1 man, 2 man or 3 man lawn mowing crew. What’s best?

Most lawn care business owners are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiency. Is it more efficient to run a 1, 2 or 3 man crew? Sure everyone will have their own opinion on this but in a discussion on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum we got a chance to talk with a business owner who has experimented with all three crew types and has come to a conclusion that will surely help you grow.

He wrote “so I ran all summer with a 3 man crew (2 employees + myself). At 1st it was a situation where 2 guys could no longer keep up, but 3 guys on the team basically meant we could get all our mowing done in the day but only little more than enough to cover the 3rd guy’s labor. As we worked I kept working on different stratagies & found a system that helped make us more efficient once at a clients home. Then I revamped my route again. We kept gaining new clients & each new customer within our service area meant the stops were now closer together. Drive time is the biggest killer of productivity & the more guys on the crew, the more it hurts. That is because 3 men can’t get there any faster than 2. 10 min of driving with 2 guys is 20 minutes of labor, & 30 minutes of labor with 3 guys in the truck.

As this season progressed we got to the point we were doing 28-30 properties a day. So towards the end of the summer we had gotten back to being a more profitable business machine. If your route is tight, a 3 man system works. If you’re all over town, your better served alone until business gets better.

Going into next season I plan to set up a 2nd truck, I’ll probably run 2 employees on 1 truck & go solo on the other, at least for a while, Then I’ll add a helper on my crew as things progress. Ultimately the most profitable system seems to be 1 guy per truck, but unless you’ve got the capital to buy 2-3 full riggs as you expand it’s not a practical business model.

Say for instance (to explain): a one man operation can average around $40-45 average gross per hour. 2 guys can hit $70-75, while 3 were usually say $90- $100. So $100/hr is nice but it’s with 3 guys! Two trucks with 1 man each could collectively hit $80-90 per hour and save an entire guys labor. So either you invest in the equipment, or you invest in unessesary labor…. So I guess that’s why most factories are so automated now.”

That is really very insightful. Do you have any estimates on the profit level for each of these categories? I bet a lot of readers are looking at this and thinking WOW with 3 guys I can hit $100 an hour, but that is not the real full story one should focus on. It’s the profitability of it. What’s your view?

“For one, yes 3 guys can run that much per hour but I’ll tell ya, it seems to me it’s gotta be the right 3 guys & on a relatively tight route. If you had a gated community, 2 guys (hustling) could do it too. But I’ve had a few employees come & go, & if you lolly gag… your probably not getting there.

I don’t have any hard numbers on the profitability for you as my line up changed too much. What I mean is for most of the summer I ran 3 days with 3 guys & 2 days with 2 guys. Two of my routes were a little lighter & more spaced out, so I decided I couldn’t really justify the extra labor those 2 days.

The problem lies in that I lacked the business this year to buy another full truck & rig just yet, but a 2 man team couldn’t keep up. I think the most profitable system is 1 guy per truck & here’s why:

If you have say 2 guys on a truck & run 20 stops that day, for ease of math we’ll say each stop takes 20 minutes start to finish, then 5 minutes travel bettween each stop. So during that day you have 6.6 hours per man = 13.2 hrs actually on the jobs making money & 1.6 hours per man = 3.2 hours wasted driving. A total of 16.4 hours labor to complete 20 stops.

2nd Scenario: 2 guys each with their own truck (trailer, mowers, etc.) running solo. Each guy does 10 lawns, only now it takes each one 40 minutes to complete alone, the travel time remains the same.
Each guy ends up at 6.6 hours of productivity = 13.2 hours total, and now each man spends .83 hours behind the wheel of the truck for a combined total of 1.6 hours travel. A total of 14.8 hours to complete 20 stops.

You save 1.6 hours labor per day in this comparison. Then the question is, how many days does it take for that to offset the costs of new equipment?

Other variables play in too. For instance like running solo last summer I peaked out one day at 16 stops alone. The best I’ve done with 3 guys is 35 stops. Today I completed 25 stops with just 2 of us, and at that, I had a ded battery on 1 mower this morning (25 minutes lost per guy) & we did some trimming & pruning at one clients home. If it had been light out longer we’d have finished my 31 stop cut list for mondays on schedule despite not having my 3rd man on the truck!

You gotta weigh out everything in this business, it’s a business of minutes & seconds. You have to do a quality job, but 5 wasted minutes per stop can keep you from finishing a handfull of additional lawns per day. That hurts the pocket at the end of a week, month, year.”

When you add a second crew, will you need to duplicate the same equipment of can you have one crew for larger properties and one for smaller? Or what would be ideal? Also what is your plan for truck or trailer needs for the second crew?

Should all of this be interchangeable so each set of truck and equipment is the same?

“As of right now my intention is to buy an older regular cab work truck to tow my current trailer & the main crew (all employees) will run that set up with my current mowers & gear. They will ideally handle the lions share of the mowing, trimming & pruning.

I plan to remove the tailgate from my current truck, install a trailer style drop gate in it’s place. I’ll install trimmer racks to the wood sides to hold the trimmers, blowers etc. I will run this rigg with no trailer handling new estimates, landscape measurements, proposals, 1st time cuts, & pick up any slack from the main crew, all the while being free to roam & check up on them at any time. You can bet that if I’m not on the jobs personally there will be a high standard for quality control, & I’ll visit properties shortly after my crews have been there & I’ll follow the routes to find them & make sure they are where they’re supposed to be.

I’ll run solo again at 1st other than that any new employees will have to train with me for a few weeks before being put on the other crew. Once things get too busy for the other crew & me alone to handle I’ll hire on a helper for my truck.

I know the dangers of growing too fast & while I think I’m growing this a bit faster than the average company grows… I’m being careful & thinking each move through. Each time you grow as a company (new employees, equipment etc.) your profitability drops a bit at 1st. It’s a natural occurrence. Growing pains!”

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