By Todd Layt
The biggest cost of maintaining a landscape is Labour. Finding techniques, labour saving devices and machines, lower maintenance green life choices, and other labour saving ideas can lead to greatly increased efficiencies, and profits. The manufacturing industry has had to become very efficient to survive. Landscape maintenance companies can learn from this and really become efficient and prosper.
The first step is to spend a couple of days working on your business, rather than in it. Write down your major activities, then think of ways you can make them more efficient, and less labour intensive. For each activity list the practices undertaken to accomplish the task. After that, research if there is any better faster machinery than you are currently using, or smarter techniques listed. Your business may not be able to afford the new machinery yet, but over the next year or so you maybe able to, so knowing what is out there is important. Conversely, your investigation may show that efficiencies gained from new equipment may save far more money in the form of labour saving costs, compared to the cost of purchase over the life of the lease of a machine, particularly if the older machinery is traded or sold.
For example, let’s look at Mowing large areas. Some of the new larger mowers available are much faster, use less fuel, are more comfortable for staff, easier to maintain, and as a bonus pollute less and leave a higher quality finish. Do not under estimate comfort for the operator. A comfortable operator will get through more work. Most controls of these new generation mowers are often at the operators finger tips, allowing them to change height at the touch of a button. The speed of mowing has also increased, as too has the turning ability while mowing, still leaving a quality of finish. Manufacturing of mowers has certainly come a long way. To see all this new technology, simply go online and follow the links we have provided in the Equipments Suppliers List.
Another advancement in technology is the rapid rise of the multi-purpose hand held power tools. These extraordinary all-in-one products are versatility at its best. It allows one man shows, or large landscape maintenance teams to have many tools in one, reducing space for storage, and cost of ownership. You start of with the engine and drive shaft which usually comes with a trimmer, and to that you can ad, a hedge trimmer, a pruner, a cultivator, edger, or a sweeper. For different brands see Equipments Suppliers List.
Your company may perform a lot of the same task so buying larger very powerful stand alone tools may be necessary. Many lawn maintenance companies find using a powerful trimmer is faster to keep a lawn edge then a purpose built edger, particularly when the edge is regularly maintained. Choosing which way to go comes down to your business, and the few days you spend researching, and working on your business rather than in it. Talk to your staff, suppliers, and peers. Write down the pros and cons of each choice.
There are many other smaller machines that can save time and money. Some of the new blowers recently introduced have enormous power, and have been transformed from a somewhat useful device, to something that really works. Leaves, and other debris are quickly moved out the way. For different brands see Equipments Suppliers List.
The high pressure water cleaner could be extra work and income. In many areas of Australia only people who use water pressure cleaners as a major part of their business can use them with current water restrictions. This allows a contractor an opportunity to buy a good powerful one, and offer this service to your customers, who can not clean there own paths and driveways. A larger more powerful machine will save time and labour. Some regions of Australia water restriction even prevent contractors that specialise in cleaning using these devices, so check your local restrictions. Some new water pressure cleaners get around this buy using buckets or tanks to supply the water. Hot water pressure cleaners washers may save more labour, particularly on stubborn dirty pavers.
There are many other devices that could grow your business. It will take research and planning to work out the best ones for you, but think of all the extra work it could develop. Ever thought of offering your existing clients many other new services, such as cleaning as previously discussed, or maybe lawn rejuvenation. That may mean each spring dethatching, or lawn aeration machinery. It could be an opportunity to buy an efficient herbicide spryer, allowing you to quickly treat for weeds. You could even offer your clients a pre-emergent service, where by you spread Ronstar on there lawns and gardens, which will stop weed seed from germinating. Even a more efficient fertiliser spreader could allow you to offer more frequent fertilising services. A quicker spring green up, or a later Autumn turf dormancy, means a longer mowing season, and more work, and an efficient fertiliser delivery service means quicker operation and more profits. In winter a good chainsaw can not only get you work taking down low lying limbs etc, for those doing larger grounds or acreage maintenance, chopping up fallen trees for clients in winter for firewood can again mean more off season work.
It may often be impractical to own all these varied types of equipment. In summer, early Autumn, and Spring you may have enough work, and the efficient equipment you have researched is hopefully doing the work well. In the cooler months this may allow you to look for this extra work with these less commonly used machines. It may be better and more cost effective to hire certain machinery. For Example you could hire for a few days a dethatcher, and a lawn aerator in early spring, and work on most of your clients in those few days; efficient, labour saving, and a way to earn extra income. For many businesses it may make a lot of sense to hire chippers, stump grinders and other equipment and try to service a few clients with that machine all at once. Hiring labour saving machinery may also be helpful if your investigation and planning shows you need say 4.2 mowers to do all the work, so rather than buying the 5th mower, you can hire one when needed. You may have a site clean up, so work out the most cost effective efficient way to get rubbish to the tip. Is it to hire a large skip, or a small tipper. It may depend how far the site is from the rubbish disposal area. Do your costings, and add up the labour costs. Sometimes a maintenance company may be asked to returf an area. It is much cheaper, and saves a lot of labour to hire a Power Rake, which prepared the bed for turfing, than to attempt the work by hand.
If you have ever had to remulch a garden at the rear of a unit complex, you now how much labour it takes to get the much in position and spread. Machinery such as the Bark blowers can save many hours of labour. These machines deliver the mulch through a very large hose, over long distances, eliminating the need for manually shovelling and spreading.
There are other ways to save maintenance costs in the landscape other than machinery. If the landscape is designed with low maintenance in mind thousands of hours can be saved over the life of the landscape. A turf that requires less mowing could be used. For Example, Empire Turf requires one third the mowing of Couch and half as much as Kikuyu. Buffalo varieties also require less mowing than Couch and Kikuyu. Evergreen plants that rarely require trimming could be used. Roadside landscapes are using a lot of Dianella and Lomandra due to their low maintenance requirements. For example there are parts of Windsor road that have a Lomandra called Tanika on them, and for seven years, they have not required trimming, fertilising or watering. The area has been remulched once, and a few weeds have been removed on a couple of occasions. This proves a very low maintenance landscape is possible. In very ornamental landscapes, people like having some higher maintenance very showy plants. Try the 80/20 rule. Plant 80% of the landscape in very low maintenance plants, and plant in pockets the other 20% in higher maintenance specialty plants that keep the client happy.
Growth regulators, such as Primo Max can be applied to lawns, particularly in the summer months. This can save many man hours in summer mowing. It can actually halve the mowing requirements for 6 weeks after application. By fertilising in mid Autumn, and then again in early spring, you can have a healthy lawn with out ridicules amounts of mowing. Avoid summer turf fertilising, unless the soil is very sandy, the turf gets a great deal of wear or the lawn has been damaged, and recovery is needed. Use chunky mulch on gardens. Mulch with lots of fine particles, is excellent at germinating weed seed. Chunky mulch not only inhibits weed seed germination, but allows water to better penetrate. Learn about herbicides and pesticides. Know which chemicals can take out which weeds in what lawn. Pre-emergents can be very useful. Ronstar, Dimension, and Pendamethalin are pre-emergents which will help stop weed seed from germinating in lawns, and Ronstar can be used on plants. These techniques can save many unnecessary hours of Labour.
A good irrigation system can not only save water, but it can save a lot of time compared to manually watering. Unfortunatly some water authorities are crazy enough to think a very efficient irrigation system uses more water than hand watering. All they need to do is look at reseach that shows a good irrigation system saves water. If you are in one of these sensible regions like Perth, install that effiecint irrigation system. If you are in Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane, where our politicians need to go back to school and learn to read, so they can understand efficient correct use of irrigation will save water better than wasteful hand watering, then encourage your clients to put in a large water tank, catch their own water, and set up an efficient irrigation system. Warm season turf types, in the eastern states, will only require on average fortnightly watering in summer, no water in winter, and monthly watering for the rest of the year, once rain events are factored in. So that’s about 12 watering events per year for turf. If enough water is not available to do that, then simply allow the lawn to brown off until there is water available. In the Eastern states, many local authorities and roads departments have switched to Empire Zoysia Turf, as many test areas have survived on natural rainfall over the last few years of drought. For gardens, in many regions numerous native plants can live on natural rainfall, so simply choose those plants that need no irrigation. This not only saves water, but labour and time setting up an irrigation system. Lomandra and Dianella strappy leaf plants are probably the best choice for Australian No Irrigation gardens. For sandy soils some irrigation maybe required.
The cost of labour is very expensive, in fact it is almost always the largest cost of any Landscape Maintenance business. So let me leave you with the following question. Have you seriously looked at your systems, machinery and techniques, to see if there are ways to reduce your largest cost, namely Labour?