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Mowing trends

Industry experts share their thoughts regarding
the latest commercial mowers and related trends

To help lawn care and landscape professionals gear up for the busy season, Landscape and Irrigation recently turned to some of the industry’s largest mower manufacturers for their insights on how they should prepare their crews and mower fleets for the task ahead.

Please tell us about your latest commercial mowers, and what lawn care and landscape professionals should know about your equipment for 2015.

For our commercial line, we are introducing the FasTrak SDX. It features a Kawasaki FX full commercial engine with remote air filter; suspension seat with smooth ride isolator for operator comfort; 23-inch drive tires; and a 4-year, 1,000-hour commercial warranty.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

Mean Green Mowers offers a complete line of commercial electric mowers and handheld power equipment. The lineup includes commercial electric 60-inch ZTR rider, 52-inch ZTR rider, 48-inch stand-on ZTR, 33-inch walk-behind, 20-inch commercial push mower, battery backpack string trimmers, and commercial electric backpack blowers. All mowers have commercial power and battery capacities capable of all-day run times on one battery charge. Battery backpack string trimmers and battery backpack blowers equal the performance of good commercial gas-powered units, but without any emissions or fuel, and have very low noise.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Grasshopper continues to innovate and enhance our line of zero-turn mowers and year-round grounds-maintenance systems to meet the needs of our customers. We debuted two new models at GIE+EXPO 2014 — Models 125V and 225V — that expand our economical V Series line, which is a perfect introductory point for contractors stepping up to zero-turn mowers from walk-behinds.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

BOB-CAT is launching three new QuickCat Standup Models in 2015. All were designed with the core BOB-CAT no-nonsense features that commercial landscapers have come to expect and look for in our mowers. They utilize our proven DuraDeck cutting system that is known for its quality of cut and durability and shares common components with our zero turns. Couple that to a tractor designed around ideal balance and handling for a ride experience that will have you sticking to slopes with amazing traction and maneuverability. The controls and operator platform enhance the ride and visibility while still offering easy access and serviceability to keep you mowing. All of this with Hydro-Gear and Kawasaki providing the right drivetrain combination for all-day power and performance. For our zero-turn lineup, we have added new collection systems that integrate with the mowers for better capability and performance that can be put on or taken off of a machine in minutes.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

Honda offers a complete line of both commercial and residential lawn mowers with simple, easy-to-use features designed to provide years of reliable and superior performance. All Honda lawn mowers feature legendary Honda engines, recognized as providing durable, quiet, easy-starting and fuel-efficient power. Honda offers the HRCPDA and the HRCHXA lawn mowers as two excellent options for landscape professionals, in addition to our other residential products, such as the HRX lawn mower. The HRC models offer rear bagging, mulching, MicroCut twin blades for better cutting performance, a rugged steel deck, and unmatched reliability.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Newly available for 2015, Kubota raised the standard for turf care professionals with three new models in the Z700-Series — the Z724X-48, Z724X-54 and Z726X-60 — powered by Kawasaki’s industry-proven FX engines and engineered to deliver superior results, day in and day out. With a Parker Torqpact GT14 transmission, this series puts more torque and more power on the ground where lawn care and landscape professionals need it. Each model features a 7-gauge-steel, 48-, 54- or 60-inch deck, 6 inches deep, providing outstanding stability with a fast, high-quality cut. The Z700-Series also offers a wide operator station, a thick high-back adjustable seat, and a convenient deck height adjustment dial. The ultra-smooth steering provides optimum control and driveability at speeds topping 11 mph, and heavy-duty sealed spindles and flat-free caster tires designed to absorb impact on the job. Each model in the series is equipped with an 11.6-gallon fuel tank for more operating hours, less downtime and superior productivity, making the Z700-Series the must-have tool for turf care professionals in 2015.
Additionally, Kubota’s new ZD326H zero-turn mower was designed for turf care professionals and large-property owners alike and built Kubota-tough to handle wide-area turf maintenance with ease. The new model features a powerful balance of performance, affordability and comfort with a 72-inch-wide, 6-inch-deep mower deck engineered specifically to handle large jobs with greater efficiency. The cutting height can be easily adjusted by the turn of a dial for a clean, professional cut every time. The new model boasts a 26-horsepower, liquid-cooled, Kubota diesel engine and a heavy-duty twin hydrostatic transmission with a power-take-off clutch for reliable and smooth operation.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

Altoz has a lot of exciting things coming in 2015. We recently launched new models — XE and XCSi — at the GIE+EXPO. The XE model launched Altoz into a brand-new segment, one of the largest segments of the market — discerning, multi-acre homeowners and smaller commercial operations — while the XCSi models build off of our award-winning XC chassis, and will be powered by innovative Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 810-cc Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) engines. In addition to these new model launches, we’re focused on the continued expansion of our nationwide dealer network. Dealers are the backbone of our industry, so providing them with everything from quality products and unmatched customer service to competitive financing options and promotional support are key initiatives for our brand.
— Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Exmark is committed to delivering mowers and turf management equipment that help our customers be more productive and profitable every day. For 2015, we’ve introduced a number of new machines for lawn care professionals that allow them to work faster and with greater efficiency, while using fewer resources. Examples of this include our new stand-on Spreader-Sprayer; our Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn rider with RED technology; and our growing line of state-of-the-art EFI-propane mowers, including Vantage stand-on, Turf Tracer walk-behind and Lazer Z zero-turn rider models.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Dixie Chopper has a new, updated look to the Classic and XCaliber family; multiple engine options, including Kohler EFI, Kawasaki, and Vanguard big block; and aggressive single- and multiple-fleet programs. We also introduced the Stryker stand-on and Pursuit walk-behind in to our 2015 product lineup.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

Landscapers should know that we have improved our product with their usage in mind. Our new Ferris IS 3200Z series riders are designed for the most intense operators. Large 26-inch tires and Hydro-Gear ZT-5400 series transmissions allow for outstanding performance and traction. Our new Ferris IS 2100Z series with Hydro-Gear ZT-4400 transmissions and 24-inch tires is the little brother of the IS 3200Z, providing an outstanding robust design with unmatched durability at a value price.
And, of course, all Ferris riders feature true suspension to the ground, which allows for our proven quality of cut and productivity.
And the all-new Ferris FW25 and FW35 mid-sized walk-behinds are dual-drive hydro driven and offered with new CC centralized controls or standard pistol-grip controls. Front and rear trailer tie-down points and a new ground speed of up to 6.25 mph are features that will excite operators and owners.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

This past October at GIE+EXPO, John Deere announced two new equipment offerings for the commercial market. The first is the Michelin X Tweel Turf sold exclusively for John Deere ZTrak 900 Series models. The X Tweel Turf is an airless radial tire that virtually eliminates tire downtime and is nearly maintenance free. The X Tweel Turf has the same dimensions and bolt pattern as a standard 24x12x12 tire, and features automotive rubber technology, allowing the tread to last up to three times longer than standard turf tires.
John Deere also announced the new Z997R Diesel ZTrak. The Z997R features a powerful 37.4-hp. Final Tier 4 diesel engine, providing a workhorse solution for customers needing a large zero-turn mower in all conditions, including tall and wet grass. Additionally, a new electrically powered, 14-bushel, hard-shell, dump-from-seat Material Collection System (MCS) allows the operator to accumulate material with minimized leakage and extends intervals between emptying.
John Deere is dedicated to continuing to provide a variety of solutions for our commercial customers. As we move into 2015, we look for new opportunities to better serve our customer base and meet their business needs.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

Toro has introduced several new, innovative products to the professional landscape and lawn care markets. First, Toro’s new Horizon Technology, available on select Z Master Professional 6000 EFI models, helps operators maximize fuel efficiency and productivity. The onboard intelligence platform enhances communication between the mower and key systems on the machine to increase equipment performance.
Primarily, the operator can easily match the performance mode to mowing conditions. Toro’s Horizon Technology has three modes to handle essentially any condition: max mode, for maximum power in the most demanding conditions; economy mode, for most normal mowing conditions, to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and machine wear; and finally, low mode, to reduce deck packing and discharge clumping — ideal for mowing in wet conditions. Furthermore, Horizon Technology helps ensure the longevity of the mower by tracking engine temperature and oil pressure and automatically puts the mower into “safe transport” mode when critical thresholds are reached. This allows operators to address potential maintenance issues before they become larger, more expensive issues.
Toro has also recently introduced the 8000 Series Direct Collect Z. This new product line shines in situations where a clean, manicured appearance is critical. The rear-discharge deck allows for trimming on both sides of the deck and can reach ground speeds of up to 7 mph — both features that contribute to a beautiful and efficient cut. The large, powerful blower moves more air, allowing large volumes of clippings to be thrown into the 9.5-bushel hopper. The large hopper allows operators to continuously mow with little downtime for emptying the hopper. In addition to providing a pristine after-cut appearance, the 8000 Series Direct Collect Z features a fill-reduction system that lets the operator switch from 100-percent bagging to 50-percent mulching and 50-percent bagging, so the hopper can be emptied less frequently.
A third new offering for professional landscape contractors is a new line of Toro 21-inch commercial heavy-duty mowers, built on a track record of proven performance with a host of new features to do even more. All five models are equipped with the latest commercial-grade components, as well as the Recycler cutting system and a wide, easy-empty bag to ensure optimal performance. These models feature premium engines and maintenance-free transmissions to help operators stay productive.
For landscape professionals who need a lightweight, commercial walk-behind mower, the new 21-inch lineup offers an outstanding combination of quality of cut, durability and ease of use.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager

We are currently listening to our customers and enhancing our equipment to meet their needs. This year, we introduced radial tires to our commercial lineup, simplified our deck panels, and improved the life of our spindles and wheel bearings, in addition to other improvements that have a big impact on durability. All of these changes help our customers to be able to mow all day, every day, with a reliable piece of equipment, giving them peace of mind.
In addition, we have expanded our EFI and LP commercial lineup, understanding that fuel is one of the major expenses for a professional landscaper. We’re happy to give our customers the option of choosing between traditional, EFI and LP systems. In the end, as a manufacturer, we are working hard to reduce or eliminate our customers’ input expenses to increase their profits when running our machines.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

What trends are you seeing in the market as a whole in terms of mower design/manufacture?

It seems that fuel injected is becoming more popular, and alternative fuels are creeping in a bit. Fuel can be a large expense for contractors, so the recent drop in fuel prices has been great for contractors and municipalities. But my gut feel is that it is a temporary reprieve. I don’t think that this will be the norm going forward.
In terms of mower design, our goal is to keep it simple. The fewer the parts, the better. We want to make the mower easy to work on and easy to maintain. If a part matters to the mower, we keep it on, but otherwise our goal is a clean, simple look.
Operator comfort is another key trend. We have made a real effort to include the best, most comfortable suspension seats on our mowers.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

The latest trend in the outdoor power equipment segment is converting to electric power equipment. Mean Green Mowers is manufacturing the only commercial mowers capable of all-day mowing on one battery charge. These “e-Mowers” allow contractors to mow all day with zero fuel, zero emissions, and low noise. Customers love the no-odor, low-noise benefits, and contractors can attract new business by offering these rare benefits.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Finding more efficient, sustainable and profitable ways to do business will be a driving theme. There is a renewed emphasis on vacuum collection in the industry, which is a great way to increase productivity and reduce labor by mowing and collecting at the same time. Grasshopper has focused on collection as an extension of the machine since the early 1970s, and we continue to perfect and refine the process to increase efficiency. A perfect example is our HighLift 15B collector, which allows the operator to raise and empty the collector into a trailer or truck bed without leaving the seat. Furthermore, Grasshopper continues to lead the industry in productivity and efficiency with more than 10 implements that transform a Grasshopper mower into a complete grounds maintenance system, from vacuum collection to turf aeration to spray applications to snow removal. These implements contribute to a healthy bottom line for the end user.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

Many manufacturers are now adding more fuel-efficient, electronic-fuel-injected and LP-fueled air-cooled engines into their mower lineups. While it is new for many, BOB-CAT has offered them as a means for better performance and fuel economy for several years now. These engines will become the norm rather than the exception over the next few years because of their value in fuel economy, lower emissions and better performance.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

Using deeper analysis of our customers’ needs via surveys and feedback, we have found that lawn mower reliability and potential downtime are extremely important issues for landscape professionals. Knowing that time is definitely money for these business owners, Honda places durability, reliability and low cost of ownership at the top of the list for new design attributes. In relation, we are continuing to place high priority on lawn mower design, incorporating the most durable components possible. On the manufacturing front, our company has seen a shift to more localized production in order to meet customer demand for product faster — all while providing more flexibility in our product manufacturing mix.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Gasoline-powered mowers have the largest market share; and, over the years, the design and manufacture of gas mowers have evolved to a point where most zero-turn mowers look the same. At Kubota, we are preparing for future trends that involve improving performance through optimization of engine power management using technology, increasing efficiency of the hydrostatic transmission design in terms of transferring power to the wheels, and smart cutting system designs that consume less power and fuel. The electrics are an interesting trend, but the affordable systems are not yet reliable, and the robust systems are not compact or affordable enough for lawn mowing.
Comfort, durability and serviceability also remain top factors considered during purchase of lawn equipment. For Kubota, diesel-fueled mowers remain popular among professional landscape and lawn care markets because they are easier to maintain, have a longer service life, and run quieter for a more comfortable ride.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

Following the launch of the new Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 810-cc EFI engine, we believe the industry will start seeing more models equipped with EFI engines. The level of performance and efficiency improvements found with EFI engines is substantial — up to 25 percent more efficient than carbureted engines. Over the course of a season, this can result in significant financial savings for residential and commercial cutters, alike. Fortunately, through strategic relationships with Briggs & Stratton and Kawasaki, Altoz has been able to offer 12 different ZTR models that come equipped with either Electronic/Direct Fuel Injection or Electronic Fuel Management systems, so we’re ahead of the curve.
Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Efficiency is a big theme in the mower market overall. The concept of doing more with less — whether that means less fuel usage, or fewer man hours spent on jobs — is appealing to landscape professionals. They understand profitability is intimately linked to how quickly crews can get jobs done, while still delivering the quality customers expect.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Ergonomics have been a big focus, along with EFI and propane engines emerging as the future power source.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

EFI is becoming more popular than ever before. With the changes in gasoline, EFI seems to be much more trouble free. Landscapers still want productivity and less downtime. Our goal is to design as much of that into a product and still make the machine affordable.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

From an equipment design aspect, landscapers are constantly looking for places to improve their margins. One example of this is a rise in demand for compact stand-on models. The compact size allows contractors to transport more on trailers and enables them to quickly get off a unit to move a piece of debris. We anticipate the stand-on market will continue to expand.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

Key trends I see continuing are EFI/fuel efficiency and productivity. Toro has an extensive EFI offering on Z Masters and GrandStand models (and Horizon on select models), delivering fuel efficiency beyond a typical carbureted engine. Toro’s TurfMaster 30-inch walk-behind mower, offering a wider cutting path, directly addresses the need for enhanced productivity on the jobsite.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager

We’re seeing larger decks and additional horsepower options on models that still manage to maintain or reduce fuel costs. The trends are all about limiting downtime by designing a simple, more reliable machine at a fair cost to the customer.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

How have the wants/needs of lawn care/landscape professionals changed over the years, and how are mower manufacturers addressing those needs?

As mentioned, fuel savings is a concern. But horsepowers have continued to go up. Contractors continue to demand more horsepower, which is counter to fuel consumption. Ten years ago, horsepower was in the 22 to 25 range. Now, horsepower is topping out close to 40. But that is what contractors want, so we continue to look at new engine options to provide the most torque and most power while still trying to save fuel.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

Lawn care professionals know that to succeed they need to have a competitive advantage. With pure electric Mean Green Mowers, contractors can offer a service and benefits that their competition cannot offer.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Comfort and ergonomics continue to be areas of focus. Landscapers and contractors are riding on these mowers for several hours a day, and they want to be comfortable. Being comfortable keeps mowing crews more focused and alert, which improves productivity, which then improves customer service and the bottom line. Grasshopper designs our mowers with the operator in mind. Every Grasshopper mower features a built-in multi-point suspension, including iso-mounted seat and footrest, modular frames that flex and absorb shock, and design-matched engines and drive systems that not only maximize power delivery to the deck or implement, but also reduce vibration. All of this ensures a smooth, vibration-free operator experience and a superb quality of cut, as well.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

With the competitive nature of the commercial landscape business, most commercial landscapers have focused and honed their operating practices to eliminate waste and downtime. Simply put, the commercial landscapers make money when their machines are mowing grass. Downtime for service and maintenance costs them money. Here at BOB-CAT, designs that were concerned with performance and durability aspects of mowing grass are now being driven to improve the reliability, serviceability and ease of service. This will lower the overall cost of ownership while providing more time and better efficiency for actually mowing grass.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

Over the years, landscape professionals have become more sophisticated, expanding their interests in using both commercial and residential lawn products in their fleets. In our own model lineup at Honda, we’ve seen many lawn professionals purchase not only our HRC commercial mowers, but also our HRX residential mowers for added flexibility and depth of product mix. Because we know that landscape professionals choose and buy different models based on features, benefits and the job at hand, Honda offers robust online user and technical support for all of our customers, as well as extremely detailed owner manuals.
Additionally, more disposal restrictions have led to more demand for mulching mowers. What’s more, commercial operators expect restrictions to become even stricter during the coming years, according to the 2014 Gallup Study of Commercial Lawn Mowing Equipment, so demand should continue to increase.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

At Kubota, we listen to the needs of turf care professionals, and have developed mower features to match market demand. Mower efficiency, reliability and versatility have remained key needs for the lawn care and landscape professional, and we see the emphasis on those qualities continuing in 2015. Operators are looking for a superior engine that delivers results, coupled with a reliable mower that keeps productivity constant. Turf care professionals will continue to need a versatile machine that allows them to conveniently change a range of mower adjustments for a high-quality cut on any job.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

Over the last few years, we have seen the demand for high-quality ZTRs grow rather rapidly among lawn care professionals. Mower reliability and a quality cut, along with the need for a very efficient fleet, are important in order for commercial cutters to provide quality service to their customer, while reducing expenses and enhancing their bottom line. These objectives have been at the core of the Altoz brand from day one, and are just a couple of the benefits enjoyed by commercial cutters who have added an Altoz ZTR to their fleet.
Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Doing more with less is a theme we hear our customers talking a lot about today, so it’s a driving focus for us here at Exmark. The rising cost of fuel, combined with increased environmental consciousness at the consumer level, has made efficiency a higher priority today than it was 10 years ago. Because fuel today represents a greater percentage of a landscape professional’s costs, we’re seeing an increased demand for products that reduce fuel consumption and increase worker productivity. That’s why today you see an increasing number of mowers sold with EFI-gas or EFI-propane powerplants, for example.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Professionals demand the durable equipment with the highest performance in a small package. OEMs are continually testing new technology from engine and drivetrain manufacturers to develop their products to be easier to incorporate into new model development, keeping in mind assembly ease and overall durability in a small package.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

Over the years, some landscapers have been lured to prosumer-designed machines. The price is more attractive, but in some cases, the components are not of commercial quality, leaving the operator with unwanted downtime.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

We have seen a major shift in fuel solutions over the years. Now, more contractors are looking for new options to help improve their bottom line. To meet this growing need, more manufacturers are offering a variety of solutions, including alternative-fuel models and conversion kits. Our Z997R ZTrak mower offers a diesel option for contractors. We have seen a lot of interest in the Z997R — a trend that we believe will continue.
More manufacturers are offering equipment with features that improve operator comfort and productivity. This trend has led to new innovations, like push-button options. An example of this trend is the new Michelin X Tweel Turf for our 900 Series ZTrak mowers. The X Tweel Turf provides contractors with a solution to decrease downtime caused by flat or damaged tires. We expect to see more innovations like this in the future.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

Fuel efficiency is a big trend, and technology supporting alternative fuels is consistently on the rise. For example, Toro has been offering propane power for the past few years on select Z Master professional 5000 Series mowers. Toro also has incorporated electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology on select Z Master and GrandStand models. All Toro EFI models are equipped with Kohler closed-loop engines that automatically adapt to load, weather and altitude changes for up to 25 percent better fuel economy. In addition to being a catalyst for fuel savings, EFI technology is better for the environment than standard carburetor counterparts.
Contractors are always looking for ways to make their time on the jobsite more productive without sacrificing quality. Any technology that can support that is very well received. The 8000 Series Direct Collect Z is a good example. It allows the operator to collect more clippings in the 9.5-bushel hopper, which minimizes downtime and essentially contributes to the profitability of any job — all while delivering a high-quality cut.
— Chris Hannan, Toro marketing manager

We spend an extensive amount of time from a sales and marketing perspective with the landscape professional to understand their needs. Trends have changed significantly over the past five years and, without giving away what we have captured, generally, it’s about cutting down operation cost and reducing the lifetime ownership cost of the machine. At Gravely, we are dedicating a lot of resources to understand what this means and developing the equipment to meet these needs. We’ve also found that professional landscapers are asking more from their dealers, and we, as manufacturers, need to provide our dealers with the right information and support to make their business successful.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

What advice do you have for landscape maintenance professionals when it comes to right-sizing their mower fleet?

They need to look at their needs and figure out what works best for them. Our Super 104, which we introduced a couple years ago, offers a 104-inch cut. You can drop two or three mowers from your fleet, and replace them with one Super 104. We have seen good results with that.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

It is important to have proper mowers to fit the requirements of landscape professionals’ customer needs. Mean Green Mowers offers a commercial electric mower for every need. The larger 60-inch electric ZTR is best for larger-estate and open-field cutting, while the 48-inch electric stand-on mower is best for smaller lots with obstacles to maneuver around. The 33-inch WBX-33HD and 20-inch MGP-20 push mowers are perfect for mowing multiple smaller residential lots with small gates and multiple obstacles.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Look at the type of work and kinds of properties to be maintained. Is there potential for adding services, like aeration, spraying and snow removal? If so, a FrontMount Grasshopper with the appropriate attachments will save time and money in the long run compared to purchasing several pieces of stand-alone equipment. With the Grasshopper, there is only one engine to maintain, and the power unit earns its keep year-round.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

When looking at sizing your mower fleet for your operation, there are varying factors to be concerned with. They will be different depending on your business and business model. Keep good records, and analyze them from year to year. This time is well spent and will eventually show dividends. Obvious items — like number of customers, number of crews or employees, and property sizes — will initially drive your requirement for sizing. Other items to be concerned with are mower efficiencies, mower capabilities, and mower longevity and reliability.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

By performing frequent evaluations of their fleet to determine the production or yield of every unit in inventory, landscape professionals can better calculate what products are working hardest for them. In this way, it may be possible to trim fleet size or change the model complexion of the fleet to maximize profitability.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Landscape maintenance professionals have many factors to consider when cutting at many different properties, each of which has unique challenges in terms of types of grass, whether they need to bag/mulch or side discharge, the size of the property and the terrain of it. Landscape professionals should build their fleet with equipment that can help them be versatile enough to do any job in varying conditions. One main thing to take into consideration is the fuel efficiency of their fleet. Kubota mowers are designed to work with all types of grasses with baggers that can collect grass in the wettest of conditions. Kubota mowers are designed with a low center of gravity to allow for cutting in grades. Kubota’s diesel zero-turn mowers are ideal for large-acreage yards because they have been proven to be the most fuel efficient in tough grass cutting conditions. Lastly, fleet owners should take the time to personally ride and cut with the mowers before they make a purchase decision in order to ensure performance, comfort and driveability. Confirming their choice will provide less fatigue to the operator and will ensure a better-quality job and higher employee retention.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

The best advice we can give is to have a solid understanding of the customers they serve or intend to serve in the future. If it is a smaller commercial operation with no plans on large-scale expansion, then adding a mower like the Altoz XE model will probably be more in line with its budget but not sacrifice cut quality and durability. Conversely, if a commercial operation serves a significant number of larger properties and plans on further expanding, then adding a mower like the new Altoz XC models will provide the high-performance, industrial-grade machine best suited for their larger business.
— Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Landscape maintenance professionals can work with their Exmark dealer to determine the best machines for a crew or a fleet. Demos can be arranged to allow landscape professionals to test mowers of different sizes and/or types on familiar properties. This allows them to get a true feel for how the different models might work for them on a day-to-day basis.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Examine the demands of each account in terms of size, terrain and accessibility. Combining this data will dictate what features are necessary.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

Purchase the most reliable/productive machine available from a dealer that you know will be there for you for after-the-sale service.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

Spend time talking with your local dealer or manufacturer representative and share with them the type of properties you specialize in, so they can recommend the right machines in their lineup. As manufacturers, we offer a full lineup of options, which can be overwhelming. Make sure to ask questions, and they will be more than willing to recommend which machine will fit both your projects and business. It’s important to have right-sized machines, so you’re not spending more than you should on the initial investment, fuel and future maintenance of your machines.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

What should professionals know when it comes to engine options? And what should they know regarding gas vs. diesel vs. propane vs. electric, etc.?

The engine companies are the experts on that, so I recommend that the contractors read up and do their research using the engine manufacturers’ websites.
In terms of gas vs. diesel vs. propane vs. electric, gas is still at the top. With Tier 4, there has been a shift with moving away from diesel. Propane has gained in the market, and fuel injected has gained. We still haven’t seen much in the way of electric for commercial use.
There are more mandates regarding noise and pollution, so propane helps with that, and electric could really help with that.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

Professionals need to understand that off-road gas, diesel and propane engines are, by far, the least-efficient (about 22-percent efficient), most-polluting and noisiest engines on the market today. Mean Green Mowers are extremely efficient (about 92-percent efficient), have zero emissions, use no fuel or oil (saving the professional up to $8/hour), and are less than half the noise level of internal combustion engine (ICE) mowers; yet, Mean Green Mowers have the power of a typical commercial ICE mower.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Fuel costs are a large portion of a landscape contractor’s budget. Grasshopper Clean Diesel zero-turn mowers are still the best choice for end users who are serious about curbing fuel usage and reducing fuel and fuel-related overhead costs. Grasshopper diesel mowers consistently get 50-percent — or better — fuel efficiency compared to gasoline and propane mowers, so per-hour fuel costs are dramatically lower with diesel. Grasshopper’s online fuel calculator — available to anyone at grasshopperfuelsavings.com — can help contractors realize just how big of an impact switching to Clean Diesel can have on the bottom line.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

When selecting engines for longevity or alternative fuels, LP and diesel make sense. The initial cost of these units will be higher, but generally, they will also last longer. When selecting engines on cost and performance, air-cooled gas engines usually are the best choice. The cost to operate, maintain and replace is much lower. Our best is advice is use your dealer, who really is your expert, to help analyze what makes the most sense for you and your business when selecting engines.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

Honda solely produces gasoline engines for our lawn and garden products. These gasoline engines are extremely fuel efficient and reliable, saving landscape managers both time and money.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Kubota is known industry-wide for building quality equipment to a higher standard, ensuring more productivity and less downtime, which is what professionals continue to demand. When it comes to the differences between diesel, gas, propane or electric, professionals should consider what their needs are before they make a choice on a machine. Each option offers its own unique benefits; for example, when it comes to diesel, Kubota-engineered engines like that in the ZD326H zero-turn mower are recognized for durability and performance.
For gas engine options, Kubota has equipped its Z700-Series with the Kawasaki FX and Kohler Command PRO engines because they are renowned for their superior performance and lasting durability. The series’ Parker Torqpact GT14 transmission is designed for an optimum combination of speed and torque to deliver higher efficiency. Better overall efficiency means more horsepower to the deck and less heat into the oil. This translates to a fast, high-quality cut, whether the turf is easy or tough, or the terrain is flat or hilly.
A liquid-cooled, liquid propane gas (LPG) engine like that in Kubota’s ZP330 delivers “green” performance with reduced CO2 emissions while maintaining the same high levels of productivity. An LPG engine’s clean-burning propane also eliminates carburetor maintenance and vapor-lock problems and provides the convenience of long-time storage without worry of fuel deterioration — providing optimal performance for years to come. An LPG engine is a great clean-burning option for professionals who are looking to “go green” with less emissions.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

Gas engines power the entire Altoz lineup of ZTRs. Naturally, there are pros and cons with every form of engine, but through our extensive R&D process, we have determined that gas-powered engines, like the Briggs & Stratton and Kawasaki engines found in Altoz mowers, provide the highest level of performance, reliability and convenience across the board. With our fuel-management systems and electronic fuel injection engines offered, efficiency is improved, and the benefits of a gas engine are further enhanced.
— Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Investing in mowers with electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines can reduce fuel consumption by up to 25 percent. Combining EFI with advanced engine controls, such as Exmark’s RED technology, can add another 15-percent reduction in fuel consumption when compared to a carbureted engine. Exmark gives its customers a great deal of choice with respect to fuel options, with models utilizing gasoline, propane and diesel power.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Every professional should be conscious of fuel cost since this affects their bottom line. More horsepower equals more performance, but the cost must be justified. With a little higher price tag, EFI, diesel, propane and electric are alternatives that easily pay for themselves within a mowing season, increasing your bottom line.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

The choice of engine and fuel type is dependent on the duty cycle of your equipment and the availability of fuels in your area.  If the fuel you want to use is not readily available in your area, and your crews do not carry additional fuel with them during the day, your choice is clear. Use what is available, right?  Now, if you have options for fuels like gas or diesel, then you need to evaluate how you use your equipment.
If your crews are frequently starting and stopping engines, a gas or propane engine may be a better option. However, if your crews start the machines in the morning and rarely shut them off, diesel with its increased efficiency may be a better choice. Diesel also offers higher torque options, so it’s ideal for crews that are continually requiring high-power machines to accommodate the jobs they are doing. Fuel is one of the highest input costs for any landscape professional, so the cost of the fuels and any infrastructure needed must be considered when making the engine choice.
Propane engines are also a great option; they run cleaner and typically last longer than their gasoline counterparts. Propane does not, however, have the infrastructure for refueling that gasoline has. If you have a propane retailer in your area and are able to set up a tank exchange or refueling station at your shop, this may be a great option for your fleet. It’s also great to use your decision to go with this alternative fuel to market your services. Propane machines will not have any issues with fuel “going bad” over time.  Propane is stored in a sealed tank and will keep during the off season, requiring little to no maintenance to get back into service the next season.
Ariens and Gravely also have several models of gasoline engines with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI), much the same as most current automobiles on the road. These machines are like any other gasoline engine, with the added benefits of easy starting without choke or primer and increased fuel economy due to more precise fuel metering.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

What are some key considerations with regard to ease of maintenance?

Look at the ease of getting to the blades, belts, spindles. That goes back to our goal of keeping a clean, simple design with maintenance points that are easy to access.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

Since Mean Green Mowers are all electric with maintenance-free lithium batteries, there is practically no routine maintenance. No oil, no oil filters, no gas filters, no hydraulic filters or fluid, no spark plugs, no belts or pulleys, and no fuel with Mean Green Mowers.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

It’s easy to focus only on the cost of equipment at the time of purchase, but cost of ownership over time is just as crucial to the bottom line. One mower may carry a lower sticker price, but over its useful life, it can cost more in routine maintenance and replacement parts than another mower with a higher initial sticker price. Plus, keep in mind that the mower will eventually need to be replaced, so resale value in the long-term should also be considered. Grasshopper mowers have the lowest overall cost of ownership in the industry with the fewest grease points (two to five, depending on the model); the longest transmission fluid-change intervals (up to 1,000 hours); and, on average, the highest resale values at trade-in time.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

When looking at equipment for ease of maintenance, first look at the basics for keeping the machine serviced properly and mowing grass. Can you get at all the filters, belts and lubrication points without a lot of effort or without removing a lot of parts? If it is hard to do, more than likely it won’t get done. Can you do the work on the ground or trailer, or do you have to have special equipment to elevate the machine? What is the frequency required for these items? Is there a way to track these items to remind you when service is due? Do you have to use special oils, filters or parts, or are they common?
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

It is important to choose products that offer easy-to-perform minor maintenance and straightforward scheduled services — so that no unplanned maintenance expenses arise.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Ease of maintenance means less downtime, so operators should look for an open engine compartment and hydraulic maintenance lift for easy access; a larger fuel tank for fewer refueling stops; flat-free caster tires that absorb impacts and reduce the worry of downtime; and sealed, greaseless spindle bearings for maximized time on the job.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

Another characteristic we noticed and took into consideration when determining the type of powerplants to equip the Altoz ZTRs with was the durability and ease of maintenance/repairs found with gas engines. With the prevalence of gas-powered engines found across a number of industries — automotive and recreational/off highway vehicles, to name a couple — a good number of consumers have enough knowledge and experience to handle the general maintenance required to keep a ZTR running properly. In addition, we’ve taken into consideration with things like sealed bearings and robust spindles to minimize maintenance requirements and increase mower life expectancy.
— Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

Exmark has worked hard to reduce the number of necessary service points on its mowers. In fact, our Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn rider has just four annual grease points. Deck and hydro belts can be installed or removed without tools. And unitized pump and wheel motor assemblies reduce the number of hydraulic hoses in the system, which reduces maintenance and dramatically increases reliability.
Deck spindles are another important area of focus on commercial mowers. Exmark spindles utilize double-row sealed bearings with a splined blade driver, which stops bolt tightening during a blade impact. Plus, Exmark’s patented idler arm pivot bearing design only needs to be serviced annually.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

Components such as deck spindles, belts and oil filters should be examined to ensure ease of accessibility when purchasing any piece of equipment. Keeping the equipment running with minimum downtime should be a main criterion.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

It’s simple: Have a program. Make a routine out of maintenance, and you will save money on expensive components in the long run.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

The first thing an operator should do is refer to the operator’s manual. By following the maintenance schedule, operators can easily keep up with the maintenance schedule and potentially avoid major issues down the road.
— Nick Minas, product manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing

What is the overall outlook of the market as a whole with regard to mower sales in 2015?

The outlook is very positive. With fuel prices being down, it is putting money back in the pockets of the contractor and the consumer. Hopefully, they will look to take some of those savings and upgrade or update their mower. A few years were down for contractors, especially 2008, 2009 and even into 2010. And I think a lot of contractors hung onto machines for a year or two too long. But these guys are back and looking to upgrade their machines.
— Brad Unruh, senior product manager, Excel Industries, manufacturer of Hustler Turf Equipment and BigDog Mowers

The outdoor power equipment industry is rapidly growing in an otherwise stagnant economy. With all the benefits of Mean Green Mowers, we are seeing greatly increasing demand for pure electric mowers. Mean Green Mower sales have been at least doubling every year, and we expect this year to be even better.
— Joe Conrad, president, Mean Green Mowers

Recent economic indicators are pointing to solid growth in the coming year. Both employment and consumer confidence are up, which is a good sign. If the economy keeps improving, mower sales should improve along with it, as landscapers replace aging equipment and invest in their businesses with more versatile equipment.
— Mike Simmon, communications specialist, Grasshopper

2015 is looking to be a good year, as it looks like fuel costs will bring down operating expenses, which should help equipment sales. Also, the lower unemployment rate means that more people are working. This should also help fuel more work for most commercial landscapers and, in turn, drive more equipment purchases.
— Tony Weber, product specialist manager, Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.

Since most outdoor power product sales are tied closely to general U.S. economic indicators, it is somewhat difficult to predict what 2015 will hold for lawn mower sales. That being said, the industry predicts small-but-steady growth in the lawn mower marketplace for the next year.
— Alex Torre, manager, marketing and market research, Honda Power Equipment

Among other factors, mower sales are mostly dependent on rainfall, the general economy, new-home sales and fuel prices. The current state of the U.S. economy is very robust with record-low unemployment rates, fuel prices at record lows, and new-home sales rebounding back to healthy levels. Therefore, 2015 looks like it will be a very good year for mower sales. While precipitation is still an unknown, the current fuel prices will definitely be the catalyst to robust mower sales for both homeowners and professionals — homeowners will likely have more discretionary income to purchase, and professionals should have better profitability to upgrade their fleets. All in all, we expect to see another year of robust double-digit growth in mower sales in the year ahead.
— Rajesh Joshi, Kubota turf product marketing director

As the economy continues to stabilize, we’re very bullish on the market and its potential for growth in the coming year. We believe the industry, and specifically the ZTR segment, is going to continue to expand; and we’re confident that the diverse lineup of Altoz products and accessories will enable us to outpace the industry in terms of growth rates.
— Karl Bjorkman, sales and marketing director, Altoz

In 2015, we expect to see continued growth in the outdoor power equipment industry as a whole. Successful landscape contractors will continue to better understand the value of technology and data to helping them do their jobs more efficiently. This is true in all areas of a contractor’s business — not just with equipment.
— Daryn Walters, director of marketing, Exmark

The ZTR industry has been on the rise the past 10 years, and in 2015, we expect this trend to continue.
— Brice Hill, product manager, Dixie Chopper

Our plan is for another robust year for sales. Our dealers and distributors report a fairly healthy market as compared to years past.
— Bill Shea, vice president of commercial sales, Briggs & Stratton Products Group

The industry has been pacing down in shipments throughout the past 12 months, but OPEI has published a slight increase going forward so there are mixed indicators right now. From my perspective, the market is strong for those manufacturers who are addressing landscapers’ needs, providing relevant information and having a strong dealer base that provides exceptional service.
— Bill Engler, Gravely brand director, Ariens Company

EDITOR’S NOTE: Responses were presented in the order in which they were received.

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