Downtime reduction

Having parts available in house or close by can make life a lot easier when equipment breaks.

Photos courtesy of Green Thumb Lawn & Landscape

Having a plan in place to ensure proper preventative maintenance on your mowers, trucks and handhelds – and to have replacement parts on hand when they’re needed – is an essential step in keeping your business running smoothly.

Ensure easy access to routinely used parts.

From spark plugs and oil filters for crew trucks to mower blades and trimmer heads, there’s usually a pretty standard set of replacement parts that your team runs through the most. Get a handle on what those are and find a source for each that makes sense, both in terms of cost and ease of access.

Greg Reese, owner of Heartland Harvest Landscape – which operates in the Chicago area – capitalizes on the convenience of having a brand dealer just across the parking lot from his main headquarters.

“If we’re going to work on things ourselves, we can literally walk across the lot and pick it up on the same day,” Reese says. “That’s how we typically handle changing spark plugs and basic oil filters and things like that.”

For more specialized repairs of equipment or trucks, Reese says he typically turns to trusted area mechanics or to equipment dealers.

Thanks to the convenience of having a local parts supplier nearby, Reese doesn’t typically stock a large supply of replacement parts due to limited space in his shops for inventory. If a local dealer isn’t as accessible for your crew, sourcing parts online may be an ideal alternative.

In Campbellsville, Kentucky, JT Williams, owner of Green Thumb Lawn & Landscape, often turns to Amazon or even eBay to scout for best prices on frequently used replacement parts for his crews.

“All the quick-change stuff for handhelds I just source on the Internet because it’s much cheaper than ordering direct from the manufacturer,” Williams says. “The way we look at it, when you’re dealing with parts for the trimmers that rub the ground all the time, there’s no sense in buying OEM because they’re not going to last over a few months anyway.”

Especially for replacement pieces with short lifespans, such as trimmer heads, Williams says online sourcing makes the most sense. “You can save 35 to 40 percent buying aftermarket, and then in six weeks’ time, you’re ready to throw it away anyway,” he says.

Occasionally, Williams sources even longer-lasting parts online as well when he can find good deals. For frequently used parts like trimmer heads, Williams sometimes orders bulk inventory from online retailers – enough to last four to six months at a time – saving anywhere from 25 to 30 percent over local retail prices, he says.

Mower blades are the one item Williams prefers only to source directly from equipment dealers. “I know a lot of guys use aftermarket blades, and you can get them about 30 percent cheaper than from the manufacturer, but we just don’t have very good luck with them,” he says. “We seem to have more luck buying replacement blades from the dealer and then making them last by taking the time to maintain and sharpen them every day.”

“Proactive maintenance is crucial to saving time with breakdowns in the field.” Greg Reese, owner, Heartland Harvest

Invest in a routine maintenance plan.

Both Williams and Reese stressed the importance of routine, preventative daily maintenance in keeping tools and trucks running smoothly.

Typically, crews at Heartland Harvest perform the most intensive maintenance tasks during slow time between snow removal season and the start of the landscape season.

“Proactive maintenance is crucial to saving time with breakdowns in the field,” Reese says.

At Green Thumb, Williams found that hiring a single, dedicated evening maintenance technician cut down on tasks falling through the cracks.

“He comes in every night for about four hours and does maintenance on every piece of equipment,” Williams says. “He sharpens blades, does tire checks, changes oil, greases the excavators, whatever is needed.”

Williams’ maintenance technician also uses an Excel spreadsheet to keep detailed records of all maintenance work performed on each piece of equipment. This lets the company better anticipate when major parts and equipment will need to be replaced.

“He’ll be able to tell me we’ve got an engine that’s using a lot of oil, and I know that means we’re going to have to replace it soon, so that I don’t have a truck broken down on the side of the road,” Williams says.

While the cost of onboarding a dedicated maintenance technician isn’t insignificant – it costs Williams around $800 a month – he says the investment more than pays for itself in reduction of downtime from faulty trucks and equipment.

The author is a freelance writer based in Kentucky.

August 2019
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