Taking a stand

December 9, 2014 -  By
Product: Mowing Scroll

a stand-up product Wright Manufacturing pioneered the stand-on mower in 1997. Here’s its latest model, the Stander ZK.

As the stand-on mower category grows up, its audience grows too.

With various mower types, such as zero-turn radius (ZTR) and walk-behinds, competing for space in the mower market, stand-ons elbowed their way in during the late 1990s. And their useful place in the world of mowers is becoming more firmly cemented as time goes on.

Lawn maintenance operators are taking a stand for stand-ons for several reasons, most of all for their productivity. Aaron Fine, owner of Fine Landscaping, a full-service company in Mansfield, Mass., switched from walk-behinds to Wright Manufacturing stand-on mowers 15 years ago. The move boosted his crews’ productivity by nearly 20 percent, he estimates.

And that’s just it, says Carl Agee, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing. “The stand-on mower offers a compact package that offers operators the ability to increase productivity when compared to commercial walk-behind mowers.”

The 20 percent jump in productivity was significant for Fine, considering half of Fine Landscaping’s business is maintenance. (The other half is landscape construction.) With a customer base that’s 80 percent residential, Fine’s crews work about 360 homes a week.

Agee says one look at the growing number of stand-on manufacturers that have emerged since 2009, and it’s easy to see that stand-ons are becoming more popular. John Deere, Wright, Scag, Exmark, Gravely, Dixie Chopper and Toro are among the manufacturers that offer stand-ons today.

“That is a testament that the popularity and awareness is growing,” Agee says. “More importantly, it has driven customer acceptance as a cost-effective solution wanting to move away from the traditional commercial walk-behind products.”

In Fine’s area, stand-ons are the most common type of mower he sees on lawns, he says. “They were a good machine from the start, but they weren’t as popular then as they are now.”

Aaron Fine

Aaron Fine

Other benefits

While Fine contends his stand-ons empower his crews with more energy throughout the day, as opposed to slogging behind a walk-behind, Eric Olseen, president of Paradise Lawns & Landscaping in Cocoa, Fla., also finds stand-ons more efficient than other types of mowers.

“They get the job done quicker,” says Olseen, whose company did about $4.5 million in annual revenue last year. “We ran some numbers earlier this year, and according to our applications, the stand-ons proved to be about 15 to 20 percent more efficient overall.”

Operators and manufacturers alike tout stand-ons for their clean cut, compactness, lighter weight and ability to mow in tight areas. By being lighter, stand-ons produce fewer ruts on lawns than their counterparts, they say. And their compact size makes them easy to transport and creates more space on trucks. It all contributes to increased productivity on the job, Agee says.

At Paradise Lawns & Landscaping, Olseen says they can fit up to eight stand-ons on each truck, versus two or three ride-ons. And for a company such as Fine Landscaping, where stand-ons constitute 90 percent of the mower fleet, the mowers’ compactness means the company can invest in smaller trucks and thereby save money.

Perhaps most importantly, stand-ons have gained a reputation for being safer than ride-on mowers. Their higher perch offers operators greater visibility, leading to increased operator attention, fewer mistakes and less damaged turf. For operators, less damage ultimately translates into financial savings and customer retention.

Stand-ons also aren’t subject to rolling over like some ride-ons are. Whereas ride-on operators typically must lift the rollover protection safety device to exit the machine, stand-on operators can simply jump off.

Drawbacks

Bill Wright

Bill Wright

As popular as stand-ons are becoming, they’re not a remedy for everyone. At Paradise Lawns & Landscaping, three-fourths of the mower fleet are stand-ons and the clientele is 90 percent commercial, including many large properties. But that combination is unusual.

Landscape contractors maintaining larger properties “tend to still prefer a sit-down ZTR,” Agee says. “The ZTR still provides a productive solution where space is not a constraint.”

The stand-on mower also has “a size-limited capability to collect grass,” Agee says. Fine warns that inexperienced workers should be careful not to turn too quickly, so as not to rip up the grass. And Olseen says stand-ons aren’t so stellar on wet hills and inclines.

“If the area is too steep, the mower seems to struggle,” he says. “Therefore, the strengths for this mower would be more level terrain or minute inclines.”

For inexperienced operators, the learning curve for stand-ons is a bit steeper, too, says Bill Wright, CEO of Wright Manufacturing. Curb hopping takes practice.

“I think the biggest drawback has been that to become proficient, new operators need an extra week or so of experience than they do to learn to operate mid-mount zero-turns and walk-behinds,” Wright says. “But once they do learn it, their productivity goes up between 20 and 35 percent compared to other styles of mowers.”

What the future holds

Manufacturers expect stand-ons to become more popular in coming years. “Customer feedback will drive other features and benefits as the product matures,” Agee says.

Carl Agee

Carl Agee

Wright expects stand-ons to become more popular in areas where the concept hasn’t yet taken hold. That will require educating and demonstrating for nonusers who “assume it’s harder to stand up than sit down,” Wright says.

In the meantime, Fine and Olseen will continue to enjoy the mower’s benefits.

“Time is money in this business, and every other business for that matter,” Olseen says. “To take a product and increase productivity is everyone’s No. 1 goal.”

Origin story

Stand-ons made their debut in 1997 with the release of Wright Manufacturing’s Wright Stander. It was a concept that had been formulating in CEO Bill Wright’s mind since 1989, when he and his team member Jim Velke developed a stand-on “sulky” that trailed walk-behinds. It was branded the “Velke Sulky” and intended to make mowing easier for crews.

“When we had our lawn mowing service, Lawn-Wright, Inc., in the 1980s, I realized that with our roughly 35 guys walking 20-plus miles a day, production mowing was leading to very high turnover,” Wright recalls.

The Velke Sulky quickly became a highly productive invention for the company and another high-volume product in its wintertime manufacturing division. But it wasn’t enough.

“In 1993, after our sales had skyrocketed, I read an article in Inc. magazine to the effect that every manufacturer needs to invent a product that makes their own obsolete before someone else does,” Wright recalls.

“This thought startled me into racking my brain to think of a way to obsolete the stand-on sulky,” he continues. “Then it occurred to me, why not stand on the mower itself instead of trailering a more cumbersome sulky behind a walk-behind?”

By 1994, Wright Manufacturing was making stand-on mower prototypes and applying for patents. “The rest, as they say, is history,” Wright says.

Today’s stand-ons have features such as adjustable platforms, increased horsepower and fuel efficiency, and Mulch on Demand, which was only available on zero-turns until John Deere added it to its stand-ons last year.

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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