What questions landscape companies and contractors should ask before making a purchase

Nolan Gore of Top Choice Lawn Care in Austin, Texas, recommends talking to other users before making a large equipment purchase to get an unfiltered opinion. (Photo: Nolan Gore)
Nolan Gore of Top Choice Lawn Care in Austin, Texas, recommends talking to other users before making a large equipment purchase to get an unfiltered opinion. (Photo: Nolan Gore)

Any big purchase also comes with big questions.

Nolan Gore
Nolan Gore

Whenever he makes a major purchase, Nolan Gore, general manager and owner at Top Choice Lawn Care in Austin, Texas, likes to think about a quote from Charlie Munger, former Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman: ‘The company that needs a new machine or tool and hasn’t bought it is already paying for it.’

“We believe very firmly in the idea that technology and equipment is an enabler of human functioning and human flourishing in our industry,” Gore says. “While it seems expensive, the labor and people are far more expensive the vast majority of the time. So, you’re saving yourself a little bit of money upfront with that purchase.”

Still, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered before deciding to invest in new equipment. Thankfully, experts are happy to share their thoughts on what to consider before making that equipment purchase.

What to consider

The first thing a landscape contractor should consider before making an equipment purchase is the size of a typical customer’s property, says Kodi Quinlisk an equipment specialist for Pa.-based Steel Green Manufacturing.

Kodi Quinlisk
Kodi Quinlisk

“If they’re doing larger properties, obviously they’d want to look into something that’s going to be more efficient for big properties,” he says. “If they’re looking at smaller properties, then they would want to look at something that’s going to be more maneuverable in tight areas.”

As for equipment features, Quinlisk recommends contractors ensure their machines are capable of applying the products they want to apply.

“Some equipment is only low volume, so they’re limited on what type of products they’re going to be able to put down with it,” Quinlisk says. “Other machines are more capable of doing high volume. For example, if you want to do an all-liquid program, you’re going to need that high volume.”

He says additional questions to consider include what kind of warranty is available? How convenient are the service center locations? Are parts readily available and is the machine easy to calibrate? The easier the calibration, the more accurate one can be, Quinlisk says.

For Gore, sometimes the best question to ask is whether the manufacturer is a reputable brand. And then when you’ve chosen a line of equipment, stick to it.

“The maintenance will be easier, knowledge accumulation is easier and you don’t have to research as much,” Gore says.

Other sticking points for him and his team are reliability and durability. He says they want machines they know will work when it’s 3 p.m., it’s hot and they just want to finish the day.

“Good employees like working with good tools,” Gore says. “Bad employees accept poor equipment.”

Where to look

Josh Flynn, CEO of Power Equipment Plus, says have all of the necessary paperwork done before heading in to make your equipment purchase for a smoother experience. (Photo: Nolan Gore)

Searching for the right piece of equipment can be difficult. There are many options and a lot of ways to do research.

Gore says the best place to start researching is by talking to groups of operators — not suppliers.

“Stores are incentivized to sell,” Gore says. “Operators want efficiency and reliability.”

Quinlisk recommends searching online and reaching out to local dealers. He also recommends looking at social media.

“There are a lot of helpful Facebook groups where people from all over the country with different points of view can come together,” Quinlisk says. “It’s nice to be able to ask around and get feedback (about the machine) from other users.”

Josh Flynn is the CEO of Power Equipment Plus, an outdoor power equipment dealer with four branches on Long Island, N.Y. Flynn encourages everyone to research not only the products they’re looking to buy but also the equipment dealers.

“There are a lot of folks who come into the store and ask for a random brand and we’re like, ‘Nope, sorry, we don’t sell that, but hey, we can show you something else,’” he says. “Get an idea of the models you’re interested in, maybe the price point.”

What to remember

Some overlooked aspects of the process include understanding what is and isn’t included in the warranty.

“Most warranties are going to be for a specified amount of time,” Quinlisk says. “They’ll require you to take the machine to a dealership, go through a diagnostic process, they’ll get the parts and everything.”

It’s also important, says Lee Padgett, product manager for Takeuchi, to know what other purchases you may need to make to support your new equipment.

“Transporting a larger machine will likely require a more expensive trailer,” he says. “Operating a vehicle weighing over 26,000 lbs. requires a CDL — which means more time and effort.”

Finally, Flynn says the buying process will go smoother if you fill out financing paperwork online before walking into the dealership.

“Normally folks come in, we fill out the application with them, you have to wait and maybe you get the program you wanted,” he says. “It’s kind of like buying a house … you know exactly where you sit if you’re prequalified. That makes it a lot easier for us to sell.”

Before you buy

Landscape Management spoke to various pros in the industry and asked the key questions LCOs should ask before they make their final purchase decision.

Question: Should I buy, or rent?

Answer: No matter how big you are, the most important thing is when do you start seeing a return on the investment? Do you really need that excavator? I can’t believe how many companies have equipment that really doesn’t do much more than sit in a parking lot. Ask yourself what you’re going to use the equipment for. Once you’ve made the decision that this equipment clearly makes sense, then do your homework on it. — Frank Mariani, founder and executive chairman, Mariani Premier Group

Q: What is the best timing for me to buy?

A: If you’re looking to buy a fleet or even a few units, don’t do it in May. Spring orders are coming in January and February; we’re fully stocked for the season with hundreds of mowers at that time. — Josh Flynn, CEO, Power Equipment Plus

Q: Does this piece of equipment make me more efficient than I already was?

A: If you can get more work done, if you can be more efficient, if it will make life easier for the technician, then it is worth it. I’m in Texas where the temperature gets up to 105 degrees F in the summertime on the daily. I’m trying to do everything I can to make my technician’s life easier. — Luke Hawthorne, COO, Emerald Lawns

Q: Am I certain this is a positive investment in the business?

A: A failed equipment purchase means you’re not using the equipment enough for it to pay for itself. Regardless of how you financed it, it’s an anchor on your business and now there’s capital you don’t have to grow your business elsewhere. You sort of get stranded — you’re going to take a hit on the resale market. The real downside is an opportunity missed to invest in your business in a positive way. — Palmer Higgins, partner, Chenmark

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