Busting robotic mower myths

Robotic mower (Photo: GreenView Partners)
Robotic mower (Photo: GreenView Partners)
Robotic mower (Photo: GreenView Partners)
Tidy turf Because automatic mowers mow almost every day, they are less likely to scalp or
burn turf. (Photo: GreenView Partners)

Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Ill., started testing robotic mowers about three years ago. The $54 million company, ranked at No. 40 on the 2020 LM150 list, now has about 100 units in operation and has no intention of looking back. The company provides maintenance and construction services for a 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial clientele.

“I’m a big proponent of robotic mowers,” says CEO Frank Mariani. “Labor is a big issue in Illinois. It’s hard to find people, and quite frankly, if we can get a machine to do a person’s job, that helps with the labor situation.”

Darrin Hockstra, owner of GreenView Partners, and Tyner Tew, director of sales and marketing for GreenView, agree. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company generated about $12 million in 2019
annual revenue and came in at No. 149 on the 2020 LM150 list. It provides primarily commercial maintenance services and currently has three robotic mowers in operation.

“Using robotic mowers sets us apart from our competitors,” Hockstra says. “It’s about the lower noise and emissions level. Also, because it mows every day, it takes a smaller portion of the grass leaf blade, which means it’s not going to scalp or burn the turf.”

LM spoke with Mariani, Hockstra and Tew to uncover some common misconceptions on robotic mowers.

Myth 1: Robotic mowers are a safety hazard.

GreenView Partners says while some clients may be hesitant about the safety of robotic mowers, the company shows potential new clients that the mowers stop when lifted up or when they hit something.
Mariani adds that he no longer worries about crew injuries. The mowers have many small razorlike blades, instead of one large blade. “We’re never going to lose another finger or toe,” he says. “As much training as we do, we seem to suffer that kind of thing every few years, and even one is too many.”

Robotic mower (Photo: Mariani Landscape)
A safe bet GPS technology ensures that robotic mowers are easily recovered if removed from a property. (Photo: Mariani Landscape)

Myth 2: Robotic mowers are intrusive.

Robotic mowers can be programmed to run at night because they produce so little noise, rendering them essentially invisible. For instance, some robotic mowers can produce as little as 58 dB(A) of noise versus the average level of normal mowers, which is between 95 and 100 dB(A) of noise. In Tew’s experience, some clients like to run them during the day.

“Some of our clients saw the marketing ability for their tenants or employees,” he says. “It helps showcase the sustainability of the company.”

Mariani adds that while pets may not like the mowers at first, they adapt to having them around over time.

Myth 3: Robotic mowers take jobs away from humans.

Mariani says when crews are freed up from mowing, the company teaches them more complicated tasks, allowing them to earn a higher wage.

“Someone who runs a mower came up to me once and said, ‘Does this mean I’m going to lose my job?’” Mariani says. “I said, ‘No, this means we’re going to train you to a higher level, and you’re going to make more money.”

Tew adds that implementing robotic mowing equipment helps crews become more efficient on items such as weed control and flower pruning.

Myth 4: Robotic mowers are easily stolen.

When it comes to theft, GreenView Partners says it’s not a major issue, despite how small and light the mowers are.

“The GPS technology on these mowers is very accurate to where we would get an alert if anything is out of the norm,” Tew says.

Myth 5: Technicans can set up a robotic mower and forget about it.

While the technology is constantly evolving, Mariani cautions that the mowers aren’t foolproof.

“You have to be fully engaged and have a team that adapts to the unit and takes ownership and responsibility,” he says, adding that the lay of the land, slope, driveways, sidewalks and water-retaining areas are important to consider.

Installation involves crews running a wire underneath a lawn, similar to an invisible fence for dogs, allowing the mower to mow in a random pattern.

“With the installation of the boundary wires, sometimes the mower may be too close to the sidewalk, and an edger may hit it and take it offline, so some repairs may need to be done,” Hockstra says. “We expect that when we are proposing these for a new site. As with any technology, there’s a learning curve. It takes maybe a month or two to get everything tweaked and adjusted.”

Mariani suggests setting expectations upfront with the client that the mower may not produce a perfect cut right away.

All in all, Hockstra, Tew and Mariani agree that robotic mowing equipment is the way of the future.

“Embrace the technology,” Tew says. “Some people are afraid to break the habit of relying on big pieces of equipment … and some people wonder how this little mower can keep up with a 60-inch, 25-hp riding mower … but everything is going to evolve over time with the technology.”

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing 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.

To top
Skip to content