Maffei Landscaping Takes on Big, Small Jobs With CULs

Fri October 08, 2004 - Northeast Edition

Robert Maffei’s landscaping business has grown quickly over the past 13 years. What started as a four-person company, Maffei Landscaping Contractors, located in Marstons Mills, MA, now ranges from 45 to 60 employees depending on the season. Maffei attributes a good portion of his business’ success and growth to efficient use of crew and machinery time.

In 1996, Maffei’s fleet of equipment included everything from basic tools, such as weed wackers and lawn mowers, to more advanced equipment, including bark blowers and skid steers. Although using hand labor on big projects was taking a toll on his crew’s efficiency, Maffei couldn’t justify the costs involved with larger pieces of equipment.

“I started thinking about the type of equipment that would help make my crews operate more efficiently,” said Maffei. “They need equipment that’s versatile and tough, but also small enough not to damage a customer’s property.”

Maffei was not alone in his quest for the ideal landscaper’s tool. For several years, landscape, utility and general construction contractors alike recognized the need for a versatile, yet compact piece of equipment that could significantly reduce or eliminate hand labor. Fortunately, equipment manufacturers began to recognize this demand in the early 1990s —and shortly after the product’s inception, one caught Maffei’s eye.

Wanting to grow his business while maximizing success, Maffei attended an efficiency seminar sponsored by the New England Grows organization. The seminar’s speaker discussed a new, labor-expense-trimming type of equipment called a “power wheelbarrow.” Primarily used by the mining industry at the time, this “power wheelbarrow” offered some of the promise Maffei was looking for in a new piece of equipment. But it was during his search for a “power wheelbarrow” that Maffei stumbled across something even more promising in a trade publication — the compact utility loader.

While growing in popularity, compact utility loaders (CULs) are still relatively new to the market. CULs are multi-purpose machines that utilize various attachments to tackle many types of landscaping and construction projects.

Most models offer handy attachment options, including augers, trenchers and buckets, making them a flexible asset for any project. Initially, compact utility models featured wheels, which operate well on turf and standard, even surfaces. The first tracked models entered the market in 2000, allowing users to travel on varying surface conditions, such as mud or sand, with ease. Extremely versatile, the machines are a logical addition to any landscape contractor’s fleet of equipment.

Maffei conducted a two-week demo of a Toro Dingo compact utility loader. It didn’t take long to realize that this was the piece of he was looking for. “At the end of the trial period, there was no way I was giving it back,” said Maffei.

The compact machines offer as little as 3.4 psi of ground pressure and, unlike skid steers and track loaders, CULs do not destroy landscape surfaces like sod, soil and brick.

“We had used a full-size, rubber-tracked loader with low ground pressure in the past, but there’s still no comparison to using the Dingo,” said Maffei. “If we drive that loader across someone’s property it’s still going to damage the turf.”

A CUL’s light footprint, combined with its small size, permits users to travel across and work on turf without damaging the owner’s property.

Compact size also allows the machines to pass through small spaces where otherwise only people could work. Some CULs measure a mere 33.7 in. (85.6 cm) wide, providing the ability to fit through standard doors, gates and other areas.

“Basically, I have the ability to carry a three- to four-inch caliper tree across a beautiful front lawn, over a newly installed patio and through a small gate to install that tree in a backyard,” said Maffei. “You just can’t find another piece of equipment that can do that.”

The lightweight, compact frame size also makes for easy transport. Maffei’s business uses trucks with single axle trailers to carry the equipment, including CULs that have a rated operating capacity of 500 lbs. (226.8 kg) — with a lift capacity of up to 1,500 lbs. (680.4 kg).

“Instead of the crew trying to move quarter- or half-yard boulders with shovels, we’re able to take the Dingo off the trailer and move them in a matter of minutes,” said Maffei. “Using a skid steer to move three- to four-inch caliper trees, or a yard of loam just doesn’t make sense. We’ve used the Dingo for many projects, from hauling boulders, to grading soil for turf installation to hauling trees. The machine has been a part of nearly every job we’ve worked on for the past seven years.”

Maffei recently won a residential job that required the transportation of all supplies, including 150 yds. (137.2 m) of loam and $25,000 of plant stock, onto an island in Chatham, MA. Completely surrounded by marsh and wetlands, the island seemed inaccessible. Maffei explored his material and equipment transportation options. Using a helicopter or a large crane could work, but they would incur great expense. Thus, the decision was made to move all supplies and machinery using the only other means of access to the island: a 3-ft-wide (.9 m), 325-ft.-long (99.1 m) catwalk. But, catwalk space limitations dictated the type of machinery that could be transported to the island, and regulations against disturbing the wetlands also limited the types of machinery allowed on the island.

The four-month project, which included landscaping a 25,000-sq.-ft. (2,322.6 sq m) area and installing several patios and stone walls, required significant materials. Maffei’s crew started a conveyor system in a parking lot near the island where materials and supplies began the journey across the catwalk and onto the island. Maffei used the CULs to transport the materials to the job site and to conduct all of the work on the island. Twenty-five tons (22.5 t) of stone, including tumbled blue stone, Atlantic green stone, and granite ledge steppers, were installed on the site.

The machines were used to install an irrigation system and complete the site work —cutting down the subgrade by approximately 4-in. (10.2 cm) and removing approximately 200 yds. (182.9 m) of fill.

“The alternative was to do everything by hand, but we wouldn’t have won the bid if we needed to use hand labor to complete it,” said Maffei. “Even if we could have used a skid steer for the work, it wouldn’t have been cost-effective.”

Maffei’s fleet now stands at six Dingos.

“They perform nearly any task and improve working conditions by eliminating the hard, manual labor,” said Maffei. “They don’t call in sick and they don’t take a paycheck until we use them.”

In addition to improving his bottom line and increasing productivity, Maffei’s employees have experienced less back injuries since the compact utility loaders joined their crews.

“Out of all of the equipment that we own I classify my Dingos as my most important pieces,” said Maffei. “I can count on them to help get jobs done and the employees love them. The Dingo compact utility loaders have literally revolutionized my business.”