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Bring it like a boy scout

Features - Design/Build

Skid-steers can be an expensive purchase, but they are also a huge help for contractors. And going to buy one can be overwhelming if you haven’t done your homework. So read on to be prepared the next time you shop for one.

Lawn & Landscape | January 8, 2014

Skid-steers can be an expensive purchase, but they are also a huge help for contractors. And going to buy one can be overwhelming if you haven’t done your homework.

But first, you need to know when you might want to look into replacing one.

“I base that decision off of the intended use of the machine and the level of reliability it requires,” says David Fairburn, president of North Point Holdings, an outdoor property services company in Derry, N.H. “If the equipment is contracted at a zero-tolerance snow removal account, the reliability must be high. In that case, I would recommend no more than 1,500 to 2,000 hours. If the machine is used in the role of a yard machine at the shop where reliability is not such a factor, I believe a well taken care of machine should provide 3,000 to 4,000 hours of use.”

We checked in with a couple of contractors to find out how to make shopping for a skid-steer easier.
 

Research

Waiting until the last minute to buy a skid-steer can hit your bank account hard because you’ll have no time to do any homework, and you’ll be forced to over pay. “If you need a skid-steer in April, you don’t want to start looking two weeks before you need it,” says Eric Lloyd, co-partner of Serene Surroundings in Plymouth, Mich.

Lloyd spent three months researching skid-steers before he made a recent purchase – and it paid off. He was able to find a used machine that had only a third of the hours it should have had considering its age.

Fairburn says he never buys a new machine on the fly and also creates a two to three-month window of research.

“We like to ensure that there is plenty of work and long term contracts and projects for it prior to purchase,” he says. “We utilize magazine comparison articles, Internet and vendor support to research the pros and cons of competing equipment and models.”

Don’t let the location of a sale deter you. Lloyd will look nationally for a deal, and will pick it up himself or ask someone who works for him to do it. He’s also bought from dealers and from private sellers. W

When buying from a private seller, make sure you bring a mechanic with you to check it out so you know how much work is needed. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth the research and it’s worth the time,” he says.
 

Know your dealer

Buying a brand of skid-steer sold by a dealer close to your location and who you have a good relationship with is a must if you want to eliminate downtime when the machine breaks down.

“It’s important to me, whatever brand of skid-steer that I buy, that it can get serviced quickly and close to my location,” Lloyd says.

Lloyd said he used to have a mechanic who could fix skid-steers, but he would still send it out to be serviced for certain repairs because he didn’t want his mechanic tied up trying to fix something that took multiple days to finish. “It was important that I had service so I didn’t have a lot of downtime,” he says.

Fairburn says the relationship you have with a dealer also comes in handy when it’s time to replace a skid-steer. Fairburn said he and his partners realized early on in their business that growing a relationship with key vendors was important, and did so by being open and honest and sharing the story of their business.

“These guys typically have extensive knowledge of what machines and equipment have worked for their different clients over the years,” he says.
 

Application

Always take into account how you are going to use your skid-steer. Will it mainly be used for hauling pallets, or will you need it for a number of different jobs, which will require attachments? When Lloyd bought his first loader, he made sure it could support an excavating attachment to save him money on buying or renting a backhoe.

Fairburn says don’t be afraid to buy big, and find new ways to use the machine.

“Find a machine that can fulfill multiple roles over various seasons,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to purchase a machine that you can grow into. Buying a smaller machine to save some money will typically hurt when your business grows into different project levels and property sizes. Larger skid-steers that can easily lift a full pallet of paver, wallblocks or sod will pay dividends over one that cannot safely lift a full pallet from a trailer and transport it around the job site.”

Lloyd does a lot of high-end residential, so he invested an extra $10,000 in an all-wheel steering machine with special tires to make sure he was leaving the property in pristine condition. “It was important to me that I wasn’t going to be tearing up property,” he says. “Repair costs and sodding your way out of projects gets costly. Over the course of two years, that would pay for itself, that extra cost.”

And don’t forget that a skid-steer can be used to plow snow.

Even if you don’t plow snow, Lloyd says to consider renting your machine to a company that does.

“If you are using your machine for snow removal it is best to have a two-speed machine,” Fairburn says. “The time savings of a two speed machine plowing snow is significant.”
 

Accessibility

The size of the properties you work on should be a factor in what kind of skid-steer you buy.

If most of your work happens in areas with small entry points, you should invest in a smaller machine instead of renting.

But if a small percentage of your work comes in a large area, then look into renting a large machine instead of buying. “Most of the residential I do are pretty large homes, and have good accessibility,” Lloyd says.

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