Compact track loaders help fast track profitability in landscaping
By Buck Storlie
Overcoming profitability challenges
By Buck Storlie
Growing profits in the landscaping business comes down to two factors: increasing the number of jobs completed or decreasing operating costs. Ideally, most contractors seek to do both, a feat that requires keen attention to detail, a stellar reputation for high-quality work and a vision to take on some tough, niche applications.
Costly turf damage, inefficient machine utilization and poor productivity on the jobsite are significant barriers to increased profitability and can affect a contractor’s reputation. However, innovative compact track loader designs offer an opportunity to change these challenges into points of differentiation.
Winning the turf war
Some compact track loaders are redefining expectations of damage to sensitive turf during a landscaping job. Certain innovative design features help landscapers not only save time and money on turf repairs, but be more productive by worrying less about damaging lawns while on the job.
Some innovative track loaders include features that reduce the risk of damage and lead to several benefits, ranging from earlier access to a jobsite to reduced time and labour, protecting or repairing turf. These designs often incorporate a higher number of undercarriage track wheels, spreading the unit’s weight more evenly to reduce ground pressure to unprecedented levels. In maximizing the amount of track surface area on the ground through wider tracks, these track loaders improve flotation on mud and minimize damage to lawns and other sensitive areas. Completely smooth turf tracks are also available that further reduce ground pressures and lower the risk of damage.
One Iowa landscaper’s investment in a cutting-edge compact track loader reduced his time repairing turf damage by 50 per cent, compared to his alternative same-class loader. In some situations where the job required working on a muddy yard, the contractor found that although the yard wasn’t suitable to walk on yet, his low-ground-pressure track loader smoothly rolled out new sod without getting stuck.
A turf-conscious track loader also allows a contractor to take on new applications with sensitive turf, such as work on golf courses. Plus, a contractor who earns a reputation for causing minimal turf disturbance will likely enjoy a better reputation and more return customers.
Picking up the pace
There are only so many hours in the day, and the equipment that helps contractors get the most work done will have the greatest positive effect on a business’ profitability.
Some track loaders leverage innovative undercarriage designs to achieve ground speeds comparable to those of skid steers. They achieve this in part with advanced internal positive drive undercarriage designs that reduce friction and allow more power to transfer from the drive system to the tracks. Repeat trips, such as loading trucks or hauling material from one end of a jobsite to another, completed minutes or even seconds faster, can add up to a significant increase in efficiency over the course of a job.
Visibility and comfort
Those fast ground speeds only help if the machine’s suspension – and therefore the operator – can handle it. Even at slower speeds, compact track loaders with traditional, rigid-mounted undercarriage designs will feel the effect of every bump.
Some track loader designs reduce the impact of bumps on the operator and the attachment with suspension systems that are fully suspended and feature dual torsion axles. These axles allow the suspension to travel up and down when encountering bumps, offering a smoother ride for the operator and less loss of material from the bucket.
Visibility from the cab is an important factor in productivity as well as overall operator experience. Some compact track loader manufacturers have improved the visibility in their designs. Some newer models provide premium 360-degree visibility from the seat of the cab, resulting from all-clear sides and a frameless door with floor-to-ceiling glass area.
A better view of the attachment, and the operator’s surroundings in general, allows the operator to carry out tasks more quickly. There’s less need to lean for a better view of the attachment or to see around the door frame.
Machine utilization and versatility in snow
Innovative compact track loaders can handle more applications than ever before, thanks to certain design features – a fact that pays dividends for landscape contractors in the form of improved equipment utilization.
Snow removal services, as a prime example, can account for up to 33 per cent or more of a landscape contractor’s total revenue, so it’s an enormous advantage if equipment can handle the elements in summer and winter. While historically many contractors have viewed skid steers as better choices for snow removal work, things are changing.
Well-designed CTLs can increase traction and flotation in applications year-round with no need to change tracks with the seasons. Some of these loaders feature tracks with a bar-style tread that maximize ground contact, a more versatile option than investing in separate winter tracks with aggressive tread patterns. Machine undercarriages with a large number of ground contact points and long, wide tracks pair with a suspension system that allows the track to flex and maximize ground contact.
A balanced compact track loader with a light footprint can pile snow higher than previously possible with a CTL, improving overall efficiency. While many manufacturers simply convert a skid steer chassis to accept tracks, some track loaders are purposely built for optimal balance and design. Skid-steer-converted track loaders often feature a balance of 30 per cent/70 per cent, with the back end being the heaviest, whereas purpose-built designs are closer to 50 per cent/50 per cent.
One landscape contractor saw measurable results from using compact track loaders with a light footprint in snow clearing, noticing a 25 per cent increase in completed work in the same amount of time with his new machine versus his similarly-sized previous model. Many landscapers familiar with trying to operate traditional CTLs have a hard time picturing achieving this type of winter performance from the cab of a compact track loader, but as this landscape contractor proved, some track loader designs are pulling it off.
Some purpose-built CTLs are designed to navigate deep snow and feature ground clearances as high as 15 inches, nearly double that of designs with retrofitted undercarriages. Reducing your costs into every job and improving your crew’s productivity – these are benefits any landscape business owner can get behind.
Buck Storlie is product line manager for ASV Holdings Inc.