Turf Magazine - July, 2013

DEPARTMENTS

Contractors' Corner: Electric the Eco Way to Go

By Rick Cuddihe

As manufacturers develop and bring more equipment that runs on batteries to market, contactors are finding profitable ways to put these units in service.

Zack Kline, CEO of A.I.R. Lawn Care, Montgomery County, Md., says that electric-powered lawn maintenance equipment is a better option for his two-year-old company.

A.I.R. is short for Atmosphere Improvement and Renewal. Kline, 24, developed the business plan for A.I.R. in 2010. The $5,000 he earned after winning the Salisbury University's Business Plan Competition in 2011 helped him get his company off the ground.

"I became frustrated by the amount of noise and air pollution that a gas-powered trimmer created while I was using it on a Code Red, 90-degree and terrible humidity day," he says. "I knew there had to be a better way and decided A.I.R. was going to use electric-powered equipment. I started researching what was on the market. After doing my research I decided on the STIHL line of electric-powered blowers, trimmers and hedge clippers and Mean Green Products for electric-powered mowers."

To this point, Kline has been using the WBX-33 Mean Green 33-inch electric mower with a LEM80 battery, which gives him up to three hours of continuous cutting time, dependent, of course, on grass height, terrain and other conditions. LEM is short for Lithium Energy Module.

Kline has two batteries and can be recharging one as he uses the other. He can recharge the batteries either using the solar panels on his trailer and the side of his truck, or on the grid. The batteries can be switched out on the mower in about one minute, he says. (Mean Green also produces the CXR-52 52-inch and the CXR-60 60-inch riders.)

Kline reports that using electric-powered equipment has made a "tremendous difference for my business, employees, customers and the environment."

He says it gives A.I.R. (http://www.airlawncare.com) a competitive advantage on many levels including operation savings, marketing and overall service.



Zack Kline, founder of A.I.R. Lawn Care, center, and brother Hunter Kline, left, and Rajesh Sharma show off the battery-powered units they use to maintain clients' properties - STIHL hand-helds and a WBX-33 Mean Green commercial walk-behind mower.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK LEISHER PRODUCTIONS.

"Our customers also enjoy the reduction and elimination respectively of air and noise pollution the electric-powered equipment generates. They often come outside after the lawn has been cut and comment on how they did not even know my team was there because of how quiet the equipment was," he adds. "The electric-powered equipment not only solves a problem for my clients, but for the environment as 5 percent of the U.S.'s air pollution comes from small lawn equipment engines. By using electric-powered equipment A.I.R. Lawn Care is helping reduce that figure."

Not surprisingly, A.I.R. also counts on battery-powered hand-held units from STIHL, Inc. The company manufactures seven models of battery-powered hand-held products. In fact, Roger Phelps, STIHL's communications manager, helped review and offered some valuable pointers on the A.I.R. business plan, says Kline.

Battery-powered hand-held equipment is a fast growing segment of the hand-held market. Advances in battery technology and much lower sound levels make battery power a realistic option for hand-held equipment operators.

Kline says that issues such as financing and the unpredictability of this season's wet weather have been his biggest issues in getting his business up to the size he's forecasting for this season. Customer acceptance has been strong.

"People like the service," says the young entrepreneur who also offers organic lawn care, and is already working on business plans for three related eco-friendly businesses.

Rick Cuddihe is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer, and he works with landscape contractors to improve their businesses. Contact him at rick@lafayetteconsulting.com.