The Le Mans of lawn mowing
A Dixie Chopper employee attempted to set a mowing world record.
By Chuck Bowen
LONDON, Ohio – If you think spending eight hours on a zero-turn is rough, try riding one for 24 hours straight.
That’s what Eli Kean did last month in an attempt to set the world record for most acres mowed in 24 hours. Kean, marketing manager for Dixie Chopper, mowed approximately 106 acres of rough ground in an endurance test reminiscent of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans road race.
But instead of French cobblestone, Kean’s track was a collection of rough, uneven grassy fields that serve as a parking lot for the Molly Caren Agriculture Center west of Columbus, Ohio.
“It just beat you up the whole time,” Kean said of the grounds.
Kean drove Dixie’s forthcoming 2015 74-inch Xcaliber zero-turn, powered by a 35-hp, 999-cc Kawasaki engine. The mower was completely stock – even the seat – save for a couple of sets of LED lights and two GoPro cameras to record the event.
Dixie Chopper is no stranger to endurance challenges. In 2007, one of its sales managers drove a propane-powered mower across the country. And for the company’s 25th anniversary, it commissioned the team at Orange County Chopper to build a show motorcycle using parts from one of its Zs.
Guinness World Records is still processing all that footage, and the company was still awaiting confirmation of its world record at press time. But no current record for most acres mowed stands. The only turf-related records Guinness maintains are longest journey on a lawnmower (14,594.5 miles on a stock Kubota BX2200-60) and fastest speed set on a lawnmower (116 mph on a highly modified Honda HF2620).
In all, Kean used 65 gallons of fuel and was on the mower for about 23 hours total – he spent a few 15-minute breaks eating some cold pizza, apples and granola.
Before leaving for the Tuesday record attempt, Kean said, he mowed his lawn at home – an acre in Indiana that he maintains with a 60-inch Magnum – and kissed his wife and two kids, aged 6 weeks and 18 months, goodbye.
“Monday night was the best sleep I’d had in a couple weeks,” he said.
A tour of Kawasaki’s Maryville, Mo., engine facility illustrates the industry’s rebound.
By Guy Cipriano
MARYVILLE, Mo. – The tour guide opened a door and his group gathered on a small concrete square providing a dry barrier between a busy factory and muddy turf.
“We’re supposed to show everybody this,” said Greg Branner, who works in the engineering department of the Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing engine plant in northwest Missouri. Branner gazed at a grass plot surrounded on two sides by manufacturing structures. “This is a place where we can expand the plant,” he said.
One sign of the lawn industry’s recovery can be found in this city’s signature manufacturing facility. Before, during and after the 25th anniversary celebration of Kawasaki’s Maryville plant on Aug. 22, company executives and employees openly discussed expansion, a seemingly unlikely vision shortly after the plant last expanded in 2008.
The recession slowed activity in the 796,699-square foot plant that had been expanded 11 times since opening in 1989. Steve Bratt, vice president and plant manager, says work weeks were reduced to four days in 2008-09, with many employees using vacation and personal time to fill personal financial voids.
And now? The plant hummed with activity as industry guests toured the facility on a typical workday as part of the anniversary celebration. Kawasaki employs 810 workers in Maryville, making it the city’s second-largest employer behind Northwest Missouri State University. Eighteen different engine models ranging from 12 to 37 horsepower for lawn and garden equipment are produced there.
Ten assembly lines have the capacity to assemble 450 units per day and more than 18,500 active parts are stored in the warehouse. The die casting operation uses 1.4 million pounds of aluminum per month.
The plant is operating at full capacity with employees being offered overtime, according to Bratt. “The industry is booming, at least in the lawn and garden side of it,” he said. Fumihiro “Clint” Ohno, senior vice president of the United States engine division, called reaching full capacity “a good headache to have.” The plant reached another milestone last March when the 8 millionth completed unit left the line.
Bratt judges the industry’s current condition based on activity inside the plant. Tim Malinowski offered a different perspective. He’s the senior sales-manager-OEM sales and relies on data and industry buzz when determining Kawasaki’s place in the lawn market.
“It’s been another busy year,” he said. “Growth was substantial, kind of following OPEI numbers. We are supporting that the best we can and next year is going to be a similar year with maybe not as strong growth. Technology is key. Going forward people are being much more, I guess, critical of innovation, features, benefits, fuel economy and those types of things. That’s something we are working on.”
The anniversary celebration included a kampai toast, a Japanese goodwill gesture, and ended with the starting of the first engine produced in the plant, a FC150V model.
“I personally still have one of the mowers,” Bratt said. “It’s 25 years old and still going strong.”
The author is assistant editor of Lawn & Landscape’s sister publication, Golf Course Industry.
Fill it up
L&L recently surveyed 100 contractors about their fuel-buying habits and how they are saving at the pump. We found that the majority of respondents haven’t made a drastic move like changing a fleet, and they also haven’t made smaller-scale changes and invested in routing/tracking software. Yet, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking into alternative fuels. For more from the survey, read the Smart Fuel package in our September issue. For more on alternative fuels, click here.
Below are some reasons contractors plan to add more propane/diesel/electric to the equipment fleet.
- We run diesel trucks, great fuel economy for pulling. We are planning to switch to either propane or diesel mowers in the next year or two because (of) fuel economy and laws that regulate transportation of gasoline. In Tennessee, you can only transport so many gallons of gasoline but the restrictions are much less on propane or diesel.
- We are about 90 percent diesel now. Only our ½ and ¾ ton trucks are gas. Most of our decisions on trucks are made based on stocking parts for them. We try to limit different types of trucks, so we don't have to carry so many different parts.
Source: Lawn & Landscape research
Ask the experts
ASK THE EXPERTS is presented in partnership with PLANET’s Trailblazers On Call program. Trailblazers are industry leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to give back to the industry.
The training game
Bill Arman of the consulting group the Harvest Group answers some of the most-asked questions about preparing employees.
Q: How do you measure the effectiveness of training?
A: There are basically six areas that should be measured and tracked to verify the effectiveness of your training program. These areas are pretty critical and come into play with most every position in the organization.
1. Quantity of workload or capacity to take on more responsibility
The more training employees get, the more we would like them to take on, as in more jobs, more complex duties and responsibilities, more people under their jurisdiction, or more customers without being overwhelmed or stressed out.
How to measure: Give people more work and see if they consistently deliver on the other items listed below.
2. Quality of work as perceived by the customer
Employees should deliver consistently on your customers’ needs and requests. This would include some customer relations training with operational delivery that is recognized and meets and exceeds your customers’ expectations.
How to measure: Use customer surveys, customer retention tracking, accounts receivables, referrals for other work and enhancement sales.
3. Quality of work as measured by internal standards
Each company should have an internal method for measuring the quality of its work. This measuring tool should be used frequently and objectively. This is usually referred to as quality assurance.
How to measure: Build a score sheet that covers key areas that can be measured and progress tracked at least each quarter.
4. Efficiency and productivity
Measure efficiency and productivity by measuring actual hours used versus hours budgeted to do the work. Don’t forget that the quality needs to be there as well. It’s a balance between the two.
How to measure: The gross margin on a job or by a service area, like maintenance, installation or snow removal is usually a great way to measure efficiency.
Each company needs to have safety as a major focus and training needs to be in place here.
How to measure: Keep track of the number of accidents and incidents, along with the frequency and severity of accidents. A low Workers Comp MOD rate is a good indicator of having a well-trained staff.
6. Transfer of knowledge to others
The people who do all of the above and also help with the training of others are golden.
How to measure: People or trainees are successfully accomplishing all of the top five items on time and consistently.
Q: How do you know that information transfer actually took place?
A: The best way to verify that the training has indeed taken place is a process called ‘certification.” Certification is an independent process from the actual training that allows the trainees to demonstrate, on their own, the task, skill or behavior that has been taught to them. It’s similar to when you take your driver’s license test. There’s a written portion and a field verification completed by the certifier. Make sure the certifier was not the trainer to avoid a trainer’s bias.
Q: How do you hold employees accountable for the time/effort spent on training?
A: Measure the expected outcomes of their training and track their results and behaviors. Conduct regular performance appraisals and define what skills need tuning up. Reward the performers and help build their skills. If they do not respond or improve their skills, results or behaviors after reasonable effort, then, perhaps, it’s time for them to be successful elsewhere.
Q: What is the customer impact of a trained versus non-trained employee?
A: Well-trained employees will be effective, productive, safe, positive and content with their career paths. This will translate into happy content customers. The impact is powerful. As a result, your customers will stay with you for a long time, tell others about your company, pay their bills on time, and they will want to add more work and extras with you. Without a great training program, all of the above will definitely be harder if not impossible to accomplish. Remember to have a purpose in mind when you start a training program. Know the desired measurable outcomes before you launch.
Have a question for the experts? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Weed Man ready for big year
The company had one of its best years in 2013, and expects better in 2014.
By Katie Tuttle
In what the company is calling a “phenomenal year,” Weed Man USA is on track to have one of its best years with both revenue and opening franchises.
“And the good news is the year’s not over yet and we’re coming into our busiest selling season for franchises,” said Jennifer Lemcke, chief operating officer for Weed Man. “So we're really, really excited about where we're at and where we're going.”
For 2013, the company grew 19 percent. For 2014, the company is projecting the year to end at $75 million, which would mean a 19 percent growth of $12 million for the year.
"As we look at some of what our industry has done, specifically in lawn care, we're one of the fastest growing companies, and that we're really proud of. I know it's because of the people we've gotten involved with the company," said Lemcke.
Not only growing in revenue, Weed Man also announced that the company has grown in size in regards to franchises. To date, 11 franchisees have expanded and signed additional franchise agreements to acquire 35 territories.
“We had budgeted to have 56 territories and we're at 77 already, so we've exceeded our budget by 21 territories, which is really the best we've ever done in one year,” Lemcke said.
She added that the company is currently working on a few verbal deals which will be announced at a later date.
Weed Man also announced a new venture it was taking. Dan Carrothers, who was marketing manager at BASF, created a franchise, Weed Man Houston, and purchased 22 territories, the largest Weed Man franchise to date. In addition to being a Weed Man franchisee, Carrothers is also part of a brand new joint venture, Turf Operations Houston.
“Based on all of this, we actually decided as a company to do a joint venture with Dan in our corporate entity here in Canada,” Lemcke said. “This is the first time we’ve done this.
The new company’s board of directors will consist of Carrothers, Weed man CEO and founder Roger Mongeon and a few other key employees, including Lemcke.
“I am extremely excited about joining Weed Man,” Carrothers said. “After many years in the industry, primarily on the chemical side as a basic manufacturer, I'm now going to be on the other side of the fence where on a day-to-day basis we're interacting with customers, with an organization that is clearly customer-centric.”
Lemcke said partnerships and investments like this is something Weed Man hopes to see more of in the future, and taking the first step with Carrothers will hopefully bring attention to these opportunities.
“By developing strong business opportunities with a great candidate like Dan, it brings the level of professionalism up in our industry,” Lemcke said. “These large owner-operated Weed Man franchises give a lot of opportunity for employees to grow within the company and see a future career within our industry.”
“I think me joining Weed Man will simply open up doors for people who are thinking about something beyond what they are currently doing,” Carrothers said. “I think there are many people out there with great experience and they may be wondering what’s next. If nothing else, I may have given them some things to think about and hopefully one of them is that Weed Man is a great place to think about being with.”