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Is it time to make the switch and add battery-powered equipment to your fleet?

Please Fill Out The Market research firm Aritzon expects demand for battery-powered equipment to grow by more than 8.6 percent by 2027. (Photo courtesy Of Electrawn) Fields.
Market research firm Aritzon expects demand for battery-powered equipment to grow by more than 8.6 percent by 2027. (Photo courtesy Of Electrawn)

Battery-powered equipment is a hot industry topic and for good reason. While the technology is not new, rapid technical advancements in recent years have made battery-powered equipment a more viable and attractive option for contractors than in the past.

At this year’s Equip Exposition in Louisville, Ky., attendees witnessed firsthand the latest innovations and myriad offerings in battery-powered, professional-grade mowers and handheld equipment that make the conversion from gas to electric more attractive.

The push for battery-powered utilization has gained momentum with commercial and residential clients across the U.S., forcing professional landscaping companies to reevaluate long-held business models and consider the investment and transition to electric equipment. Battery power is at the heart of the recent wave of automated mowing equipment.

Growing demand, regulations

The concept of zero emissions equipment — machines that operate sans traditional 2- or 4-cycle internal combustion engines — is at the forefront of many industry discussions about changing to battery-powered gear. California recently passed a law requiring new landscaping equipment sold in the state to be emission-free beginning in 2024. Additional states, including New York, are considering their own legislation to ban or limit gas-powered landscape equipment.

The battery-powered products market is expected to grow, studies show. According to 2022 data by market research firm Arizton, the U.S. electric mower market (which includes residential, professional landscape, golf course and government purchases) is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 8.6 percent by 2027. In response, green industry manufacturers have stepped up their research and development efforts, turning out innovative battery-driven tech in recent years to meet the market’s anticipated demand from residential and professional users.

However, adoption has been slow among landscape pros. According to 2021 data from FactMR, a market research firm, while battery-powered mowers made up around 37 percent of all sales, professional-grade, ride-on models made up just 11 percent of the total market.

Contractors who made the switch share their insights and experiences on adopting and integrating battery-powered equipment into their operation.

Going Electric

Daniel Cienfuegos is a relative newcomer to the professional landscape industry. He and business partner Ronnie Rodriquez started Electrawn in Lakeland, Fla., as a 100 percent electric lawn maintenance company in 2020.

Initially, going electric made entrepreneurial and competitive sense for Electrawn to avoid the costs associated with the routine maintenance of traditional gas-powered equipment.

“In Lakeland, we’re between Orlando and Tampa, and it’s a very aggressive and highly competitive market,” Cienfuegos says. “When we were starting out, we were looking at ways we could operate more efficiently and control our start-up costs. With gas-powered equipment, you need a small engine repair shop for the regular maintenance and repairs that that equipment requires. But with electric, there’s very little regular maintenance required other than periodic greasing and changing blades. For us, that made a lot of (financial) sense.”

In addition to lower operating costs, there are other benefits landscape contractors considering switching to battery-powered equipment may find attractive:

  1. Reduced emissions: Battery-powered equipment produces zero emissions, which benefits the environment and the health of landscape workers.
  2. Reduced noise pollution: Battery-powered equipment is significantly quieter (on average, 75 dB compared to 90 dB), which allows contractors to work earlier or later hours in residential areas without noise being a nuisance.
  3. Improved performance: While still not equal to gas-powered equipment performance levels, battery-powered outdoor power equipment manufacturers have made significant technical advancements in the last three to five years to improve the equipment’s overall performance and reliability.

Find a customer base

Sean Creel is a proponent of electric, eco-friendly landscape practices in his home market of Bel Air, Md., and he saw an opportunity to attract a customer base who preferred to do business with a like-minded service provider.

“Traditional lawn maintenance is a dirty business, and there’s a variety of reasons why (clients) are choosing alternative services.” says the owner of Luminary Lawns, which is 60 percent maintenance and 40 percent organic lawn care. “Operating battery-powered equipment (compared to gas-powered) is certainly a factor in their decisions, but they also like that we’re much quieter. This is important to people who work from home or have jobs where they’re working second or third shift and have to sleep during the day.”

Compared to consumer products offered in big-box stores, experts say utilizing professional-grade equipment is critical to success when switching to battery power. Professionals looking to convert must realize the up-front investment required. Contractors that made the switch say battery-powered equipment costs as much as three times more than traditional gas-powered equipment. In addition, contractors must factor in the costs of batteries necessary to operate throughout the day. For example, professional-grade lithium-ion batteries can run between $200 and $600 apiece.

Sebert Landscape in Bartlett, Ill., No. 50 on the LM150 list of largest landscape companies, has been integrating battery-powered equipment into its operations for the last 12 years as part of a concerted shift to become a more sustainable operation. Sebert manages a service portfolio of 10 percent design/build, 50 percent maintenance, 15 percent snow and ice management and 25 percent enhancements. The company aims to transition entirely to battery power (other than trucks and snow and ice management equipment) in 2024.

The initial investment required to convert to battery-powered, professional equipment can be eye-opening for contractors, says Steve Pearce, Sebert’s vice president of operations. However, improvements in equipment reliability and the fact that it requires less maintenance offset this cost.

“Yes, the up-front costs can be startling,” he says. “But when it comes to the maintenance side of (battery-powered) equipment, the costs go down because you’re not spending a lot of time maintaining that equipment. And this saves you money over the long-term.”

Partnering with a solid equipment supplier/dealer is vital to the transition, Pearce adds.

“You have to find the right partner who will be able to help you tackle issues related to (equipment) repairs and diagnostics,” Pearce says. “And they’ll be able to advise you on the infrastructure you’ll need, how to build your trailer and train you to charge your batteries properly.”

Know Your ABCs

Those with battery-powered fleets should remember their ABCs — always be charging. (Photo courtesy of Austin Hall)
Those with battery-powered fleets should remember their ABCs — always be charging. (Photo courtesy of Austin Hall)

One main criticism of electric equipment is the need for contractors to maintain an inventory of expensive, fickle batteries to power mowers and handheld gear through a day’s workload. Therefore, how a contractor maintains charge becomes critical to success.

To avoid carting around one or two dozen batteries from site to site to power a day’s worth of activities, landscape professionals have started equipping their trucks and trailers with on-board charging stations that allow them to replenish power on the go and carry fewer replacement battery packs.

“You have to mind your ABCs — always be charging,” Cienfuegos says. “That means you have one battery in the charger and one (powering) a piece of (handheld) equipment, and you make sure (the battery) is back in the charger when the equipment is not in use.”

Intense summer heat drains batteries quickly, which impacts their performance and reliability. Cienfuegos notes that depleting a battery to zero charge is a killer. Instead, avoid dipping below a 10 percent charge before returning the battery to its charging rack. Cienfuegos maintains battery pairs for each piece of equipment, so one’s always charging while the other is in use.

“We learned some expensive lessons about how to best manage batteries from trial and error over the last three years,” Cienfuegos says. “So, if you’re not charging it all the way down (to zero), and you’re consistently changing them out during the day to maintain a strong charge, then there is minimal (charge) degradation, and they’ll last a lot longer.”

Electrawn also taps into Florida’s most abundant natural resource, charging batteries via a solar array mounted to the trailer.

“There’s no shortage of bright sunshine to charge our batteries, so we charge on the go, and we charge when we’re parked,” he says.”

Client expectations

While regulations and community mandates may push for battery-powered equipment, contractors say the reaction is often neutral. In general, the bottom line with clients is quality of cut and professional service, Pearce says.

“Definitely, there have been no negative reactions to using battery-powered equipment,” he says. “And for those (clients) who are paying attention, they seem to appreciate our efforts. They think it’s pretty cool.”

Landscape contractors interviewed for this story say they’re split on whether they’ve increased their prices to offset the costs associated with the alternative technology.

Austin Hall, owner of Greenwise Organic Lawn Care in Evanston, Ill., raised his prices by 25 to 30 percent to offset the additional time it taks to service properties with battery-powered equipment.

“On a wet day or if the turf is particularly high, a mower powered by batteries is just not going to be as strong cutting through the grass as a gas-powered mower,” Hall says. “So, you may have to go over it more than once to get a quality cut. While we don’t have a ton of data to say definitively that it increases (costs) by a factor of 1 1/2 or 2 times, we’ve had to make some assumptions with our pricing.”

He says he hasn’t noticed a lot of client pushback or a negative impact on client retention.

“I believe that’s because our clients have been very supportive of us moving in this direction,” he adds.

Conversely, Cienfuegos says client demand for battery-powered services in Lakeland, Fla., specifically for sustainability reasons, is not as strong as it might be in other areas of the country. However, Electrawn distinguishes itself by offering clients quiet maintenance services.

“Our market isn’t 100 percent sold on electric yet,” Cienfuegos says. “However, many of our residential customers work from their homes, so offering quiet (landscape maintenance) operations during the day is a major selling point and has been our biggest market advantage.”

And while using battery-powered equipment is an important factor in their clients’ decision-making, Pearce says Sebert has not altered its pricing structure to offer this as a more expensive or premium service.

“(Battery power) is the direction we’re heading, just like we believe the rest of the (landscape) industry is,” Pearce says. “So, we’re not charging clients more (to use battery-powered equipment) overall. We have adjusted and increased our pricing, which does factor this in, but it also takes into account other costs and the (state of) the economy, as well.”

Cultural shift

One of the most significant challenges contractors report when converting from gas-powered to battery-powered equipment is employee pushback and the cultural shift required to adopt this new technology. Often, crews believe the tool’s reduction in power and the need to adopt new maintenance approaches and practices hamstring performance and efficiency.

Hall says it’s akin to removing a worker’s most effective tool, replacing it with something new and unproven, and expecting the same results. It’s a formula for failure.

“There’s going to be pushback, and there’s going to be questions, so you need to prepare for that,” Hall says.

While battery technology has improved significantly, tasks such as mowing may take longer to maintain quality standards. Or tasks previously performed with the assistance of a two-cycle engine — such as raking, edging or sweeping — may now be done by hand.

“Expect to field at least one or two requests to revert back to gas-power because those tools either had more power or allowed them to work much faster on a property,” Cienfuegos says. “That’s why you need to lead from the front so everyone else falls in line.”

Without a doubt, the conversion from gas-powered to battery-powered equipment will change a contractor’s operation, Pearce says. Therefore, employee buy-in begins with solid leadership, which starts with thoroughly vetting the equipment and the new process and procedures crews will follow to ensure their success in the field.

“On the backside, once crews started using the equipment, we saw that they adapted easily,” he says. “But at the forefront, get everyone — from production supervisors on down – involved and make them part of the process. We didn’t say, ‘We’re buying this equipment. Now use this.’ If you embrace it and have your employees embrace it, then you’ll end up with a positive outcome. Remember, this equipment has come a long way, and it’s only getting better.”

And aligning client expectations with employee expectations is fundamental to making this work, Hall says.

“If there’s a disconnect there with your employees or your clients, then you’re just going to be beating your head against the wall,” he says.

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