Lawn maintenance business equipment is a mainstay of what you do each day. So, let’s talk shop (and shopping).

Hey Clippers! Dave Tucker here again to talk about the beautiful business. This time of year, you’re likely to be noticing that some of your machinery and tools are looking a little run down.

There are lots of options out there for mowers, blowers, and trimmers. With many years of experience, I can tell you everything you need to know about starting out—and where to spend your money as your business grows.

Before we get into detail, here are some rules of thumb:

  • Equipment is a tool to help you make money. It’s not an asset, and you shouldn’t think of it that way. It depreciates over time because you use it.
  • Purchase your equipment sustainably. I know of a family that lost their house because they got excited, bought too much equipment too fast, and couldn’t make enough money to cover their overhead once those tempting “no payments due until next year!” offers expired. Lesson learned: Only buy what you can afford.
  • New is rarely better. As long as you’re a smart shopper, you can find excellent used equipment for half the price.

Buying a mower for your lawn maintenance business

If you’re starting a lawn maintenance business and wondering what to buy first, here’s my exact advice: Go to Craigslist and find a 36-inch walk-behind commercial lawnmower. You can find a used one for as little as $1500, which is less than half of what a new one would cost.

The most important thing to look for is a good engine. If at all possible, try to get a mower with a foreign-made motor. In my experience, they’re generally more reliable.

Another key difference to watch out for: belt drive versus hydro mowers. Hydro mowers run smoother and hold up better against wet grass and steep hills, but they’re more expensive. If a belt drive mower is a better financial choice for you right now, that’s just fine. Belt drive mowers were the only choice available back in the 1980s when I first started mowing lawns, and I built my whole business on them.

Initial lawn maintenance business equipment choices and considerations

You may be tempted by the comfort and the “cool factor” of a sit-down mower. I don’t recommend it. They’re more expensive, can’t handle small corners and tight turns, and are a pain to repair and transport. If you ask me, it’s not worth it.

If you can afford it, I do recommend a stander mower. They’re more expensive than a walk-behind—around $5000 for a new one—, but they’re great machines. You can also DIY a stander mower by installing a Velke onto your walk-behind mower. A Velke is a tiny wheeled platform for you to stand on that will pull you along behind your mower. Having been involved in their invention, I can personally vouch for how great they are.

I’d recommend a 36-inch stander mower with a Velke attachment and a 52-inch stander mower in an ideal world. With these two pieces of equipment, your crew is good to go.

Choosing trimmers and blowers

When it comes to trimmers and blowers, I don’t see any need to buy expensive commercial-grade equipment. Top-of-the-line trimmers and blowers from your local Home Depot or Lowe’s will do the job just fine. We buy new ones every year and just sell them at the end of the season. I recommend having two of each for every crew, so they’ve got a backup if one breaks down.

Transportation: How to move all that lawn maintenance business equipment around town

Two mowers, two blowers, and two trimmers are a lot of equipment to lug around. So most lawn maintenance businesses start out with a trailer, and it’s easy to see why: They’re cheap, and they’re fast to set up. You can find a used one for less than $1000 or pay $1200 for a new one, hook it up to your truck, and get going.

That being said, trailers have their limitations. They can be tough to maneuver, they take up a lot of space in the street or the driveway, and they’re more likely to knock over someone’s mailbox. Trailers are fine when you’re getting started, but I recommend getting a cage as soon as you can afford it.

A cage goes on a pickup truck in place of the bed. It’s the most efficient transportation system you could possibly imagine for your lawn maintenance business. You want a cage with a big beavertail and a gate so you can drive the mowers in and out of the cage easily. A truck with a cage is much easier and less stressful to drive and park. I’ve seen used cages for as little as $950, but generally, you can expect to spend $3000 to $10,000. Be sure to shop around and get a few quotes.

Summing it up…

After many years in the beautiful business, I stand by this advice on purchasing equipment for your lawn maintenance crews. When you shop smart, keep an eye out for quality equipment, and resist the temptation of fancy tools you don’t need, you can put together a great starter kit with only the gear you do need.