successful year.

Michael Ward, owner, Landscape Innovations, Franklin, Tenn.

Book it

I just wanted to send you a quick e-mail about your article in Lawn & Landscape. I thought it was great! I too have been in a similar situation as you and in the past few months have made some major changes in my life. Since you like books you should check out “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll. He also has an excellent podcast that I listen to all the time. I am not affiliated with him in any way. I just thought I would let you know about his book. He has a great story about mid-life change and it is what has inspired me to change my habits.

Steve Rak II, president, Southwest Landscape Mgmt., Columbia Station, Ohio