April 6, 2016

Horsepower for productivity

Equipment can offer instant returns to your bottom line  


Anyone who has seen our yard will agree: we are well equipped. But I don’t buy equipment because I like having it. I buy equipment because it helps our bottom line. Sure, there’s the cost of ownership, maintenance, and insurance — but don’t forget about the benefits equipment can deliver to your bottom line. You will save labour hours, labour costs, and you don’t need as many staff. You will finish jobs sooner, which frees up more days for more jobs and builds happier customers. By doing more jobs in the same time, your overhead costs shrink as a  percentage of sales; and your crews are happier and safer, and turnover is reduced.

With those benefits in mind, let’s look at some examples of equipment that, dollar-for-dollar, can provide the best returns for typical landscape companies.

Construction equipment
Right-sized trucks: Everyone needs a truck, but the right size truck is key for productive companies. Too many contractors worry too much about up-front costs and having to find or train crews to get a higher-class driver’s license. Trucks with smaller payloads mean inefficient mobilization and delivery and supply of materials.  Over the course of a year (or five or 10!), these inefficiencies add up to a lot of costs and lost sales opportunity. When buying your next truck:
  • Start with the largest truck that makes sense. Estimate how many trips the truck could save a year in deliveries and equipment mobilization. Can the time savings justify the extra costs?
  • Versatile rolloff trucks can be like Swiss army knives for your operation. With a back-end that can be a bin, a flatbed, dump box, water tank and have a crane equipped, these trucks can really help smaller contractors (with a limited fleet budget) compete with larger contractors with larger, more versatile fleets.
  • Partitioned dump boxes give you the flexibility to carry two types of materials at once; ideal if you’re working on jobs that don’t require full loads.
Work tools and attachments: whether you are big on skid steers or mini-excavators, attachments can provide big returns for relatively small investments.

Hydraulic thumbs for excavators. Imagine how much less you’d get done without opposable thumbs. Great tools for brush clearing, setting rock or demolition work.

Hydraulic tilt buckets for excavators. Great for reducing time when working in confined spaces and making faster work of fine grading and/or swale work.

Augers, especially for mini-excavators that can get into tight spaces. It’s no secret that planting work has some of the better margins in our industry. An auger will help you compete (and pay for itself) by making short work of planting trees and larger material.

Material handling arm is an inexpensive attachment that’s great for placing trees and more with skid steers.

Stump grinder: If you’re frequently wasting hours removing stumps, these will get you past removal and into installation much faster.

​Snowblower: Great for servicing parking lots with limited piling space. 

Trencher: Takes a lot less time and moves a lot less material than digging with an excavator bucket.

Covered, stocked van trailers: Whether you store your tools and small equipment in a box truck, or a pull-behind trailer, you can’t afford not to have an organized, well-stocked inventory in your truck. A typical covered trailer can be leased for approximately $200 per month. Without one, you’re likely spending that every week in lost production hours: hunting for tools, driving back to the shop to get tools or materials (or having to get someone else to deliver them) and making extra trips to vendors to pick up small parts and materials to finish the job right. Some quick tips for inventorying your trailers:
  • Stick to the same brand of small tools and equipment. Sometimes, you pay a bit more upfront for a tool, but you can save thousands of dollars by keeping spare parts for one specific brand or model in inventory.
  • Be sure every trailer has extra high-wear parts, such as lube, recoils, filters and small parts. It’s far cheaper to invest in a bit of inventory, than to have to stop work and drive somewhere every time something wears out.
  • Stock each trailer with miscellaneous consumable materials such as marking paint, string line, pencils, garbage bags, PL premium, pencils, screws and hardware, and more. Again, it’s far cheaper to invest in some inventory instead of losing production time to track down these materials when they are needed. Make sure to have a labelled space for each item so they are easy to find, and stock can be easily measured and maintained.
  • Use hooks, racks and labels to organize larger tools like shovels, rakes, and power tools.
Maintenance equipment
Maintenance is a very competitive game. No one wants to win based just on price, so you have to be the most efficient if you want to do well in maintenance.

Right-sized mowers: It’s vitally important to have the right mowers for the jobs you want to bid. If you are going after larger commercial, municipal or institutional work, you are not going to win many bids trying to make the numbers work with equipment designed for smaller jobs. Focus on improving speed and efficiency with the right equipment, instead of just cutting your price.

Covered trailers/ and box trucks: Similar to the construction example above, covered trailers and box trucks pay their premium costs back quickly:
Morning load and afternoon unload times are reduced, if not eliminated. Saving a three-man crew just 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon adds up to 10 crew hours per month of extra production time. If you could fill this time with productive work, it represents approximately $1,350 per month in increased sales opportunity.

You can inventory more small parts, filters, string line, pruners and other small tools and equipment required in your day-to-day work.
Labelled, specific positions for all your tools and equipment will reduce theft and improve employee care.

Redundant tools and small engines: The cost of carrying extra trimmers, blowers, and small mowers on your trailer cannot be underestimated. For a few hundred dollars each, you can recover from onsite breakdowns almost instantly. Crews can finish up their day without losing significant production time, and you can deal with repairs when the work is complete. 

Remember, in most circumstances, the cost of inefficiency and lost productivity is far more expensive than the cost of equipment itself. Not only will a good set of equipment improve on-time delivery of your jobs; when managed correctly, equipment will improve the culture, attitude and bottom line of your company.

Mark Bradley is president of TBG Landscape and the Landscape Management Network (LMN), based in Ontario.