The Little Jobsite Worker Bee

Mini loaders have been around for quite some time, but many landscape contractors remain unaware of how useful they can be—especially when used in tandem with a conventional skid steer.

Andy Novak, branch manager for Martin Implement's Wauconda, IL, store.
Andy Novak, branch manager for Martin Implement's Wauconda, IL, store.

As demand for landscape installation services picks up, so does landscape contractor demand for compact construction equipment. We're talking about machines such as skid steers and track loaders, compact excavators and utility tractors. Mini loaders, those versatile little machines you walk or ride behind, are also starting to see some accelerated growth, according to Andy Novak from Chicago-area equipment dealer Martin Implement.

"Our Toro Dingo sales have been relatively steady for the past few years, but are starting to increase now that the economy is coming back," says Novak, branch manager for Martin Implement's Wauconda, IL, store. "I've always viewed a machine like this as a secret weapon. A lot of contractors don't know its capabilities." Toro Dingo is a popular brand of mini loader.

Rent or own

The persistently volatile business environment of the past few years had resulted in an increase in equipment rentals. This has certainly been the case with mini loaders. For dealerships like Martin Implement, rental has also provided a great avenue for increasing awareness of this product.

"Some contractors who are more familiar with skid steers look at the mini loader as nothing more than an oversized wheelbarrow," Novak points out. "But these machines are pretty powerful and can even turn a 30-inch auger. I remind contractors to keep an open mind. Many want to rent a mini loader for one specific purpose, like getting into a backyard, for example. But I tell them, 'Once you use one, you're going to want to own one.' Then I follow up with them a month or two later and they tell me they're using the mini loader all the time."

Stand-alone or part of an arsenal

Due to their compact size and versatility (ability to power numerous attachments), mini loaders are effective as stand-alone machines on many types of landscaping projects. That's why landscape contractors represent a substantial segment of Martin Implement's mini loader customer base.

"Landscapers often have many different types of projects going on," Novak says. "They might be doing some grading, moving of materials, planting and trenching. They require a machine that can address all of those needs while also addressing the need for a lighter machine on existing turf. But they still need a lot of hydraulic power to work the attachments. The most popular attachments we sell to landscape contractors are augers and trenchers. We also encourage landscapers to use different types of grading tools for finer grading and tilling to rougher grading."

As versatile and productive as a mini loader can be, it does have its limitations. Mini loaders do not have the carrying or lifting (reach) capabilities that a skid steer or track loader has. Take Bobcat, for instance, a manufacturer of both mini loaders and skid steers/track loaders. Its MT 52 and MT 55 mini loaders have a 520- and 550-pound rated operating capacity, and a 1,600- and 1,610-pound tipping load. Its smallest track loader, the T110, has a 1,100-pound rated operating capacity and a 3,190-pound tipping load. However, hydraulic flow to the attachment is nearly identical at 12 or 12.5 gpm (gallons per minute)—which is exactly why mini loaders are so effective in landscaping.

"I don't view the Dingo (mini-loader) as a competitor to the skid steer," Novak says. "Skid steers and mini loaders work hand in hand. Use your skid steer to move large loads of materials around a jobsite, like pallets of sod or pavers. Then your Dingo (mini loader) is your worker bee around the site. Take it into the back yard to dig and trench, and move smaller amounts of material."