At a recent John Deere Summer Quality FIRST Factory Tour, attendees had the opportunity to tour the factory, followed by walk-arounds of equipment that included mowers, compact equipment, tractors and UTVs from John Deere; hand-held equipment from Stihl; and Honda generators and walk-behind mowers. Immediately following, attendees were able to test out the equipment, and test their skills on a compact excavator.

Those attending the mid-June event included Paul Schnarr and Craig Kuchma from Clintar in Kitchener, Ontario; Jason Martin and Jonathan Flickinger of Martin Lawn in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Jeff Garner of Garner’s Northwest Landscaping, with offices in Anacortes and Monroe, Washington; John Thorpe from The "J" Boys in Mullica Hill and Carneys Point, New Jersey; Norm Rohfeld and Tim Gosciewski of Erie Landscaping Co. in Strongsville, Ohio; and Brent Bellman, owner of Bellman Lawn Service in Tallmadge, Ohio.

Brent Bellman, owner of Bellman Lawn Service in 

Tallmadge, Ohio, takes a spin on a John Deere Quik Trak.

John Deere’s Steve Lutz talks compact equipment with attendees at a 

Quality FIRST Factory Tour in mid-June.

The roundtables on day two allowed the attendees to get know a little more about each other. When asked what their biggest challenge is, there was a common theme: labor.

Schnarr said it’s tough to get reliable help. When you’re calling people in for snow removal in the early morning hours "you’re not going to get the best labor pool," he explained.

Thorpe said finding workers with a valid driver’s license was difficult.

 Schnarr agreed with Thorpe about the license issue, noting that due to the points system, it was sometimes difficult to find workers that the insurance company would accept.

For Martin, he said that the people he hires will work a year, and then they want to go out and start their own company.

    Jason Martin, of Martin’s Lawn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, tests his skills on a 

compact excvator as he scoops a ball from atop a traffic cone.

Another topic on the table – What tactics are they employing to improve cash flow?

Martin said he was reluctant to accept credit cards, but his company started accepting them few years ago. His wife set up a PayPal account, so the cash flow has been improved. He pays 30 cents per transaction and a percentage, but he says it’s worth it despite the fees.

Bellman noted that he does a lot of seasonal contracts, but with monthly payments throughout the year. When asked whether he had many customers that stopped service after the season, he explained that they are required to commit to a two-year contract.

At Garner’s Northwest, they split up when invoices are sent out over the month, so money is coming in more consistently, Garner noted.

When it comes to equipment selection, Thorpe said, "We let the guys choose what they want to run. We want them to be happy so they don’t abuse the equipment." Currently The "J" Boys crews are running Dixie Chopper mowers, but after the visit to the factory, Thorpe would like to get some John Deere mowers for them to try.

Bellman’s crews use Gravely and Wright mowers. 

Garner said, "[There’s] a lot of wet grass we have to mow, so bagging is very important."

To avoid downtime, they all agreed that parts availability is vital. 

Kuchma, who’s a mechanic at Clintar, said he stocks wear and tear items.

Rohfeld, a technician at Erie Landscaping, also stocks wear and tear items and tires. He said, "I don’t want to sit on too much."

Thorpe noted an advantage to sticking to one brand of mower: "If you’ve got all the same mowers, you’ve got all the same parts."

To reduce downtime, Bellman said a mower is brought on-site when one is down. In addition, they added solid tires to all their Gravelys, since they had a lot of flats.

Kuchma said, "We have a spare set of mowers." They rotate the spare set through the mowing crews, so he can service the mowers they regularly use.

On Saturdays or rainy days is when Rohfeld can totally go through the machines. 

At Martin Lawn, "Everyone’s got a toolbox and basics, so as much as the guys can fix on their own, the better," Flickinger explained.

At The "J" Boys, one crew member comes in at 4 a.m. to fuel up the trucks and equipment; checks the oil, lights, etc.; and stocks things like trim line. Thorpe said, "[It] saves me a lot of money."

John Thorpe, from The "J" Boys in New Jersey, heads for the 

tall grass to test the cutting power on this John Deere mower. 

What were their thoughts on the event?

Gosciewski liked the assembly line and seeing everything being put together, but he would have liked more time to try out the equipment.

Rohfeld was impressed by the attention to safety in the factory. He also suggested that they have some bulk material for the drive portion, so they could get to see the equipment really work. 

Thorpe said he learned a lot about John Deere, such as the benefit programs.

Kuchma commented that it was helpful to hear the way other companies are dealing with their employees and maintenance – what works for them.