Pros share what aftermarket add-ons have the most bang for the buck

Velke attachment. Photo: Zeppa’s Landscaping Service
Added speed The velke attachment converts walk-behind mowers into stand-on mowers, allowing the operator to increase his speed. (Photo: Zeppa’s Landscaping Service)
Chute blockers save time by reducing the need to blow off surfaces, contractors say.

Two years ago, Andre Zeppa tested chute blockers for his mowers and was blown away by the results. Each of his crews were saving five to 10 hours per week by not having to blow grass clippings out of beds and off driveways. Zeppa now has more than a dozen mowers equipped with GrassFlap chute blockers, and he says they are one of the best investments he’s ever made.

“They keep all of the grass out of the beds and off of the driveways,” says Zeppa, CEO of Zeppa’s Landscaping Service in Louisville, Ky. “This saves our guys a lot of time and headache that comes with blowing.”

Like Zeppa, contractors who invest in different aftermarket mower products are seeing improvements in efficiency and productivity. These three contractors discuss the aftermarket products they use and how they’ve helped improve business while making life easier for their guys in the field.

Making the Investment

In addition to chute blockers, Zeppa also swears by Quick Fist Clamps, which he uses for mounting trimmers to his mowers. About two years ago, Zeppa began using the rubber clamps to mount landscape tools onto his trucks, and he discovered a way to use them to mount trimmers to his mowers, as well. Zeppa says this idea saves his team time and energy on large properties because the operator can dismount his mower to perform trimming duties, eliminating the need for one dedicated trimmer to walk the entire property. Zeppa says this scenario is especially helpful on lawns ranging from 2 to 5 acres. Zeppa’s Landscaping Service is a $1.5-million company that provides 80 percent maintenance and 20 percent installation services to an 80 percent residential, 20 percent commercial clientele.

“It allows our guys to pull the trimmer off the mower wherever they are, so the guys who are trimming don’t have to walk all the way back if they are on a large property,” Zeppa says. “We don’t use them on every job, but it’s a convenient thing to have if guys are on big properties.”

Zeppa’s also utilizes high-lift blades instead of mulching blades on all of its mowers. The blades throw the clippings farther out into the property, allowing crews to cut faster. Zeppa says this works because the company follows a strict weekly mowing schedule, and crews never have to deal with long, overgrown grass. Zeppa’s has been using high-lift blades for about seven years, and they save each crew an estimated hour or two each week.

“If the grass is long or you are on a 10- or 14-day schedule, you don’t want to use high-lift blades,” Zeppa says. “But because we are so consistent with our cutting schedule, we have never felt the need to mulch grass unless someone wants it done in the fall along with their leaves.”

Velkes, which convert walk-behind mowers into stand-on mowers, are also integral to increasing productivity for Zeppa’s crews. The company started using them about six years ago after seeing them in use by other contractors. Zeppa says velkes save his crews at least five hours per week because his operators are able to mow much faster.

“An operator can walk behind the mower at speed four, but once they put a velke on, he can go up to speed five, and it’s no problem,” Zeppa says.

For contractors looking to invest in aftermarket mower products, Zeppa says not to “nitpick” on price. Many of these products, such as the chute blockers, which cost around $300, can make a huge difference to operators who are in the field day in and day out.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal to you as the owner of the company, but to the guys in the field, it makes a massive difference,” Zeppa says. “They appreciate it more than anyone.”

Adapting to change

Walker Rose, owner of Local Lawn in Louisville, Ky., also uses several aftermarket mower products to increase efficiency and make life easier for his crews. When the company began serving commercial properties last year, Rose’s crews started encountering a lot more trash and debris that needed to be picked up. His guys would put as much trash as they could in their pockets and then toss it into the back of the truck when they were finished with the job. But Rose says the debris tended to fly out of the truck, which is not the appearance he wants his company to have. Rose discovered the Groundskeeper, a small mesh bag with two clips that attaches to the mower’s handle and costs around $20, and he purchased one for each of his mowers. Local Lawn is a $250,000 company that provides 80 percent maintenance and 20 percent design/build services to a 75 percent residential, 25 percent commercial clientele.

Added speed
The velke attachment converts walk-behind mowers into stand-on mowers, allowing the operator to increase his speed.

“Prior to last year, we didn’t have any commercial properties, but with these new clients comes trash,” Rose says. “The trash bags don’t necessarily save us a ton of time, but the guys are more likely to pick up the trash they see and it makes our clients happier.”

Like Zeppa, Rose also uses chute blockers to save time and manpower. Rose began using them about four years ago and has one on each of his three mowers. He estimates that the products save his crews at least five minutes per yard, or about an hour a day.

“The discharge chutes by and large save us a ton of time cleaning up grass clippings and blowing out beds,” Rose says. “These are our biggest time saver, especially for how little they cost.”

Rose first saw the products on YouTube and has since tried out different types and brands to find the best, most durable product. He started with an electric version, but found he was replacing the motors several times a year. Rose is now using a manually operated chute, which he says has been the best bet so far in terms of durability. For contractors looking to invest in aftermarket mower products, Rose suggests seeking advice from a reputable dealer to make sure they are making a sound investment.

“A good dealer will give good advice on what to use and what not to use,” Rose says. “That can save you from buying a product, trying it out and realizing it’s not really that great.”

Being creative

Jonathan Pensak, owner of TLK Landscaping in Baltimore, tried out the JRCO Leaf Blade Plow for the first time last season in hopes that it would help move large leaf piles more efficiently. Pensak knows other contractors who have used similar plows, and he also researched the product online before purchasing one. TLK Landscaping, a $250,000 company, provides 80 percent maintenance and 20 percent design/build services to a 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial clientele.

“We used to use a walk-behind mower to move the leaf piles, and depending on the weather, the mower would push the pile and then start to drive over it,” Pensak says. “If we have big piles we need to move, the plow comes in handy and allows us to use the power of the machine.”

Pensak has found the plow is not a perfect solution—his operators have to get off the machine to put the plow down, get off the machine again to drop the pile and then get off one more time to lift the plow back in place. It’s not something they will use on every property, and it’s most helpful only when leaves are falling. But for less than $500, Pensak says it was a worthwhile investment that he will continue to use and experiment with.

Though he was initially hesitant to invest in new equipment, Pensak says contractors should be open to how different products can help them improve operations. He suggests they identify their primary tasks and figure out how to do them as efficiently as possible.

“There are lots of cool gadgets and equipment out there that, depending on the services you’re providing, can help with efficiency and make life easier,” Pensak says. “Look at what’s out there and try to be creative.”

Photos: Zeppa’s Landscaping Service

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Emily Schappacher

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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