Let’s take a look at one of the hottest product categories at this past October’s record-breaking GIE+EXPO — stand-on commercial mowers.
In terms of commercial mowers, stand-on mowers fit between mid-sized walk-behinds and zero-turns. As their name implies, operators stand on a platform in a stationary position with their feet just inches off the ground during operation. Controls are at their hands.
About a dozen manufacturers exhibited stand-on mowers, including several new models, at the Louisville, Kentucky-based event.
Like every other variety of commercial mower, stand-on mowers offer unique benefits making them more efficient for certain types of properties and conditions.
Some contractors rely upon stand-on mowers as their primary cutting machines. Many other landscape pros use them as one of several different types of commercial mowers in their production fleets. Contractors took advantage of this past October’s GIE+EXPO to compare a surprising number of stand-on brands.
This past show turned out to be a huge equipment bash. More than 21,000 people (the great majority being contractors) attended the event at the Kentucky Exposition Center, making it the largest landscape trade show ever in the United States. Landscape company owners, many bringing employees with them, divided their time between meeting with suppliers in the cavernous exhibit hall and trooping outside to the the adjacent, grassy, 19-acre outdoor demo area.
Blessed with perfect weather, these pros put the incredible array of new commercial mowers, including stand-on models, through their paces on the lawn area just outside exhibit hall doors.
But, before we plunge into the stand-on models on display at the show, let’s take a step back and briefly review how these machines became so popular.
How it began
If you’ve been in the landscape industry any length of time you are probably familiar with the names Bill Wright and Dane Scag. And you appreciate the roles they played in the development of stand-on mowers.
If you’re a newcomer you may not know the story so it bears repeating, if only briefly.
Bill Wright, the founder of Wright Manufacturing Inc., Frederick, Maryland, is the person most responsible for popularizing the stand-on mower.
Wright began mowing lawns in his Maryland neighborhood before his teen years. He continued mowing, as well as working as an auto mechanic, into his 20s. When he started his own lawn care firm, Lawn-Wright in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 1981, the skills he honed as a mechanic came in handy.
Realizing how fatigued employees became after mowing all day using walk-behind units, Wright and engineer Jim Velke developed the sulky. They introduced it to the commercial market in the late 1980s. From there, it wasn’t much of a leap for the pair to imagine, design and manufacture a “true” stand-on mower.
In 1993, Wright sold his lawn care business to concentrate on developing and manufacturing the stand-on mower and other labor saving products. Over the years, he and Velke earned more than 20 patents for their innovations.
Two farseeing entrepreneurs
Wright received the patent approval of the stand-on design in 1995. Just two years later, he brought the Wright Stander, his company’s first stand-on mower, to market.
Today, the name Wright Manufacturing, and especially its Stander brand, is practically synonymous with the product category.
Often forgotten in the development of the category is the contribution by another successful and farseeing entrepreneur.
The late Dane Scag, an opportunistic entrepreneur and brilliant engineer, was responsible for many notable improvements to commercial mowers. He, also saw the potential of the stand-on design. In fact, Scag deserves credit for being the first to introduce stand-on zero-turn mowers to commercial mowing.
Scag, founder of Great Dane Power Equipment, came out with the Surfer stand-on, which was manufactured in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Great Dane shipped the first stand-on zero-turn mowers to the market several months before the Wright Stander appeared in dealers’ showrooms.
Scag sold his company to John Deere in 2000, and production of the Great Dane Surfer was eventually discontinued. He died in 2013 at the age of 94.
Others see opportunity
From the late 1990s until now, other manufacturers, seeing the product category growing steadily, have been adding stand-ups to round out their commercial lines.
While the basic design and function of stand-on mowers have remained essentially the same from their introduction until now, today’s units are more productive, more comfortable to operate and, in some cases, more versatile.
Take Toro’s new GrandStand MULTI-FORCE model, for example, thanks to its Quick Attach system. The GrandStand on display inside the exhibit hall featured a sweeper broom. Contractors put an identical unit with a Boss snowplow through its paces outside. The GrandStand MULTI-FORCE attracted a lot of attention from contractors.
Other new entries into the stand-on category this past year include the QuickCat from BOB-CAT (a Schiller Grounds Care brand); Havener Industry’s Bradley Stand-On Compact ZT; the Hustler SS Stand-on (from Excel Industries); the Ferris SRS Z2; the Jacobsen WZT and the Stryker from Dixie Chopper (now owned by Jacobsen Textron).
Exmark, Gravely, John Deere, Wright and other manufacturers this past year upgraded and added new features to established models. Deere touted Mulch on Demand for its QuikTrak series, Exmark EFI gasoline and EFI propane options for its Vantage models, Gravely showed off its redesigned Pro-Stance and Wright Manufacturing its upgraded Stander ZK.
Across the board, stand-on mower manufacturers continue to upgrade operator controls and platform suspension systems to improve operator comfort. Comfort, of course, is a big deal in commercial mowing. Operators spend hours each workday on mowers. Less fatigued employees are more productive employees.
As far as Turf magazine can determine, there are 15 suppliers to the commercial stand-on mowing market. Combined, they accounted for more than 19,000 stand-on zero-turn riding mowers shipped in 2015. Wright Manufacturing continued to be the industry leader, shipping about one of every four machines. While neither Toro nor Exmark, owned by Toro, approached Wright’s shipments, together they exceeded the Maryland-based company by about 500 stand-on units.
Stand-On Mower Manufacturer Guide
Bad Boy: Outlaw Stand-On
Dixie Chopper: Stryker
Excel: Hustler SS Stand-on Mower
Exmark Manufacturing: Vantage S-Series & Vantage X-Series
Ferris Mowers: SRS Z2 Stand-On Mower
Havener Enterprises: Bradley Stand-on Compact ZT
Jacobsen: SZT Stand-On
John Deere: QuikTrak
Mean Green Mowers: Stalker Stand-On Electric Commercial
Scag Power Equipment: Scag V-Ride
Schiller Grounds Care: Bobcat QuickCat
The Toro Company: GrandStand MULTI-FORCE
Worldlawn Power Equipment: Venom & Encore Rage
Wright: Stander ZK