When you are out driving around town, you will probably see many lawn care businesses mowing properties. Most may appear to only use mowers but some do use lawn tractors. Which piece of equipment is right for you when you get started comes down to a matter of opinion. Here is a great discussion on the topic from the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum.
One lawn care business owner wrote “I would like to know how many of you started with a lawn tractor or still use one? I know a lot of people do not have the budget to buy a walk behind or ZTR mower so I was just wondering how many started this way and how long it took to upgrade your mower?”
A second lawn care business owner shared “I started with both. But the tractors I purchased weren’t consumer models. They were four wheel drive tractors with all wheel steering.
Deciding on a mower or tractor, really depends on the terrain and what you have to get around. My area has a lot of steep lawns that I would not even attempt to mow if I didn’t have four wheel drive. You also need to think of the kind of work you are going to perform. My tractors have a PTO and three point hitch. I have ordered two three point hitch 40 gallon sprayers as spraying Organics is a major part of our lawn care income, plus they will run tillers, landscape rakes, leaf collectors, a box blade, a rear blade, snow blower, basically you name it.
Another up side to the tractors I use is that they run on diesel. Running on diesel helps keep their operating costs down. I understand the upfront costs are expensive, but if you are in it for the long haul and you have the work, they pay for themselves in less than a season.
If mowing, trimming and blowing were all I was going to do and cash was tight, I would consider going to the local big box store and purchase a consumer ZTR. If you maintain it and let’s say you get 50 customers, it will last you a couple of years.
A high end residential ZTR will probably last you three or four years. Then you could upgrade to a good commercial unit when you have the cash. If you don’t have the cash, for goodness sake don’t go head over heals into debt to buy high end gear, when you can get started with basic equipment.
Don’t even consider beat up equipment if you want the upper end clients. I know they care what’s on their property as my upper end clients tell me one reason I was hired was our appearance and the quality of the machines.
Get the business, then get the equipment. I do it all the time. Just make sure you have the cash or some type of financing in place. If it won’t pay for itself in 6 months, I don’t buy it, that is just a personal rule of thumb.
If in my case I wanted a $10,000 mower it would be because I had enough new business or current business where the equipment I have was putting in too many hours and that machine could generate me $10,000 in gross profit in 6 to 9 months. Now we all have expenses but I don’t factor that in when looking at the machine, so it could very well be that the machine needs a year to generate $10,000 in net revenue.
Some equipment doesn’t generate direct revenue but could save us time, maintenance and money, say for example it takes me an hour a day to load my landscape trailer with mowers, blowers, trimmers etc. and an hour to unload at the end of the day, maybe I should be looking at cargo trailer that I could leave my gear in and it would also maybe free up my garage and give me a work area on down days if you have them.
For a $10,000 piece, I like it to be multi purpose, in my case it should be able to do something other than mow, maybe pull a roller, pull a sprayer etc. There are exceptions once again. My chippers run $21,000 and all they can do is chip wood, that’s fine but they better be generating their keep or I would simply trade it in for something that would see more use and generate more revenue.
I consider the life of the equipment in my case for most of it to be 3 to 5 years and what I mean by that is it is no where near worn out but I know from research that it will give me maximum trade in value within that time range. Once again there are exceptions, chainsaws, blowers, trimmers, push mowers, sprayers…..small stuff like this, run her until she drops or it starts to look bad.
Trailers and vehicles are different in my case, a trailer should last me 10 to 15 years as I keep them painted and undercoated and my trucks should be good for 5 years but if they still look good and are not costing a fortune in maintenance I will push them to 8 but I doubt that will happen.
Lease vs Buy. I only leased one piece of equipment and it’s an excavator, semi annual payments with a $1.00 buy out in five years. Watch the buy out. That will tell you if it’s better to finance or lease. There is a reason I leased and it had everything to do with tax in my case for last year.
The advantage of a lease where I am has everything to do with tax in my case however I do know for a fact it’s easier for a new company to get a lease on a vehicle as most banks here will not finance in the first year however a dealership would probably lease you the equipment. You can even get your trailers through leases.Don’t grow too fast or things can and generally do blow up in your face. In my case I am not adding any more equipment this year, even if the business comes up. I have enough gear, if max’d out, could generate around $900,000 gross annually. I don’t want to become a business manager sitting behind a desk. If I do get to that point, I will find someone to manage the company as I want to be out in the field working on equipment.”