Ch. 1: Treat Your Employees and Your Equipment Well
To run a successful landscaping business, you need to invest in your employees and your equipment. In fact, these might be the most important investments you make. The right crew, with the right equipment, can tackle jobs efficiently and deliver high-quality work to your customers. Working with the wrong people and the wrong tools… well, it's not very much fun to think about.
Your crew and equipment are vital to your success. In this chapter, we'll look at how you can…
- Protect your equipment.
- Avoid costly repairs.
- Prevent accidents and injuries.
- Encourage health and safety among your workers.
Advice from Landscaping Pros: Invest in Equipment
For the Ochoa family of Redding, California, landscaping is a family business.
Juan Ochoa, Sr.
and his son,
Juan Ochoa, Jr.
Juan Ochoa Yard Care
. With years of professional lawn care experience, the father-and-son duo is quick to point out the impact that investing in the right equipment has had on their business.
In fact, if they could go back in time, both business owners admitted, they would have invested in better equipment from the get-go.
"At the beginning, any lawnmower was fine until it broke," Ochoa, Sr. explained, "but this actually ended up costing more in the long run."
A good, professional-quality mower offers a great return on investment as it won't break down and allows more work to get done faster.
At the same time, Juan Ochoa, Jr. admitted that Rome wasn't built in a day. For him, it took years to save up enough money to invest in all the tools his company needed.
He warned that as landscapers buy new equipment, they need to be careful to buy the most important tools first — mowers, weed eaters, three-legged ladders, pruning shears, hedge trimmers, etc. — because investing in the wrong equipment can be costly. After all, he pointed out, you can't get that money back if you don't use a new tool enough to make it worth your business's while.
“Invest in the best equipment you can afford. You'll save money in the long run.” — Juan Ochoa, Sr., owner of Ochoa's Landscaping
How to Save Money on Equipment Repairs and Get the Most from Trade-Ins
The Ochoas' advice is sound, but there's more to managing equipment than purchasing top-grade gear. Equipment breaks down and depreciates — it loses value and becomes more likely to need costly repairs.
The secret to maximizing the value of every piece of equipment you buy? Know its break-even point. Of course, figuring that out requires a fair bit of calculation. Here's a chart to help guide you through some of the number crunching.
Calculating the Break-Even Point for Lawn Care Equipment
What You Need to Know
Which Numbers to Use
How it Works
Expected lifespan of equipment with gas engines
Horsepower + use hours
Count on about 100 hours of use for every horsepower in a gas engine and 125 hours for every horsepower in a diesel engine. See a detailed breakdown at Grounds Maintenance.
When to trade in equipment for maximum value
Think about trading in equipment when it's hit 75% of its expected lifespan. That's the sweet spot where trade-in value and repair costs align. Read more from Green Industry Pros .
Whether to repair or replace equipment
Cost of repair + cost of replacement + expected performance
If a repair will let the vehicle operate almost as well as a new vehicle AND costs less than half the cost of replacement, go for it. If it costs more or performs worse, it's probably time to replace.
Whether to rent or buy expensive equipment
Down payment + rent payments + interest + depreciation + repairs… maybe just check out the tool we link to.
This is a complex calculation and requires that you factor in a lot of numbers. Check out the Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers' online tool for a detailed rent vs. own calculation.
Tips for Treating Your Employees Well and Protecting Their Health
Summer for the Ochoas doesn't just mean peak landscaping season — it means the 100-degree high temperatures that regularly hit Redding, California. For Juan Ochoa, Jr., those heat waves mean he has to take extra care to make sure his crew is healthy, hydrated, and ready for work. He offers a few tips:
- Make sure your vehicle's A/C is up and running.
- Keep your employees well hydrated and suggest the same for contractors and subcontractors who work with you.
- Take breaks for healthy snacks and have a plan for meals so your workers don't default to eating at fast-food restaurants, which can affect long-term health and performance.
- Be organized and punctual so you get the most work done in cooler morning hours.
You should also plan and conduct an employee training program that helps you avoid injuries and prevents accidents. Key items to cover include:
- Training all employees on the proper use of equipment.
- Refueling equipment on the ground, after it's had time to cool off.
- Ensuring employees and contractors have proper safety equipment (e.g., eye / ear protection, gloves, etc.).
- Having a policy in place requiring employees to report any "near misses" and accidents.
- Teaching proper lifting technique (i.e., bend with the knees).
- Implementing strict policies that prohibit alcohol, drugs, and prescription medication that could impair your employees, contractors, and subcontractors — and make this clear in your employee and subcontractor agreements.
To learn more about insuring your company and protecting it against expensive workplace accident claims, see information on Workers' Compensation Insurance for landscapers.
“Buy the most important tools first. You can't get that money back if you buy the wrong thing.” — Juan Ochoa, Jr., founder of Juan Ochoa Yard Care
4 Final Thoughts about Protecting Employees and Equipment
In this chapter, we looked at some of the basic strategies you can adopt to protect your employees and avoid costly equipment repairs. But wait — there's more! These four tips offer ways you can control your costs:
- Factor repair costs into your price quotes. It's easy to forget that your prices shouldn't just cover your current operating costs — they need to cover potential costs for repairs and other unpredictable expenses. If you quote your customers a bare-bones price, you risk not having funds on hand for repairs when you need them most.
- Remember the hidden costs of equipment breakdowns. Say your mower's engine finally gives out. A new mower might cost $3,000, but there are some hidden costs you can't forget about. If you're unable to work, you'll lose revenue. If you have to make do with an older, slower mower for a while, your labor costs will increase because it will take longer to do the job.
- Build a safety plan for your company. We've given you some general safety tips here, but you should look through OSHA's landscaping safety guide on preventing workplace accidents, illnesses, and injuries. OSHA has tips for safety for everything ranging from heat exposure to pesticide and chemical poisoning. Depending on the type of landscaping you do, you can use OSHA's recommendations to customize your safety plan.
- Encourage healthy employee habits. The Harvard Business Review reports that employer-sponsored health and wellness programs saved employers $1,421 per employee annually. By discouraging smoking, improving heart health, and making other health improvements, employees were less likely to have costly medical bills and miss time at work. Furthermore, the American Journal of Public Health found that employees who were offered paid time off were 28 percent less likely to suffer a workplace accident. Healthy employees cost you less in insurance expenses and help you avoid Workers' Comp accidents.
Next: Ch. 2: Listen, Listen, Listen (and Respond) to Customer Feedback