Power walkers

Power walkers

Zero-turn and stand-on mowers get all the attention, but walk-behinds can show your clients you are paying especially close attention to their properties.

March 23, 2015

While not as flashy as its ride-on counterparts, walk-behind mowers come with many advantages. Depending on the amount of space being mowed and number of hard-to-reach spots, you could benefit from adding a few to your mower fleet.

Quality of care.

As Derrick Meek, president of Green Season Group in Suwanee, Ga., says, a reason his company’s fleet is made up primarily of walk-behinds is the quality of the cut.

“With the walk-behinds, the quality of the cut is just as good, if not better than a rider. And when my operators use a walk-behind, they’re also more likely to do the extra things that provide a better service to our customer - things like stopping to pick up trash or dead branches. Sitting on a rider creates complacency, and they might not see that branch or they might forget to stop and pick it up.”

Daniel Quezada, fleet manager at New Way Pro in San Diego, says walk-behinds have a specific role to play.

“While they aren’t practical for big properties with large, flat and open lawns, for smaller or medium-sized lawns, or those with trees, lots of tight spaces, slopes, pools or gates, a walk-behind will do what a zero-turn simply cannot.”

Quezada says the decision to use a walk-behind on a specific property also comes down to customer preference.

“A lot of our hotel clients simply prefer that we use a walk-behind mower because of the tighter cut, the machine itself is less noisy and they like the image of an operator using a walk-behind more than someone sitting on a zero-turn.”

Brian Beniek, owner of Beniek Property Services in Chanhassen, Minn., has also encountered customers who prefer walk-behinds. “For some of our customers it comes down to perception. If you’re using a walk-behind and it takes a little more time, the customer feels like they’re getting a better service and they appreciate that you’re taking time with their lawns,” he says.

Beniek also says because of its smaller size, many property owners prefer walk-behinds over the heavier rider, because they’re afraid a rider may leave ruts or tire marks.

According to Meek, the walk-behind is also easy to learn to operate. “These machines are safe to use and it’s easy to teach an operator how to use them properly, which saves us time and money on training,” he says.

“When my team goes into the field, they have their choice of equipment to use,” Beniek says.

“Often it comes down to how comfortable and easy a machine is to use for my operators. A walk-behind is both. And people don’t like change. If they’re used to using a certain piece of equipment, then they’ll continue to use it because they know it.”

Time saved.

In the landscape business, the difference between success and failure often comes down to efficiency and costs.

“I’m a business owner and the main reason I continue to use walk-behinds is that they’re dependable.

They do exactly what I want them to, and these machines are rarely in my shop,” says Meek, who employs a full-time mechanic. Meek says he usually gets about five years out of his machines because of the focus on maintenance and prevention.

The life expectancy for walk-behinds is similar for Beniek.

Since his company doesn’t use walk-behinds in large open areas, he’s able to get about five to six years out of them.

And in California, Quezada says the life expectancy of his machines comes down to maintenance and operator care.

“At three years, we start to consider replacing parts like pumps, tires or even the engine,” Quezada says.

“Typically, we’ll put in about 25 percent of a unit’s value back into it over its lifetime, sometimes as much as 50 percent, but that number depends on our budget.”

All the contractors agree a walk-behind isn’t suitable for large or wide open spaces, but for smaller properties a walk-behind can save time.

“My business is about 80 percent commercial and 20 percent residential,” Beniek says. “For those residential properties, especially small townhomes, using a walk-behind saves time.”

Meek seconds that assessment. “A zero-turn may be a little faster, but unless you’re dealing with a lot of large, open spaces, you rarely move at top speed.

Yes, a walk-behind is limited to the operator’s pace, but because it’s such a versatile piece of equipment and able to negotiate tight spaces that a rider can’t, I’m actually able to be more competitive,” he says.

If you’re new to the industry or you have a relatively small operation, all the contractors agreed walk-behinds are the perfect piece of equipment to start and build your fleet.

Is the walk-behind the perfect piece of equipment? No, it has its limitations.

But as Beniek says, “You have to have a multitude of equipment in your toolbox if you’re going to be competitive, and that means you still need the traditional walk-behind mower as part of your mix.”


The author is a freelancer based in Burlington, Vt.