If you are just starting out in the lawn care industry, and trying to start your business, it can be quite expensive at first. You may wonder if you can get away with using residential grade equipment and save some money that way. My best advise is, well it all depends. Sure you could probably start out using residential equipment but I would say to always use commercial equipment unless there is a specific reason you should not do so. Now let me go back in time a bit and explain what I mean. During my first experiences in lawn care when I was just doing it as a side gig and experimenting with it, I just used the 21inch push mower I already owned along with a cheap $99 two-stroke weed eater. This worked out fine only cutting an additional two or three lawns per week. Then a few years later when I purchased a lawn care franchise it included a $15,000 equipment package. This included a custom-built trailer, uniforms, hand tools and commercial grade power equipment. The main parts of the package included a Honda HRC 216 mower, Two Stihl KM110 power heads, with attachments. A stihl BR500 backpack blower, and a Power Trim walk behind edger. After essentially being forced to use commercial equipment I started to truly see the value in it. They are built much sturdier and are much more powerful than residential equipment. For example the Honda mower. I cannot imagine a cheap residential mower being able to handle the amount of lawns and conditions that first Honda mower I used was able to handle. I finally replaced that first commercial mower after 8 years, but only because it was looking pretty beat up. It still own it and it still runs like a champ.
The other benefit with commercial grade equipment is that if you need any parts for them, your equipment dealer usually will have parts in stock for the most popular models. I can remember I was out mowing a lawn one year when the mower started to shake violently. After turning it off and inspecting it I found that I lost one of the two bolts that hold the double stacked blades on the Honda mower. With a residential piece of equipment this might require having to wait weeks for a particular part to arrive on order, or trying to custom Jerry rig something. In my case I simply packed up and drove to the dealer. Sure enough he had all the most common parts in stock for that very popular mower. I was back mowing and continuing my day within 30 minutes.
Now I mentioned that unless you have a particular reason not to use a commercial mower then its ok to use residential. When I received the equipment package with my franchise it did not include any kind of riding mower. I did not have a large amount of big properties so I decided that I would go out and buy a john deere 125 lawn tractor. I used that during my first year but was convinced that a commercial riding mower would be better at bagging the grass not knowing I could just use high lift blades for better suction, so I went out to the dealer and ordered an entry level gravely zero turn mower for $4000. When it arrived I tried it out for a few weeks but was still unsatisfied with how it bagged grass as well. A few of the other franchise owners were using Walker brand mowers, so I started to research these. They looked intriguing and seemed perfect for the wet pacific north-west, because they featured a built-in vacuum system to bag the lawn clippings. Well $14,000 later I was the proud owner of a new Walker MT23GHS. This mower was fantastic. It was nimble, it bagged grass and leaves great, even in wet weather. The front deck easily lifted up making access to clean or unclog the deck a breeze. The only problem was it was very heavy, around 1500lbs or so. Then you add the grass being collected and the operators weight on top of that. The other problem I started noticing was that it had very little ground clearance, because the fantastic blower system was all running underneath. No remember I mentioned that I’m in the pacific north-west. Famously known for all the rain we get all year-long. Rain that’s great for keeping lawns healthy and green but not so great for ground saturation. In fact most lawns feels spongy around here when you walk on them. Sometimes I can even hear the water squashing up with each step. So what do you think happens when you put a 1500lb machine on a soft saturated lawn? Yes you guessed it, a huge giant mess is what happens, because as soon as the heavy machine starts to lose traction and sink even just a bit, the very low ground clearance causes the machine to get stuck, requiring good friends and some lumber to get unstuck. After 4 years and a few more times with similar situations, I decided that as much as I loved the Walker mower, it just did not play nice in the conditions I have to deal with, so I sold it. I started to research new machines with lighter weight and higher ground clearance, and yes you guessed it, I ended up with another John Deere LA125 tractor for a few reasons. First, it was only around 400lbs, which meant that if it did get stuck, I could probably push it myself with no help. Second, it only had the deck hanging below and that could be raised up if more clearance was required. Third, it was versatile, it could be used to bag grass, or mulch or side discharge with a few extra attachments.
I also started to reevaluate my business and realized that 80% or so of my clients were mowed with the 21inch Honda which meant the expensive $14,000 machine sat on my trailer for 80% of the time. So why have a $14,000 machine only mow 20% of the time when a $1000 mower is doing 80% of the work.
So for the past 5 years I have been using the John Deere LA125 Mower because I simply do not have the client base with large enough lawns or the right conditions to use a big heavy machine. I found that with having a local John Deere dealer that parts were readily available. They may not be in stock all the time, but they can usually get parts within a few days. I can always mow the larger lawns with the 21inch if need be. But most of all it is just super lightweight. I can easily push the mower myself if need be, but because of the light weight, I find that I don’t get stuck as often. In fact in the past 5 years I have only recently had the tractor get stuck due to soggy ground once versus the several times with the walker.
In summary I would say to always try to buy commercial equipment from a reputable dealer, who you can rely on for service and parts. If you have a legitimate reason to use residential grade equipment for a particular reason, or specific condition, than its ok to do that. Just be prepared for more wear and tear and longer wait times for parts. I know though that if the little tractor was my main machine I would not be able to rely on it. In fact if when I was presented with an equipment package from the franchise those years ago, had it not included all commercial equipment, I probably would not still be in the lawn care business today, due to frustration and stress from break downs. It may seem expensive to buy commercial, but over the long haul that investment will literally pay you back ten fold.