The Right Tool for the Job
One of the most important investments any contractor can make is in the right equipment. Efficient tools increase productivity, and this goes straight to the bottom line and to business success. The right tools with proper training help make crews safer by reducing injuries to backs, knees, fingers and elbows. Maintaining a healthy, efficient crew is essential to profitability.
“I have invested a lot of money and time into training my guys,” says Bill Gardocki, owner of Interstate Landscape Co. in New Hampshire. “I want them to be around on the crew for a long time.”
Mr. Gardocki, who has more than 40 years of experience in the hardscape industry, presented at Hardscape North America (HNA) in October with his son, Tom Gardocki, about the importance of investing in tools that promote health and maximize productivity. “The thing about tools is efficiency, speed and saving my guys’ backs, fingers and knees,” says Bill Gardocki.
During their HNA presentation, the Gardockis showcased and demoed some of the tools they have found to be the most beneficial for use on the job. They made a point to specifically not endorse any particular brand. The focus of their discussion informs the audience about the types of tools they rely upon as professionals.
Two new tools they’ve recently begun using are now among their favorites: One costs less than a dollar, the other around $12,000. The Paver Marker from Pave Tech saved their crews hours upon hours per week in labor, Bill Gardocki says, replacing the pencils, knives or whatever used previously to mark pavers for cutting. Just one marker will last a month and does not require sharpening.
The other new favorite tool of the Gardockis is called the Trimble System, an aftermarket package of sensors and a monitor that use GPS to provide precision accuracy for depth finding and can be installed on virtually any excavator. With a price around $12,000, this 2-D sensor system eliminates getting out of the cab of the excavator to measure while digging or grading, or having another crew member with a grade rod involved in these tasks.
Another key piece of equipment for safety and efficiency is the right-sized skid-steer loader. “I can’t tell you how many people buy undersized skid-steers because they say they can’t afford that extra $10,000 required to actually lift a full pallet of material,” says Tom Gardocki. “Instead, the crew has to unload three layers off of every pallet [before it can be moved]. You have to think about all the time it’s taking. You’re going to make up that $10,000 real quick.”
Many hardscape business owners initially opt for smaller pieces of equipment because they are lower in cost. However, this eventually costs more in the long run because of additional labor required. “You must have tools for efficiency. The average profit margin in this industry is 6 percent,” says Bill Gardocki. “One mistake on your job site, one breakdown on your job site, and that’s it. That’s your profit margin gone for that job.”
This problem is particularly pervasive when it comes to compaction, which is one of the most important things in pavement, explains Steve Jones, president of Pave Tech. “Compaction is one of those things you can’t start small; you have to start at a mid-range size because it is a time-consuming thing,” says Mr. Jones. “With a small compactor you can get the job done. It may take you two days, but with the right machine, it can get done in two hours.”
The Gardockis started using a plate compactor with a roller attachment about two years ago because 70 percent of their installations were paving slabs. They now use compactors with roller attachments on every single job.
When it comes to slabs, there are clamps and suction tools that prevent finger, back and knee injuries; make installation of slabs much easier; and also minimize cracking. According to Bill Gardocki, there is a steady growth in popularity of slab installations. This trend puts these tools high on the priority list.
Another favorite tool of the Gardockis is the Paver Pounder: a slide hammer that can use multiple attachments. With a breaker bit attached, this tool allows the installer, from a standing position, to crack a paver for removal rather than kneeling and whacking it with a hammer. This tool helps prevent tennis elbow, a painful condition that affects many while paving, as well as knee and back injuries.
Bottom line: To run a successful business, invest in tools that improve crew safety and boost productivity. “Compaction equipment: $12,000; small tools: $8,000; ancillary tools: $10,000. That’s $30,000, the price of your average pickup truck,” says Bill Gardocki. “Those are the tools that you need to be efficient in the hardscape industry.”