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Grounds Riddle: Rent or Own?


Grounds managers have never been under more pressure and scrutiny than they are these days. From budget limitations and sustainability demands to staffing and safety, the day-to-day challenges of effectively managing a department can seem endless.

Perhaps the most pressing issue managers face is spending precious budget money wisely. For this reason, managers need to pay especially close attention to the selection of big-ticket equipment —mowers and utility vehicles, primarily — that grounds crews rely on to effectively perform essential grounds care activities.

Before grounds managers decide whether the most appropriate move is to purchase new equipment, they need to go through the exercise of determining whether a more appropriate option for the department — and its budget — is to rent the piece of equipment instead.

"Equipment that sits around waiting to be used tends to break down, even though nobody has run it," says Mike Fitzpatrick, vice president of U.S. Lawns, a grounds management franchise company. "If you have things like aerators or skid steers that you need when you're working with mulch, rather than purchase them, I recommend you rent them so you're not on the hook for the maintenance and ongoing repairs for something that spends more time sitting than in use. If it's something that I used more frequently than once a month, I probably would want to own it. If I used it a only few weeks at a time once or twice a year, I probably would rent it."

Once a manager has made the decision to purchase, the next step is gathering information. Given the big-ticket nature of mowers and utility vehicles, as well as their impact on the first impression a facility creates with visitors, the specification process is rarely a one-person process. Fitzpatrick recommends that managers gather input from those who will come to know the equipment the best. "I definitely would have the people using the equipment give some input," he says. "They are the ones who can tell you how user-friendly it is. The more user-friendly it is, the more apt they are to take good care of it and be happy running it. The people that maintain the equipment definitely have input on the dealer you elect to buy from.”

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