Choosing the Right Equipment for the Job
“The right tool for the right job.” We’ve all heard that adage before. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It can be, when it comes to picking one hammer over another down at the big-box store.
Things get a bit more complicated, however, when we start talking about large machines costing tens of thousands of dollars: bark blowers, skid steers, bucket trucks, compact loaders and more.
Pick the wrong hammer, it’s no big deal. Pick the wrong type of hydroseeder, or the wrong size loader, and the consequences for your soil erosion or hydroseeding business might not be so minor.
It can be a bit overwhelming, sorting through all the different brands and features out there. There are so many things to consider—price, footprint, the attachments that are available, ease of operation, and many others.
“For us, it really comes down to, what’s the weight of the machine, and what’s the horsepower,” said David Plechner of FJP Services, Inc., a commercial landscape construction company in Southampton, Pennsylvania. His company does a lot of work at large commercial sites such as retirement communities, apartment complexes, colleges and big-box chain-store distribution warehouses.
“We’re looking for as much horsepower as we can find, in a piece of equipment that weighs as little as possible, so we’re not cracking sidewalks, breaking curbs, creating ruts, or crushing irrigation pipes below. When we’re doing fine grading, we’ve got to have enough power to get up over sidewalks or parking islands.” Size is important to Plechner, too, as it affects whether he’s going to be able to get into certain areas.
Last year, his company tried out five or six different tracked skid steers before they decided on which one to buy. “The one we ultimately bought has great horsepower, weight distribution, lifting capacity and ease of maintenance. It’s also very easy for the driver to climb into. We use it for just about everything: upgrading, line grading, planting, unloading trucks, and moving heavy materials around.”
Ray Badger, CEO and founder of hydroseeder manufacturer Turbo Technologies, Inc. in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, says that a contractor should look carefully at the type of work he mainly does.
When it comes to hydroseeders, for instance, “the requirements for roadside erosion control work are very different than for commercial and residential. Those last two are much more forgiving; you can get by with any type of machine. But if you’re going to be mixing 100-percent wood mulches, bonded fiber matrices or flexible growth media, you’ll need a mechanical paddle machine with some good power.”
Will you be doing mostly hose work, or spraying big slopes with a tower gun? This affects what type of pump your hydroseeder should have. A gear pump is great for hose work, not quite as good for tower work. Centrifugal pumps will work in either case, but are better for tower work.
Your machines should also match the size of your jobs. Using too small a machine on a big site wastes time. Tackling small jobs with big machines isn’t practical, either.
“There are a lot of variables to consider when you’re looking at purchasing equipment,” says Greg Lee, vice president of sales and marketing for the Fairfield, Ohio-based Finn Corporation. Some of those variables will be more important to you than others; every contractor’s needs are different.
Productivity is number one
The amount of work they’ll get out of a particular machine is the biggest, most important buying consideration for most contractors, ahead of any other factors, says Greg Zupancic, product marketing manager for skid steers, compact track loaders and attachments for John Deere, Moline, Illinois. “I do a lot of market research, and definitely, productivity is in the top three.”
Russ Collier, president and inhouse salesperson for Pittsfield, Maine-based Hydrograsscorp.com, a distributor of erosion control equipment and consumables, echoes that. “What are contractors looking for the most?” he asks. “Profitability.”
A special piece of equipment boosted both productivity and profitability for Cedar Hills, Utahbased Platinum Landscape. The company builds quite a few retaining walls out of stone, brick and concrete pavers.
“Some of these bricks are twofeet-by-two-feet-wide, and weigh about 70 pounds each,” said Rick Meinzer, owner and chief creative officer. “We found a machine made in Germany with a hydraulic foot, essentially a suction cup with a handle on each side.”
“Two guys set this ‘foot’ down onto a brick or paver, and it hydraulically ‘sucks’ it up and holds it. Then we maneuver the foot to where we want the brick to go, release it, and it drops right in. It makes a tight joint, where there’s no room even to put your fingers. We bought this machine just because it can do that job,” saving time, labor, and probably, injuries.
Cost and ROI
Badger thinks cost is one of the biggest factors for contractors making equipment-buying decisions; after all, these machines aren’t cheap.
“Another is how much work they actually have for that machine. If they’re going to be hydroseeding five days a week, all year long, then they can afford a bigger, more powerful hydroseeder,” says Badger.
“But if he’s a landscape contractor who’s only going to be seeding eight or ten lawns a year, and finds that it’s more economical to do that work himself than sub it out, then he might need to watch price a little more. He should probably go with a smaller machine, maybe one with jet agitation.”
Zupancic says that the cost of developing new engine technology to meet the EPA’s Tier 4i emissions requirements has driven prices up. As a result, overall cost of ownership is becoming more of a factor.
“The contractor must ask, not only how much will it cost him to purchase a machine, but how much it will cost to own and operate it, in terms of maintenance, repairs, and everything else. And then he has to ask, ‘How much can I get for it down the road, when I sell it on the aftermarket?’ He wants a good return on investment (ROI).”
“If you’d asked me this question five years ago, I would have said productivity trumps all,” said Zupancic. “Today, I’ll say that ROI is a close tie with productivity in its importance to the customer.”
The kind and number of attachments available for a given machine merits serious attention. Buckets, thumbs, hydraulic hammers, trenching tools—there are dozens of different add-ons that will increase the versatility and overall value of a piece of equipment.
“Contractors are concerned about being able to have what they need to get jobs completed,” said Collier. “They want multi-functionality. Machines need to be able to do more than one job, as situations dictate.”
According to Zupancic, a trend exists where contractors who would typically buy a $150,000 dozer or a $200,000 big-wheel loader are switching to compact track loaders and skid steers. Attachments are the reason.
“Attachments make these compact machines very versatile. They can give you a hedge when hydroseeding season is over. With the right attachment, you can go do land clearing or even snow removal.”
A machine’s hydraulic system dictates what attachments can be used, according to Zupancic. “About eighty percent of attachments don’t require high-flow hydraulics,” he says. “Augers, cold planers for grinding asphalt or concrete, they don’t need it. But some do—like land-clearing attachments, things that mulch up trees, and trenchers, for instance.”
“If you want to run all kinds of attachments, and aren’t exactly sure what those might be in the future, you might want to go for high-flow. Then you could run every attachment under the sun.”