Soil And Mulch Producer News
RokStories Blowing Mulch Streamlines Landscaping Operations While Increasing Profits
By Todd Williams
The growth in the blower truck and trailer market business is instrumental in expansion of the mulch industry with no apparent end in sight, experts say.

From simple residential projects, to large apartment complexes, to 20-story high green roofs, mulch blowing has taken a foothold in the landscaping business.

Once pretty much confined to highway hydro seeding, blower trucks and trailers can now be seen spreading mulch, soil amendments and compost at landscaping sites all over the US. And some of these behemoth machines are even being exported to Canada, Europe and Australia, despite the hefty shipping costs.

Although still considered serving a niche market, these relatively expensive blower machines are gaining steady acceptance in the landscaping industry due to their impressive workload capacities.

“We can spread 100 yards per truck per day of mulch with no problems. It’s perfectly applied with less waste,” says Steve Scott, owner of Applied Organics, Seattle, Washington. He adds that it would take two employees with a pickup truck at least two days to spread that much dressing. This seems to be a typical scenario for blower truck owners.

Although there is no trade association representing the blower truck business and therefore no accurate compilation of industry-wide sales, representatives of two of the major players in the industry report their sales are up from a dismal past several years.

Carla Severe, Marketing Manager at Express Blower, Inc., says her company’s sales are now about 10-12 trucks per year, up somewhat from a serious slump in sales during the last recession.

And at rival Peterson Pacific Corporation, Eugene, Oregon, James Whittenborn, blower truck sales manager, reports steady sales of three to four trucks and trailers per year over the past several years. Peterson also manufactures horizontal grinders and chippers. Whittenborn says Peterson got into the blower truck and trailer business back in 2001 as a “logical expansion” of the chipper and grinder business.

Express Blower began in 2002 when an Oregon-based company named Rexius Forest Byproducts, Inc. sold its blower truck technology to Finn Corporation which now makes the trucks in Cincinnati, Ohio under the Express moniker.

Although there are technical differences between the two major manufacturers of blower trucks and trailers, the equipment essentially works the same.

Basically, according to company representatives and literature, the blower equipment comes in two configurations – an integrated box and chassis combination, and a trailer-mounted blower unit that’s pulled by a separate tractor. The truck unit operates its blower off a PTO while the trailer unit operates off its own diesel engine, usually a 250 or 335 horsepower unit.

Both varieties have either a reel hose, or a truck bed storage area for the hose. Trucks come with four-inch, five-inch or six-inch hoses, usually in lengths of 100 feet or more.

Capacities of the blower equipment are measured in cubic yards and are typically in 30, 45, 60, 70 and 90 -cubic yard configurations.

According to industry sales people, there are advantages to using either blower configuration.

Trailer mounted units have an advantage of directly linking the diesel engine to the blower unit, resulting in more power available to the system. Also, the trailer engine can operate on lower cost off-highway fuel. Additionally, tractors pulling the blower trailers can be used with other heavy equipment when not transporting the blower.

Blower trucks, company representatives point out, have one major advantage over trailers because of their smaller length; they are more maneuverable and easier to drive into restricted areas.

“Trucks are a little more versatile because of their length. At 36 feet, trucks can get into smaller areas to work. We find that trailers seem to be used by more of our landscapers who handle large commercial and municipal jobs because of their capacity,” Wittenborn adds.

Price-wise, blower trailers are less expensive, primarily due to the fact that they have to be paired with a tractor. However, when the price of a tractor is factored in, cost for the trailer is about the same for a truck unit. Generally, prices for trucks or trailers run in the $275,000-$435,000 range, depending on options. Used equipment usually costs in the $120,00-$275,00 range.

Performance on all the trucks and trailers vary somewhat, but these large units are capable of blowing mulch, compost, soil and gravel. All have the advantage of distributing these products in a uniform manner in a wide range of conditions. These units can function just fine in most weather conditions including rain and cold temperatures.

Express Blower’s Severe notes, “all blower units are capable of blowing any material, but the customer’s market will determine what size blower to purchase. “ For instance, if the landscaper blows mulch on green roofs in the 10-story and up range, then a larger blower unit would be a good purchase.

She suggest that because of the hefty cost of blower equipment, companies will find it is to their advantage to use the blowers to mulch in the spring and then use the truck for other purposes such as green roofs and erosion control the rest of the year.

“We blow everything to keep our employees and equipment busy,” says Lupe Jimenez, owner of Red Bark, Inc., a major Portland, Oregon-based landscaper.

Jimenez, who owns seven trucks and a trailer, manufactured by Peterson, started with a single truck 10 years ago. He now has 20 employees who comprise five work crews. Jimenez says his customer mix is about 65% to 70% commercial and about 30% to 35% residential.

Jimenez says his crews blow approximately 500 to 700 cubic yards of material every day.

“If we did that by hand, we could spread only about 50 cubic yards a day. The only time we do anything by hand now is when we spread a cubic yard of mulch on a flowerbed. It doesn’t pay to do hand work anymore. Blower trucks are my business now. It has been a great investment,” he adds.

Dan Fuquay, owner of Aching Acres Landscaping, Evansville, Indiana, wholeheartedly agrees with Jimenez.

Fuquay, who bought his first truck from Express Blower in 2003, now uses this blower and two more he’s purchased eight to ten months a year.

“Once you get used to having a blower truck, you find that you can’t get along without it. My trucks are a huge asset to this business and real labor savers,” Fuquay says.

He recounts that before purchasing blower trucks; a 40-cubic-yard mulching job would require three or four employees working all day to spread three to four dump trucks of material. This same job using a blower truck takes a two-person crew three to four hours to complete.

Fuquay says his truck-based operation is profitable beyond expectations, adding that at $75 per cubic yard, he can earn about $25,000 per week spreading mulch.

“The second year of owning our trucks, we doubled our sales. Now we’re up to about $2 million a year and we only have two salesmen and five installers,” the Evansville businessman says.

Whereas Aching Acres uses blower trucks and pursues high end residential landscaping jobs as well as some state contracted work, Brendan Immers owns three blower trailers and a small blower truck and services a customer mix of 85% commercial and 15% residential.

Located in Rocklin, California, Immers owns Applied Landscape Materials, which he started in 2006 as a result of an accident.

“I live on a hillside in Northern California. I was putting bark on my property by hand and fell off the hill. I thought there had to be a better way of applying mulch on a steep terrain, so I got online and did some research,” Immers recalls.

His “accident” led Immers to quit his white-collar job, buy a small blower truck and go into business blowing mulch on small residential properties. And he hasn’t looked back.

Immers says his business takes him all over northern California with an average daily workload of 500 to 600 cubic yards of material. Although he still does an occasional house job with his original truck, Immers notes he has a 30-yard minimum order. He adds that most of his work involves municipal projects, including playgrounds and streetscapes. He counts the California Department of Transportation as one of his major clients.

He adds that his trailers consisting of a Peterson-built 90-cubic yard machine and two 70-yard units are perfect for streetscape work because his driver can go slowly down the road while another member of the crew applies the mulch.

“The bulk of material we apply is mulch, but we are expanding into erosion control blankets utilizing compost. Anywhere there is disturbed earth is where we use that material,” he explains.

As with all company owners contacted for this article, Immers is a “hands on” type of owner.

“Even though I have 12 employees spreading 50,000 to 70,000 yards of material a year, I still go into the field all the time and shake my customer’s hands. I enjoy the work because it’s a challenge for me,” he says.

Immers, like many in the mulch application business, buys his product directly from the mills and stocks it in a dedicated yard, thus saving money on the middleman.

Applied Organics’ owner Scott also buys his mulch directly from the mills and stockpiles it in his yard to fill his Express Blower equipment - a 30-cubic yard trailer and two 60-cublic yard blower trucks.

Scott, who started in the landscape business back in 2003, with just two employees and a pickup truck, soon realized that spreading mulch with a blower instead of by hand, was the best way to grow his business.

In the beginning, Scott recalls, he pooled his landscaping jobs together and hired another company to blow the mulch. As his business grew, Scott realized that he needed to purchase his own blower unit to ease scheduling of jobs and to make more money. So he took the plunge, buying a 30-cubic yard trailer.

“At first it was hard to make the equipment payments, but we kept at it. I just knew that quality of service, a good work ethic and willingness to get your hands dirty would make us successful,” Scott recalls.

Now with eight employees plus himself, Scott says he stays very busy, blowing about 100 cubic yards of mulch per day per truck. Although he does little sales himself, the jobs keep coming in. He explains that the key to his sales is the fact that he works for a diverse group of landscapers in the Seattle area. These people have their own sales force garnering work for Applied Organics.

Besides residential projects and commercial work including numerous office parks, Applied Organics also handles large projects for the Washington State Department of Transportation. These include road construction and compost-based erosion control projects, as well as storm water management. Scott also has been averaging one green roof project a week, having recently completed a seven-story roof.

“We are efficient and we can put down mulch perfectly with less waste using our blower units. And that’s what counts,” he notes.

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