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View Full Version : After 16 Years, Finally Got Something Bigger Than a 21"


JimLewis
03-08-2012, 07:17 PM
Well, after 16 years of mowing lawns and almost 300 weekly maintenance accounts, I just purchased our first 36" mower. The only thing I've ever owned that was over 21". I know....I know..... Everyone on Lawnsite cannot fathom doing lawns with just 21" mowers. But in the suburban areas we service, all the lots are about 8,000 sq. ft. and the lawns are around 1000-2000 sq. ft. Most of them are too small for anything but a 21".

But we finally had enough accounts that had large enough lawns to warrant having a little larger mower. So I bought me a nice Gravely 36" today. It's a year or two old, but only has 31 hours on it. Starts right up first pull. Hydraulics and everything work like it's brand new. Nice machine.

We demo'd the Exmark, Gravely and one other brand last year. But the Gravely was the one my crew liked the best. We tried each unit for several days last year. And my crews really liked the controls best on this mower as opposed to the other two they tried. So that's what we decided to buy.

So this being my first 36", I have a question for those of you who use these; I'm assuming we can put a really nice cross-cut mulch kit on this thing and just mulch with it, right? Is there a specific brand or kit that you guys recommend?

Here are some photos of the unit I picked up today....

.

THEGOLDPRO
03-08-2012, 07:19 PM
Nice machine, When you say you only own push mowers what kind do you buy for your guys?? are they commercial grade or just the run of the mill craftsman push mowers.

larryinalabama
03-08-2012, 07:23 PM
Hows them cigars?

JimLewis
03-08-2012, 07:28 PM
Nice machine, When you say you only own push mowers what kind do you buy for your guys?? are they commercial grade or just the run of the mill craftsman push mowers.

I didn't say push mowers. I said 21"s. We have always run Honda Commercial HRC216HXA - The commercial Hydrostatic mowers. They're top of the line commercial mowers and we love them. Just 21" size.

JimLewis
03-08-2012, 07:52 PM
Hows them cigars?

The Cubans I brought back from my trip? Some were crap. Some were good. But honestly, I've had better from just my local cigar shop. Been enjoying those more. Some Romeo y Julietta, PUNCH, and the best have been the Monte Cristos. That reminds me, it's about time for another one. It's been almost two weeks. Gonna have to go out to the hot tub and have one this evening. The wife doesn't like them anywhere but outside. And this time of year it's too cold to just hang on the porch for a whole hour. So I've been having them in the hot tub. Which is pretty sweet, anyway.

TheChiefsLawnCare
03-08-2012, 08:46 PM
gezzzz, you wouldnt last in my area with a 21 lol.

TheChiefsLawnCare
03-08-2012, 08:47 PM
btw congrats on the purchase

TuffWork
03-08-2012, 08:50 PM
I'm surprised you actually bought a bigger mower, Jim. I use a Walker when I can, but usually get stuck with using the 21" mowers most of the time. I sure wish we could have a commercial version of that Toro 30". Maybe an exmark? Ybravo took a shot at it with the 25", but I heard it was crap.

One question, though. Do you bag everything as of now? If so how do you plan on convincing them to start mulching?

As far as cigars go, I've got a Cohibo I've been saving for the right time. Tonight may be it.

KrayzKajun
03-08-2012, 08:54 PM
Nice Jim! man the last time smoked a cigar was Oct 31st 2004. my 20th birthday & the day we rolled into Baghdad, Iraq.

Patriot Services
03-08-2012, 09:20 PM
The man has 300 accounts so obviuosly he has found a business model that works just fine. For 1~2k of turf anything much bigger is a waste. A 60" Lazer is not the answer to everything.
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jsslawncare
03-08-2012, 09:21 PM
Fellows, he just wanted to show us his new toy. To must of us it's still smaller then our smallest mower, but still it's a nice mower. I think if you can't mount a velkie on it then it's a push mower.

KrayzKajun
03-08-2012, 09:56 PM
JIM, got a question about your truck. is that just white vinly layed on top yur red truck on the sides? tht is really sharp looking.

THIESSENS TLC
03-08-2012, 10:03 PM
Nice Gravely, I really wanted to get one of those, but didn't really feel like walking anymore! Ha! Very nice, hope it works well for you! As for the mulch kit, not sure what brand it is but mine was about $100...without blades.
Posted via Mobile Device

THEGOLDPRO
03-08-2012, 10:20 PM
You can either buy a blade blocker like so.
http://content.breederoo.com/users/GreenBoys/images/photos/gallery/2404128.jpg?2

OR you can buy the actual mulching kit that you have to add baffles and what not like so.
http://www.jackssmallengines.com/gravely_mulch_kits.cfm

4 seasons lawn&land
03-08-2012, 10:25 PM
I dont know about mulch kits. But you are right, I cannot fathom doing 300 1k sq ft lawns with "21's"... sorry I call them pushers too but lets not get into that...

Care to elaborate on that whole concept with the 21's? I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind that. Would your customers be resentful if you finished their lawns in 5 minutes? Or do they percieve larger mowers as being damaging to turf? Are operating costs less for your labor than for $6000-7000 mowers? Are you trying to keep employees busy so they are there and at your disposal for large landscape jobs?

ALEX'S LANDSCAPING
03-08-2012, 10:36 PM
Nice mower!
I am planning on getting a commercial 21" soon.

Northwest
03-09-2012, 12:11 AM
Care to elaborate on that whole concept with the 21's? I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind that. Would your customers be resentful if you finished their lawns in 5 minutes? Or do they percieve larger mowers as being damaging to turf? Are operating costs less for your labor than for $6000-7000 mowers? Are you trying to keep employees busy so they are there and at your disposal for large landscape jobs?

Obviously you do not know what a 1000-2000 sq ft lawn with a fence around the backyard is you can do it as fast or faster with a 21 than a 36. I have both and yes you can use both on them but on majority of them the 36 is actually a pain they are so small. I am as lazy as anyone, when I mowed I rode whenever possible but with the lawns Jim mows the 21 is the clear choice. By the way I have found the smaller yards are the most profitable. The market does not let you double your charge for double the double the lot or the time spent on larger lots

MOturkey
03-09-2012, 08:06 AM
Jim, always happy to see your posts. Congratulations on the new mower. I don't service small properties like that, but I do understand the concept of using a 21. It is kind of like using my backpack blower, or my handheld. I like the 600 a lot better, but it doesn't make much sense to use it just to blow off a patio. I can sometimes grab the handheld and be done by the time I would get the 600 unloaded and put on.

nepatsfan
03-09-2012, 08:15 AM
The man has 300 accounts so obviuosly he has found a business model that works just fine. For 1~2k of turf anything much bigger is a waste. A 60" Lazer is not the answer to everything.
Posted via Mobile Device

I laugh about some of the people that give advice on here. It's funny how the guy's with an f150 and a trailer that have been in business for 6 months feel like they are qualified give advice to people that probably gross 100 times what they do.(no one in particular on here...general statement)

Nice mower Jim....we have a 48 just like that. Never used the mulch kit but it has been a fairly trouble free mower for us.

4 seasons lawn&land
03-09-2012, 08:37 AM
Care to elaborate on that whole concept with the 21's? I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind that. Would your customers be resentful if you finished their lawns in 5 minutes? Or do they percieve larger mowers as being damaging to turf? Are operating costs less for your labor than for $6000-7000 mowers? Are you trying to keep employees busy so they are there and at your disposal for large landscape jobs?

Obviously you do not know what a 1000-2000 sq ft lawn with a fence around the backyard is you can do it as fast or faster with a 21 than a 36. I have both and yes you can use both on them but on majority of them the 36 is actually a pain they are so small. I am as lazy as anyone, when I mowed I rode whenever possible but with the lawns Jim mows the 21 is the clear choice. By the way I have found the smaller yards are the most profitable. The market does not let you double your charge for double the lot or the time spent on larger lots

What would the mental diagnosis be, to make you need to answer a question like that? "You obviously dont know what a small lawn is" lol. Okay so all 300 places have fences with little gates? I dont think thats the whole reason.

dhardin53
03-09-2012, 10:33 AM
How many crews you got?

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 12:39 PM
JIM, got a question about your truck. is that just white vinly layed on top yur red truck on the sides? tht is really sharp looking.

Oh that's my helicopter landing pad. LOL.

Just something I came up with to stand out from the crowd a little. I get a lot of compliments on it wherever I go. So I guess I'll keep it.


.

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 12:45 PM
I'm surprised you actually bought a bigger mower, Jim. I use a Walker when I can, but usually get stuck with using the 21" mowers most of the time. I sure wish we could have a commercial version of that Toro 30". Maybe an exmark? Ybravo took a shot at it with the 25", but I heard it was crap.

One question, though. Do you bag everything as of now? If so how do you plan on convincing them to start mulching?

As far as cigars go, I've got a Cohibo I've been saving for the right time. Tonight may be it.

Mulching isn't very popular these parts. Commercial mowing crews do it, but most residential mowing crews do not. Partly because it's so wet for so much of the year that it just isn't very practical. But the second part is that customers pretty much demand that we bag it. It's just how everyone (homeowners) does it around here and so they don't understand that it actually is possible to mulch sometimes, if you have a nice commercial mower that can do it properly.

We mulch in the late spring and summer, on dry weeks. The newer commercial hondas have a pretty sweet cross blade mulch kit on them. We just stick the plug in and keep the bag on. So that way it still looks like we're bagging. Then we never get any complaints. On dry days, you cannot tell we'll mulching. It looks totally clean.

I plan to do the same thing with this mower. Get a really good mulch kid, block off the chute, but keep the bag on.

instyle
03-09-2012, 01:04 PM
gezzzz, you wouldnt last in my area with a 21 lol.

And you wouldn`t last in my area without a 21 lol

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 01:10 PM
Care to elaborate on that whole concept with the 21's? I would be interested to hear the reasoning behind that. Would your customers be resentful if you finished their lawns in 5 minutes? Or do they percieve larger mowers as being damaging to turf? Are operating costs less for your labor than for $6000-7000 mowers? Are you trying to keep employees busy so they are there and at your disposal for large landscape jobs?

Oh....Deep Breath....I've answered this so many times over the years. I was hoping not to have to explain it again. But I understand. It's done differently here than it is in other parts of the country and so it seems odd....

So We maintain about 280 lawns a week, and growing. About 250 of them are fairly small. Like in these photos;

http://www.lewislandscape.com/photos/gallery/albums/Landscape-Maintenance/aac.jpg
.
http://www.lewislandscape.com/photos/gallery/albums/Landscape-Maintenance/aab.sized.jpg
.
http://www.lewislandscape.com/photos/gallery/albums/Landscape-Maintenance/aaj.jpg

In the area of town we live in, that's your standard property. 95% of the homes in this area have lawns like that.

Now, with a 21" mower it takes us all of 4 minutes to mow a front yard like that and maybe 7-10 minutes to mow a back yard like in that last photo.

Every once in a while we have a back lawn that is a little larger and takes us maybe 10-12 minutes to mow, like this one;

http://www.lewislandscape.com/photos/gallery/albums/Landscape-Maintenance/aag.jpg

Now, sure. We could shave off a couple minutes if we used larger mowers. But the time we spend on each property using the mower isn't really that much to begin with. With most of our accounts we're doing full service. Weeding beds, pruning shrubs, applying fertilizer, selective herbicide for broadleaf weeds in lawn, raking leaves, trimming perennials, raking beds, hedging, etc. Only part of what we do is mowing. This is a fairly affluent area. So most people don't want just the mow-blow-go. So over half of our time at each property is NOT spent mowing. Still, even with all that we do, we're typically in and out of a property in 30 minutes. And for that we're getting about $50 a week, typically, or $200 a month. And that's year-round. 12 months of the year, even though our visits decrease to every-other-week in the winter months. So it's still fairly profitable, as long as you can keep the drive time between homes really tight. Which we've done.

So long story short, the bigger mowers don't really save us much time on most properties we do.

The other problem is that it is very hilly here. And the people with the money (our clients) are usually up in the hills in these parts. So their back yard is 40' lower in elevation than their front yard is. So you have to go down a series of 36" wide concrete steps just to get down into their back yard. You cannot take a larger mower on that venture. Only a 21" will do it. Probably a good 40-50% of the homes we maintain are like that.

Now that we've become more well known around town and also because we've installed a lot of larger landscapes for larger properties, we've been starting to pick up a few more accounts that are a little larger properties than most in the area. Now that we have 20-30 of these larger yards to do, it is finally getting to the point where the cost of a larger mower would be less than the labor we are spending doing them with 21" mowers. So that's why we can finally justify a little larger mower. But I cannot see us ever being able to use anything larger than a 36", because anything larger just wouldn't fit into most properties here.

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 01:14 PM
How many crews you got?

We have 12 crews. But only 4 of them are out doing routine weekly maintenance every day. The other crews are install crews, irrigation crews, and enhancement crews. We expect to add a 5th weekly maintenance crew later this summer.

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 01:16 PM
And you wouldn`t last in my area without a 21 lol

LOL. I almost posted that too. I think that's always the biggest problem with lawnsite - Lack of Perspective. A lot of people cannot fathom that others in different parts of the country do it differently.

BBC.lawn.services
03-09-2012, 01:34 PM
Totally!

For example - Here in OK a lot of my lawns are 1/4 acre + so it would take me hour(s) to mow them with a push mower. Also, the grass here is typically on the verge of being wiped out by the heat and usually weed infested so striping and rutting etc. are not major concerns. I use a 48" small frame ZTR (JD 717a to be exact) on most my properties. I use a 21" (a true push mower) on anything I can't get to. So far it has worked!

4 seasons lawn&land
03-09-2012, 03:00 PM
makes sense now. You need to copy and paste all that into a word doc so every time you need to answer the same question you have the answer ready to go! I dont think I've ever seen that topic before but then again, I probably wont remember this in a year...

TriCountyLawn
03-09-2012, 04:54 PM
Nice, Hell I wish all I had to mow with was a 21". A friend of mine has a highly productive solo route with a 21" mower. Sometimes if its mulchable I will leave my catcher on my 48" and let it fill up and mulch the rest..ya know really go the extra mile...lol I have had a hard time convincing customers that a larger walk behind CAN bag as well as a 21". Things can get pretty wet here depending on the season and people associate bagging with a small mower and want nothing but that. I also think alot of ppl on Lawn Site highly under estimate the ground you can cover with a 21" I maintained a property the we had to carry two mowers up stairs and thru a gate and back out with the clippings that was big. Two ppl getting it a fast pace would knock it out it fast enough that we just did it like that. I considered taking apart a 36" or 48" reassembling it and storing it up there then the estate changed hands..lol

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 05:20 PM
makes sense now. You need to copy and paste all that into a word doc so every time you need to answer the same question you have the answer ready to go! I dont think I've ever seen that topic before but then again, I probably wont remember this in a year...

Excellent idea! I just did that. :)

4 seasons lawn&land
03-09-2012, 06:29 PM
have you looked at those 21" style 30 inchers by Toro? Same style, similar weight I would think, and versatility with an extra 30% of cut. Im surprised it took this long for someone to come out with that product.

Snapper Jack
03-09-2012, 06:32 PM
I think once your crews become familiar with the 36" and slap on some decent blades,you really appreciate the manicured cut and you'll end up selling all those 21s:). I used a 21 for many years too but it hasn't seen the light of day since I bought my commercial 36":laugh:

Patriot Services
03-09-2012, 06:37 PM
have you looked at those 21" style 30 inchers by Toro? Same style, similar weight I would think, and versatility with an extra 30% of cut. Im surprised it took this long for someone to come out with that product.

Homeowner quality. Would never stand up to hundreds of cycles per week.
Posted via Mobile Device

JimLewis
03-09-2012, 06:39 PM
They may end up loving the machine, that's true. But it still doesn't fit into half of the back yards we maintain. So we won't be getting rid of all the 21's any time soon.

I could envision maybe one day where each of our trailers had two 21" mowers and one 36" mower. But I can't envision a scenario where we'd ever get rid of the 21s entirely. Just can't use the 36" or larger on many properties.

4 seasons lawn&land
03-09-2012, 06:58 PM
Homeowner quality. Would never stand up to hundreds of cycles per week.
Posted via Mobile Device

what makes you think its homeowner quality? Why would they make a larger than avaerage homeowner grade product. Kind of a contradiction to itself

Patriot Services
03-09-2012, 07:00 PM
what makes you think its homeowner quality? Why would they make a larger than avaerage homeowner grade product. Kind of a contradiction to itself

For starters Toro classifies it as a homeowner machine. There is an extensive review thread on here about the Timemaster 30.
Posted via Mobile Device

4 seasons lawn&land
03-09-2012, 08:01 PM
Just read up on a few of them. There seems to be some negative thoughts and some positive first hand experience.

Cadger
03-10-2012, 12:09 AM
Thanks for this thread Jim Lewis. You have proven a point I have been making; basically, different stokes for different folks.

I'm still a few weeks from launching a lawn care company, but have been doing extensive research and worked last summer for two established local companies to learn the ropes. I've also talked to many equipment dealers and every lawn guy I run into out in public.

I've found a great diversity in opinions on any given topic, but one thing 75% of people agree on: each person's particular way of doing things is the only way it can be done!

For example, an operator told me adamantly that you CANNOT make money in the lawn care industry if you are not running Ferris and Redmax. Makes me feel sorry for all those Exmark/Wright/JD/Dixie Chopper/Stihl owners out there laboring away for naught.

Here (Central FL) we have hundreds of developments, tens of thousands of homes, all built in the last 30 years, all with relatively small lots. The newer/nicer (middle class) properties (target market) seem to actually have the smallest yards.

The norm is to drag around a 60" sit-down and a 36" walk-behind (with/without velke). The 60" is for a 60-second mowing session in the front yard. Then they park it in the shade (can't put it back on the trailer yet) , walk back to the trailer to get the 36 for the back yard. After the 36 is put away, they walk back to the 60 and put it back on the trailer. Since most front yards seem to be small, it seems obvious that you could accomplish the same thing in the same or less time with just the 36; but then you'd have to give up the "big truck, big mower" mentality.

I'm going to try a leaner approach, with just a 36 stand-on, a smaller & lighter trailer, and (heresy) a smaller tow vehicle (mostly because that's what I've got...may upgrade that later). I believe this set-up will produce as well, even when you factor in the many lawns without fences (gates) for the back yard.

Thinking of it as a "scalable" business, I believe I can outfit three crews like that for the same money as two crews with the 60/36 combo...that's potentially 50% more revenue (assuming approximately equal productivity) for the same capital investment. Even as a solo operator, I believe I'll have nearly equal productivity for several thousands of $ less capital investment.

I explained this concept to one guy who was so upset by it that I thought we were going to get into a fist-fight. (Should have kept my mouth shut!)

I used to service another (now dead) industry as a consultant, travelling to dozens of operations in 8 states. I noticed a similar phenomenon in that industry: (1) everyone was doing something either a little- or a lot different and (2) they were each convinced that theirs was the only way it could be done. Most everyone wanted to know how they could make more money; but only a minority were willing to try anything new to accomplish it.

The guys willing to try new things might lose money on some of the ideas and then make back a lot more money when they found things that worked better.

My concept is different than the local norm, but I'm willing to be wrong. In this case, it happens to be a cheaper way to start out anyway. If it turns out that THE ONLY WAY I can make money is to cart around another $8k+ machine then I'll just go get one; I'll still need the 36 in either case.

Having said all that, you can see why I love seeing your post as proof that bigger is not always better. Congratulations on your obviously successful operation. I will be thinking about it as an inspiration as I move forward.

Florida Gardener
03-10-2012, 07:13 AM
Thanks for this thread Jim Lewis. You have proven a point I have been making; basically, different stokes for different folks.

I'm still a few weeks from launching a lawn care company, but have been doing extensive research and worked last summer for two established local companies to learn the ropes. I've also talked to many equipment dealers and every lawn guy I run into out in public.

I've found a great diversity in opinions on any given topic, but one thing 75% of people agree on: each person's particular way of doing things is the only way it can be done!

For example, an operator told me adamantly that you CANNOT make money in the lawn care industry if you are not running Ferris and Redmax. Makes me feel sorry for all those Exmark/Wright/JD/Dixie Chopper/Stihl owners out there laboring away for naught.

Here (Central FL) we have hundreds of developments, tens of thousands of homes, all built in the last 30 years, all with relatively small lots. The newer/nicer (middle class) properties (target market) seem to actually have the smallest yards.

The norm is to drag around a 60" sit-down and a 36" walk-behind (with/without velke). The 60" is for a 60-second mowing session in the front yard. Then they park it in the shade (can't put it back on the trailer yet) , walk back to the trailer to get the 36 for the back yard. After the 36 is put away, they walk back to the 60 and put it back on the trailer. Since most front yards seem to be small, it seems obvious that you could accomplish the same thing in the same or less time with just the 36; but then you'd have to give up the "big truck, big mower" mentality.

I'm going to try a leaner approach, with just a 36 stand-on, a smaller & lighter trailer, and (heresy) a smaller tow vehicle (mostly because that's what I've got...may upgrade that later). I believe this set-up will produce as well, even when you factor in the many lawns without fences (gates) for the back yard.

Thinking of it as a "scalable" business, I believe I can outfit three crews like that for the same money as two crews with the 60/36 combo...that's potentially 50% more revenue (assuming approximately equal productivity) for the same capital investment. Even as a solo operator, I believe I'll have nearly equal productivity for several thousands of $ less capital investment.

I explained this concept to one guy who was so upset by it that I thought we were going to get into a fist-fight. (Should have kept my mouth shut!)

I used to service another (now dead) industry as a consultant, travelling to dozens of operations in 8 states. I noticed a similar phenomenon in that industry: (1) everyone was doing something either a little- or a lot different and (2) they were each convinced that theirs was the only way it could be done. Most everyone wanted to know how they could make more money; but only a minority were willing to try anything new to accomplish it.

The guys willing to try new things might lose money on some of the ideas and then make back a lot more money when they found things that worked better.

My concept is different than the local norm, but I'm willing to be wrong. In this case, it happens to be a cheaper way to start out anyway. If it turns out that THE ONLY WAY I can make money is to cart around another $8k+ machine then I'll just go get one; I'll still need the 36 in either case.

Having said all that, you can see why I love seeing your post as proof that bigger is not always better. Congratulations on your obviously successful operation. I will be thinking about it as an inspiration as I move forward.
I'm going to pm you later.
Posted via Mobile Device

TruSomethingOrOther
03-10-2012, 08:31 AM
I can attest to the effectiveness of 21 inch commercial self propelled mowers. I use to mow only with these (actually am waiting on delivery of my first 48 inch rider). Most of the lawns I did were no more than 10k sq ft, all with gates and flower beds etc. Two guys running commercial 21's could zip in and out within half hour most times. Sometimes 20 minutes. A good chunk of my accounts were all within walking distance of each other. I planned routes accordingly and it was very profitable.

If you're going to be using 21's in any shape or form, they have to be commercial grade. When I first started I bought a yard man (was a nice model, so I thought) and had it trashed within 3 weeks. At the time I was hardly doing 25 lawns a week. I love my Snapper's now. They seen some abuse. Change the oil every 25 hours and keep'em clean, will last you a very long time.

GritCity_Nick
03-10-2012, 12:09 PM
Congratulations, man. Your set-up (logo, website, trucks) is very professional!

Your choice of the Gravely controls is very interesting to me. Usually it's impossible in my region to convince anyone to even try anything but pistol grips because that is what they are used to. It's cool that since you didn't have the "pistol grip habit", you chose something different. You'll be happy that you did, even if you never realize it!

White Gardens
03-10-2012, 12:15 PM
Looks Great Jim!

Definitively will up production on the bit bigger lawns.

I can understand why you have to use smaller mowers in your region without even reading your replies.

Not only is size of each property an issue, but I can also see weight/pulling being a factor as you've probably got some steep elevation changes when commuting to accounts.

....