LIGHT OR MEDIUM?: Truck manufacturers have found a flourishing niche market with landscapers and growers.
TORONTO, Ont. – The white stuff may still be thick on the ground but truck buyers in the landscape and horticulture industries are already thinking “spring.”
Nearly 25 per cent of landscape contractors are considering a truck or trailer purchase within the next six months, according to International Truck and Engine Corporation. And this figure may be conservative, said Denis Flanagan, manager of membership services for Landscape Ontario.
“I think it would depend on the time of year because with the landscaping industry, the highest purchase time is generally late fall to late winter because they want to be up and running for the spring time, but at this point, I would say it would be at least 25 per cent of companies looking to upgrade or purchase new equipment,” said Flanagan.
Trucking equipment for landscapers and growers tends to be very specialized, yet it must be designed to allow many users to operate it and hold up to the environment in which it will operate.
“Trucking is an essential part of the landscaping industry, we’re in the business of independent contractors, transporting materials, plants, machinery, people even, so I would say the vehicle they are going to purchase is probably the single most important decision a contractor can make when starting a landscaping business,” said Flanagan.
John Murphy, sales manager for Sheehan’s Truck Centre, was an exhibitor at the recent Landscape Ontario Congress 2004 trade show, where many truck manufacturers and dealers displayed their landscaping equipment.
“We have lots of clients in this industry,” said Murphy. “It’s an area that is growing for our dealership and we are becoming more actively involved in their businesses and working with the body builders and stocking inventory that caters specifically to their needs.”
Sheehan’s has teamed up with Eloquip, a truck body manufacturer out of Elora, Ont.
“I think the most important tool they’ve got is their image, so if you come across with a rusted, worn out piece of equipment, customers will think twice. A good, solid dump body is half the battle to getting a customer,” said Klaas Sikkema, general manager of Eloquip, which does 90 per cent of its business in the landscaping and growing industry.
The landscaping and growing industries are bound to prosper from the continual increase in residential and commercial construction, predicts Paul Lagerwerf, account manager for Metro International Toronto.
“I think that if the building trends that we’re seeing now continue, we will see an increase in demand for products and services from the landscaping industry, therefore increasing the demand we place on the trucking industry too,” said Lagerwerf.
There seems to be a shift from light-duty to medium-duty among landscapers and growers, he added. Hauling nursery stock, aggregates, trees or sod used to be a portion of the business that was “jobbed out,” he explained, but now contractors seem to prefer to do their own trucking to ensure jobs are completed on time.
“The trend in the industry seems to be one vehicle doing several types of jobs, and the encouragement to shift to medium-duty vehicles comes from others in the industry itself. That’s because once one company sees another making the move and making it work, they start to consider the same,” Lagerwerf said.
“It seems having more than one unit on the road does not pay back as well as one unit doing several jobs. Having more units is too costly nowadays with insurance prices, fuel costs and maintenance fees. So, having one medium-duty vehicle that can have a crane, dump body and snow management equipment all operate from the same unit is preferable.”
Manufacturers are responding by tailoring their vehicles, spec’s and financing towards the landscaper’s needs, he added. They see the growth and are branching into as many segments of the business as possible.
There is a growing demand for roll off systems in the industry as well, said Larry Clement, commercial account manager for Al Palladini’s Commercial Truck Centre.
“You can put anything you want on the back and custom build the components to fit your truck,” Clement said. “You can have one truck designed to perform several tasks. This is something that wasn’t really available five years ago, but is now very prevalent in the landscaping industry.”
Customization is also a key consideration, said Flanagan.
“A lot of our members are often looking to have tool boxes included or lifts on the back, particularly for maintenance contractors who carry large lawnmowers, for example, customized ramps and lifts are sometimes essential,” he said. “Also, snowplowing is a large segment of our industry and so people will tend to look for the medium-duty trucks that will also take the extra weight and wear and tear of the plow.”
Automatic transmissions have become an increasingly attractive option for landscape contractors because the hired help often comes from a temporary or student pool, so there are a number of different drivers operating the vehicles and most do not have a heavy truck licence, said Lagerwerf.
“Horsepower and torque, frame rail strength, wheelbase dimensions for load capabilities, turning radius for tight maneuvering and thinking ahead to future requirements are the things that we hear landscapers looking for,” he said, adding that, like any other industry, if a vehicle isn’t spec’d properly, unnecessary money will be spent trying to make it work.
“Much like highway freight operations, you need to consider the applications and be as specific as possible, choosing only the options that will help get the job done,” he said. “Sometimes the cost of the unit needs to become secondary and the first consideration should be, ‘Will this unit perform and do the job we need it to do?'”