Benefits of compact construction equipment

July 8, 2016 -  By
Machines that can get into small spaces are a must for residential firms like Alpine Gardens.

Machines that can get into small spaces are a must for residential firms like Alpine Gardens.

Three case studies examine the benefits of compact construction equipment.

Three different businesses that opt for compact construction equipment echo the same sentiments again and again—bigger isn’t always better. In fact, the landscape business owners we spoke with found that investing in compact equipment allowed them to get the job done just as well as full-sized equipment but with better ease-of-use and greater efficiency. In addition, smaller equipment can be particularly useful in tight job spaces, such as residential properties.

Tight squeeze

Company: Alpine Gardens
Fort Collins, Colo.

Efficiency and versatility are the two main reasons Nate Fetig values compact equipment. Along with three Caterpillar skid-steers, he also has a Bobcat E-32 mini excavator, six Bobcat MT series mini track loaders and several ride-on trenchers. With all the attachments available for this equipment, the owner of Alpine Gardens in Fort Collins, Colo., gives him a versatile toolset to work with on all the company’s jobs.

“Almost every job we’re asked to do could be done with the help of compact equipment,” says Fetig, whose $7.3 million dollar company is a 70/30 mix of residential/commercial work. “Ideally, we’d like to see our crews set up with a walk-behind track loader—one for each crew,” Fetig says. “We’re not at that stage yet, but we’re working toward that for our installation side, which has 10 crews.”

With many residential properties shrinking these days, Fetig says a machine that can do the job in a tight space is a “big deal” for his business.

About half of Alpine Gardens’ work is residential design/build, 37 percent is commercial installation and the remaining 13 percent is landscape maintenance. Compact equipment has assisted with all of it—and that’s important since labor is hard to come by.

“Like everyone else in the industry, we’re facing a labor shortage,” Fetig says. “One way we’re dealing with it is by mechanizing our crews to be more efficient.”

With the help of compact equipment, he says his crews’ days are “less labor intensive.”

“We have an aging workforce, but with the use of compact equipment, we’ve been able to still ask our employees to work longer hours without the fear that it’s going to damage their physical health,” Fetig says. “That benefit alone easily makes it worth the investment.”

Fetig says his success with compact equipment thus far encourages him to invest in more in the future. In particular, he likes the combination of the mini excavator and the mini track loader.

“When equipped with the correct attachments, they can perform nearly any task needed for landscaping,” he says.

“With the trend of residential lots becoming smaller, what had been traditional landscape equipment (namely skid-steers) is becoming less useful, while smaller equipment is becoming more crucial, as they are better able to access the worksites. The access element also becomes important with the rise in remodel projects in residential properties.”

Making it safer for crews to operate is one perk of investing in equipment.

Making it safer for crews to operate is one perk of investing in equipment.

Crew saver

Company: Denison Landscaping
Fort Washington, Md.

Compact equipment has become so ingrained in the workday at Denison Landscaping, that it’s hard for Josh Denison, vice president of labor and human resources, to remember a time when they didn’t rely heavily on it. He says the $50 million-plus, Fort Washington, Md.-based company, which serves an 80 percent commercial client base, has been using compact equipment in one form or another for the past two decades. Over the last six years, Denison has become nearly exclusive with Kubota.

There are benefits to being brand loyal, Denison says. These include the level of support that you get from the dealer, being able to stock fewer parts since there’s some commonality in filters and fluids, operator proficiency and mechanical knowledge.

The machine that gets daily use is the SVL75 compact track loader. The company has 59 of them and uses them to grade yards, dig ponds, lay sod and lift and carry dirt, plants and hardscape materials, among other tasks. Denison says it’s a dependable and durable machine that’s easily transported from job site to job site. He adds that it has given the company company the advantages of reducing man hours, increasing productivity, and increasing efficiency in all facets of the job.

The company also has three SVL90s but Denison says they don’t get as much use, as they aren’t as easily transportable as the SVL75s. He also runs U17 and KX91 mini excavators for pond and irrigation work.

But the SVL75s, in particular, get the most use, says Denison, adding their versatility is a key advantage.

“You only need one machine to do it all,” Denison says. “You don’t have to go out and buy a trencher or an auger—you buy a trencher or auger attachment. The versatility in a single machine with the accompanying attachments is phenomenal. We’re able to get so many functions out of one machine that it can complement all facets of our work load.”

An additional benefit of compact equipment that’s often overlooked is “safety and security,” Denison adds.

“Our crews no longer have to lift all the heavy material they once did,” Denison says. “There’s an element of protection that we have by giving crews the ability to mechanically do their job. They can do more and they can do it safer.”

Looking ahead, Denison says there’s no doubt the company will continue to invest in compact equipment.

Double duty

Dan Bywalec compares his compact wheel loaders to Swiss Army Knives.

Dan Bywalec compares his compact wheel loaders to Swiss Army Knives.

Company: D&B Landscaping
Livonia, Mich.

Having been in the industry for 44 years, Dan Bywalec, president of D&B Landscaping, in Livonia, Mich., says he’s gone through an “entire gamut of equipment.” He sought a machine that could assist with landscaping work and snow removal, and he found it in the two Avant 640 compact wheel loaders he owns, he says.

“At only 4-feet wide, it’s an incredibly compact wheel loader that can get on sidewalks and do snow removal with ease,” Bywalec says. “It also has over 2,000 pounds of lifting capacity as well as an actual boom. It gives us height of almost 11 feet and allows us to dump into a dump truck.”

His company does a little bit of everything, Bywalec says. That includes about 25 percent landscaping, 25 percent irrigation work, 25 percent snow removal, 15 percent lawn care and 10 percent hardscaping. The Avant 640 has been able to assist with the company’s one-stop-shop approach to business.

Among the benefits of this machine, its small size has simplified transportation. Bywalec says that it can be easily transported by trailer, and it doesn’t require a CDL license to haul this unit.

“We can take it out on the truck with a chauffeur license, which saves us money,” Bywalec says. “We don’t have to pay someone to drive it for us—our foreman can just take it out. That helps us keep our operating costs much lower.”

Bywalec says the 100-plus attachments—including augers, stump grinders, backhoes and a mowing deck—increases his possibilities of using the machine year-round.

Other benefits include easy entry and exit into the machine and 360-degree visibility, Bywalec says. These units are almost always on a job site, he says—particularly on residential jobs, which make up about a quarter of the company’s work.

“These machines can get into a backyard with no damage, which is huge on a residential job,” he says. “It has increased our efficiency by about 40 percent on backyard residential jobs that were once tricky to get in and out of efficiently.”

With all the bells and whistles that Bywalec has added, he acknowledges it’s no small investment. Each one has cost him around $54,000. But he says it’s been worth every penny.

“If I were in the market for another piece of compact equipment, I’d honestly just get another one of these,” Bywalec says. “The versatility allows us to do everything we need.”

Photos: D&B Landscaping, Denison Landscaping, Alpine Gardens

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