Spreader and Sprayer Maintenance

Spring application time is just around the corner. Is your application equipment ready to go? Here are some guidelines on what should be done to make sure your spreaders and sprayers are ready.

CLEVELAND – Spring application time is just around the corner. Is your application equipment ready to go? Here are some guidelines on what should be done to make sure your spreaders and sprayers are ready for spring.

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Rotary Spreaders

1. Check all the bearings and/or bushings, including the axle bearings/bushings, impeller shaft support and agitator shaft support. Replace the bearings and/or bushings if they appear to be worn or seized.

2. Inspect the gear set. Is there excessive wear on the gear teeth? When the axle is rotated, do the gear teeth make proper contact? Replace the gear set if wear is detected.

3. Inspect the impeller. Remove any buildup of product on the impeller. Check the impeller for wear and replace if necessary. Also check the agitator cam.

4. Check and adjust the shut-off plate to ensure proper operation. A sticking shut-off plate could alter product distribution rates, causing non-performance or plant injury.

5. Lubricate grease fittings. If the spreader is equipped with grease fittings, these points should be lubricated frequently to expel dirt and moisture from the bearing/bushing areas.

6. Check spreader calibration. Refer to operating instructions for proper calibrator adjustment. Remember the importance of properly calibrated equipment.

A properly maintained and calibrated rotary spreader, operated by qualified applicators, will produce excellent application results.

Poly and Fiberglass Sprayers

1. Inspect the tank, all suction and high pressure hoses and hose fittings. Repair or replace any component showing any sign of leakage. Clean the strainer assembly and replace the seat and/or strainer screen as needed.

2. Service the engine. Start the new season with new oil. Drain the oil and replace with 10W40 motor oil with service classification SE or SF. Oil changes are recommended every 50 hours (25 hours under heavy load or in high ambient temperatures) during the season. Check and replace the engine air filter as necessary. Follow the maintenance procedures found in the operating and maintenance instruction furnished with the sprayer.

3. Service the pump. Change the oil in the pump and replace the piston and accumulator/diaphragms before starting a new season. While replacing the diaphragms, inspect the pump valves and the general condition of all pump components. Check the damper diaphragm for signs of cracking and replace if necessary.

4. Inspect the V-belts and agitator assembly. On fiberglass units only, inspect the conditions of all the V-belts and adjust or replace if needed. Grease and adjust packing to assure trouble-free operation. Check the condition of the agitator assembly. Repair or replace any loose or worn components.

5. Inspect spray guns, wands and booms. Replace spray tips that show signs of wear. Rebuild or replace any spray attachments that leak.

The above inspection and maintenance procedures will help ensure a trouble-free application season.

Courtesy of LescoNews, Vol. 38 No. 1.

PLCAA recently polled a cross section of its members to get their responses and reactions to the recent, and radical, increases in fuel charges. Here are the results.

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MARIETTA, Ga. – The Professional Lawn Care Association of America recently polled a cross section of its members to get their responses and reactions to the recent, and radical, increases in fuel charges.

Three questions were formulated to elicit member response to this issue. These questions, which provided room for response, were faxed to several Regular (lawn/landscape company) PLCAA members on Feb. 28. With 146 respondents, PLCAA provided the following summary and evaluation of the responses in its March 2000 Member Bulletin.

Question 1

Do you plan to add a temporary fuel surcharge to your customer invoices to offset rising gas prices?

No: 84% – Yes: 16%

Very lopsided results to say the least. Reasons for not imposing a surcharge followed a similar theme. In many responses, PLCAA members noted that they had already mailed contracts or renewal letters for 2000, and changing those now would undermine customer confidence. Others also cited tough competition, especially at this time of the year, as a reason for not imposing a surcharge. Many members had already implemented a general price increase for the year and did not feel justified in adding to that, even temporarily. Others noted that seasonal pre-pays were already coming in, and imposing a fuel surcharge would require the LCO to “go back” and ask for more money.

Two real significant responses stood out among the many received. One was the statement that gas expense was not a significant expense, especially for chemical lawn care operators. This may not be the case for mowing maintenance contractors or for those who regularly pull trailers, but a large number of PLCAA members simply did not consider fuel price increases important enough to jeopardize customer goodwill.

Second was the opinion, voiced again and again, that the radical increase in fuel prices was a temporary situation which would self-correct over time.

Question 2

Do you plan to raise prices across the board to offset rising gas prices?

No: 56% – Yes: 44%

Here there was a more balanced response. Those answering yes, in many cases, have already done so for any number of reasons. In most cases, prices are raised on a regular basis simply acknowledging regular increases in the cost of doing business. This “annual” adjustment in price seems to be somewhat of a trend in many parts of the country. In other cases, the PLCAA members cited increases in the cost of labor and insurance as their reason for raising prices rather than taking that course of action in response to fuel prices.

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Those PLCAA members not having an overall price increase most frequently stated that because they chose not to raise prices at the first of the year, doing so now was simply too late. Others again cited an extremely competitive market as their primary reason for not raising prices. Some did state that they would consider raising prices quoted to new customers rather than try to increase prices to older accounts.

One thing was very clear in all responses to Question #2. That is how absolutely “locked-in” we all believe we are to prices quoted at the beginning of the year. Virtually every comment reflected the belief that a lawn care company cannot raise customer prices once set for the year. No doubt, this reflects the service nature of our business in which we believe that such service is continuous, from treatment to treatment and year to year. Thus, once the customer commits to continuing service “the next year,” we feel an obligation to perform that service at the agreed upon price for that year. Indeed, in 21 years in the industry, I [author of the article, Bob Andrews] have only heard of two cases in which an LCO raised prices in mid-season. In both instances, those increases were met with such a firestorm of protest that they were quickly withdrawn.

Question 3

If you don’t plan to raise prices or add a fuel surcharge, what if anything do you plan to do to offset rising gas prices?

Here, PLCAA’s poll yielded some answers that should have been expected from those who have demonstrated the creativity to build their own businesses.

Some members indicated they would raise prices on add-on or extra services that were not part of the contracted or agreed upon annual lawn treatment prices. In this vein, others indicated they would add new services to their menu in order to sell more things to the same customer, hopefully offsetting increased costs of operating. Many members indicated they would take a closer look at their routing in order to reduce fuel consumption and, thus, fuel costs.

In other responses, PLCAA members stated they would increase the response time for service estimates and service requests so that they could “bunch” such requests and reduce redundant drive time. Clearly, one way to reduce fuel costs is to increase your customer count in routes already served rather than going out even further into outlying markets.

The results of the PLCAA poll on fuel surcharges show that the increase in fuel prices, although unwelcome and unexpected, is largely looked upon as another bump in the road for LCOs.

Courtesy of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America’s March 2000 Member Bulletin.

Bob Andrews is the owner of The Greenskeeper, Inc., Carmel, Ind., with more than 20 years in the industry. Andrews, a past president of PLCAA, is also an independent consultant for the association.

Mention the words “franchise opportunity” in the lawn care industry and the names that usually come to mind are Lawn Doctor, SpringGreen, Weed Man, Scotts Lawn Service and TruGreen-ChemLawn.

Spreader and Sprayer MaintenanceMention the words “franchise opportunity” in the lawn care industry and the names that usually come to mind are Lawn Doctor, SpringGreen, Weed Man, Scotts Lawn Service and TruGreen-ChemLawn. A new name may soon be entering that mix – Let’s Landscape (together) Inc. (LLTI).

LLTI is a Toronto-based chain of landscape design, supply and installation outlets in business since 1995. With a current operation of six southern Ontario, Canada, locations, LLTI’s retail and service franchises offer products and professional services to residential and commercial customers year-round. Of the six outlets, five are owned and operated by independent franchise owners, and the sixth is owned and operated by the corporation.

LLTI outlets, known as landscape design centers, cater to both do-it-yourselfers and those customers seeking professionals to do the work. The centers offer a variety of services, including landscaping, hardscaping, lighting, irrigation, interiorscaping and even Christmas decorating. These services set LLTI design centers apart from regular garden centers. Charles Vickers, LLTI president and director of franchises, explained, “Garden centers of today handle retail and wholesale but don’t have the option of having services done for the consumer.” To provide this unique selling point, the stores require a knowledgeable staff that is capable of a wide variety of landscaping techniques. Therefore, LLTI stores are managed and staffed by experienced landscape designers and skilled tradesmen to ensure that customers receive proper landscaping advice, products, services and prices. The company is currently expanding into the United States and is looking for more of these professionals willing to incorporate their businesses into retail and service outlets.

LLTI is opening its first U.S. outlet in North Carolina later this year, tentatively slated for opening within 30 to 60 days. The North Carolina location has been created by incorporating an established landscaping business into an LLTI design center. LLTI also has ambitious plans to open an additional 200 such retail storefront locations. “Let’s Landscape (together) has aggressive expansion plans for our franchise network. With a base of established franchisees in the southern Ontario marketplace, Let’s has a goal of expansion to every major market in North America within five years,” said Vickers. According to a release by the company, the additional locations will consist of 2 percent of the available market.

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Franchising interest has already been sparked by LLTI’s plans to further expand into the U.S. market. “We are very busy qualifying a very large number of Internet lead requests generated from the recent stock market activity, these inquiries come from over 30 different states expressing interest in opening a Let’s Landscape (together) display center,” said Vickers.

Spreader and Sprayer MaintenanceWHY FRANCHISE? The appeal of becoming a franchisee often is attributed to the recognition that arises from using a known name on vehicles, equipment and apparel. “A contractor can gain national notoriety overnight,” explained Vickers. The benefits of being a part of a corporation also motivate one’s consideration of starting a franchise business, especially the relief from marketing a business all on one’s own. Among the benefits LLTI lists to contractors interested in exploring this opportunity are:

  • Distancing their companies from others in the local community.
  • Expanding on current landscape contracting businesses by offering landscape design services.
  • Gaining the benefit of national advertising campaigns.
  • Full ownership of the business.
  • Creating stable, year-round employment for landscape employees.
  • Meeting with other franchised locations to share ideas.

Vickers said that an established landscaping business can open an LLTI franchise to quickly switch from a seasonal to a year-round business, supplying products as well as services. Understanding the concern many landscapers have about making money during the off season, Vickers said an advantage of an LLTI franchise is the ability to sell products and services, such as Christmas decorating, during traditional slow times.

In addition to the name recognition of being a franchise business and year-round services, Vickers also attributes word-of-mouth and completed jobs as advantages to franchising. “Another thing the franchise image offers is that people who buy in the residential community often influence the commercial properties in choosing services,” he said.

SELECTING FRANCHISEES. Naturally, LLTI doesn’t just pick anyone at will to own and operate a franchise. The company requires that all franchisees adhere to the company’s standards for service. Therefore, the company performs evaluations of potential franchisees to make sure they are up to the task. These evaluations include checking a contractor’s quality of work and reliability of services, as well as making sure the contractor carries his own insurance and is experienced in the types of jobs that are offered by the design centers. LLTI will also visit a few of the sites a contractor has worked on and possibly interview customers to get an accurate description of job quality. “We want to be finding the right people rather than just finding people,” explained Vickers.

“We have established our business policy to suit qualified individuals who are financially able to develop and own one or more of our specialized franchised Let’s Landscape (together) locations,” continued Vickers. “This opportunity should be of special interest to applicants who have landscaping experience and of particular interest to existing landscape contractors wishing to expand on their natural industry knowledge and capturing a much larger market share of this growing market.”

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INTERNET PLANS. In addition to its retail expansion plans, LLTI intends to add a developed Internet site to the mix. According to a release by LLTI, the initial launch efforts for the site include “developing and hosting a web-based landscape and horticulture community dedicated to the furtherance of the landscape and horticulture enthusiasts’ self expression.” Development of this community is scheduled to include discussion forums, online educational services and a network of product and service brokers, which will supply and service online customers within their local or regional franchised areas.

To drive revenue on the web site, the company is exploring spot and banner advertising by product manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, preferred supplier fees charged to partners who qualify as regional primary suppliers of products and materials, online design and project management services, and traditional mark-up on delivery of landscape products and materials. Scheduled to launch in midsummer, LLTI is also adding an e-commerce component, known as the Home and Garden Shopping Cart, for the online purchase of design, project management, landscape materials and installation services.

According to Vickers, both “brick & mortar” offices and virtual offices will be established to work together to service a wide variety of retail- and consumer-based customers. Information sharing is slated to be one of the most useful benefits to those customers. The information sharing is already in place at LLTI design centers with the professional staffing, but plans to bring the same service to the Internet include adding discussion forums as one of the forthcoming web site developments. Vickers said dialogue among professionals and between professionals and do-it-yourselfers will be a valuable resource to the entire network of LLTI web site users. To further assist franchise operators, LLTI is also planning to develop an Intranet, which will include online help and administration support.

According to a release by LLTI, industry sources for 1998 show that the landscape and horticulture markets generate $25 billion per annum in the U.S. and that the niche landscape market generates an additional $14 billion per annum. Canadian revenue for a combined industry of landscape, horticulture and garden centers is valued at more than $10 billion, according to the release. (Note: All figures in U.S. dollars.)

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For more information about LLTI visit the company’s web site at www.letslandscapetogether.com, or e-mail Charles Vickers at livingcornerofficial@gmail.com

The author is Internet Editor of Lawn & Landscape Online.

Images provided courtesy of Let’s Landscape (together) Inc.

Americans plan to invest more money to fix up their homes through landscaping and other projects this year, according to the fifth annual American Express Retail Index on home improvement.

NEW YORK – Americans plan to invest more money to fix up their homes through landscaping and other projects this year, according to the fifth annual American Express Retail Index on home improvement. The 2000 survey found that household budgets for home improvement projects outpaced the nation’s economy, rising to an average of $2,888, a 5 percent gain over 1999.

Among the top planned home improvement or decorating projects are landscaping, with 34 percent of respondents planning this project, and gardening (29 percent). Other home improvement projects included in the survey are interior decorating, cited by 43 percent of respondents, renovation/remodeling (35 percent) and mandatory maintenance (26 percent). Among these categories, landscaping and gardening projects showed the largest increases of 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, over the 1999 index results.

A closer look at the past five years of data from the retail index, which is compiled from a national, random survey of more than 900 consumers, shows an up/down trend in landscaping and gardening. The percent of respondents planning these projects is high one year, down the next, then back up the next year. This year is an up year as the index for 2000 is the highest in the survey’s five-year history. The following list shows the percentages of people performing landscaping and gardening projects over the past five years:

  • 2000 – Landscaping: 34 percent; Gardening: 29 percent
  • 1999 – Landscaping: 23 percent; Gardening: 19 percent
  • 1998 – Landscaping: 29 percent; Gardening: 27 percent
  • 1997 – Landscaping: 19 percent; Gardening: 16 percent
  • 1996 – Landscaping: 23 percent; Gardening: 25 percent

While the number of Americans planning home improvement projects remained steady at 39 percent, the survey found that more Americans are undertaking multiple projects, as well as those which require bigger budgets, such as landscaping and kitchen and bathroom remodeling. In addition, the survey revealed that spending on the home is a common expense for most consumers.

“In many parts of the country, the tight housing market makes it difficult for consumers to purchase a new home. Therefore, home improvement takes on an even greater priority,” said Valerie Soranno, vice president and general manager, American Express. “And, as the economic boom moves into its ninth consecutive year, updating and improving their homes has become a part of consumers’ everyday lives.”

“Change in personal taste” was the main reason for tackling larger home improvement projects for 50 percent of respondents. Other reasons given include: mandatory maintenance (32 percent), a desire to increase their home’s resale value (9 percent) and the need for more space (7 percent).

Additionally, the survey found that 72 percent of consumers said they planned to handle home improvement projects on their own, up from 67 percent in 1999. [NOTE: This statistic includes all of the home improvement projects listed.] To find the needed materials, 65 percent said they would shop at home improvement stores, including Lowe’s and Home Depot. Other shopping destinations include: hardware stores (19 percent), department stores (16 percent), gardening stores/nurseries (13 percent), lumber yards (11 percent), home decorating stores (10 percent), specialty shops (9 percent) and home furnishings stores (8 percent).

Survey results show that 79 percent of Americans plan to pay for their home improvement projects with cash, up from 69 percent in 1999. Other popular ways to finance home projects include tax refunds (15 percent), credit/charge cards (13 percent), home improvement loans (9 percent), a company bonus (6 percent), mortgage re-financing (2 percent) and family loans (2 percent). With the exception of cash, all other payment categories remained level with 1999.

The Toro Company announced today that Exmark Manufacturing Company, Inc., a subsidiary of Toro based in Beatrice, Neb., has settled patent infringement claims it alleged against Ransomes Inc.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The Toro Company announced today that Exmark Manufacturing Company, Inc., a subsidiary of Toro based in Beatrice, Neb., has settled patent infringement claims it alleged against Ransomes Inc., a subsidiary of Textron Inc. Toro, Exmark and Ransomes are all manufacturers of professional turf care and lawn maintenance equipment.

Exmark filed the suit in September 1999, claiming the mowing deck lift feature of certain Bob-Cat® branded zero-turn riding rotary mowers produced by Ransomes Inc. infringed on U.S. Patent No. 5,816,033. However, at the time the suit was filed, Ransomes had already redesigned the lift mechanism and is currently manufacturing these Bob-Cat® mowers with this non-infringing lift. Both parties have agreed to settle the matter for $125,600.

Exmark said it initially filed suit as part of Toro’s corporate policy to vigorously defend the intellectual and patent rights of its products.

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