Industry experts from major commercial mower manufacturers agree that the biggest challenges this year for mowing professionals in the landscape and grounds maintenance industries will be supply chain issues, rising fuel costs, higher prices across the board, and, of course, the continued shortage of labor.
“The industry was facing a worker shortage prior to the pandemic due to a variety of factors, including challenges getting enough H-2B visas,” said David Dwight, director, Briggs & Stratton – Turf and Consumer Products Group (Ferris Mowers). “The pandemic further limited the overall available labor and challenged contractors to find new ways to maintain and grow their businesses.”
“Finding reliable employees continues to be tough, especially for a seasonal business,” said Brad Unruh, director of new product development, Stanley Black & Decker Outdoor (Hustler Turf).
Added Steven Benedict, turf care product line manager, Kioti Tractor, “With fewer landscaping professionals entering and remaining in the field alongside heightened customer demand, having reliable and efficient equipment has never been more critical.”
According to Josh Sooy, director of the professional business segment for Cub Cadet, contractors and municipalities impacted by labor shortages are looking for solutions and equipment that can help increase the efficiency and productivity of their operations. This includes exploring viable autonomous technologies and continuing to invest in stand-on mowers.
Ron Scheffler, senior product manager, Doosan Bobcat North America (Bobcat, Ryan and Steiner) added that landscapers should identify products that will best help their needs. “For example, which commercial mower will allow me to clean my equipment quickly, make standard maintenance updates as fast as I can, and overall, be the most efficient product for my business,” he said. “It’s certainly a challenge to have an increase in business combined with a labor shortage, so the name of the game is versatility, productivity and efficiency.”
“One of the best ways operators can combat labor challenges is to have a partner in their dealership,” said Chad Carney, go to market manager, B2B PLC segment, John Deere.
Carney added that dealers who take the time to truly get to know their customers and understand their needs become a go-to resource for their customers, ensuring that the customer will be loyal to that dealer for years to come.
According to Grant Wilson, product director, Gravely and Angie Ansorge, product manager, Gravely, landscapers are having a hard time finding the right machines or parts for their equipment. As a result, they recommend keeping extra parts on hand.
“The biggest challenges that commercial mowing professionals are facing, and will continue to face, this year are the supply chain issues that began in 2021,” said Unruh. “We recommend ordering early and often and staying in regular communication with their dealers to help estimate shipping times.”
“There isn’t a manufacturer or professional landscape business that hasn’t been impacted by supply chain issues and labor shortages,” said Jared Nuessen, marketing manager at Toro. “We anticipate the constrained supply environment will resolve over time and are working hard to mitigate any impact on our professional contractor customers. In the meantime, be proactive when it comes to maintaining parts inventory to ensure you always have what you need on hand. While there may not be an issue sourcing a particular product or part currently, keeping a well-stocked inventory will help you avoid issues down the road.”
Exmark Director of Marketing, Jamie Briggs, added that contractors may not be able to find the exact model of equipment they have purchased in the past, and may have to purchase an alternative model with different features or specifications. “As contractors go to purchase, they should expect to pay higher prices this year,” Briggs added. “Landscape contractors will need to figure out how to adjust their business strategies to manage through the inflation.”
Said Mark Krakowiak, product marketing manager, professional products, Stanley Black & Decker (DeWalt), “Plan to purchase your new products early in the season along with service and wear parts well before you will need them. Given current supply chain challenges, if you are considering any new purchases for your business, it is best to buy as soon as possible.”
Wilson and Ansorge echoed those thoughts, stating that prices of the machines will continue to rise, so purchasing new mowers sooner rather than later will provide significant savings.
Said Dwight, “When it’s time to think about replacing a piece of equipment or adding equipment to meet growing demand, contractors should start that conversation with their dealer partner sooner than they have in the past to ensure that the unit they want is available when they need it.”
Dwight added that another challenge landscapers face is keeping up on ever-changing local, state and federal regulations or even rules from homeowners’ associations that impact the industry.
“Working with state and national trade associations is often a smart way for contractors to understand and be aware of the new rules and how to stay in compliance, but also a good way to make sure their voice is heard as these rules and regulations are being made,” he said.
Said Tony Buxton, senior product manager for Milwaukee Tool, “We are quickly seeing an increase in requirements around using low-noise and emission-free equipment in municipalities across the United States, as well as properties like hospitals, resorts, and businesses. With an eye to the future, landscape maintenance companies have started to adopt battery-powered equipment. Walk-behind mowers are a great supplement to ride-on mowers for accessing tight areas, and investing in battery-powered solutions will allow landscaping companies to stay head of emerging requirements. Through utilizing a combination of gas and battery-powered equipment, the professional market is gaining an understanding of how battery technology can benefit them now and in the future.”
According to David Bush, senior marketing strategist, general purpose engines and industrial products, Honda Powersports & Products Group, despite the business challenges industry professionals face, it’s important to expect the unexpected and look for equipment that is efficient, reliable and quiet that can maximize productivity and return on investment.
“The commercial landscape market also benefits from increased innovation and development of equipment and tools,” said Bush. “It therefore comes as no surprise that outdoor power product owners remain focused both on how to get the most value from their equipment and how to most effectively complete outdoor landscaping maintenance and projects.”
According to Bush, landscape industry professionals remain on the lookout for ways to make their businesses and operations more environmentally friendly. “This means that fuel-efficient and lower-emissions products are proving to be attractive, along with battery-powered products,” he said.
Said Nuessen, “Business agility and efficiency has never been a stronger theme, and in 2022 business owners will need to have laser focus on this. Budget-conscious landscape contractors should be taking advantage of recent technology advances that can increase productivity and free up crew members.”
Added Benedict, “Landscaping professionals should look for mowers that allow them to be efficient and effective on the jobsite. To ensure quality results, they should consider a variety of factors in their mowers, including user comfort, ease of use and high machine uptime.”
“It’s important for contractors to evaluate their equipment needs and buy as quickly as possible,” said Briggs. “They may need to be more flexible in terms of the features, powerplants and models they buy to ensure they get their new equipment on a timely basis. In addition, landscape contractors should strive to make the most of their existing equipment. This means staying on top of scheduled maintenance and replacement of worn parts.”
Unruh recommends looking for mowers that are affordable, durable, and ergonomically designed to ensure comfort, and come standard with a manufacturer warranty. “Landscapers can even go as far as checking the stock at their local dealers – if dealers carry a brand’s full product line, it can be more convenient to purchase most or all equipment from one location,” he said. “The convenience factor also applies to mower/equipment maintenance; keeping all business at one trusted dealer will save time and resources for the landscaper during and after the sale.”
Carney agreed, adding that the deciding factor when purchasing a mower can often be the relationship you form, the support you receive, and the dealership service you obtain that makes the difference in the brand you choose.
Added Buxton, “When selecting a walk-behind mower, professionals should consider their power level needs, runtime requirements, and potential regulations within the areas where they work.”
“Landscapers should review the products personally to ensure that the equipment will be able to work as hard as they do,” said Scheffler. “With labor shortages affecting business, saved minutes really add up to dollars in the pocket, and a mower that is quick to clean and maintain, as well as to be ready for the next working day is important.”
Scheffler added that machines that offer versatility, and can perform, multiple tasks – such as aeration, brush cutting and snow removal – in addition to mowing, can help you stand out from the competition.
“Ultimately, regardless of what you go with, it needs to be reliable and durable,” he said. “Don’t cut corners when it comes to your equipment, because it’s a big contributor to your professional reputation.”
According to Dwight, contractors need to understand everything from maintenance to downtime to operator comfort will impact productivity, which translates to bottom-line profitability. “Operator comfort is something winning contractors are starting to think about more and more as they try to get as many productive hours as they can on a machine in a day,” he said.
“2022 is expected to be a year of growth for the lawn and landscaping industry and one where many landscapers are looking to take on larger and more profitable jobs,” said Sooy. ‘If you’re planning for growth, look beyond simply replacing current mower units and determine what upgrades are needed to take on new business and additional jobs. Think efficiency, productivity, reliability, durability, comfort and feature upgrades to help take your business to the next level. You need machines that are built around your needs, so always be willing to try something different. Whether it’s new mower products or technologies, demo different machines and get a feel for how they operate to ensure you’re investing in those that work for your business.”
Added Briggs, “We expect 2022 to be a good year, but it won’t be without its challenges.”
John Kmitta is associate publisher and editorial brand director of Landscape Business.
We also asked those who contributed to this piece to share information regarding any new commercial mowers their companies recently introduced – or plan to introduce – as well as any updates to their commercial mowing equipment.
In September 2021, Cub Cadet introduced its first GPS-operated semi-autonomous commercial mowers. The Cub Cadet PRO Z 960 S and 972 S SurePath units are outfitted with GPS technology and an exclusive four-wheel steering system that provide a semi-autonomous experience designed to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing effort and advanced training. The operator simply sets the preliminary cut line and the SurePath units will perform straight cutting paths with an auto-zero-turn at the end of each row at the touch of a button.
SurePath technology reduces overlap and helps to cut straight stripes, allowing the operator to complete a property in less time while producing superior cut quality. Because of the semi-autonomous nature of the GPS technology, operators with different levels of experience, from new hires to landscaping vets, can be expected to deliver consistent quality cuts and efficient operation when using a SurePath unit; efficiencies that add up to some serious productivity gains over time. Third-party testing revealed operators using SurePath technology experienced a 12% increase in productivity when compared with an otherwise identically equipped Cub Cadet mower with manual lap-bar steering controls. This translates to a gain of 0.52 acres per hour, meaning landscapers can look forward to substantial time saved to take on new jobs, projects or clients with the same labor force.
The SurePath units are outfitted with a 16cc transmission, 26-inch rear tires and a FX1000v Kawasaki engine, and are backed by a limited 3-year/no-hour-limit warranty or a limited 5-year/1,750-hour limited deck warranty.
The entire DeWalt commercial lineup of stand-on, zero-turn and hydro-walk mowers feature Kawasaki engines. Care was taken to integrate technologies designed to reduce maintenance into the designs, such as greaseless spindles, bearings, hubs, casters and other pivot points.
The DeWalt DW33 has a 33-inch reinforced steel deck that is slim enough to fit through many gates and other tight spaces. It features a 344cc engine; 8-inch front caster wheels for maneuverability; an 8-position, single-level deck height adjustment; and a 3-year, 120-hour limited warranty.
The DeWalt X554 was designed for the professional landscaper with commercial specifications such as a 26-hp. Kawasaki FT EFI engine; a 12cc Hydro-Gear pump and Parker Wheel motor transmission; a durable 2″ x 3″ tubular frame; an easy-to-use single-lever deck height adjustment system; and a 2-year, no-hour limited warranty. Stand-on functionality allows the operator to easily hop on or off to remove mowing obstructions.
The DeWalt Z260 zero-turn lawn mower was designed with the professional in mind, including a 24-hp. Kawasaki FS engine; a commercial-grade Hydro-Gear dual ZT 3400 transmission; a 60-inch fabricated deck; a heavy-duty 1.5″x3″ tubular steel frame; a comfortable high-back seat; an ultra-wide footpan; and a 4-year, 800-hour limited warranty.
Doosan Bobcat North America
Doosan Bobcat North America launched an upgrade to its ZT7000 commercial mower, which now offers a Kawasaki FX1000 EFI engine option that highlights a 25% fuel savings over its standard engine, and has 38.5 horsepower. The ZT7000 also has a 15-gallon fuel capacity, hitch receiver and a 19-mph transport speed. The Bobcat WB700 walk-behind series just arrived in time for the cutting season. This new lineup of commercial mowers is available with a 36-, 48- or 52-inch floating deck and includes hydraulic transmissions and new ergonomically friendly controls. The large drive wheels aid with curb clearance, and the front casters are standard semi-pneumatic for commercial applications. All new Bobcat commercial mowers come with a 3-year or 2,000-hour limited commercial warranty.
Exmark introduced several new mowers for 2022, including its largest commercial zero-turn riding mower yet –– the 144-inch Lazer Z Diesel. In addition, Exmark launched the all-new Vertex S-Series stand-on mower, as well as a new Vanguard Oil Guard-equipped Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn riding mower. Exmark also introduced a new, more powerful Radius X-Series zero-turn rider.
On the electric side of the business, Ferris working with the Vanguard battery power team to bring commercial lithium-ion battery powered solutions to market this season and next.
On the gas side, the Ferris IS6200 zero-turn is powered by a Cat turbo-diesel engine and features a 72-inch deck and patented independent suspension system. This mower has the cut quality, traction and operator comfort that can help deliver up to a 20 percent increase in productivity compared to other mowers.
The Ferris FW45 walk-behind mower is a fuel-efficient wide-area commercial mower engineered for performance, productivity and comfort. It has three available deck sizes, comfort features like ergonomically designed controls and a 28-hp. Vanguard engine with a 500-hour oil change interval on select models.
This year Gravely launched the Z-Stance, an entry-level commercial stand-on mower designed for reliability and efficiency. AriensCo and the Gravely product team are focused on better understanding the commercial stand-on mower market to continue to develop and broaden the availability of stand-on mowers, especially related to sustainability. The Gravely product line is expanding to include more sustainable, electric-powered mowers with its FusionCore battery system.
The Honda HRC216K3HDA commercial walk-behind lawn mower features superior performance, durability and reliability, combined with reduced cost and weight for simple starting, easy operation and quick stopping. Honda’s newest model allows the user to save time by starting the engine while standing behind the mower and the flywheel brake safety system stops the engine and blades when the user lets go of the brake lever on the handle. The fuel-efficient Honda GXV160 commercial engine is the source of powerful, quiet operation with superior noise control for operator comfort. The mower’s hydrostatic transmission includes a heavy-duty automotive style shaft drive that eliminates the belt that can slip or wear out. The exclusive Honda MicroCut Twin Blade System offers four cutting surfaces to produce finer clippings, and the mower can be adjusted to eight different heights suitable to all types of grass and mowing conditions. The outside of the Honda HRC216K3HDA features a rugged 21-inch steel deck with front axle and bumper protection for additional structural stability and durability. Completing the package are ergonomic heavy-duty steel piped reinforced handles designed for strength and operator comfort. The dry weight of 117 pounds and operating weight of 121 pounds make the HRC216K3HDA easy to maneuver. The mower is backed by the Honda one-year commercial warranty (one year for the frame, two years for the engine).
Hustler Turf introduced the newest additions to its commercial line-up toward the end of 2021. These models include the Surfer Pro stand-on model. Designed with landscape professionals in mind, it comes in two deck sizes (34 or 48 inch) that take up minimal space on a trailer and can fit through most fence gates. Hustler Turf also introduced the Super SF stand-on commercial mower, which can reach up to 15 mph with a nearly 14-gallon fuel tank. In addition, Hustler also refreshed its FasTrak and FasTrak SDX to include dual fuel tanks, a dual USB charger port, the ability to achieve speeds up to 10 mph, and more.
John Deere recently introduced the comfort-boosting ComfortGlide suspension to its commercial mowing lineup. With ComfortGlide, the operator’s seat can travel up to two inches fore and aft, absorbing bumps for a significant enhancement to ride comfort. Additionally, the Michelin X Tweel Turf airless radial tire is available on all ZTrak and Quiktrack stand-on mowers.
The popular diesel Z994R ZTrak Zero-Turn Mower is now equipped with a 72-inch deck option, increasing operator productivity. The new deck size is ideal for managing larger terrains, while still offering premium quality, enhanced comfort, lower operating costs, and longer engine life.
John Deere’s three-bag Material Collection System features an improved design for more efficient material collection and superior performance. Compatible with all gas-powered Z900 models, the redesigned system includes a smaller size and shortened travel path for clippings, and stronger suction on the blower.
The John Deere Fastback PRO rear-discharge mower deck keeps grass clippings behind you, not on you. The baffled design allows clippings to freely exit the back of the deck. For gas models, it is available in 60 inches for the Z930M and the Z950R, 72 inches in Z950M and Z970R, and both 60 inches and 72 inches in the diesel Z994R and Z997R models.
As with all of its product offerings, Kioti takes customer feedback seriously when it comes to developing and expanding its zero-turn-radius mower line. Kioti listened to its customers’ desires for mowers that are easy to use and comfortable, with maximum uptime. That’s why Kioti is delivering its first-ever stand-on zero-turn-radius mowers. The two models will provide reliable performance, a plush operator pad, adjustable drive levers and ample working room in the center tower. These upcoming additions to Kioti’s lineup will empower end users to comfortably mow all day long.
The new Milwaukee Tool M18 FUEL 21-inch self-propelled dual battery mower delivers best-in-class cut quality and more max torque than 200cc gas competitors, meeting the performance needs of the landscape maintenance professional. The mower’s advanced technology delivers instantaneous throttle response for both the blade and drive motors, increasing productivity and control. Featuring 3-in-1 grass management capability for bagging, mulching, and rear side discharge, the mower reduces missed blades of grass and clumps compared to other manufacturers. With a true 21-inch cut capacity and optimized steel deck design, the mower delivers a superior cutting experience. The M18 FUEL 21-inch self-Propelled dual battery mower brings innovation and industry-leading performance to battery-powered mowers.
Steiner introduced a new flail mower attachment for the Steiner 450 tractor. It features two different knife options, so operators can switch between brush cutting and finish mowing using the same attachment. This gives commercial landscapers the unique ability to handle nearly any mowing task with one piece of equipment. And, with the versatile Steiner 450 tractor, professionals have access to more than a dozen attachments to take on challenges all year long, from mowing and blowing, to snow removal and aerating.
In 2021, Toro introduced its new Z Master Revolution and GrandStand Revolution, bringing lithium-ion battery technology to two of Toro’s most beloved mower platforms. Both new Revolution machines are equipped with patent-pending software in the controls that enables smooth operation. It also gives operators a chance to customize the machine with adjustable deck rake, drive speed control options and blade tip speed settings. The new Revolution Series mowers are powered by Toro’s HyperCell Power System, which delivers all-day power and reliability. The Battery Management System (BMS) allows for longer run times, higher battery intelligence, and quick charging to maximize productivity. The new Z Master Revolution is built on Toro’s commercial-grade Z Master 4000 Series frame and Turbo-Force deck. The new GrandStand Revolution stand-on mower is a powerful machine built for high performance and engineered for professional lawn care pros focused on optimizing their businesses with the next generation of landscaping equipment. It’s the same ride you’ve come to trust with its space-saving, flip-up platform, only now its powered by Toro’s durable HyperCell batteries. In addition to the new Z Master Revolution and GrandStand Revolution, Toro also launched the new Z Master 7500-D 144” with a new 144-inch cutting deck.