Landscapers are versatile group, tackling jobs involving land and plants, hardscaping, irrigation, fencing and walls, tree work, snow removal and more. It’s as if the compact utility loader was made for them. After all, the first word that comes to mind when talking about the machine, also known as a mini skid-steer, is “versatility.”
“There are so many things that a mini skid-steer can add to a landscape business,” said Jay Sunderman, commercial business manager for Tree Care, Rental and Landscape at Vermeer. “There are an increasing number of attachments developed for different applications, it can access most jobsites and it augments labor, which is a crucial issue in the landscape industry right now.”
Compact utility loaders have been present in the domestic market for more than a decade, but awareness is growing, and, in many ways, the machines are the future of the landscape industry.
“We’re going to see a lot more mini skid-steers in the landscaping industry in the coming years,” said Matt Hutchinson, product manager for Tree Care, Rental and Landscape at Vermeer.
A major reason is a compact utility loader’s potential to ease labor issues. Landscaping is a physically demanding profession. This has made finding and retaining quality crew members arguably the biggest problem facing the industry.
A compact utility loader offers solutions to both those issues. First, it is more productive and efficient than just about any person could hope to be. For example, instead of having a crew member carry pavers by hand or with a wheelbarrow to a backyard, a compact utility loader can do that work faster and in fewer trips. Reducing the physical demands of a job can increase employee happiness, helping to recruit and retain employees.
“We want to help landscape business owners get more productivity out of their crews by giving them a tool to use like a mini skid-steer,” said Sunderman. “As far as employee satisfaction goes, it’s less fatiguing on that employee to use a mini skid-steer.”
Attachments are key
The type of work compact utility loaders are used for has been growing in recent years, primarily because of the increasing variety of attachments for the machine.
Buckets, forks, augers, tillers, trenchers, land levelers, power box rakes, graders, blades, snow blowers — this is just a sampling of attachments that are popular with landscapers (see sidebar). Having so many options can help contractors grow their businesses. Want to get into irrigation installations? Buy or rent a trencher attachment. Get a couple of different sizes of auger bits, and you could be installing fence posts, root balls or even basketball hoops.
Sunderman and Hutchinson see the development of additional attachments as one of the reasons compact utility loaders have such a strong future in the landscape industry.
“If there’s an application that’s not being met now by the available attachments, it’s quite possible that there will be one at some point,” said Sunderman.
Accessibility and operational features
Currently, landscapers are most often using a compact utility loader for hauling material, site prep and trenching for irrigation, drainage tile or wiring for exterior lighting.
“You can get material in place by using a traditional wheelbarrow, but the time, effort and perhaps number of trips are drastically reduced by using a mini skid-steer,” said Sunderman.
Other pieces of equipment mini skid-steers are replacing are larger skid-steers, front loaders and small tractors. One of the biggest advantages of mini skid-steers is their size — with many offering the ability to fit through a standard 36-inch gate. A smaller machine also may cause less ground disturbance and decrease restoration costs.
Besides size, a landscaper considering purchasing or renting a compact utility loader should look at the model’s rated operating capacity and tipping capacity, which indicate how much a machine can safely lift.
Comfort and versatility are additional factors to consider. For example, Vermeer offers a padded, chariot-style operator’s station with a spring-cushioned ride-on platform. Having a stand-on platform rather than a seat can be a benefit. With a sit-down machine like a larger loader, an employee may be classified as a machine operator whose sole job is to run that machine.
“Whereas, with a mini skid-steer, it’s there to enhance the efficiency of your laborer, so that he can operate the machine and then do other work,” said Hutchinson. “A larger machine may add a person to the size of your crew.”
That gets back to one of the machine’s chief benefits: the ability to address labor issues and help boost productivity.
“A contractor may be able to do more jobs in a season, which is key, and do them with an optimally sized workforce,” said Sunderman.
Article provided by Vermeer Corporation.
Five Attachments to Grow Your Business
1. Auger bit — Augers offer the potential for adding trees to a landscape company’s repertoire. But auger bits can dig holes for all kinds of purposes: fence posts, poles and even basketball hoop installations are all possibilities.
2. Trencher — Irrigation is often treated as a specialty in the landscape industry. With a trencher attachment, however, a landscape business that has traditionally focused on green space can expand into this service. It also can be used to cut a trench for utilities for outdoor lighting.
3. Buckets and forks — These may be the most basic attachments, but their potential to help landscape contractors is immense. Just think of hardscaping. The material used is often heavy, such as retaining walls, pavers and rock. Rather than moving that with a wheelbarrow or even by hand, a compact utility loader can lift more and get it from point A to point B with less effort than manual labor. Yes, other equipment like larger skid steers and small tractors can do this work, but they cannot access small spaces and backyards as easily as a compact utility loader can, and they may tear up turf more.
4. Power box rake — This attachment is great for site prep and maintenance. A crew can remove debris from the ground and prep it for seeding. Another idea is taking a compact utility loader with a power box rake attachment and performing athletic field and golf course maintenance.
5. Snow blower — A lot of landscape businesses in colder climates shift to snow removal in the winter. Many use trucks with blades, which are limited primarily to parking lots and driveways. They might use walk-behind snow blowers and shovels for trails and sidewalks. With a snow blower attachment on a ride-on compact utility loader, they could still access narrow spaces like trails and sidewalks, but clear them faster. Blade and brush attachments also are available.
Source: Vermeer Corporation