SOUTH FEATURES


Trail Blazing Pro

Slope Solutions uses "mini" equipment to do major jobs
By Debbie McClung




Josh Hawkins says that replacing labor with equipment is key to reducing operating and overhead costs.
Images courtesy the Bobcat Company.

With the right compact equipment and attachments, landscapers can break free from the need to complete labor-intensive tasks with hand tools. Machines that provide utility on a wide range of landscaping and site development projects offer a win-win-win solution with their ability to reduce installation costs, increase efficiencies and expand core services.

A decade after starting his landscaping firm, Josh Hawkins added a mini track loader to his equipment inventory that not only helped lower his overhead, but built a solid foundation for launching a new business segment.

Hawkins, owner of Slope Solutions LLC, works mostly in the mountains north and west of Morganton, in western North Carolina. Slope Solutions provides landscape design, installation and maintenance in all phases of landscaping, lighting, pavers and walls.

"Recently, the biggest challenge has been to provide customers with a top-of-the-line look for value pricing," he says. "At first it was difficult because I had to get my overhead and operating costs in line. I think I've solved that problem."

The right fit

One of Hawkins' goals was to increase his versatility and reduce labor expenses with a machine that would complement his existing compact equipment. "I was relying on a lot of hand work where my Bobcat M-Series machines (a T650 compact track loader and an E45 compact excavator) couldn't fit. At the end of last year, I purchased an MT55 mini track loader from Bobcat of Lenoir and that made a big difference."

The small profile of a mini track loader allows these machines to access areas to perform tasks that would otherwise restrict the use of larger equipment. At widths as narrow as 36 inches, this type of loader can fit through residential and commercial doorways, gates and tight property lines. Hawkins can increase operator comfort and productivity with the detachable ride-on platform that provides better visibility of his attachments and allows him to further reduce physical exertion on certain projects.

Tree planting

Hawkins operates the mini track loader for landscaping tasks, including handling and planting trees. Configured with an auger attachment it digs holes with speed and plumb-line accuracy for the placement of root balls at desired depths. Equipped with a pallet fork attachment, Hawkins achieves high carrying capacities in a small package. He can lift, lower and transport balled-and-burlapped trees and potted trees, as well as decorative rocks and other odd-shaped objects.

"I previously unloaded trees with my compact track loader, moved them into the backyard with a tree cart if space was tight, and then dug the holes by hand," Hawkins says. "With the MT55, pallet fork and auger attachments, that job and others have become much easier. The mini track loader has allowed us to get more done in less time and with fewer employees."

Site development

Hawkins says the mini track loader has also been beneficial to his company's land development clients for its ability to assist with meeting their erosion control initiatives. Despite tightening budgets on new developments resulting from shifts that have occurred in the housing market, a mini track loader can help clear areas for the installation of silt fences. A silt fence installer attachment designed to contain stormwater can assist landscape contractors with placing and securing the mesh material in a fraction of the time it can be completed with hand digging.

"This equipment has really helped install silt fences because, without the mini track loader, we would have to clear out a much bigger area to use the T650 or E45. Our clients are looking for the most economical ways to get the projects completed on time and within the budget," Hawkins adds.

Trail-building

The mini track loader and dozer blade has also enabled Hawkins to expand into the trail-building business through the mountain terrain. Hawkins sees more trail building in his future now that he has the right combination of equipment. He's built several hiking trails for developers in subdivisions, and is using that experience to bid on trail work in the surrounding areas.

The dozer blade helps Hawkins push large amounts of material in the overgrown environments to accomplish jobs that would typically require dedicated crawler equipment. Supplementing his efforts to remove brush and sculpt or grade the soil, a mini loader's rubber track undercarriage provides greater traction to work in the soft conditions often found in the Southeastern mountainous region after rainfalls.



Machines that provide utility on a wide range of landscaping and site development projects offer the ability to reduce installation costs, increase efficiencies and expand core services.

"Trails are somewhat narrow and you have to make them interesting for the user," he says, adding that the mini track loader makes any needed changes from the original design easier and faster.

With the addition of a versatile mini track loader to his compact equipment fleet, Hawkins continues to lower his operating costs, increase value for his customers and position his business for future growth. The ability to use multiple attachments to perform a wider variety of landscaping tasks will help keep his expanded core services in demand for years to come.

The author is a technical writer at Two Rivers Marketing.