Equipment that wins the job

As a landscaper, it's likely that you rely heavily on word of mouth to obtain new business. Sure, you may run an advertisement now and then, perhaps even send mailings to local prospects. However, if you perform for one customer, they're likely to pass your name along to friends, neighbors, business associates and colleagues, and this is some of the most powerful advertising you can ever get.

“We treat people like they want to be treated — we don't overpromise, we don't underperform and we stand behind our work,” says Bill Miller, owner of All Seasons Landscaping in Bellevue, Idaho, one of the top landscapers in the state specializing in high-end residential. “As a result, we see most of our business through word of mouth, repeat business and through referrals by landscape architects.”

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Obtaining such word of mouth referral, however, is also a result of the type of equipment you use, and explaining to the customer how it separates you from the competition, added Miller.

Several states away, John Perkins of Perkins Landscape Contractors in Minneapolis, agrees. Perkins, who specializes in municipal landscaping, says he has noticed a dramatic change in referrals since he started promoting his equipment.

“Most customers don't notice your type of equipment, but if you make a point of describing why you use particular equipment and how it increases your ability on the job, that will stick in their mind,” said Perkins. “There are so many different types of equipment these days, that is one way that you can stand apart. This is true whether you're doing municipal, commercial or residential work.”

As an example, a variety of new equipment has been introduced within the last several years that can increase both the productivity and the quality of a job, but which customers may not be aware. By letting prospects understand how you can do jobs others can't, you'll be gaining an advantage.

Following is a look at a variety of equipment categories, and profiles the information that a customer should know as they choose a landscaper.

All-surface loaders

These machines came on the scene a couple years ago as a new category of equipment. Similar in size and shape to small skid-steers, all-surface loaders utilize a high-tech rubber-track undercarriage. Unlike a skid-steer with tracks wrapped around the wheels or a rudimentary undercarriage, the system efficiently transfers the weight of the machine to the ground through numerous contact points to maximize the machines' power. This gives such equipment high traction and stability. At the same time, these machines — which may weigh 3,000 pounds or more — apply the same ground pressure as a child (about 3.0 pounds per square inch), allowing them to move across turf and other environmentally sensitive terrain with virtually no damage.

Those combined qualities can be important to municipalities, homeowners and commercial entities that need heavy-duty work done, but may not want surrounding turf torn up in the process.

In addition, all-surface loaders often are small enough to pass through a backyard gate, allowing you to work in tight areas where hand labor may have been necessary in the past, but with the same sensitivity to the ground as a person. Their small size also makes them highly transportable.

“I tell my customers that I can go in and do the work that needs to be done, and I won't have to destroy their existing grass, forcing them to re-sod and all the work that entails,” said Perkins. “It's a huge selling point.”

Companies selling all-surface loaders include ASV and Polaris.

Mini-loaders

For work that needs to be done in extremely small areas, a class of stand-on mini-loaders (or compact utility loaders) may impress customers and definitely helps reduce hand-labor. These machines can trench, auger, load, excavate and perform many other tasks in very small areas.

Additional advantages include their ease of use, transportability and, like other all-surface loaders and skid-steers, their ability to use a variety of attachments. The most popular attachments tend to be buckets, augers, trenchers, backhoes, hydraulic hammers and pallet forks. Most companies that manufacture these loaders have a coupling system for the attachments, which allows you to change work tools in a matter of minutes. Most attachments are interchangeable between different models and brands.

In addition, the simple controls of most mini-loaders permit even first-time users to achieve good productivity in just minutes. Their small size also allows the machines to move from task to task quickly and easily. For example, they can be picked up by a crane and dropped into a basement for minor grading.

For customers, the key is letting them know how these machines work and how it translates to a quality job.

Manufacturers include Toro (Dingo), Gravely, Ramrod, Finn, Gehl and Kanga. The models vary in size and horsepower, and all use a variety of work tools.

Skid-steers

Skid-steers, the traditional compact construction tool, continue to be effective machines for the landscaper. Like all-surface loaders and mini-loaders, their main benefits include compact size, maneuverability and attachment versatility. Their use can be important to gaining customers. This is particularly true if you are working on a construction site that is hard and flat, allowing you to use a skid-steer to its optimum advantage.

The most popular skid-steer loaders — at least for smaller-scale landscaping work — remain in the 1,250- to 1,751-pound class. While larger skid-steers obviously can use larger, more productive attachments, they also don't fit as well into tight areas, are more expensive, more difficult to transport and cause more ground disruption than smaller units.

Manufacturers include Bobcat, Case, Caterpillar, Gehl, John Deere and New Holland.

Mini-excavators

Compact excavators have been popular for digging in confined areas for awhile, but it's still important to explain to your customers how they give you the ability to do difficult work without hauling in massive equipment. Like some of the aforementioned machines, these can slip through a gate and perform work that otherwise would have to be done by hand, thereby increasing your efficiency and profitability.

Like their big brothers, a variety of attachments are available for compact excavators, including augers, compactors, shears, grapples and variety of bucket sizes.

Large equipment

Of course, if your company utilizes large equipment for large-scale projects, that could be an important differentiation as well. Many landscapers simply do not own large loaders, excavators or bulldozers. If you do, it's important that your ability to do work both small and large is well-known to customers and prospects.

Winning the Job

You can choose from a variety of equipment for your business. When you buy, don't forget that your machines can do more than just get the job done — they can actually win you the work.

“I've had numerous jobs where I've been working and someone else has seen the equipment, thought it was great, and asked if I'd work for them,” says Perkins.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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