5 Tips for Better Mowing Margins

Mowing Profit Builders at a Glance

  • Train your people to be more productive.
  • Become smarter at routing.
  • Preventative maintenance (PM) reduces expenses.
  • Track your PM and repairs.
  • Use the largest deck size jobs will allow.

I’m frequently asked “What’s the best way to make money in my maintenance business?” This is usually preceded by, “There’s so much competition in business today that making a profit is getting harder and harder.”

There are things you can do to increase profitability, but first you have to increase productivity and efficiency. Gone are the days when landscape service providers could rake in profits just by showing up and doing the work. Examine your operation from every angle and look for opportunities to cut costs and increase efficiencies.

1. Labor

Labor is your largest cost. Start looking there for ways to increase productivity without increasing labor expense. One area to look for potential savings is crew size. Just because you’ve always used three- or four-man crews, doesn’t mean there’s not a better way to get jobs done with smaller crews. Look at your jobs carefully and you could find jobs that you could complete with one man less.

Avoid trying to find increases in productivity by demanding that your people work harder, instead train them to work smarter. Ask employees for suggestions on reducing job time and expenses. They want you to succeed and they want to be involved helping you succeed.

2. Fleet management

Look at how you manage your equipment and vehicle fleets. Companies that standardize on one brand of mowing equipment and trucks are always more efficient. Be sure you’re using the best type of equipment for your jobs. For years contractors have used 48-inch mowers when 52-inch mowers increase productivity by 8 percent and almost always fit on the same job sites as 48-inch models. Your rider fleet should include the largest possible deck sizes your jobs will allow.

Most hand-held equipment is good for two years of commercial use. After retiring units, be sure to strip off usable components like carburetors and gear heads that are in working order.

Consider the life cycle you expect from equipment and vehicles. Properly maintained, they’ll last longer and reduce capital expense while delivering better results.

3. Sharpen, grease, oil and clean

Simple but necessary preventative maintenance (PM) services, when performed regularly at proper intervals, will keep your equipment and vehicles running better and longer. There’s nothing expensive about keeping sharp blades, and keeping your equipment greased, oiled and clean. These measures prevent large, expensive repairs. They also lessen the chance of costly on-the-job failures.

Sharp blades give a better cut, and grease and oil changes are cheap insurance against major failures. Clean debris from all moving parts, especially hydro drive systems where heat can cause damage. Your crews like operating equipment that’s in top shape and your clients will know you’re a quality company because everything is well-maintained.

4. Record everything

Stressing PM is a sure fire way to reduce fleet operating costs and increase productivity, but you have to know what you did to your equipment and when you did it. Track your PM and repairs on a simple computerized program. I see far too many companies writing hard copy reports, copying the reports for department heads and stacking valuable information on managers’ desks making it hard to analyze.

You don’t need to be a large operator to keep computer-generated records of PM and repairs. These records can add value when it comes time to sell or trade in your equipment or vehicles.

5. Going to the jobs

Carefully examine what’s happening at your shop at the start of the day and how fast your crews get to the first job.

Be sure your fleets are ready when your crews arrive. It’s costly for crews to wait 15 minutes while their equipment is prepared or serviced. Crew supervisors should arrive earlier and make sure everything is ready and running properly.

Travel time is unproductive and unprofitable time, but it’s necessary to get to your job sites. Supervisors and managers should design routes so the crews avoid slow traffic areas. Consider sending crews to the first job that’s the farthest from your place. This will eliminate a return to complete a job that requires significant travel the next day and reduce return travel later in the day.

By reviewing everything, you’ll find cost savings and ways to increase productivity and efficiency that will increase your bottom line.

Rick Cuddihe is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer, and he works with landscape contractors to improve their businesses. Contact him at [email protected].