Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Getting the best price from Mowing Contractors

            As we quickly approach spring, no doubt people are beginning to get bids from mowing contractors.  Mowing of parks and common ground is typically one of the larger expenses in a subdivisions budget, so getting the best price for the best service is crucial.  But how do you do that?  Most people call 3-4 different companies and take the lowest bid, but what if the way you were writing your bids and contracts is actually raising the price of your mowing service?  Are there things you can do to get a lower bid?  

            In order to get the best price for mowing, you have to learn to think as the contractor thinks.  You may also have to make some concessions in order to get the best price.  I have been in the mowing business for the past 16 years. I know for a fact that way people present bids affects their price.  Let’s look at a few examples from contracts that I have received in the past.  
 
Example #1: A subdivision wants a price for their mowing service but requires the contractor give the bid to cut the whole place, and to break the bid down to cut “sections” of the property.  As a trustee, this seems like a good idea.  If sections are not used very often or you can let those go a little while, why not skip them and just pay to have certain other sections cut?  The contractor sees this a little differently.  Many people don’t think about the time and money that is spent on travel.  Gas and labor are the highest expenses for lawn care contractors.  So when they bid sections of the common ground, they will have to raise the price for each section in order to cover the gas and labor cost of them traveling there for just that section.  If they knew that they would cut the whole place every time, they would be able to give a better price, than if they risk only cutting part of the property.   Secondly, the sections that do not get cut will grow longer for the next cut, requiring a more time and gas to get the job done later.  

Example #2:  A subdivision wants a bid on mowing their property but will only allow mowing at certain times or days.  Understandably, there are times when you don’t want the lawn service mowing.  For example, if you have soccer practice in the park at 4:00pm on Thursdays, then you don’t really want the kids around the mowing equipment.  You want to reduce your liability as much as possible.  Some restrictions in the contract are perfectly understandable from the contractor point of view, and they probably want to reduce their liability as well.  However, the more time restrictions you place on the contractor, the harder it is to make it fit in a mowing schedule.  Let’s say for example that you require mowing done on Monday or Tuesdays only from 8am-4pm.  Most contractors that you are receiving bids from already have a schedule in place and usually with customers they have had for a long time.  The restrictions will cause them to juggle an entire schedule of mowing just to accommodate your subdivision. 

 It’s not impossible to do, but some contractors take that into consideration and “make the job worth it” when bidding.  In addition to scheduling, you have rain.  If we get 3 days of rain in a row, the contractor is now behind on 3 days of mowing and has to somehow complete all those jobs plus make sure to get the subdivision cut in the designated time slots.  The more flexibility you allow your contractors in scheduling, usually the better price you are able to obtain.

Other tips for getting the best price

            Frequency of mowing is another way of getting a better price.  This is always hard because of our St. Louis weather.  Typically, the grass grows like crazy in the spring, and then the grass dries up, but the weeds grow like crazy in the summer.  Mowing frequency affects the price of a cut.  It takes more gas and more time to cut long grass (or weeds).  Mowing shorter grass takes less time and gas.  So am I saying that mowing every week is the answer?  Not necessarily.  We have tried to find that balance that allows us be efficient, keep price down, and have the park/common ground look nice.  We have found that if you stagger the cuts to approximately every 10 days April thru October, it works out pretty well.  You are able to stretch out the mowing a little bit to save some money, and the looks don’t suffer too much.  Some companies are not able to accommodate this due to their schedule, but we have found that it works pretty well for us and the common grounds we service.  Some subdivisions have their contractors mow every week in the spring and then bi weekly in the summer and fall.  This works out okay most years, but when you have above average rain in July, the weeds grow like crazy and the common ground will not look very good.  This is when you start getting complaints from residents and a lot of clumps are left on the grass.   I don’t care how big or how much horsepower a mower has, you can’t mulch 6 inches of cut grass back in.  That is why we try to keep a steady schedule throughout the year.  We really have seen fewer complaints on this schedule, and as a contractor it is nice to have a steady income throughout the season.  This method usually equates to 3 cuts a month.

My final tidbit of advice to ensure you are getting the best price is really a quite simple one, but one that many people don’t even try to do, and that’s get to know who is bidding on the job.  Talk to each contractor, or have them to your board meeting so you can get a feel for who you are comfortable with.  Once you feel comfortable with them, talk to them about the bid.  Even if they are highest bidder, see if they will meet the lowest bid.  Bottom line is they want your business. I personally bid every job to get that job, but if a trustee comes to me and brings in a lower price, I will do everything in my power to get them a better price.  Sometimes a little negotiation can reap big rewards for the subdivision.  The other advantage to this is that you will be comfortable with who you are hiring.  If you don’t get to know them, you may end up with a company that gave you a low bid, but won’t make it through the contract before going out of business.  Talk to the contractors and get references.  Contractors with common ground experience should be preferred because you know they have adequate equipment for the job and understand what it entails.

            Please feel free to contact me, Steve Beauchamp, with any questions/comments regarding pricing for common ground/parks.  I can be reached at 314-713-1240 (call or text) or by email lawnman630@gmail.com.  My company, Steve’s Lawn Care, has been servicing common ground in the St. Louis area for the past 8 years.  Not only will we answer any questions, we would be happy to work with you to get the best price on your common ground or park.

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