Productivity is the name of the game when it comes to what landscapers are looking for when they’re in the market for new lawn mowers.
New features or gimmicks don’t do the trick if they don’t help lawn care companies get the job done faster with smaller crews.
“There’s going to be continued focus for manufacturers trying to solve issues for the landscaper,” says Josh Sooy, director of the professional business segment for Cub Cadet. “I know it’s worked in the past but just coming out with new features on products is not going to really win the day. It’s really solving the big issues and listening to the customer that’s really going to have a big impact.”
As the labor market tightens, landscapers must do more with less and so manufacturers have responded with several different solutions to help on this front.
One of the main productivity boosters is the growth of the stand-on mower market. As more manufacturers produce this style of machine, an increasing number of landscapers are seeing the benefits this type of mower offers.
Some of the advantages of using stand-on mowers include their smaller footprints, which allow more to be loaded on a trailer, better maneuverability and the ease of getting on and off.
“To be able to just hop off quickly, move that stick and then get back on, maybe it’s only a couple extra seconds but over the course of a day, that can certainly add up,” says Mitch Hoffman, marketing manager of residential landscape contracting for Toro.
Matt Medden, vice president of marketing for AriensCo, says that industry data indicates stand-on mowers are the fastest growing segment of the mower market and expects that trend to continue.
“Stand-on mowers have gained popularity in recent years, specifically for commercial users,” says Steve Cathey, Kioti territory manager. “When working with large grounds, the users have a better vantage point and visibility when standing. Also, the smaller overall footprint of stand-on mowers allows for more efficient use of trailer space.”
Nick Minas, product manager for John Deere Commercial Mowing, advises landscapers to consider what properties they maintain when deciding if a stand-on is a good fit for their operation.
“Stand-ons are ideal for smaller properties and landscapers that want to fit several machines on one trailer,” Minas says. “Unlike stand-ons, zero-turn mowers are larger in size and take up more space on a trailer. Cost is also a factor. Stand-on mowers are typically less expensive than zero-turn mowers, so budget may be a decision-driver, as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum, manufacturers have found that by offering mowers with larger deck sizes, lawn care operators are able to finish jobs much faster with fewer people.
“I think you’re really starting to see larger and larger deck sizes across multiple manufacturers,” Hoffman says. “Just to really maximize that productivity per machine for landscapers as opposed to the hiring on more labor and I think that’s something that’s really coming to the forefront now as there’s more competition for labor across so many different industries.”
Obviously, there is a limit as to how big mower decks can get and still be transportable on a trailer. One way manufacturers have worked around this is by designing units that feature wings that can be raised while on a trailer.
“Labor challenges make it more important than ever to make the most out of every employee every day,” says Lloyd von Scheliha, senior product manager for Exmark. “That’s why larger machines like Exmark’s new 96-inch Lazer Z X-Series and Lazer Z Diesel mowers are in high demand among landscape contractors. They significantly raise the bar for the amount of work one employee can accomplish in a day. Plus, they’re comfortable enough to operate that they can come back and do it again the next day.”
Manufacturers are also working to include features that improve the uptime of the machine overall, such as electronic fuel injection (EFI) and tweel tires.
Minas says that EFI engines provide up to 25 percent more fuel savings and higher horsepower.
“We have also seen increased interest in the Michelin X Tweel Turf airless radial tire, available for John Deere 900 Series ZTrak and R Series QuikTrak mowers,” Minas says. “The Michelin X Tweel Turf airless radial tire virtually eliminates flats and is nearly maintenance free. Additionally, the Michelin X Tweel Turf airless radial tire minimizes the cost and time spent on repairs and maintenance of traditional pneumatic tires.
Another way mower manufacturers are trying to solve landscapers’ problems is by creating machines that can do more than just mow, such as Toro’s GrandStand Multi Force, which can be utilized in every season and John Deere’s Mulch On Demand (MOD) technology.
Hoffman says the GrandStand Multi Force provides year-round productivity thanks to the number of attachments it can use including a hook aerator, power broom and a plow blade.
Meanwhile, the MOD technology lets operators switch between mulching and side-discharging without having to leave their seat.
“Mulch on Demand reduces the time spent cleaning up clippings from driveways and sidewalks by allowing the operator to easily close off the discharge chute,” Minas says.
All the mower manufacturers acknowledge that battery-powered mowers are on the rise but say they must meet professionals’ workload demands before commercial cutters will adopt them.
Certain regions’ regulations on emissions and noise levels are suspected to play a part in this market share growing, as well as a desire on the landscaper side to be more sustainable.
“I think you’re seeing a lot of municipalities starting to demand cleaner mowers, whether that be alternative energy sources or battery or electric, if you will,” Hoffman says. “I think that it’s certainly a trend that’s continuing to grow.”
Tony Marchese, vice president of sales and operations for the commercial business unit of Greenworks North America, says in the short-term future the usage of battery power will grow mostly with towns, municipalities, colleges and corporate properties.
“You are beginning to see all-electric landscape businesses as well as the larger national landscapers offering battery crews specific to property needs,” says Marchese. “The savings are real; however, that savings story is only within its infancy. The primary driver is noise and being friendly to the environment and user health.”
Cathey says that as battery technology becomes more commonplace, thanks to advances in the automotive industry, consumer acceptance will grow, reliability will improve and component costs will come down.
“It’s not an if, but when battery becomes a necessity, at least in certain parts of the country,” Hoffman says. “Landscapers will have to be able to offer (battery power) if they’re going to mow certain properties, whether it’s certain corporate properties or municipalities demanding that their properties are taken care of with noise abatement.”
Acceptance of battery power in the residential market is becoming quite common and more manufacturers are starting to offer commercial battery power options as well.
“Commercial is the biggest overall opportunity and where we’re focusing our development efforts currently,” Medden says. “We see a return on investment as the biggest plus for both manufacturers and professional landscapers.”
Gravely’s EVZT lithium-ion commercial zero-turn mower is set to launch this summer. It comes with four batteries that will cut 15 acres of grass. Users will be able to swap batteries in and out throughout the day.
Toro also introduced its first commercial battery push mower at the 2019 GIE+EXPO.
Future of lawn care
With the 2020 election this year, there is uncertainty whether the administration will have much of an effect on the mower market.
Some of the possible concerns include changes to the H-2B program, which could either help or hurt the labor market, and tariffs, but overall most of the manufacturers aren’t too worried.
“While presidential election years do sometimes create uncertainty, we don’t feel that this will have a significant impact on the turf-care market this year,” Cathey says. “There is a lot of confidence in the power equipment industry for the next year, which is a great sign for our customers and dealers.”
Minas says John Deere hopes the government will continue to support the green industry’s key initiatives to encourage growth over the next four years.
Despite the unknowns surrounding the election, mower brands are certain they will continue to see growth in the market over the next five years.
“We’ve had quite a few years in a row of pretty healthy gains in the commercial mower market and I expect that to continue,” Sooy says.
Medden says they anticipate continued growth with the stand-on segment, expansion of the battery-powered options and an increased focus on sustainability.
“I think the gas market will continue to shrink with the battery market getting and growing in volume,” Marchese says.
As homeowners become increasingly busy, there is the possibility of more work being available as a result of this trend in society.
“There will always be a part of the market where maintaining their own lawn is their sacred time of the week when they mow their own lawn and they take a lot of pride in that,” Hoffman says. “I don’t think that’ll go away anytime soon, but I think there is certainly going to continue to be more and more opportunities for lawn care professionals in different parts of the country.”
Hoffman adds that the gig economy and numerous online solutions have made it much easier for consumers to connect with lawn care professionals to have their properties cared for.
“Lawn care is a growing and booming industry,” Cathey says. “As people get busier and time becomes more fragmented, homeowners continue to prioritize convenience. It is as easy as making a call to a landscape business that will charge you a fixed amount per week and will be done by the time you get home. Lawn care businesses also save homeowners from having to buy, maintain and store the lawn equipment.”
Von Scheliha agrees that as time demands increase, more homeowners will look for lawn care operators to take care of their lawns.
“We’re going to see a continued trend toward larger, more productive mowers that enable each operator to do more work,” von Scheliha says. “Also, as mowers get larger, more powerful and more technically advanced, it’s going to be more important than ever for landscape contractors to partner with a strong dealer to service their machines. The dealer relationship is a critical element of a contractor’s profitability.”