Contractors have been trying to stretch their equipment to new limits in recent years. This year, it seems as though many of their fleets have met their final cuts—and contractors are shopping for new mowers.
Dealers are busy doing demos and hitting on the important points that attract contractors to making a purchase. “When a contractor comes in for a demo, we walk through all the important features on the mowers we offer,” says Jason Leveck of Leveck’s Power Equipment in St. Johns, MI. “We focus on what our line has to offer instead of what the competition’s does not. The customer is going to listen a lot better when we are highlighting the positives instead of the negatives.”
Deck Size and Cut Quality
Depending on the size of properties the contractor maintains, the deck size they are looking for varies. “This year the 60-inch decks haven’t been as popular with the contractors as the 54-inch,” shares Ron Zipp of Southern Indiana Lawn Equipment in Lanesville, IN. “I don’t care what brand you have, light commercial or residential mowers are tough to keep in stock.”
Riding mowers can get a large job done quickly, but on smaller properties contractors are looking for an especially high-quality cut. “In the past, I have used riding mowers but I now use commercial walk-behinds for providing lawn maintenance services to homeowners with smaller yards,” says Mark Foxworth of Top Notch Yardcare in Grand Prairie, TX. “I find that zero-turns sometimes tear up the yards, and I don’t have enough commercial accounts to really warrant one.”
Contractors are opening up their portfolios to small properties in order to remain busy, and need smaller deck sizes for these residential yards. However, what always remains the same is the desire for a quality cut.
“I have a rider and can’t go over 60” because it’s too big for some of the lawns I maintain. I was using walk-behinds but then updated to the riders because they are more comfortable to operate when doing this daily,” explains Albert Anderson of Anderson Lawn Service in Milford, CT. “There has been a lot of raining here lately, which keeps me from cutting because it just ends with a mess. Mower manufacturers need to come up with a good feature so that when you do cut wet grass, it doesn’t leave clumps of wet grass.”
Anderson warns that even a slightly damp lawn keeps him from doing his job. Even when using mulching blades he is left with a mess to clean up. “Cutting in the rain is just too messy,” says Anderson. “I don’t like to leave a mess on the customer’s lawn because it mats the lawns down. Sometimes I raise the deck a little higher at first, then go back and cut over it again. That’s why easy adjustment of the deck height is as important to me as the blades underneath.”
Serviceability and Maintenance
In using a mower day-to-day, it’s important to many contractors that it is durable and easy to maintain or repair. Saving on service costs helps them to run an even more profitable business.
“I’m carrying a new brand that has a heavy-duty spindle assembly in it, cast iron with a 1” to 1-1/2” shank running through it that’s greaseable,” explains dealer Leveck. “Farmers and contractors who do heavy-duty and frequent mowing like to be able to service their own units. That’s the key, when people are doing something for a living with any kind of tool. It is low-maintenance, and durability is what matters most.”
If the Price is Right
It’s good if a mower has the right features, but it’s even better if you can get it all: a durable, serviceable mower with a quality cut, for the right price.
Leveck sold one brand for almost 30 years and watched as the mower’s prices continued to climb. He recently took on a more affordable line and was surprised at how quickly his customers threw brand loyalty out with the grass clippings.
“It was a great product, but they had gotten really out of control with their prices and thought the name and color was worth the price,” explains Leveck. “Now I can sell something built heavier and more durable for a considerable amount less.”
Price is playing a big role in the purchases this year as contractors are giving up their brand loyalty and going for products that offer them more value for the price.
“Price is everything to the commercial cutter right now. It’s not so much about brand anymore because some of the brands are getting too pricey,” says dealer Zipp. “It’s about them getting the best value for their dollar. They are out there bidding for nothing and struggling more and more having to drop their prices as gas goes up. They need to find quality mowers for less money.”
Texas contractor Jon Zertuche works many federal and commercial contracts. In maintaining these large accounts, he has cut with many brands. “I always choose a mower I feel is the sturdiest option that provides a great cut,” says Zertuche of Certified Lawn & Landscape in San Antonio, TX. “The one thing I always say I would like to see improve is the price.”