Using compact equipment attachments for the myriad of jobs landscapers encounter is one way to help spare workers a trip to the chiropractor, or worse. Using these attachments also allows workers to be more efficient, which in turn saves costs to do the job.
Here are three companies that are helping to make the job a little easier for their employees while staying competitive.
Working in New England’s “boney soil” is no easy chore, says Jim Agabedis, president of Minuteman Landscaping. However, it’s made a lot easier by employing compact equipment accessories that can be attached to a Toro Dingo. These attachments serve a variety of functions, not the least of which is to lessen the wear and tear on his employees.
“It extends the career of some of your key people,” Agabedis says. “Why wear them down with mechanical labor?”
Minuteman Landscaping services Sudbury, Massachusetts and its surrounding communities. Agabedis says most of the high-end residential properties they service already have plants and nice lawns in place, so it’s imperative that they tread lightly with equipment.
“Many of the homes are already landscaped,” he says. “So we can’t just go in there and bull rush the thing.”
He says the Dingo is a better choice than a heavier Bobcat for his company and works well getting into tight spaces. They’ve got a variety of attachments that are suitable for the type of work they do and how frequently they need to use it.
For instance, Minuteman Landscaping uses a vibratory plow to pull pipe underground for some of the irrigation work. Agabedis acknowledges that a Ditch Witch would be a better piece of equipment for doing irrigation work full-time. Purchasing this attachment and hooking it to the Dingo saves him money over buying a full-size piece of equipment.
For that boney soil he refers to, the company employs an eliminator attachment to loosen up rock where necessary to prepare a site for planting. Levelers will take the back-breaking work out of spreading soil amendments or gravel and the Rotadairon, a roto-tiller attachment, will smooth it all out so the site can be seeded or planted with trees and shrubs.
The compact equipment attachments have made the company much more efficient. The bucket attachment will do five times the work of a single worker, Agabedis says. A fork attachment is also used to move things around and pick up heavy barrels they use to clean up after themselves.
“When cleaning up a site, it’s hard for two guys to do it,” he says. “Put (a barrel) on the fork and it saves our guys. It’s part of our safety program, avoiding back injuries.”
Employees also use auger attachments for digging holes and created their own version of a thumb attachment. They had it fabricated at a welding shop and use it specifically for prying out improperly planted trees that are still in wire baskets, a chore that can easily take three or four able-bodied people to perform.
“Make sure the machine you buy is one that fits in your budget and you can get parts and service when you need it. Price is not always our deciding factor.” – Josh O’Connor, Growing Seasons Landscapes
Agabedis says he likes to buy new and hang on to equipment for as long as he can, and shies away from renting it, though he has had to do so on occasion.
“If we’re out there and we’re renting, we’ve got to send guys out to get the equipment and bring it back,” he says. “We try not to rent, but if we need equipment to expedite the project or if something is out of commission, we’ll rent.”
The New Englander has this advice for those just starting out: “Make sure it’s not a toy, to say I have this or that,” he says. “If you’re not using it three to four days a week, it’s best to rent or lease. Maintain what you have. Attachments can run up to $6,000.”
Get up close.
Southwest Florida-based Crawford Landscaping Group has more than 220 commercial and residential properties to maintain and upgrade as necessary. The company services homeowner associations and high rise complexes from Marco Island to Fort Myers.
President Keith Mahan says he and his staff of about 200 workers are sold on their Vermeer S725TX mini skid-steer, especially for those jobs that require getting into tight spaces, like courtyards and up close to condos.
“I can get into spots where my regular ride-on won’t fit,” Mahan says, adding that they can get close to buildings to install irrigation and perform other jobs. “Compared to hand digging, it cuts the labor down to nothing.”
Mahan says the company has all of the larger equipment as well as mini skid-steers. He recommends the Vermeer skid-steer with the attachments for smaller companies with smaller budgets.
“It saves a lot over buying a lot of different larger machines,” he says.
The Vermeer S725TX stand-on skid-steer is controlled by levers that operate the forward and backward movements of the unit, and the function of the attachments. It has a bucket for moving soil, rock and mulch, a grapple for logs and tree branches, a fork to pick up heavy objects and a trencher for irrigation installations. The petite skid-steer and attachments all fit on one trailer for easy hauling.
“It saves a lot of wear and tear on the guys, Mahan says of the grapple and fork attachments. “If they had to pick up stuff all day it would wear them out ... We can have a machine do it. Labor is everything, time and labor. It helps us be more competitive.”
To keep everything running smoothly and to not lose time with equipment breakdowns, the company sticks to an hourly maintenance schedule, bringing the equipment to their own mechanic after so many hours of operation, as recommended in the manual. Mahan says the company sometimes rents full-size equipment, but there’s no one in the area renting compact equipment attachments.
Smooth it out.
Caterpillar is the equipment of choice for Pittsburgh-based Growing Seasons Landscapes. Josh O’Connor, operations manager, says his company uses a number of compact equipment attachments with its mini skid-steers, compact loaders and mini excavators, saving them money over buying larger pieces of equipment for each task.
The company does a lot of work with new installations, so it needs an attachment that can smooth land out and get it ready for seeding after the bulldozer has left. O’Connor and his crew rely on a power rake to perform this job. This attachment will condition the soil while pushing rock and debris out ahead of the attachment so that when they’re finished it’s ready for seeding.
“It has a big drum with teeth, chews everything up and pushes rocks forward while filtering out the conditioned soil behind,” O'Connor says. “It also levels as it goes, so it can be seeded. We have a handful of them we use. It goes behind a skid-steer and track loaders.”
Compact equipment accessories save the company money over buying a full piece of equipment for each task. For instance, they use a stump grinder attachment with their skid-steer rather than a dedicated unit which would cost much more.
They also have broom attachments for street and parking lot sweeping, and a grapple bucket for picking up brush and other objects. A vibratory roller will compact gravel and soil as needed.
On the mini-excavator side, they use a hydraulic thumb attachment to pick up logs, debris and rocks. They also use a swivel bucket that swings left and right, which comes in handy for cutting a v-ditch and fine tuning the grade. A hammer attachment takes the grueling work out of breaking up cement and rock and a hydraulic compactor attachment is used to compact the soil after trenching.
All in all, the company uses a lot of equipment to save on labor costs and get the job done. They follow a strict maintenance schedule performed in-house to keep things running and so they don’t have a broken piece of equipment holding up a job.
“We have a lot of diversified equipment,” O’Connor says. “We model our business to be as efficient as possible. The use of compact equipment and their attachments helps us achieve this. The job itself is physically demanding enough, so anytime we can use a machine to help eliminate that we’ll certainly do it. And if we don’t have it, we rent it.”
O’Connor says they usually go to the dealer to rent whatever they may need to finish a job. They only rent when other equipment is tied up or out of commission, or when they want to get a job done a little quicker.
O’Connor’s advice for those just starting out?
“Rent and run something before you invest in it. Make sure it is what you like and need,” he says. “Anyone can sell you things; they all do the same functions. Make sure the machine you buy is one that fits in your budget and you can get parts and service when you need it. Price is not always our deciding factor.”