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Mowers: Get what you need

January 28, 2022 -  By
Crew member on mower (Photo: Kioti)

Increased demand but fewer workers mean mower manufacturers have stepped up to build machines to keep landscape operations running. (Photo: Kioti)

With supply chain issues, rising fuel prices and labor struggles plaguing the industry, it’s clear landscape professionals can’t always get what they want, but mower manufacturers are standing by to make sure contractors get what they need out of their mowers.

“With a comfortable mower that won’t require frequent repairs, and one that every crew member can easily operate, professionals can focus on completing the jobs at hand and building a successful business,” says Steven Benedict, turf care product line manager for Kioti.

Experts from Exmark, John Deere, Kioti and Hustler share how they’re adapting to landscape professionals’ list of needs, which includes mowers that are productive, ergonomic, intuitive, efficient and easily serviceable.

Needs: Productivity and efficiency

With the labor crisis increasing pressure on companies to get more done with fewer workers, landscape professionals are calling for mowers that meet those demands.

“This challenge to find workers comes as landscaping professionals are seeing greater demand for their services than ever before,” Benedict says. “As a result, commercial customers are looking for a mower that will allow them to get high-quality work done with efficiency.”

Wide-area mowers help meet that need for larger commercial spaces, according to Jonathan Guarneri, product manager at Exmark.

“With the 96-inch mower, you’re able to replace two guys on two 72-inch mowers with one operator, and with a 144-inch mower, you can eliminate three 72s,” Guarneri says. “We’re helping landscapers tackle those labor problems by having one operator tackling jobs that used to take five guys on five pieces of equipment.”

He cautions that while larger mowers require a higher upfront cost for the unit itself as well as for potentially larger trailers, it’s worth it to get more done with one crew member versus two or three.

Crew member on mower (Photo: John Deere)

Intuitive controls and a smoother ride help keep crew members more comfortable during long mowing days. (Photo: John Deere)

Other mowing companies have introduced features to help save the operator time while out in the field. For example, John Deere offers Mulch on Demand technology that enables the operator to switch between mulching and side-discharging without ever leaving the seat, according to Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere commercial mowing.

“Mulch on Demand reduces the time spent cleaning up clippings from driveways and sidewalks by allowing the operator to easily close off the discharge chute,” Minas says.

Minas adds that higher ground clearance (such as 8.5 inches) on machines minimizes interference with curbs and reduces the risk of property damage.

Brad Unruh, director of new product development for Hustler Turf, notes that ensuring the mowers themselves are durable is also key to keeping landscape professionals productive.

“To a busy commercial contractor, downtime is wasted time, so we overengineer our mowers to create robust machines with welded tubular frames, fabricated steel decks and heavy-duty deck hangers,” Unruh says.

In addition to upping worker efficiency and productivity, mower manufacturers also aim to increase fuel efficiency through EFI options, though these also may require a higher upfront cost.

“As we start to see fuel prices increase, that refocuses some landscapers to think of their bottom line and how much they’re spending on fuel,” Guarneri says. “An EFI (engine) option can save up to 20 to 30 percent of fuel savings, especially with gas prices getting upward of $3.25.”

Minas agrees.

“Commonly used in smaller block engines, we are now seeing more and more options in the midblock range and greater,” Minas says. “Providing up to 25 percent more fuel savings, the benefits of EFI drive this trend.”

Needs: Ergonomic and intuitive

Following the idea that comfortable mower operators are happy mower operators, especially during long workdays, mower manufacturers have prioritized ergonomics and intuitiveness when designing their machines.

Fleet of Exmark mowers (Photo: Exmark)

Manufacturers have designed mowers to keep maintenance at a minimum so that the machines are ready to roll. (Photo: Exmark)

“We listened to our customers’ desires for mowers that are easy to use and comfortable, with maximum uptime,” Benedict says.

For example, Benedict says Kioti’s stand-on zero-turn-radius mower will provide increased visibility, shock absorption and maneuverability for a variety of landscapes.

Other mower features designed with the operator in mind include fore/aft suspension seats that allows the operator to move with the machine, redesigned controls and improved weight distribution that requires less effort to raise the front end of the mower, high back suspension seating on riding mowers and better shock absorption on rough terrain.

Guarneri points to the “economy of motion” concept to ease operator fatigue.

“How many steps does an operator need to take in order to perform a task? We make sure that the number of steps or hand motions they have to take is as simplified as possible,” Guarneri says. “It might be something where one process takes four seconds versus eight seconds, but you add all those seconds up over the course of a day, week, month and year, and you’re talking about a substantial amount of time.”

Unruh says it’s important to continue listening to customers on what they’re asking for in a mower.

“We don’t believe in adding gadgets for the sake of gadgets,” Unruh says. “We will continue to pursue features and elements that decrease downtime and allow our customers to increase profitability.”

Not only do landscape company owners want to keep their mowing crews comfortable and content, but they also want to easily train new employees on the different machines, Guarneri says.

Hustler mower (Photo: Hustler)

Built to last, the mowers of today ensure landscapers can stay busy — and profitable. (Photo: Hustler)

“What is it like to get a new employee trained on a piece of equipment?” he asks. “If you have a standard for how equipment is used, for example, how to use the parking brake, it makes it easier to train employees so that all those procedures are similar across the board on stand-ons, ride-ons and walk-behinds.”

Need: Easily serviceable

Finally, mower manufacturers look to minimize the time landscape professionals spend in the shop instead of out on job sites.

“It’s all about a reduction in maintenance,” Guarneri says. “If you look at mowers from 20 years ago, you were having to grease so many grease points and spend a good 15 to 20 minutes every day getting a mower ready to go to work before you could actually go to work.”

To address this challenge, manufacturers have eliminated the need for most in-season maintenance required besides oil changes and putting gas in the unit, Guarneri says.

When maintenance is required, some manufacturers have incorporated flip-up and removable floor pans for easy access, Unruh says.

Even the tires require less maintenance than they used to. For example, airless radial tires virtually eliminate flats and are nearly maintenance free, according to Minas.

“The airless radial tire minimizes the cost and time spent on repairs and maintenance of traditional pneumatic tires,” Minas says.

All of the above gives landscape professionals something they’re always trying to get: satisfaction.

Down the road

In the coming years, mower manufacturers say they foresee an increase in battery-powered and autonomous technology. Here’s what they had to say:

“Autonomous machines of all types are driving research and development across industries, and we’re starting to see a similar trend in mowers, so commercial turf care users will be focused on how technology can boost mowers’ efficiency without sacrificing serviceability or quality. Manufacturers will likely be focused on striking that balance as they design mowers in the years ahead.” — Steven Benedict

“We’re really having to develop a new set of standards for autonomous mowers that don’t exist. Safety is a No. 1 priority, and we want to make sure these big heavy units are as safe as possible with no accidents.” — Jonathan Guarneri

“As with many outdoor equipment dealers, our customers are very interested in battery-operated technology. For some, there is a desire to get away from messy engines, gas and oil. For others, the desire to make battery technology mainstream is more climate conscious.” — Brad Unruh

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

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.

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