Joe Maitland, owner of J. Crew Property Preservation in Zion, Ill., likes to keep his company running like a well-oiled machine, where the end results are always pristine and clients are completely satisfied.
“When you’re used to giving them that white glove service from day one, there’s an expectation that’s created,” he says.
In order to keep this reputation up, Maitland relies on something simple – his walk-behind mower fleet.
“We’ve got about 15 walk-behind mowers,” Maitland says. “Typically, we’ve got four crews going, so they each got three mowers on their trailers. And then, we have a fifth trailer we use as kind of a backup.”
Easy to operate.
Maitland says he prefers walk-behind mowers because they are easier for crews to maneuver and result in a better cut.
“I like the flexibility of them,” he says. “Not only in small spaces, but the fact that you’re not tearing up the grass as much. Guys will get going so fast on a stand-up or sit-down that they won’t be as conscious about it until they turn around and see what they’ve done to the grass. Whereas with the walk-behind, you have a little more control, and you can actually lift up the back end as you’re making a turn, to ease the weight on the grass itself.”
And better turns allow for nice, clean stripes. “It gives it that curb appeal the client is looking for,” Maitland says.
Utilizing walk-behinds also allows for Maitland to adjust his crews without worrying about someone’s experience level.
“With the walk-behinds, when you have to add crews, or add someone from another division, there’s a level of comfort,” he says. “It’s a good machine to start on. And it’s a sound machine mechanically.
“You can’t just throw a guy on a zero-turn or stand-up who’s never had any lawn and landscape experience,” Maitland adds. “The center of gravity is just really different. So, the walk-behind gives the new guy precision when he’s cutting, but he can also handle the machine a lot better.”
Maitland says the compact nature of the mowers is another perk because it allows him to fit more machines on his trailers.
While there are no downsides to walk-behind mowers that’d keep Maitland from utilizing them, he does admit that they can be difficult to operate in the rain.
“They tend to slip a little more,” he says.
“With the walk-behinds, when you have to add crews, or add someone from another division, there’s a level of comfort. It’s a good machine to start on.” Joe Maitland, owner of J. Crew Property Preservation
Minimal maintenance needed.
Maintaining the mowers is also simple, according to Maitland.
“The one good thing is lawn mowers are pretty low on the maintenance side of things compared to other machines like our mini excavators,” he says. “Every day our guys are looking at fuel levels, oil levels and how clean the filter is. It’s pretty easy.”
Maitland says crews additionally check the intake for any leaks and tire pressure. “They’ll move all the pivot points with grease, just to make sure everything is running smooth for operation,” he says.
But not all the maintenance is done at the shop. Maitland says upkeep on the jobsite is equally essential.
“We perform some routine maintenance throughout the course day while we’re cutting,” he says. “Guys will blow off any standing grass or anything from the top of the deck and making sure underneath the deck is clean. Unfortunately, commercial properties have a lot of trash, so we just make sure we don’t have anything touching the blades. Sometimes plastic bags and things will get wrapped around them.”
Additionally, Maitland says that with walk-behinds, counter pins from the hand gears and braking mechanism may come loose, more so than with other mowers, and get lost between jobsites. He says he always had a few extras on hand just in case.
“You can usually pick them up at your local hardware store,” Maitland says.
Upgrading all at once.
Because walk-behinds can be less expensive than other mowers, replacing a fleet of them can be a less demanding investment.
“I like the price point when it comes to fleet deals,” Maitland says. “When I go in, I typically buy five to seven mowers and a trailer. Around the time that our manufacturer’s warranty is up, I try and go ahead and replace that fleet.”
Maitland mentions that he’s tried several brands of mowers over the years and finally found one he’s really impressed with and plans to use for the indefinite future. He says working with a reputable dealer also makes the purchasing process better.
“Dealer support is always the number one thing for me,” Maitland says.