What Type of Truck Should I Buy For My Lawn Care Company?

 

A question that I get all the time is, “What type of truck should I buy and what factors should I consider when purchasing trucks for my lawn care company?”

They type of truck depends on what segment of the industry you’re in…landscape, irrigation, maintenance, etc. The make of the truck is personal preference. I can’t really tell you which brand to buy.

We buy Ford primarily. When we were looking at the market between Chevy and Ford, we were able to buy Fords cheaper than Chevy. It was just easier for us to get them so, I don’t really have a personal preference on which brand is better. I personally have a Chevy truck, but our fleet is made up of Ford.

We never buy new trucks. We always buy used. I see no need to go buy new trucks in this business. They get dinged up and beat up and scratched up way too quickly to go spend that kind of money. We try to buy low mileage trucks that are older. The perfect truck for me would be a four year old truck with 30, 40 or 50 thousand miles on it.

The older the truck the better because the more valuation is lost. But, what matters most is the mileage and the maintenance. That’s what we focus on. We repaint all of our trucks as soon as we buy them. For our residential crews, we yank the beds off of our trucks and put custom built beds on them right away. We also letter all of our trucks as soon as we buy them.

Whatever we buy, in our case, we’re going to change it up anyhow so, why go spend the money to lease something or to buy something brand new that we’re going to paint and letter, change the bed on, and that’s going to get scratched up? No matter how well you try to protect your equipment, there’s just too many little things in this business that will cause damage to your trucks. Rather than suffer through the frustration of looking at your brand new truck dinged up, save a ton of money and just go buy a good low mileage used one.

I always promote the strategy of being as close to debt-free as you possibly can when you are just getting into the landscape business. Too many guys starting out in the business get excited and go buy the really big, really cool truck. They have always wanted that really impressive truck so, they justify it because now they’re going to be in the lawn and landscape business. Start out small. Start out basic.

Your goal is to make money. That’s all that matters. Make your business survive. Make it sustainable. Make a profit. That’s the goal. Make your trucks look good for your clients, but who cares about a bunch of fancy trucks or a really impressive fleet. None of that matters. All that matters is how much money you’re putting in your pocket.

From a business finance standpoint, I firmly believe the well maintained, low mileage used truck is the better way to go.

I’m not a fan of going out and buying 80, 90, 100 thousand mile trucks. There are just too many problems because you get into service breakdowns. Now, I think that could be a strategy if you wanted to go that route, as long as you bought several backup trucks as well. Just make sure they are true backups that are equipped to hold your tools and your equipment just like your production vehicles.

Keep in mind what happens when you’re down…lost productivity, lots of men sitting around on the payroll, customers dissatisfied, dropping the ball on key clients, not completing jobs on time, your reputation in the marketplace, your personal hassle factor, your personal stress factor of having to deal with it…there are just so many reasons to try to have good, well-maintained, low mileage trucks.

We buy our trucks with low mileage and we keep them well maintained into high mileages. We also maintain backup trucks. That’s our personal strategy on trucks and I have been pretty pleased with it. We’ve had a few bad apples where we made a buying mistake, even with low mileage used trucks. It happens. But it’s been pretty rare. Those rare occurrences have not offset all the benefits gained by going the route we do.

Give that some thought. See if that strategy works for you. It’s worked really well for us.

 

How Do I Price Lawn Care Services?

The question is, how do I price a yard? I am going to give you a really fast answer on how you price a yard and this will apply to the maintenance side of both residential and commercial lawns.

Let us just break it down as simple as possible. First know the turf size. You must find the gross square footage of the entire property, then measure the turf square footage. I will give you an example. Let us say you are maintaining a property that is a 20,000 square foot lot but the turf is 5,000 square feet. That means there are a lot of flower beds or has a lot of concrete. It takes time for your workers to walk from the front of the property to the back and it takes time for your staff to blow off all the concrete areas. It takes time to clean up and weed eat the grass that grows up in the cracks of the sidewalks and the concrete areas. That all still takes a lot of time. So, even though the turf is only 5,000 square feet, it is still a larger property. There is time associated with that.

Next, you need to know the relationship of time to money. And, you need to know the relationship of square footage to production speed. I get that when you are starting out, you do not know all of that. I would study the market and comparison shop. I would also have friends and family hire your competitors to find out what they charge. You can start there as you begin to learn your numbers. Then, you can begin to price so that you get the profit margin you want.

To understand your numbers, you have to measure all of your properties and track your production times. How long does it take your crew to mow it? Are you making money? Once you start to understand the relationship between production time and square footage, you start to learn how to price so that you can simply measure a lawn and know exactly what you need to charge.

An easy way to measure a lawn is by using Google Earth Pro. You can also go out and measure it with a wheel or use tax records. We then price lawn mowing, and even fertilization, by per thousand square feet.

When it gets into trimming bushes, we still eyeball a lot of stuff. I hate to admit it because even as big as we are now, we are still having our estimators look at it and eyeball it. That is not really the right way to be doing it. We are trying to move towards a system where you literally know the time it takes to trim the different bush types based on the different sizes. The estimator will simply count the different bushes, at different sizes and shapes and measure the linear square footage, and plug the numbers into a spreadsheet to calculate the time. Then, it will multiply that times your billable man hours.

When you are bidding commercial properties, you need to make sure that you put the most optimal piece of equipment on each part of the property. For example, for the large areas, how big of a rider of zero radius could you get on there? You do not want to mow the big areas with the push mower because you will never be competitive. You want the best equipment on each segment of the property. Then, know your production speed on the different types of equipment. Once you know that, you can measure your properties, apply a time to it, and then apply the man hour rate that you need to achieve your profitability.

You want to move to a systematized approach where you can hire somebody that costs you less to go out to do the counts, do the measurements, and then a computer program puts the whole thing together and spits out a bid. A lot of work is involved in getting to this point. You have to do a lot of measurements and a lot of testing. You have to have multiple personnel trim the same things and mow the same areas so that you can get your timed averages. But, this is how you become efficient and prevent costly mistakes.

In the beginning, you have to start out simple. Begin by looking at how the market is pricing, but only use it as a benchmark to learn from. Then, gain some experience and learn your numbers.