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Throwback Thursday: January 2004

May 8, 2014 -  By

January-2004You’re familiar with the terms, and you surely have heard them this month:

“The busy season.” 

“The grind.” 

“Spring pressure.”

Do you sense a nerve-wracking undertone from them? A solution to that is productivity—a term the cover story from the January 2004 issue of Landscape Management efficiently expands on.

Titled “Productivity tips” by then-Contributor George Witterschein, the story lists 10 things Green Industry professionals do to squeeze more production and profits out of each day.

They are as follows.

1. Night moves

“When you load at night instead of in the morning, several things work to your productivity advantage,” said Jack Mattingly, consultant. “In the evening, your people are eager to go home and have their dinner; they will get a move on to finish the task.”

Mattingly said “by taming the animals the night before” you’re able to “eliminate the morning circus.”

2. The ‘toybox’ 

Dwight Hughes Nursery, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, invested in a 330 Peterbilt with a 20-foot gooseneck trailer to haul two tractors and various implements.

“The tool truck and trailer setup holds virtually every piece of equipment that we need on the jobsite, and it travels to every single job,” Founder Dwight Hughes said, and added his employees deemed the rig “the toybox.”

3. GPS

Phoenix-based Landscape Maintenance equipped all of its fleet trucks with GPS boxes.

“The system lets us tune in on a PC and look at a display of where all our trucks are within a 700-foot range,” Founder David Goodman said. “It tells us what time (employees) stopped the truck, what time they started it up again, how fast they were traveling and how many miles they drove from one location to another.”

Goodman added the crew has no way to turn off the GPS, giving superiors the constant authority to ask, for instance, “Why were you at the fast food restaurant for 90 minutes?”

4. Mower blades

Roy Megli, owner of Megli Lawn Care in Sterling, Ill., upped productivity with his self-made (and sold) disc mowing system. Megli modified the blades of an agricultural disc mower to create a system to replace a mower’s standard rigid blade with four free-swinging knives.

The productivity advantage: The blades cut grass finer, remain sharper and keep mower decks cleaner than traditional blades.

5. Target times 

Matt Caruso achieves productivity by setting a standard time for employees to complete a job.

“When they go out on a job, they aren’t only expected to perform the day’s work but to complete the different tasks in certain time frames based on past performance statistics,” said the Founder of Decra-Scape in Sterling Heights, Mich. “That’s where the productivity gains come in. You and your people know from experience how long a certain task should take, so you have targets.”

6. Hiring processes 

Bass Custom Landscapes has a defined process in place for finding employees.

“Our process includes an established method for finding potential applicants, plus a sub-process for screening, including a basic skills test,” President Tony Bass said. “It’s a productive use of management’s time to identify people who aren’t good candidates prior to doing the interview.”

7. Mulching 

Witterschein identified mulching as the “most time-consuming and least profitable job most landscapers do.” Todd Pugh, owner of Todd’s Enviroscapes in Louisville, Ohio, flipped that notion by mechanizing the process with a tool known as Mulch Mule.

Pugh claimed it triples mulching efficiency and said it’s transferrable for use to haul plant material from the nursery to jobsites and, in fall, a leaf vacuum can be attached to the unit for yard cleanups.

8. Carry fuel 

The crews at T. Lake Environmental Design in Dublin, Ga., fuel up about once a week because the maintenance fleet carries its own fuel.

“Our maintenance people have Super Lawn Trucks that carry gasoline and premix, enough for a week’s worth of work by our mowers and small handheld equipment,” Founder Tim Lake said.

9. Tool-loading timesaver 

Foegley Landscape, located in South Bend, Ind., reduced the number of times tools are loaded by designing a combination open/cargo box trailer it calls a Versa-Trail.

The trailers usually are configured for hauling plants and bulk material, and the sides can be removed if crews need to haul a tractor or skid-steer.

10. Fuel up fleets, crews 

To have Alpharetta, Ga.-based Crabapple’s fleet fueled and ready the before the next day’s tasks, Owner Bill Coleman installed four 2,000-gallon fuel tanks—two for diesel and two for gasoline, plus a smaller tank for mixed gas—on the company’s site.

Supervisors place signs on their dash that read “fuel” or “no fuel” before they leave for the day to inform whether the trucks need filled up or not before they arrive to work the next day.

Another layer to Crabapple’s productivity was fueling up employees in the morning. Coleman made breakfast available to them by contacting a local food vendor to come to his site at 6:30 a.m. every morning to sell coffee and breakfast items.

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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