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4 items to add to your mower wish list

January 20, 2021 -  By
Because mowing crews spend much of their day on mowers, comfort is key when companies decide on new equipment. (Photo: Grasshopper Mowers)

Because mowing crews spend much of their day on mowers, comfort is key when companies decide on new equipment. (Photo: Grasshopper Mowers)

The holiday season is in the rearview, but that doesn’t mean the time for purchasing mowers has passed. In fact, now may be the time to consider what mower features will help get your company rolling when the spring comes around.

“I think landscape contractors are going to start really challenging manufacturers and say, ‘Hey, look, we need these tools, we need these resources, in order for us to do our job in today’s environment,’” says Lenny Mangnall, product manager at Exmark. “So, on the manufacturer side, we have to move forward with getting that feedback and building products that solve landscape contractors’ problems.”

Landscape Management spoke with landscape pros and manufacturers alike to compile a wish list of what features landscapers are looking for in a mower.

1. Efficiency

Perhaps the most common want among landscape contractors is a machine that saves on labor — in other words, one that is both efficient and productive.

Nick Minas, product manager at John Deere, notes that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some companies are asking for machines that can get the same amount of work done with a two- or three-person crew versus four or five to help minimize contact among crew members.

For example, on John Deere’s Z7000 Series mowers, geared toward large properties, the company has introduced a tool carrier that hooks on to the right-hand side of the machine.

John Deere offers a tool carrier to attach to mowers. (Photo: John Deere)

John Deere offers a tool carrier to attach to mowers. (Photo: John Deere)

“So, you can carry your string trimmer with you or other handheld tools that will make the operator more efficient on their day-to-day activities while mowing,” Minas says. “If an operator is on a larger property, and they get on the back end of it, the truck is a little ways away, (so) it’s more efficient to carry that string trimmer with them versus having to go back and forth with hand tools.”

Intuitive controls also play a part in making the operator more efficient, Mangnall says.

“The operator’s hands fit naturally, and you’re seeing more manufacturers going with a more intuitive style of drive system or handling system that guys can adapt to or learn quickly,” Mangnall says. “Now, for example, if one guy is out because he needs to quarantine, that job has to be easy for someone else to take over. It goes back to making the machines very easy to learn and operate, so landscape companies can continue to provide that same level of quality from the services they’re offering.”

Electronic fuel injection (EFI) systems are also growing in popularity as they help optimize fuel and ignition timing.

“Every year, a larger and larger percentage of the zero-turns in the industry are EFIs,” Minas says. “Again, that goes back to the fuel efficiency, but it also goes to the startability. They tend to be a little more reliable.”

2. Comfort

Because operators spend a large portion of their working hours on mowers, they want a machine that’s comfortable.

For instance, Blessing Property Maintenance, a landscape and lawn care company in Glenfield, N.Y., lauds the importance of a quality suspension system to absorb shock, since the company primarily serves campsites that include uneven terrain, according to owner Kyle Blessing.

The company has been using Toro mowers for about three years.

“The MyRide (suspension) system is nice because our ground is so bumpy here,” Blessing says. “It really matters what terrain you’re mowing.”

He notes that the company also has recently invested in a mower with tracks instead of tires. This design helps carry the mower — and the operator — over uneven ground.

Other comfort features include height adjustments and easy access to controls.
Kioti’s zero-turn line features adjustable seat positioning for operators ranging from 5 feet to 7 feet tall.

“We tried to focus on allowing that (operator) to sit upright in that machine, so they can hold the handles and all the controls are within easy reach, so they’re not having to bend and twist and get their body out of position,” says Joel Hicks, product development manager for Kioti.

Twin Oaks Landscape, a full-service firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., collects input from its employees on what mowers they’re most comfortable in when it comes to making its purchasing decisions.

The company serves a 60-65 percent commercial and 30-35 percent high-end residential clientele.

Every three years, the company decides on a new fleet of mowers, based partly on employee feedback, according to Chris Speen, general manager of Twin Oaks.

Snow attachment (Photo: John Deere)

Do it all Attachments on mowers help landscapers perform more work throughout the year. (Photo: John Deere)

In many cases, manufacturers bring the mowers to the company to test drive. “We have all of our employees ride them and rate them. We have them turn in forms to say how the mowers are, what they like about them, what they don’t like,” he says. “We get a feel for what they like to use, evaluate all the costs and then go from there.”

Stand-on mowers have also made a surge in recent years because they help ease strain on the operator.

“Operators can quickly and easily get on and off the mower to remove obstacles from their path,” says Grant Wilson, director of product management for Ariens Co. “Also, stand-on mowers are effective in small, confined areas but can also cover large areas. They are also ergonomically correct — taking the pressure off of the user’s spine.”

Looking ahead, Minas says he expects operator comfort to take a front seat as machines become more refined.

“Over the last four to six years, you really see what were considered premium comfort features become standard or expected,” Minas says. “At the end of the day, it comes down to operator comfort, which goes hand in hand with operator productivity. We’ll see microinnovations to help get to that ultimate comfort over the next few years.”

3. Less maintenance

Landscape pros also look for mowers that require less maintenance, resulting in more uptime and less labor required to fix mowers that break down.

“We view productivity as, ‘How can we design our mowers so that they require less maintenance on the mower itself?’” says Brad Unruh, director of product development for Hustler. “At the end of the day, our goal here is to keep the mowers in the field as much as possible and not be back in the shop getting routine service maintenance or repaired.”

To that end, Unruh says Hustler scrutinizes its machines to ensure there aren’t any unnecessary components, particularly ones that can break down and cause downtime.

“If you don’t need it, we don’t put it on,” Unruh says. “Plus, the more parts and pieces you put on a mower, the more likely (the manufacturer) is going to have to pass that cost on to the landscaper.”

Crew member mowing (Photo: Twin Oaks Landscape)

Keeping it fresh Every three years, Twin Oaks Landscape allows crews to help the company decide on new mowers. (Photo: Twin Oaks Landscape)

For Twin Oaks Landscape, easy maintenance is also a top consideration when deciding on a new fleet of mowers.

“We don’t want a wrench on them all the time, and we want them to be under warranty,” Speen says, explaining that’s why the company trades in its mowers every three years. “They still have equity, and then when the warranty’s up, we don’t have to keep the mechanic working and doing all this stuff.”

That way, the pit crew at Twin Oaks can focus on washing the mowers, changing and sharpening the blades, checking oil and tire pressure levels and so on.

Mangnall says that on many mowers, there’s less maintenance because service intervals have become longer.

“There’s fewer service items that are required in machines,” Mangnall
says, pointing to airless tires as an example. “Now, guys don’t have to sit there and check tire pressure each morning to ensure (they’re) going to get the same quality cut. Also, it’s a tire that’s going to last three to five times as long.”

4. Versatility

Using mowers for tasks beyond simply mowing also has become a popular move in the green industry.

“Including mulch kits that offer a professionally manicured appearance and hitch kits that support a variety of tow-behind options, accessories let landscapers customize their mowing experience,” Wilson says.

Person on Exmark mower (Photo: Exmark)

Up & at ’em Longer service intervals due to fewer parts on mowers allow crews to achieve more uptime in the field. (Photo: Exmark)

Using attachments on a mower can give machines a purpose to stay up and running during the off-season, instead of sitting dormant in a shop, which, in turn, allows landscapers to get more bang for their buck.

“A large variety of turf renovation, debris management and snow removal implements are available to keep a landscape contractor busy all year long,” says Brian Schoenthaler, marketing specialist at Grasshopper Mowers. “The advantages of using these attachments include zero-turn maneuverability,
riding instead of walking and investing in and maintaining several single-purpose pieces of equipment.

Also, with only one four-cycle engine to maintain, time and money can be saved in maintenance and parts inventory.”

A bonus wish

While the green industry isn’t yet all in on battery-powered equipment, several experts say they expect the technology to continue to improve within the next several years.

“I know that whatever happens in the auto industry is going to eventually probably make it down to our industry also,” says Brad Unruh, director of product development for Hustler. “The challenge there is getting battery run times for a commercial landscaper who’s (working) maybe 10 to 12 hours a day. How can he keep that battery going? How can we bring the cost down? We’re not there yet. But again, we’re starting to see glimpses of that in the industry.”

Person using Exmark mower (Photo: Exmark)

Quick fix Mowers are now easy to learn, so crew members can take over for one another seamlessly. (Photo: Exmark)

Once demands of longer run times and lower costs are met, Grant Wilson, director of product management for Ariens Co., says the machines will help in the overall goal of making landscapers more productive and efficient.

“Electric mowers eliminate time spent refueling and performing normal maintenance,” he says. “There are no belts, pulleys or filters, and there are fewer oil changes.”

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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