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Rental Solution
Small Machines Come Up Big

Versatility and productivity in one package

By Larry Trojack

Boxer mini-skid steer

Less physical strain, better productivity and a wide range of attachments make mini-skid steers a smart option in a rental center's fleet. 

With a mini-skid steer and an arsenal of available attachments, landscape and tree-care professionals can boost productivity and efficiency while minimizing risk.

Your landscape contractor, site clearing and tree-care professional customers can face physically demanding projects. Feeding a chipper or moving debris onsite, workers are continually lifting heavy loads, which can result in injury. To reduce such risk, many tree-care firms have opted to mechanize that facet of the job, employing the use of innovative tools such as the mini-skid steer. When equipped with any of the scores of available attachments, these small but effective machines can dramatically improve site safety, efficiency and productivity. The result, your contractor customers are finding, is a reduction in workers’ compensation claims, an ability to optimize work crews and an overall smoother operation.

No strain, no claim
Though the amount of weight a person can lift on the job is not regulated, general guidelines say that a male worker should lift no more than 50 pounds and guidelines for female workers suggest lifts of no more than 35 pounds. According to Jason Showers, Boxer products manager for U.S.-based Morbark, Inc., the machines and their attachments can play a huge role in meeting these and other demands. “It doesn’t take much to get to 50 pounds when you’re feeding a chipper, especially when you’re handling the solid log end of it; a good-sized piece of pre-split firewood would easily weigh that.”

If your customers are clearing a site, maintaining utility rights of way or tackling landscape projects that include tree removal, they may be dealing with logs more than four feet long and a foot or so in diameter. That can wear on any crew.

While there are other options available to the worker to minimize some of that manual labor—log carts or dollies, for example—those units involve a good deal of cumbersome hand-carting, and the material still has to be lifted to load either into a chipper or onto a trailer.

Which is where mini-skid steers offer a convenient and productive solution, Showers notes. “By comparison, a worker can bring a grapple-equipped mini-skid into the yard, pick up the log, take it out and either feed the chipper or load it onto a trailer for disposal. With tracks rather than tires, coupled with the unit’s low ground pressure, you can virtually eliminate any deep marks in customers’ lawns.”

Leading by example
Mini-skid’s benefits seem to multiply with each available attachment. For Brian Jarzynka, owner of Quality Tree Care in West Chicago, Ill., and user of a Boxer Model 532DX mini-skid, the unit has dramatically changed the way he does business today.

“There is so much I am doing better, safer and with a smaller crew than ever before. For example, on a recent project that involved taking down and chipping 50 trees on a customer’s lot, we did it with just me, the machine and one man to run the chipper. In the past that would have easily been a five-man job. So the savings in payroll alone are significant. But when you factor in how much quicker we were able to do it and the fact that there is no risk of a lift-related injury, it’s really invaluable.”

In working with your customers, pointing out that they may see reduced headcount needs per job site is a key benefit. Another, according to Showers, is that those who are on the project should see reduced physical strain that, in turn, can mean fewer days off, fewer injury claims and better employee retention. Contractors explain that using mini-skid steers to make projects less labor intensive helps them keep people who might otherwise have moved on. “It’s an attractive incentive” for them to have, Showers adds.

Compact and comfortable
Jarzynka says there are two features of the Boxer 532DX that stand out as particularly important to him: the unit’s ride-on design and its retractable tracks, both of which have already paid repeated dividends.

“I’ve had jobs where it was 300 feet or more from the debris pile to our chipper. While that doesn’t seem like a long distance, making that trip over and over again throughout the course of a day—while hauling brush and logs—can get exhausting. In areas where it is muddy, it’s just that much worse. Many smaller machines are walk-behinds, but being able to ride on the back of the Boxer makes a world of difference at the end of the day.”

As to the machine’s variable-width profile, Jarzynka says that he’s been on jobs in which he worked alongside companies running a full-size skid steer and saw that size really does matter.

“On one job, the back yard where the brush pile was located was fenced in, and while it was impossible for that skid steer to make it back there, I simply retracted the tracks and easily fit through the 36-inch gate opening. Hauling material out was a snap; that’s a great feature to have.”

All about versatility
Versatility helps rental centers – and your customers – earn more value from a machine. Showers says the Boxer line has one of the broadest attachments offerings—more than 50 —available today. For tree-care professionals that choice includes a log grapple with a choice of mechanical or hydraulic rotation, a brush grapple, a scrap grapple, tree forks, a tree spade, a stump grinder and more.

“There is also a newly introduced tree and shrub grapple, which is designed to remove 1-inch to 2-inch saplings—with the entire root ball,” says Showers, shown using the Boxer on the top of page 24. “We recently gave that attachment a test run at the home of one of our employees and removed about 200 3-inch to 4-inch diameter Autumn Olive trees in about 2 ½ hours. We were very impressed.”

Jarzynka says that he is maximizing his ROI through the use of attachments and has found that it has also opened up new avenues for profit. He uses forks, a tooth bucket, line material bucket and a brush mower. “Each attachment has proven itself time and time again. In addition, I’ve also started planting trees as part of my services. In the past, if people wanted a tree planted, I had to turn that business down because I simply didn’t have a way to handle a 300- to 500-pound tree. Now, using the Boxer and a set of forks, it’s easy—and profitable—to do so.”

While this Rental Solution focuses on a tree-care/landscape contractor, the range of uses and the viability for your rental center’s customer base depends on the attachments. “Really, depending on the tools deployed, there are a wide range of uses” for this category of equipment, Showers says. Auger drives, auger bits, trenchers and buckets are standards for most rental fleets, he adds. From there, take a look at the 50-some attachments you can acquire to better leverage an investment in compact utility loaders and serve more customers’ needs.

“For rental centers it’s obviously all about the utilization rate. The traction unit – the compact utility loader base unit - provides the power a rental customer needs” with the rental center then providing guidance on getting the right attachment to efficiently accomplish whatever task the contractor is working to complete, Showers says.

Vibratory plows, back hoes, scrap grapple, hydraulic breakers . . . there are a wide range to fit the job that needs to be done. With a compact utility loader the main advantage is its size - the ability to get into tight spaces. “Rental centers recognize that they may get less revenue for this rental compared to the smallest full-size skid steer, but you pay less up front for acquisition. With the capacities of modern mini-skid steers and the variety of attachments available, you’ll really be able to provide a range of solutions for a variety of contractors,” Showers says. Which, of course, helps ensure that they are a profitable part of your fleet.

“Lifting capacity, ratings, hydraulic outputs “have increased immensely over the past five years,” Showers explains, recommending that you take a look at all of what’s available – with the ranges in horsepower and capacities. “They really can handle a lot of tasks and handle them very well.”

For some applications, he adds, a dedicated machine may be the best solution for your contractor customers. The company, for example, has introduced a dedicated trencher. “In some situations you’ll want to consider a dedicated unit specifically designed to accomplish the task being completed. Where a mini-skid steer is designed to host a variety of attachments with varying hydraulic outputs, a dedicated unit is designed to perform a specific function to more efficiently complete the job.”

Larry Trojak is president and owner of Trojak Communications, a Minnesota-based marketing communications company. He has written extensively for the construction, forestry, demolition, recycling and survey industries.

Originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals. Copyright 2014 Direct Business Media.

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