Gravely® Landscapes and Beautifies Harbor House Domestic Abuse Shelter as part of NALP Day of Service

National grassroots event organizes thousands in landscaping industry for day of volunteering

In celebration of Earth Day, Gravely® took part in the National Association of Landscape Professionals' (NALP) Day of Service Event.

Ariens Company employees, in partnership with Vande Hey Landscaping, worked to improve the curb appeal of the Harbor House in Appleton, Wis. During the event, volunteers from both companies volunteered by spreading mulch, planting trees and flowers and pulling weeds. More than $6,500 in materials and labor was donated.

NALP's Day of Service event is a grassroots event that gives professionals in the landscape industry an opportunity to plan, organize, and carry-out volunteer service projects that benefit their communities. In 2014, approximately 89 projects were completed in 24 states, and more than 2,200 volunteers participated. Over $400,000 in time and services was donated to local communities.

"This project was very important to us as members of the green industry, and we were excited to be able to celebrate Earth Day while helping out a great local organization, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Services," said Ariens Company Director of Gravely Brand Bill Engler. "Beautifying the area and the community is important for the neighborhood as well as the people that live here."

For more information, and to see a map of other NALP Day of Service projects that took place across the country, visit: https://www.planetdayofservice.org/. Videos and photos from last year's event can be found on Flickr and YouTube.

Established in 1984 as a program of the Outagamie County Department of Human Services, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs began as a grassroots organization offering a safe shelter and basic crisis services to women and children hurt by domestic abuse. Today, the Harbor House is an integrated and supportive community, surrounding women and children with a comprehensive range of program options.

The building is perched alongside a long road, making it the perfect subject for a landscaping renovation. Employees from the Ariens Company re-landscaped three areas along the building's façade over a span of six hours. 

Changing of the Guard - Spring Maintenance Tips

You braved the tough winter and just about tackled that last pile of snow standing between you, greener grass and warmer weather. Melting puddles and blue skies mean only one thing: it's time for the semi-annual 'changing of the guard,' from blower to mower. Soon, you will retire your trusty snow blower to storage and begin preparing your lawn mower and your mentality for hotter days and longer grass. Whether you have a walk behind, tractor or zero-turn, performing a few basic tasks to bring your machine back to life means optimal performance throughout the summer months. As for your Sno-Thro®, give it a good checkup and a much-needed six-month break to recharge for some more winter fun next year.

Click or download the checklist below to learn how to properly store your snow blower and prep your lawn mower, ensuring that your equipment stays tougher than the elements.

 

Gravely® Sponsors PLANET Student Career Days - Event Provides Insight into Green Industry Jobs

Gravely® is supporting 2015 Student Career Days as a Silver Sponsor for the ninth consecutive year. The annual competition and networking event for students enrolled in green industry programs from colleges and universities across the country is organized by PLANET, the Professional Landscape Network. More than 850 students are expected to participate in this year's event which will be held at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. from March 12 to 15.

"Student Career days provides a fantastic environment for mentoring and an exchange of ideas between students and green industry professionals, said Ariens Company Director of Commercial Sales Bill Engler. "The event is intense and fast-paced, leaving you feeling energized about the future of the business. We're happy to have the opportunity to get to know the next generation that will be leading our industry."

Students will compete in more than 20 different events that include tree climbing, paver/hardscape installation, wood construction, plant identification, sales presentation, exterior/interior design, irrigation troubleshooting, personnel management, and small engine repair.

Gravely will sponsor the truck and trailer event, as well as the sales event.  In the truck and trailer event, a team of students are given the opportunity to load a Gravely mower on a trailer and then drive an obstacle with the loaded vehicle. For the sales event, students must sell a landscape design project to clients. Both events provide a simulation of what it might be like to work in the green industry.

Ariens Vice President of Engineering and Quality Jim Masters Looks Forward to 2015 Lawn and Garden Season

Jim Masters joined the Ariens Company just over a year ago and is bringing more than 30 years of new product development, demonstrated innovation, and world-wide engineering experience from such established industries as automotive, aerospace, military and commercial environments.  He now holds the position of Vice President of Ariens Engineering and Quality.

We sat down with Jim to discuss his role at Ariens and how he makes sure Gravely equipment lives up to the quality standards the brand is known for.

Gravely: Can you please describe the quality standards set in place at the Ariens Company, and the quality process that is used when manufacturing machines?

Masters: This is a very involved question, and depending on the detail – could take one to two sentences or require a novel.  Something that differentiates us from our competitors is that Ariens quality embeds its discipline at each initial stage of product and process conception, revision/modification and certainly design.  With an alignment of the quality discipline under engineering, we have assured ourselves that our quality eyes are focused properly throughout the product's construction and assembly, and furthermore, throughout each and every product's lifespan. We also work very hard to incorporate the voice of our customers into these quality and design efforts.  We have found over the years that where the blade hits the turf – that's where the real experiences surface.

Of course, assuring that our products are manufactured to specific requirements remains our utmost priority; however, almost equally as important for us is that our quality vision and long standing culture is embedded into our designs and processes.  Having this type of early involvement by our quality team assures us and our customers that at every stage, and at every level, we have a significant member of that team focusing totally on the Ariens quality experience.  It's the way it should be, but very few actually do it.

Gravely: You're in charge of engineering for new product development. Can you talk about how you've restructured your team and what it means for the future?

Masters: Of course!  We have recently restructured our technical talent base into two discrete functions: one that is dedicated to the product line itself (Engineering Platform Management), and another that is responsible for the technology (Engineering Centers of Excellence [CoEs]).  This concentration has and will continue to produce more products more efficiently, as well as turbo-charge our innovation efforts – all to provide even better results to our customers.

The organization is in full swing now at the Ariens Company, and has made exceptional strides not only by improving our new product development efficiency, but by now providing a continuous stream of new solutions and ideas in a timely manner. It's very exciting.

Gravely: Describe your vision and philosophy on new product development.

Masters: This is simple-- lead! I believe we really do understand the landscape commercial market, as well as all of the other markets we provide products and solutions for. I also believe that we are now properly aligned to take advantage of this knowledge, to continue to ask the right questions, reach the right field environments to get the feedback we need to continue our understanding, and then to produce what I feel are both evolutionary and revolutionary new products. This is a very exciting time for me, and I believe for the Ariens Company, as well. Stay tuned – I guarantee you some exciting stuff is in the near future.

Gravely: What goals do you have for "critical to quality" projects? Can you describe what some of those projects are?

Masters: Here at Ariens, we have fairly detailed methods to ascertain a "critical to quality" (CTQ) product.  We have mechanisms and triggers in place throughout multiple disciplines (i.e.: sales, dealer channel, customer service, end users, etc.) where issues can and are reported – and depending on the internal trigger criteria established in each of these areas, a CTQ will be generated.  There isn't one issue, when brought to the attention of any of these groups, that doesn't get surfaced in some way or another for review and understanding.  It is very important for us to keep all of these channels open and to encourage both internal and external feedback on our products. 

Once an issue does trigger a CTQ, it gets classified into one of three alerts. A red CTQ alert demands a team on the issue immediately. These may pertain to equipment that is down or has become non-functional for some reason, or may involve a safety or operational concern.  Red CTQ's are very rare at Ariens.  The next level is a yellow CTQ, which gets submitted to the proper engineering platform manger and is then assigned to the appropriate technical team (with other representation from the company as needed). 

These are entered and tracked on real time internal electronic dashboards and are available for Ariens employees to view at any time.  The boards contain just what the CTQ/concern is, what is being done to resolve it and when we expect to have it solved forever.  The last alert level contains the rest, which are issues that have not triggered a red or yellow CTQ, but are still of significant importance to the company.  These are reviewed in detail when we perform a product enhancement, or are evaluating a product or product line.  Of course, my goal is zero CTQ's, and that is why I personally review every potential and current CTQ.

Gravely: What are you most excited about for this upcoming lawn and garden season?

Masters: Everything! I don't know how not to be. Every season is exciting, isn't it? It's another chance to get our equipment out into the field, performing to and hopefully beyond our expectations. It's also another opportunity to get in touch with our dealers and end users to continue to even better understand their real world perspectives of living and working with our equipment over time. Best of all, it's another chance to spend quality time with our customers, and to honestly enjoy the satisfaction of our combined efforts during the off season. 

What is there not to be excited about every year?  Not only is spring traditionally celebrated across the country as a desired seasonal time change, but for Ariens, spring is much more than that. It's a very special time indeed.  Just this year we will have launched the new Atlas JSV, a totally different type of 4-wheel workhorse that is specifically designed for the commercial and professional customer. Currently, we are launching the Gravely ZTX, with a whole new look and some very impressive upgraded functions that I am anxious and excited for our customers to see and experience.  We're looking forward to this lawn and garden season!

Bland Landscaping Owner Kurt Bland Shares His Thoughts on Equipment Asset Management

ESTABLISHED IN 1976, BLAND LANDSCAPING COMPANY proudly claims the spot as one leading full-service providers for high-end res­idential estates and commercial landscaping. Owner Kurt Bland has enjoyed steady success in the industry, and has gained a great deal of insight into what makes a landscaping business work, and what doesn't. We asked Bland to give us some of that insight, in hopes to help educate landscape contractors of all sizes. Specifically, we asked him to talk about his proven-successful approach to equipment asset manage­ment. His thoughts on the topic are below:

Our Equipment Asset Program is a reflection of our general philoso­phy towards business, which includes a deliberate effort to standardize that which can be standardized, in order to lessen work defects and improve performance overall. Whereas some companies, namely smaller ones, in our industry evaluate their equipment purchasing options annually or even between purchases, our philosophy is to thoroughly examine our options every five years. This way, we can make educated deci­sions about which equipment to operate for specific functions within the company with a longer term view of ownership and the benefits of standardization.

We work deliberately to reduce the variety of makes and models that we own and operate. This strategy lessens the parts inventory we must stock, and it makes training of mechanics and crew members much more streamlined. For example, all of our walk behind and riding mowers are Gravely brand units. Within the over­all fleet, the overwhelming majority of machines are either Pro-Hydro 48-inch walk behinds or 152 XDZ riding mowers. If a crew member gets moved between crews, he is more readily adaptable to the machinery on either crew. If a machine requires repair, chances are that our "service loaner" unit is going to be the same, or very similar model, to the one the crew operates every day. This long term view towards equipment ownership and standardization is a recurring theme that rears its head in other parts of our business, as well.

Historically, we have always owned machinery and vehicle assets ourselves and avoided leasing. This is something we evaluate periodically, and our position may shift, pending the final outcome of changes to tax laws. We view this decision as being strictly a financial and tax planning question. Some companies elect to lease in order to pretty up their balance sheet, while others do it to spread their sources of financed capital to off balance sheet positions. With congress having extended section 179 deductions, and the fact that leased assets will have to be reflected on balance sheets in the future, the once attractive appeal of leasing is diminishing.

That could change, and our position could be influenced by such changes. It really comes down to an assessment of the company and its owners' financial strategy and tax situation. We have grown our busi­ness organically and growth has never been allowed to outpace earnings. Continual re-investment into the company has been required in order to fund the capital assets such as trucks, machinery, and real estate. For some companies, growth outpaces earnings, or they may not have a robust balance sheet that allows for traditional financing or cash purchases. Finally, there is one other feature about leasing that we have con­sidered, which is the ability to return the machines at the end of a lease without having to sell them. So far, this benefit has not been valuable enough for us and we are pleased with the long service life we get from Gravely products. While we retire or salvage most machines after five years, we have some that are older but still reliable enough to stay in the fleet after as many as six or seven years. If these were leased machines, we would have lost big.

Our vehicle and equipment assets represent nearly $6 million in combined value, after accounting for de­preciated value. That number considerably understates what our replacement cost would be, considering that our machines get regular service and attention. The notion that proper preventive maintenance is something to do as an afterthought when you aren't busy doing something else is simply not tolerated. For this reason, we do not let anyone other than trained mechanics work on our machinery and fleet assets. Ten years ago we built a full service equipment and automotive shop. Today, the shop is equipped with multiple machinery lifts, an auto lift, tire changer, and all kinds of specialty tools. Inside the shop we have a two person off road machinery team and one automotive preventative maintenance mechanic who also does light repairs.

Our mechanics see every machine every week. Three weeks per month, a mobile preventative maintenance truck comes to a job site and does maintenance, lube, safety inspection, blade change, and filter clean-out. This happens without interrupting the crew because it is scheduling ahead. Once per month, each truck and its assigned machinery come in for a full on-the-rack inspection, preventative maintenance, tire rotation, and re­pairs. We provide our team with a pool of shared loaner machines to use when we have to pull an asset out of service. This is normally due to a safety violation that requires immediate lock-out, or observation of a potential major part failure ahead. Every winter, we bring all of the machines in for a thorough winter service.

All of this costs money, but more importantly it saves money and prevents downtime. From our point of view, the best way to save money on machinery is to prevent downtime, and we invest substantially in doing so.