What impacts the real cost of equipment

From Toro’s Toro Grounds for Success newsletter:

Ever have a brand new piece of equipment, secured through a tedious low-bid process that winds up doing a masterful job of collecting dust instead of what it was intended to do?  It’s a situation many of us have seen before. You buy a brand-new piece of equipment based on price, and three years later it’s sitting in a corner unused because your operators don’t like using it. Then, when you take it to auction, no one wants it — so even though you saved money up front, you end up losing money in the end.

Low Bid Isn’t Always Low Cost
When it’s time to replace old equipment, budget constraints make it tempting to go with the lowest bid. However, as one Toro customer recently discovered, the up-front cost of a machine is only one of many factors that can impact your operation.

The customer — a major U.S. highway department — had purchased Toro Groundsmaster mowers in the past. But about five years ago, they started replacing their older Toro units with comparable mowers to save money.

It didn’t take long for the highway department to realize that going with the lowest bid was not the answer. The new competitive mowers had lots of issues, and the operators didn’t like them. In fact, many said they preferred to drive one of the old Toro Groundsmaster mowers over the new competitive units.

That’s when the department decided to contact an outside company to evaluate their turf equipment needs and advise them on their future purchases. Here’s what they learned through that process:

Try before you buy. Seeing how a machine performs in your environment can help you make a better-informed decision. The highway department selected two brands to evaluate for future equipment purchases: Toro and another competitor. Then they conducted multiple head-to-head demos with each brand’s equipment to compare what they had to offer.

As a result of those demos, they decided Toro was best choice. They also determined it would be best to go with wider machines and phase out their smaller, 6 foot out-front rotary mowers. The wider machines would allow them to make up for downsizing in their workforce by covering more ground with each pass. So far, they have purchased Toro Groundsmaster 4000-D units with an 11 foot (3.3 m) cutting width, as well as Groundsmaster 5900 units with a 16 foot (4.9 m) cutting width.

Listen to your operators. No one knows the day-to-day challenges of running these machines like they do, and they can offer a lot of insight into what they need to be efficient on the job. If the operators like the machine, it will get used. If they don’t, it will sit idle until it eventually gets replaced. The highway department involved operators in the demo process and took their feedback into account before making a decision.

Consider maneuverability. Operators found they could mow in more confined spaces with the new Groundsmaster units. With two wing decks and a streamlined center deck, the Groundsmaster 4000 offers the flexibility to mow in tight areas as well as wide-open spaces. With the wing decks raised, the center deck is just 62 inches wide, compared to the 72-inch decks on the department’s old units. The Groundsmaster 4000 is also more maneuverable than the traditional tractors using a pull-behind batwing mower the department had been using before. It’s so nimble, it can mow a 0” uncut circle, allowing operators to mow back-and-forth patterns without leaving any uncut grass. One machine was able to replace both smaller and wider pieces of equipment.

Evaluate the impact on productivity. In the process of using the Groundsmasters, operators discovered several key productivity advantages. With all the cutting units engaged on the ground, the operators realized they could mow larger areas at once with the Groundsmaster 4000 and 5900, compared to the tractors with the pull-behind cutting units. Operators also noticed that the Groundsmasters were much more comfortable. On a tractor, the engine is out in front of the operator, blowing hot air over him all day long. The operator is also sitting on top of a hot transmission. In addition, with the pull-behind cutting units, operators frequently have to turn around 180 degrees to see how close they are to objects to avoid hitting them. With the Groundsmaster units, the engine is in the back for a cooler ride. Plus, the cutting units are out front and to either side for greater visibility without the need to turn around. It all adds up to a more comfortable place to be when you’re in the seat for an entire day — and reduced fatigue helps increase productivity.

Don’t underestimate the value of after-sale support. The local Toro distributor has been training the highway department’s operators on their new Groundsmaster mowers. It’s a free service to ensure they’re off to a good start and using the machines properly. The distributor is also committed to the department’s long-term satisfaction with the equipment by providing maintenance, parts and warranty service. And they are working with the department to implement the Toro myTurf Web-based fleet management system to track maintenance and repairs on the department’s entire fleet of turf equipment, regardless of the brand.

The highway department example underscores how the initial acquisition cost of a piece of equipment is only part of the picture. From maintenance costs and operator productivity to after-sale support and resale value, many factors impact the total cost of ownership over the life of a product — making a low-bid machine cost substantially more in the long run. It’s a simple reminder to do your homework and consider all the ways a piece of equipment will impact your operating costs before you make a final decision.