Don't let buying take you for a ride

The focus of many grounds professionals tends to be on their equipment. This is not unreasonable. These are the tools that get the job done; having a trusty mower, trimmer, sprayer or other tool is vital.

Not surprisingly, many people are loyal to brands of equipment the way some are loyal to pickup trucks. Such loyalty can get a bit carried away, if the “Calvin” decals often seen on the rear windows of pickups are any indication. For many people, changing brands means leaving their comfort zone (or, for a hardcore few, outright betrayal!).

It's fine to have brand preferences and loyalties, but it is wise to approach equipment buying with more logic than emotion. That might mean considering new brands or styles of equipment that you're not accustomed to. Most of all, it means taking a thorough and dispassionate look at your options.

Buying grounds equipment is, in various respects, a lot like buying a car. You kick the tires, take it for a test drive, read over the literature. But that won't answer all the questions. Some equipment may look good on paper, but then it doesn't work well for you in actual use. Taking a test drive gives you an initial “feel” for the machine, but does that tell you whether it's comfortable to operate all day, day after day?

And what about durability? Everything runs right when it's new. What happens when it's got a couple of years of use in it?

And of course, there's price. Are you getting ripped off? Could you have gotten a better deal somewhere else? What about from the Internet?

The questions that need answering are many. With all the possible pitfalls, it's no wonder that people are brand-loyal. If you've had a good experience with one brand of equipment, why take a chance?

As you can see — and undoubtedly already knew — there's a lot of anxiety that comes with making a major equipment purchase. Considering that some mowers cost more than cars, this is understandable.

The way to alleviate this anxiety is to do your homework, which involves more than just learning specs and taking test drives, though that's important. Talk to your peers about their equipment. Shop around; learn about brands you may not be familiar with. Go to Internet bulletin boards. Check with various dealers, not just one. Being more informed will make you a smarter buyer with less reason to feel anxious.

Purchasing isn't the only aspect of equipment ownership, but it is the first step and one of the most important. This month's cover story, “Buying Smart,” by Robert Sokol of Intertec Technical Manuals, provides some practical advice for sorting through your options and choosing a unit that's right for your operation. “Buying Smart” kicks off this issue of Grounds Maintenance, which focuses on grounds equipment.

Turf sprayers can range from the very simple to more complex units that rank among the most technologically sophisticated equipment used in grounds care. That level of sophistication may not be what you need, but if technology is your bag, you'll like what's available. Find out more in “Sprayers get smart,” on page 26.

Another key category of equipment is aerators. Like mowers, aerators vary a great deal in their design and operation, depending on the use. For lawn-care contractors, smaller aerators — typically with hollow tines — are the norm. Find out what's available in this month's Equipment Options, on page 40.

This is July, and there aren't too many places in the United States where it isn't hot right now. One of the more difficult tasks in the heat is keeping newly planted ornamentals well-watered while they become established. Drip irrigation is a great way to accomplish this. Tony Bertauski takes you through drip installation step by step in this month's “How To,” on page 33.

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