WHAT'S ON MY TRAILER: Reliable Trimmers, Just Enough Mower, and the Mind of a Property Manager

James Gardner has worked on and off in the landscape industry since he was a teenager. He has also been a property manager since 2005. The two go hand in hand, James says, which is why he's so excited about the prospects of expanding his young landscape company.

James' father and grandfather got into the construction business and built Jaymar Apartments in the late 1980s. Their decision to upgrade the landscape, and enlist the help of James to do so, is what really peaked James' interest in the landscaping business. “The landscape at the complex was almost entirely grass," James tells. "Now it has more of a tropical setting that also includes palms, ornamental grasses and rock beds.

"My dad and grandfather have been a huge influence on me, from pushing me into college to teaching various aspects of the trades, business management, common sense and principals," James continues. "My granddad has since retired, so my dad and I run the day-to-day management of the property, even though my dad is trying to transition out of the business after almost 30 years in property management."

James also founded Gardner Landscaping LLC of Shalimar, FL, in April 2012. In addition to his apartment complex, James maintains 35 residential properties and three commercial properties. He’s looking to gradually expand—particularly on the commercial side.

“My goal is to be able to add a second crew by the end of next season,” James says. “Property management and landscape management go hand in hand. I will be a Certified Apartment Manager (through the National Apartment Association) by the end of this year. Being a property manager will help build and strengthen a working relationship with other property managers when it comes time to bid commercial properties.”

In the meantime, James remains focused on the things every smart contractor focuses on when building his company: customer service and productivity.

Reliable smaller equipment

James uses Snapper walk-behind mowers because they’ve been the most reliable for him. He also likes the fact that they are available locally from servicing dealer Stiles Outdoor Power Equipment in Fort Walton Beach, FL. The same goes for his Shindaiwa string trimmers. “We used to run Echo mainly because they’re less expensive, but really like the Shindaiwas now,” James says. “We still run some Echo blowers, though. Our dealer mostly works with Shindaiwa, Stihl, Honda, Snapper and Hustler.”

Speaking of Hustler, James took an important step in his landscape-industry evolution this season. He laid his lawn tractor to rest and purchased a zero-turn riding mower, the Hustler Raptor.

Can a 'residential' zero-turn really cut the mustard?

The Raptor, introduced just a year ago, is actually an entry-level zero-turn rider geared toward homeowners with large lawns. But it has a Kawasaki engine and fabricated steel deck, making it much more comparable to a commercial mower than most homeowner-grade models.

After talking with the dealer and the dealer’s service technicians, James decided the Raptor would be a good mower for him, given its price point (around $3,000) and performance features. The mower hasn’t disappointed. “We’ve had no problems, and the mower has only required regular upkeep (maintenance),” James says.

Efficiency behind the scenes

Graduating to a zero-turn mower has definitely helped James more efficiently service properties. He’ll likely buy another one, or perhaps a more commercial-duty Hustler model, if he’s able to add a second crew next year. Which mower he buys will depend on the demands of the properties the mower will be servicing.

Another wise investment has been some business management software called Service Autopilot. James took the plunge in the midst of a mild crisis earlier this year.

“My computer and backup hard drive both crashed, and I had to revert to a backup in the software (Gopher) that was about three months outdated,” James shares. “I lost a lot of information. So I figured it might be a good time to go ahead and upgrade to a better system.

“Service Autopilot has been huge for me,” James continues. “You never have to worry about losing data due to a crash. Plus, I’m saving a ton of time in the office, especially when it comes to scheduling; I’m no longer wasting time filling out wall calendars. I’ve always been very organized, but this automation is making it a lot easier as I try to grow my company.”

Speaking of trying to grow a company, James made his first trip to the GIE+EXPO in October. His main goal was to attend several business seminars to refine and expand his existing management skill set. He was also eager to walk the trade show floor in hopes of finding that next tool or piece of equipment that could give him an edge when it comes to productivity and workmanship. Head to our website to hear James talk about what really caught his attention at GIE+EXPO.