Well Equipped...Benchmarking your Business

Lawn & Landscape, November 2011

An equipment wish list – that's what Blake Crawford asks his head managers to submit every September, right before budgeting for the next year kicks into full gear. Another riding mower? A skid-steer loader? A new truck? Hand-held equipment?

Leads at Crawford Landscaping in Naples, Fla., put their "wants" on paper at the end of the busy season, and equipment needs are assessed based on the anticipated cash available for equipment purchases. "This year, we are probably going to embark on an aggressive budget for our shop maintenance," says Crawford, CEO of the firm.

Making machines last costs money – but it's one way to stretch equipment dollars. And at Crawford Landscaping, where three full-time mechanics are employed, keeping up with a strict preventive maintenance schedule has preserved the brand-new equipment purchased in 2004 when the company launched.

During Crawford Landscaping's first few years, when growth was averaging 35-40 percent annually, more dollars were allocated toward equipment purchases. Over time, maintenance became a greater focus. The firm brought on a mechanic once it reached 10 crews and about $3 million in revenue.

"It made sense to bring in a mechanic that could maintain the load, and put a computer system in place to track preventive maintenance – that has been significant for us," Crawford says. "Our equipment goes through a lot down here in Southwest Florida with the heat and humidity, and we're operating every day of the week."

Maintenance is a more significant focus today for many landscape firms. And, as companies figure out ways to pump more hours from their iron, they are still making equipment purchases to accommodate growth and replace machines that are ready for retirement. Dealers are offering attractive financing programs; and the used equipment market is robust. Rentals are also on the rise, and these are easier to budget for than purchases, says Jarod Hynson, president, Earth, Turf & Wood, Denver, Pa. "You don't have to pay insurance or maintenance on rentals, which can be a huge expense if you purchase the equipment," he says.

Despite a flat year for many firms, equipment is one key area of the budget where landscape contractors will spend. "You have to continue to invest in equipment – if you remain stagnant and aren't constantly looking at what's new, that could bite you down the road," Hynson says. 

One of Crawford's massive Arbor vehicles at work

One of Crawford's massive Arbor vehicles at work