By Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere
Cold weather is here and the spring season seems so far away. But, in reality, warmer weather is around the corner and the first day of spring will arrive quicker than expected.
While most professional landscape operations may be slowing down, others are in full-scale snow removal mode. But if you only mow, now is not the time to sit back and relax. Use this downtime as a means of getting your equipment and employees ready for the arrival of the spring equinox.
To help you prep your business for spring, below are six key things you should be doing now:
1. Clean your machines
While you have hopefully been cleaning on a regular basis throughout the work season, take a little time to give your equipment a good wash prior to putting it away for the winter. After months and months of mowing, your equipment has accumulated a good bit of crud and debris, which can be damaging if left untouched for a long period of time.
By washing your machine, you will be able to prevent rust and corrosion. Additionally, a clean machine will make it easier when you give your machine a tune-up. On a clean machine, you’ll easily see if any parts are missing, such as loose bolts. Also, as you are cleaning, look for any chips or scratches, and repair as necessary. Come spring, your machines will be spotless and ready to go.
2. Machine tune-up
Winter provides a great opportunity to revamp your equipment, whether through routine maintenance or major repairs that will lead to machine downtime. It is important to refer to the owner’s manual to ensure that you are completing the necessary maintenance to keep your machine up and running.
Give your machine a once over, checking everything from nuts and bolts to belts. Keep an eye out for any loose or worn parts. Be sure to tighten nuts and bolts, replace filters, and check and replace belts as needed. Look for any missing parts and replace them.
Routine maintenance, like an oil change, is good to perform at this time, ensuring that your machine will be ready to go once spring arrives. Refer to your service manual prior to performing any routine maintenance. Also, give tires a once over. Winter weather can affect tire pressure, particularly if machines have been stored for months. Check the tire pressure and examine treads for wear.
Be sure to record the work you do. Proper service is key to keep the machine running smoothly. While you may believe that you will remember the work you performed in December, by the time March arrives you probably will have forgotten. Track maintenance in a logbook, which will give you something to refer to in the spring.
3. Give the mower deck a little TLC
The mower deck and blade are the most important parts of your mower, and the longevity of your machine is directly tied to the maintenance of these parts. A busy mowing season can take a toll on a mower deck and blade, so it is a good idea to pay extra attention to those parts in the offseason.
A sharp blade is key to creating a clean cut when mowing. Check blades for dullness and corrosion. If the blade is dull, sharpen it to ensure a quality cut. Replace any blades that have logged too many hours. It is also important to check blade balance for an even cut.
Additionally, there are several other areas of the mower deck that you should be monitoring for wear and tear. The mower belt should be taut and in good condition. If there is any fraying or wear that changes the belt’s profile, be sure to replace it. Also, look for any loose cords or chunks of the belt missing <dash> you want to make sure that the belt can run smoothly when operating the deck.
4. Properly store your mower
Storage is a key part of making sure your mower is ready for spring. As mentioned above, you should wash your equipment, especially prior to storing it for an extended period of time. This will remove dirt buildup, preventing rust and corrosion. Make sure to lubricate and cover grease fittings, per your owner’s manual. You want use manufacturer-recommended lubricants, as they were designed to perform to the manufacturer’s specification.
Additionally, be sure to either add fuel stabilizers or remove fuel completely. A fuel stabilizer prevents separation that can lead to corrosion. After adding the fuel stabilizer, run the engine for five minutes. Also, change the engine oil and check coolant if your equipment is liquid cooled. It is also a good idea to check the tire pressure and correct, if necessary. Finally, remove the battery, clean up its terminals and charge it in the off-season.
5. Evaluate your fleet
The offseason is the perfect time to examine your fleet, as well as your business, and evaluate what you may need for the next season. The first step is to audit your equipment and note any aged equipment that may need to be replaced. Also consider any equipment needed for expected growth. Connect with your dealer, who can help you not only determine what equipment you need, but also guide you through the purchasing process. If you do need to purchase equipment, meet with your dealer to prepare a quote and consider all payment options, including upfront cash, financing offers, and leasing offers.
In the event that you do need to purchase equipment, consider financing instead of leasing. You should first meet with your financial advisor, taking an opportunity to discuss your business needs and determine whether it is best of lease or finance your equipment. Weigh the pros and cons of both options to determine which is best for your business. Work with your dealer and financial advisor to consider your needs, look for ways to get more bang for your buck and evaluate warranties to see if you can set up a plan to ensure that your machines are always under warranty.
6. Revamp your parts department
Parts management is vital to limiting machine downtime. Take some time this offseason to revamp your parts department, which will improve your profitability once the mowing season starts up again. First, assign inventory ownership, limiting the number of employees with access to parts storage. With one person overseeing the parts department, it ensures efficient management of the inventory.
Organize and label bin locations, creating a designated, labeled part storage location so that the manager is aware of where things are and what needs restocking. Include a minimum stocking level on the label so the manager knows when things need to be reordered. Also, consider tracking parts usage by machine. By tracking what parts were used for each machine and the cost per part, professional landscape contractors can identify the repair cost for each particular model and help determine whether a machine should be repaired or replaced.
Finally, create an immediate tracking process and schedule regular inventory reviews. It may be tempting to wait until the end of the day to track parts that were used, but that actually increases the changes that a part will be sued without notice. Establish an immediate tracking mechanism to limit the risk of forgetting a part through work orders or spreadsheets. Then, on a periodic basis, review the parts inventory, using the time to examine what is being used and adjust minimum levels accordingly. Add or remove parts that are needed or not needed anymore. If new machines join the fleet, professional landscape contractors need to make sure that they have the right parts. As fleets grow, so does the need for parts.
By revamping your business now, you can avoid unnecessary setbacks come spring. Take time to not only clean your machines, but also perform any repairs or maintenance now to avoid downtime in the busy season. Once you are ready, make sure that you are properly storing your fleet to ensure that damage doesn’t occur while your equipment rests.
Take advantage of the downtime to improve and streamline your business, evaluating your fleet, considering new equipment purchases and organizing your parts department. This will not only make it easier to pick things back up in the spring, but could possibly help you streamline your business and improve revenue.
Weather is often unpredictable, and while you can plan ahead based on predictions, you never know when spring will hit. With a prepped fleet and business, you can jump headfirst into work as soon as the warmer weather arrives.
Nick Minas is product manager at John Deere.