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Which lawn mower for small residential

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by DFW Area Landscaper, Feb 11, 2005.

  1. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    This is a long winded story, but I need help if anyone has the time to read.

    I am expanding from solo operation with one employee to three crews. I will no longer be doing any labor. I am in the process of trying to figure out what mowers to purchase for my new crews.

    I see crews all the time, three man and four man crews, with 21" Toro lawn mowers. Almost everyone around here runs Toros. Typically, two guys start with Toros and one guy starts with a line trimmer or edger. Before the entire lawn is mowed, one of the guys with the Toro will switch to blower duties. It's amazing how fast these crews are. I have been in e-mail contact with Justmowit and he says he had a GPS on his trucks years ago. His three man crews averaged 8 to 12 minutes per stop. I've seen some other crews in the area make similar times.

    My two man crew, using a Ferris 32, with me on the crew...we've never done a stop in 8 minutes. Only on very, very tiny lawns, like the 2,000 sq ft lawns, are we able to come close to 10 minutes. I know a lot of the problem was me. I'm old for this work and I'm slow. I also did not pay my employee in a fashion that promoted faster work.

    Anyway, Im trying to roll out a similar crew. But one thing I've noticed about bermuda grass is that it looks much better for the first two thirds of the season if you scalp it. Most services don't scalp around here. I think the reason is because most crews run 21"mowers and they're just not strong enough to scalp dense bermuda in a timely fashion. For that, the Ferris 32 is ideal.

    The problem with the Ferris 32 is that you can't turn it around 180 degrees in a timely fashion. There are other problems associated with the weight of the machine, but the biggest issue is the fact that it's a three point move to turn the thing 180 degrees. For small lawns, I'm convinced the 21"mower is the fastest. But once you get to 8,000 sq ft lawns, the Ferris is faster. It all depends on how long the stripes are. The average lawn in my area is about 4,000 sq ft...you're constantly making a 180 degree turn. For the average customer, the 21" is the best solution.

    My plan is to have my first crew continue with the Ferris 32 and they will be the ones that will scalp all the lawns. During the scalping season, the other two crews will be distributing door hangers. The other two crews will be outfitted with only 21"mowers. When we get a new account, if they show up to mow and the grass is too thick, we'll leave a note explaining that we have to come back with a more powerfull lawn mower. The next day, the crew with the 32" Ferris will show up. After that, we'll go back to the assigned crew and use 21's.

    The problem is, which 21" is the best? My dealer really dislikes the Toros, but that's the one everyone else is using around here.

    Cutting Height The problem I see with the Toros is that they will only cut 3" high. The new Honda design allows you to cut at 4". That's important with bermuda because the stuff likes to look yellow if you cut too low and cut a bunch of stem. Customers want the lawn to look green after its been mowed and with a max of 3", it ain't gonna happen after heavy rains near summer soltice.

    Speed of pace The Toro will travel at a slightly faster pace. The biggest problem with the Honda is the cable that controls the pace. On mine, the cable is not adjusted correctly so even at the fastest setting, it's still real slow. I tried playing with the cable for 45 minutes one day, but I wasn't able to make the thing go as fast as it was when it was new. A few days later, it was back to the real slow pace.

    Blade Strength/Force On my Honda 21", when I'm in deep, succulent grass, the blade will stop. The engine doesn't die, but the blade stops and if I leave the blade engaged, it'll start smoking. It seems like to me that there is horse power available in the engine that is not making it to the blade. I have to tip the machine over and remove grass from the underside. On the Toros, there is no way to disengage the blade. I think the blade on the Toros is connected directly to the engine's crankshaft. It just stands to reason that with nothing in between the crankshaft and the engine, it ought to fair better with deep, succulent grass. Maybe I'm way off here. My dealer insists the Toro is no stronger than the Honda. My gut feeling tells me otherwise.

    I'm primarily interested in other's feedback with regards to speed of pace and blade strength on these two 21's. I can't afford to make the wrong decision here. Four of these machines are gonna cost me four grand, plus sales tax.

    DFW Area Landscaper
  2. MacLawnCo

    MacLawnCo LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,847

    this has nothing to do with your equipment, but do you realize the cash requirements you are going to need to grow that fast? wow.
  3. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    ++++this has nothing to do with your equipment, but do you realize the cash requirements you are going to need to grow that fast?++++

    Yup. I was amazed when I started putting the budget together. Three trucks. Two more trialers. Spray rig. Pre-paid storage. Pre-paid yellow pages. Pre-paid insurance. Lettering. Uniforms. Equipment. Door hangers. Door hanger distribution. The list goes on and on.

    To make the leap, I have to risk 80 grand. The only part of that I can get back if this fails is by selling the used trucks and maybe the trailers. I'd probably never find a buyer for the lawn equipment.

    Very scary. But I have the capital and I can't stand the thought of a failed business. What I've been doing for the first two years is clearly a failure. But I'm optmistic that if I work on the business instead of in the business, I will be successful.

    DFW Area Landscaper
  4. alpine692003

    alpine692003 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,502

    DFW - I am doing the similiar as well.. What I do is this and it works, but I wont be in and out in 8-12mins, its more like 20mins.

    I will have a mowing crew with 2 people only. I will make sure the routes are in the same area within 10km's with each other, I organize so the same day's I have they are in that certain city.

    Then I have a mowing guy and a line trimmer and edger guy.. the mowing guy then blows everything off while the line/edge guy will cleanup.

    I run 21" honda commercial mowers..
  5. Mueller Landscape Inc

    Mueller Landscape Inc LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 489


    Hondas have been great mowers for me for the past 15 years. I tried Toro for a brief time 12 years ago but went back to the Honda HRC's. Now Honda is come out with a redesigned HRC that has 2 blades for mulching. Also, Exmark is coming out with their 26 inch Metro. I will be trying this mower as soon as my dealer gets one. I agree for small yards the maneuverability of a 21 rear-bag will beat a 32 any day because of turns. I am hoping the Exmark 26 might be the best of both worlds for small lawns.
  6. Fareway Lawncare

    Fareway Lawncare LawnSite Silver Member
    from Canada
    Posts: 2,222

    I agree w/you about the Turning of the Ferris 32"....Also No Mulch Kit...just a Block-Off Plate.

    If you're not doing the labour ----->21" Mowers<-----will give the Least Headaches.

    I'm either going w/the New Honda HRC's...The Old HRC's are Nothing but Boat Anchors...or The New 26" Metro...or Possibly 21" Kaw/Prolines Again.
  7. jtkplc

    jtkplc LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,646

  8. Toy2

    Toy2 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,924


    It doesen't sound like your past two years were a failure, your still here, and I'm sure you fed your family, etc...

    80 grad is alot of jack, I'm stressing and I only have about 10 so far without customers. My full time job making 60 grand ended when the boss found out I wanted to start my own business!! he was nice enough to pay me though the 18th of this month, go figure!

    Keep your chin up and go with your gut feeling. :)
  9. marko

    marko LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 963

    I used Toro commercial 21" (2 cycle) and had minor dragging problems during Bermuda green up in Amarillo Texas, but not a real big deal. I mowed at 3" but the weather is a bit different there than the metroplex.

    I would learn from Justmowit and follow his tried methods (he uses Toro 6.5 hp). For it to work properly, You must concentrate on mowing only. As he said in the past, he is already in your area, and you probably cant compete with him on price (his customers are not going to change to you unless they are upset with his service, or want the same person doing all the work), so you might want to try to capture the clients he is leaving behind by not fertilizing, or aerating, etc. Alot of customers want the impression that the same company is doing all the work. Not company A doing the mowing, B doing the applications, and C aerating/vertical mowing. You could have your crews doing the mowing and you can handle the apps and aerating. Sell the fact that your company will be on site every week and not 4 - 7 times a year like other companies. I am sure he is missing customers by not offering anything but mowing and flower bed work. A thought might be to rent another 36" to get your scalping done as soon as possible on all your accounts.
    I would get the Toro w/ 6.5hp. I just bought one (non BBS) for $899. I am also putting his theory to work up here in Chicago. Against my better judgment, I am also aerating, and since my insurance is the same whether I mow or mow and apply chemicals, I am starting out at least with fert/weed control apps for my mowing customers. I figured aeration would want overseed and starter fertilizer. This will help the cash flow this first year. I might just mow next year if all goes well. I will be adding employees as needed during the year with alot of advertising until April, then advertising every 6 weeks in the same neighborhood. Good luck and keep us posted.
  10. marko

    marko LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 963

    DFW, another thought. Why buy new trucks? Why buy Trailers? (3) decent 2000 or 2001 chevy 4 cyl pickups for $15,000 and the trailer (beds) for $5,000 like justmowit?

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