For landscape companies in many parts of the country, winter is deemed as downtime—unless the snow is falling. However, the slower season doesn’t mean equipment and crews should be dormant.
Here are tips on how landscape companies can make the most of the winter months and increase their equipment’s return on investment.
In parts of the country that do receive snowfall, the answer to keeping machines running may be as simple as offering snow removal services.
“Many of our landscape and hardscape customers in colder climates do snow removal in the winter months, which is a great way to keep your equipment and your people busy all year,” says Emily Pagura, solutions marketing manager at John Deere.
Pagura advises equipping the machine with a cab that includes air-conditioning, heat and even a heated seat to keep operators comfortable and happy through high and low temps.
Mike Fitzgerald, marketing manager at Bobcat Co., agrees.
“If they bought a machine with an open cab for work in the summer, that doesn’t fit very well for a guy to sit in and move snow for eight to 10 hours in the winter,” Fitzgerald says. “A heater and even a radio to listen to—those features will enhance their capabilities year-round.”
Fitzgerald adds that to clear snow, landscape contractors should consider snow blades, snow buckets and snow blowers to attach to the front of the machine, depending on where the company is located.
Finally, it’s important to also consider the hydraulics of the machine based on what attachments the contractor chooses.
“Contractors who plan to do snow removal should carefully consider potential snow blower use when configurating their machine; high-flow hydraulics are required for larger blowers, and configuring the machine with features such as Attachment Assist Controls with creep control and throttle lock will improve the operator efficiency and experience,” Pagura says.
Of course, not every region experiences snow.
“(Winter) isn’t a bad time to research what other parts of the business you can expand into and what other parts of the job you can bring in-house,” says Travis Kidder, product manager with attachments and the light compaction line, Bobcat Co.
Kidder says he’s talked to quite a few contractors who provide brush management and land management services during the winter months.
“Simply put, you don’t have as many leaves and brush in the way as in the fall,” Kidder says. “Plus, the ground can get harder if it’s cold at night, so you don’t have as much mud or soft ground to get stuck in.”
With all of that in mind, Kidder says the winter months are not a bad time to advertise these services to existing customers.
“You can use your equipment to make a little extra money on the side, too,” Kidder says.
Times when the machines are idle doesn’t mean crews have to be. Winter may be the best time to address maintenance issues that seem to get brushed aside during the busy season.
Whether landscape professionals perform the maintenance in-house or bring the machine to a dealer, they should check the overall condition and look for anything that might present a problem down the road.
Pagura recommends contacting the equipment dealer to make sure machines are up to date on preventive maintenance and considering purchasing a preventive plan.
“If you plan to do your own maintenance, ask your dealer about filter packs and other parts or fluids you'll need,” Pagura says.
Finally, Kidder suggests companies stay up to date on the latest technology and software integrated into the machine.
“A lot of times, we’re releasing different software updates and calibrations that they can run through to make sure everything is fine-tuned,” Kidder says.
In the end, Fitzgerald says taking these steps can save contractors both time and money down the line.
“Your low-use time is much better than having a breakdown during the middle of a job or busy season when all of a sudden, you’re having people stand around a jobsite, and you have to find a replacement machine,” Fitzgerald says. “Those costs can escalate quickly at that point.”