The right tool for the job

If you're a home improvement junkie like I am, then you've probably caught an episode or two of New Yankee Workshop. I watch with a jealous eye as he crafts beautiful furniture with his extraordinary woodworking tools. Not to take anything away from Norm — whose skills are renowned, and for good reason — but I know that one reason for the difference between the quality of my work and the quality of his is the quality of the tools. That's why, when I watch his show, I typically find myself thinking, “Man! It sure would be great to have that mortising machine!”

But reality sets in and I remember that, although it would be nice to have a mortiser, I'd probably only use it once year, maybe not even that. It's so specialized that I couldn't justify the expense of purchasing it. On the other hand, if I were a furniture maker, it would be a no-brainer. I would go broke if I didn't have one.

This illustrates the old wisdom that there's nothing like having the right tool for the job. Anyone who's ever not had the right tool understands that wisdom all too well. That's why there are so many kinds of tools. And the more specialized the tool, the better it is at its intended task. That's why, if you specialize in a certain type of job, then you want the equipment that's most efficient for that type of job.

The same principle hold true in grounds care. Manufacturers are providing professionals with more specialized tools than before. The current array of commercial mowers on the market is more diverse than ever and illustrates this well. Trim mowers, intermediates, zero-turn units, out-front mowers and wide-area mowers all do the same general thing: they cut grass. But they all do it a little differently, and each has a niche, a type of job that it does a little better than other types of mowers. To be as productive as possible, you need the right mowers for the kinds of work you do.

A relatively small niche in the zero-turn market is the category of standing-rider units. Currently, just a few manufacturers make such units, and they comprise a small percentage of overall zero-turn sales. But their market share is growing dramatically. This month's cover feature takes a look at these compact but productive units in “Standing Tall,” beginning on page 14.

As the size and sophistication of mowers rise, so does their cost. You may experience a bit of sticker shock when you look at the price of some units. But if cost alone sends you away, then you're missing part of the picture. Is the cost of equipment your biggest expense? Probably not. For many, if not most, operators, it's labor. And what is the objective of obtaining bigger-faster-better mowers? Greater productivity. In other words, doing more work with less labor. If you balance the labor savings against the additional cost of a more productive mower, you often find that it's cheaper overall to own the more expensive mower.

A clear example of this is the wide-area mower, or WAM. WAMs are among the most expensive mowers available. But their production is enormous, matching that of two or three zero-turn or out-front units. Now consider what you'll save by paying one mower operator vs. two or three. Or how much more work you can pursue if your whole mowing crew isn't consumed by a single large job. Learn more about how WAMs earn their keep in, “Cut down your overhead with wide-area mowers,” on page 20.

Like Norm Abrams' tools, specialized mowers are not for everyone. If a unit's going to sit idle most of the time, then it's probably a poor investment. Or it could be an incredibly profitable one, depending on the kind of jobs you do. But with the equipment that's available, there's no reason you can't have the right tools for the job.

Now that mowing season is upon us, you'll find several other useful features in this issue of Grounds Maintenance. For a review of blade sharpening, see this month's “How to,” on page 38. And take a look at your choices in mower engines, in this month's “Equipment Options,” on page 33.

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