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The nitty-gritty of design/build equipment

March 19, 2020 -  By
Terra by Landscapes crew and equipment (Photo: Heather Odenweller, Landscapes by Terra)

Up for the job Landscapes by Terra uses a mix of Ditch Witch and Bobcat equipment to keep up with its headquarters’ larger footprint. (Photo: Heather Odenweller, Landscapes by Terra)

Landscapes by Terra in Marysville, Ohio, expanded its offices from a 2-acre space to a 13-acre property.

Mullin in St. Rose, La., contends with the challenges of working in the small, tight yards common in the New Orleans area.

Precision Landscaping in Lexington, S.C., breaks ground on nearly 25 new installation jobs a week.

Hutten & Co. Land and Shore in Owen Sound, Ontario, often performs work nearly an hour and a half away from its shop.

What do all four of these companies have in common? They’ve implemented a mix of equipment, technology and processes to keep their companies running efficiently.

Landscape Management dug into the nitty-gritty of the four companies to uncover what helps them tackle challenging jobs without a hitch.

Landscapes by Terra

What the Marysville, Ohio, company is doing to keep up with its expanding headquarters

Moving a company’s headquarters from a 2-acre to a 13-acre property is no easy task, which is part of the reason why Landscapes by Terra pays especially close attention to the equipment and technology it employs.

The $3.9 million operation provides design/build, maintenance and snow and ice services to a 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial clientele.

With its expanding framework, the company also hopes to build up the capacity to take on more commercial projects.

To keep up with the growth, the company primarily relies on a mix of large and small Bobcat skid-steers and small Ditch Witch loaders.

“On jobs where the site doesn’t allow machine access, the additional labor to move material manually really eats into profit margins and makes the salesmen sweat,” Production Manager Josh Zingg says. He adds that even if using a machine means having to repair a lawn once the job is done, turf is easier to fix than a team member’s back that’s been thrown out.

Terra by Landscapes crew and equipment (Photo: Heather Odenweller, Landscapes by Terra)

On track
Landscapes by Terra moved to all track machines because of the wet and muddy ground conditions in its region. (Photo: Heather Odenweller, Landscapes by Terra)

Landscapes by Terra Vice President and Treasurer Jeff Stroupe says the company purchased its first Bobcat machine in 1997 and has been a Bobcat company ever since.

In particular, Zingg refers to the company’s MT-85 Bobcat machines as workhorses, as they enable the company to move boulders and slabs, complete excavation work in small spaces and incorporate many different attachments.

“Any day you get to dig tree holes with the auger instead of by hand is a good day in my book,” Zingg says. “When you’ve got 30-plus holes to dig, it can make all the difference.”

The company also calls on its Ditch Witch SK1500 machines for residential jobs.

“With the Ditch Witch, we can access tighter areas, but it also has the lifting capacity and versatility to save me massive amounts on labor,” says Stroupe, adding that Terra makes use of sod cultivator, trencher, stump grinder, bucket and fork attachments.

Zingg recalls a recent project in which the company used the cultivator attachment on the Ditch Witch machine to soften a pond edge in a homeowners’ association prior to installing riprap boulders. The Ditch Witch handled about 800 pounds of riprap and allowed crews to access the pond through the small spaces of homeowners’ backyards.

“These machines saved us a considerable amount of time and effort and can take the place of an expensive rental machine with a more dedicated function,” Zingg says.

The company transitioned to all track machines about five years ago due to the region’s wet ground and heavy mud.

To keep tabs on its machines, Landscapes by Terra adopted Fleet Complete, an AT&T product that uses GPS tracking for efficient scheduling and routing.

“We can dissect the efficiency based on routes that our trucks take on a daily basis and also give them a clear vision on what way to go,” Stroupe says.

To keep track of its budget and employees, the company implemented LMN software.

“We don’t have an HR (rep) in-house, but LMN helped us adapt our communication with our employees,” Stroupe says. “With the budgeting side of things, we are an open-book team, so my leadership team knows exactly where we stand, and I can communicate that easily to our staff.”

Mullin

How the St. Rose, La.-based company is increasing its labor capacity while shrinking its footprint

On many of its residential job sites, Mullin’s crews only have about 36 inches of access to enter and exit clients’ yards.

To cope with this challenge, the $13 million company — which provides 60 percent design/build and 40 percent maintenance services to a 65 percent commercial, 35 percent residential clientele — converted to Ditch Witch’s SK800 mini walk-behind skid-steers about four years ago. Since then, the machines have replaced the company’s standalone trencher units.

“We can take that Ditch Witch and transport materials to the backyard, we can use it to dig instead of (using) manual labor and it’s easy to get around in on tight streets,” says owner Chase Mullin. He adds that the machines are much easier to hop on and off than larger skid-steers.

Because the equipment is simple to use, Mullin says, the company’s foremen and second men know how to operate them.

Mullin crew member and equipment (Photo: Kevin Barraco/Smart Media, LLC)

Accessibility Because of job site size in the New Orleans area, Mullin buys equipment that can squeeze through tight spaces. (Photo: Kevin Barraco/Smart Media, LLC)

On larger commercial projects, Mullin uses a mix of Ditch Witch and Bobcat equipment.

In fact, Mullin recalls a recent project where the company planted 300-plus trees at a nearby school in which the Bobcat machines came in clutch.

“With the Bobcats, it’s the ability to move materials around and being able to run two machines and have one machine moving trees and one machine augering holes. It’s like an assembly line of sorts,” he says. “It’s fast, easy and not physically taxing or too intense on the guys on our team. We can do difficult labor without having to break our backs.”

As the company started to put more money toward equipment, Mullin says, it scaled down many of its crews from four to three people.

“Particularly on residential projects, we never run more than three team members on a crew because we expect they’ll have a piece of equipment to use, so they don’t need that additional person anymore,” he says. “Part of the decision is from the fact that good labor is hard to get, so it’s being able to purchase a machine that’s going to show up every day and knowing it’s not going to leave to go somewhere else.”

The change came about 10 years ago after the company began monitoring job sites and projects more closely.

“We started looking at where we were using machines and what jobs we produced that could’ve used a machine,” he says. “That’s big, just monitoring crew size and knowing there really is a vast increase in efficiency and productivity when you’re utilizing equipment the right way.”

That’s not to say, however, that the company has neglected safety in the name of efficiency.

“We have spotters, and we take our time to make sure we’re doing everything with the safety-first mentality,” Mullin says. “We’re investing the time to make sure we’re strapping down equipment right, taking care of the machine properly and paying attention when we’re using it.”

Hutten & Co. crew member and John Deere equipment (Photo: Hutten & Co. Land and Shore)

Dedicated Machines A lot of hassle disappears when crews no longer need to borrow equipment from one another. (Photo: Hutten & Co. Land and Shore)

Hutten & Co. Land and Shore

What the company in Owen Sound, Ontario, does to maintain its efficiency, despite its remote location

Hutten & Co. Land and Shore is located in a rural area, out in the boonies, jokes Mark Hutten, CEO of the $4.5 million company.

Therefore, Hutten ensures his crews are fully prepared before stepping foot on any job site by equipping each crew with its own enclosed trailer, complete with all of the necessary tools.

“We can sometimes be well over an hour away from any supplies,” Hutten says. “If we don’t have everything with us, we lose a lot of time. Getting more organized on the job site and having all those tools and supplies available to us is not only like (having) a little rolling shop, but also a little billboard (for the company).”

The company performs 60 percent design/build, 20 percent boat dock and lift and 10 percent snow and ice services to a 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial clientele.

When it comes to heavy-duty equipment, Hutten’s crews depend on John Deere 5-ton track excavators.

“It’s compact and has a lot of capacity, but it’s still movable with smaller trucks and trailers,” Hutten says. “Aside from that, our big decision on equipment is based around serviceability, and we have a fantastic John Deere dealer that’s just 10 minutes from our shop.”

Among the company’s 25 employees, there are four crews, each with its own John Deere excavator.

Just as important as the equipment itself, Hutten says, is the company providing each crew with its own dedicated equipment.

“It’s common that companies will borrow pieces of equipment from one crew to the next, but when everybody is set up with their own equipment, they’re more efficient,” Hutten says. “There’s no downtime or trying to make things work without the right tool in hand. We believe in everybody having what they need to do the job in front of them.”

Hutten & Co. crew member and John Deere equipment (Photo: Hutten & Co. Land and Shore)

Movable machines For Hutten, the 5-ton excavators pack a punch but are compact enough to be transported. (Photo: Hutten & Co. Land and Shore)

About four years ago, Hutten also implemented MQuip vacuum lifting equipment that connects to the end of an excavator. The vacuum hangs via chain and can be attached to anything that has lifting capacity.

The company’s vacuum can lift up to a ton of material — instead of lifting stone sheets by using clamps or skid-steer forks, the vacuum suctions the stone into place.

Hutten says the company often calls on the vacuum when completing projects involving flagstone.

“When you’re dealing with natural stone, the bottom (of the material) can be inconsistent, so clamps were inefficient for us, and of course, it was a speed and accessibility thing,” Hutten says. “It’s also safer, not having fingers getting underneath stones, and it just makes a large piece of stone much more manageable.”

To round it all out, Hutten uses LMN to help with budgeting and job costing; Lattice to help with employee performance, engagement and scheduling meetings; and Bamboo to help organize employee records.

“Bamboo and Lattice were both a product of realizing that you can keep up with 10 employees on paper, but when you get to 15-plus, that’s when papers start disappearing,” Hutten says.

Precision Landscaping

How the Lexington, S.C., company depends on its Case equipment — and the software to track it — to shoulder the brunt of its production work

In need of dependable workhorses and a reliable dealer, Precision Landscaping switched over to Case Construction Equipment’s machines about four and a half years ago, says owner Kody Duke.

Precision Landscaping equipment and crews (Photo: Case Construction Equipment)

Minimize man-hours Precision Landscaping’s use of Case Equipment helps it keep up with the onslaught of new projects. (Photo: Case Construction Equipment)

The $11 million company has 25 crews and is comprised of 80 employees during the peak season. It provides installation and renovation services to a clientele which includes production home builders (50 percent), commercial accounts (30 percent) and residential clients (20 percent).

After demoing different pieces of equipment and consulting with its dealer, Hills Machinery, Precision Landscape implemented Case’s TR310 compact track loaders for expanding its hardscaping capabilities.

With 15 TR310s in Precision’s ranks, the company has implemented them on nearly every new installation job site for grading, trenching work for irrigation systems, moving sod, moving blocks for retaining walls, backfilling sites with stone and more.

Duke says the machines have helped the company cut back on man-hours, especially when it comes to keeping up with the 20 to 25 new installations the company performs each week.

“On a typical day, the machines run 10 hours, so it probably saves us anywhere from six to eight man-hours a day, just having the machine on-site,” he says. “The (TR310) has kept up to our crew and kept us rolling. We’re a production landscape company, so we’re constantly turning over new installs, and the 310 keeps us running with them.”

He adds that the machines’ electronic controls have excellent tunability to keep the operator comfortable in the cab using the controls, and the open cab provides high visibility and allows operators to easily get in and out of the cab.

Precision also uses Case’s CX37C mini excavators for retaining walls, excavating work and backfilling for drainage, as well as Case’s CX60C for bigger excavation jobs.

To track of all its machines, Precision uses Verizon Connect’s GPS tracker, which integrates into the engine.

“The trackers detect any malfunctions with the engine, keep track of where the machine is at all times and help break down the cost of fuel consumption on each job,” Duke says. “It’s knowing that all of our equipment is where we think it is and not losing machinery.”

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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