Of all the things you might want for your operation, reliability should no doubt be pretty darn high on that must-have list.
A couple good definitions of reliability include, “performing consistently well” and “the quality of being trustworthy.” Those both sound pretty desirable to me.
We want reliability in different facets of the operation. We certainly want it with the crew that we hire, as well as with our irrigation systems, and definitely with the lawn care strategies we use. Safe to say we want it up, down and throughout our operation. But perhaps more than any other area, we want it with the equipment we use.
Just like you count on the vehicle you jump into every morning to get to work, or to drive the kids to school, or to get the family safely to the lake for your weekend camping trip, you want your equipment to be as worry-free as possible as well. You want that same level of trustworthiness. Landscape business owners have enough to stress about; equipment failure should not be a consistent problem.
The time to create this trust in your equipment – this reliability – is certainly not at the beginning of the busy season, when you have a hundred and one other management issues on your mind. Trust in your equipment cannot be an afterthought. Reliability needs to be planned for and even, yes, budgeted for.
The right person
This all starts with hiring (or hopefully already having in place) the right equipment technician. We’ll call this step one. Without a reliable person in this position, you will never have reliable equipment.
I don’t think you can have one without the other. Trust me here, I’ve tried to negotiate this situation in the past. It is not something you want to have to deal with. Think about it: How could you have trust in your equipment without having trust in the person servicing that equipment?
The right budget
Step two is budgeting enough money for equipment repair. This line item is usually the third largest in my annual budget each year, behind only wages and plant protectants.
Make sure the dollar amount for repairs is sufficient for the size, age and condition of your equipment. If you’re anything like our operation, your fleet of equipment includes a few shiny, brand-new pieces, some fairly new-ish items, some older but still in good shape pieces, and most likely an assortment of “antiques” that hit their shelf life long ago, but you just have to get another season (or two) out of them. Word of warning here: Try not to have too many of this last category.
The right maintenance
OK, so let’s assume you have the right person in place, and you have enough money budgeted for a year of repairs. Now comes step three: off-season maintenance. This is where that trust and reliability that you want to experience in the spring is truly forged. Making sure your equipment tech goes through every single piece of equipment – from mowers right down to your string trimmers – and does his or her best to prepare them all to their utmost ability for the upcoming season.
This is where the two of you need to get together and make sure your priorities are clearly defined and understood. I’ve always found creating a checklist of some sort creates clarity. Create the list, then sit down and go through it with the tech. Stress your priorities, but also the reasons behind those priorities.
Those priorities will change from year to year depending on the goals you have for your business. For instance, let’s say that next season you have a plan to reduce herbicide applications, or a goal to double your fertilizing efforts. Or maybe you want to help crews have a more efficient trailer use.
The equipment tech needs to be aware of these goals to plan accordingly. For example, if you’re going to double your mowing next season, the mowers will need to be checked out extensively. Is the belt worn? How are the blades? Is it time for new tires? Have you allocated enough money for these items should they need to be replaced?
This is why it’s a good idea to have this meeting and get this list to the equipment tech before you turn in your budget, so you can anticipate extra money that may be needed for these projects.
Or, maybe you’ll find out some of these things are in better in shape than you had feared, and you can get by with less money allocated toward repairs than you had planned.
And, of course, there are all the routine services and oil changes that need to be performed on each piece inside (and outside) of your shop. Nothing should be ignored, even if it sat unused all year. Your checklist should include everything, right down to the sharpness of the cutting blades on your pruners.
A timetable should also be established for the checklist, which will be returned to you, completed, before the first bud of the year pops in the spring.
Here’s hoping next season your equipment technician delivers to you that “quality of being trustworthy.”
Editor’s note: This article was written by Ron Furlong and originally appeared in Superintendent Magazine.