Courtesy Bobcat Co., West Fargo, N.D.
High-production landscaping in limited-access spaces calls for special equipment. It needs to be small and nimble enough to fit the site, and big and versatile enough to handle the work quickly and efficiently. Just ask Trey Pfeilsticker, owner and general manager of Rain Dance, Chandler, Ariz., one of the state's largest commercial and residential landscape contractors.
His 10 three-person crews, which are at times spread over a 50-mile radius in the Phoenix area, can landscape a dozen or more homes a day, and that includes installing irrigation systems. They do it all with the help of their compact skid-steer loaders and bucket and trencher attachments.
"We primarily have skid-steer loaders," Pfeilsticker says. "Years back, we started using skid-steer loaders because of their versatility. It made more sense to have something we could run more than one attachment on."
Pfeilsticker's father founded Rain Dance in 1978. Pfeilsticker says his father came from a corporate background having worked for years for Motorola. So when the Phoenix area began to sprawl with new housing developments, he saw landscaping as an obvious business opportunity.
Instead of plastering his landscaping trucks with decals and placing an enormous ad in the telephone book, Pfeilsticker's father developed relationships with homebuilders. Today, nearly all of Rain Dance's residential landscaping business comes from working with builders.
"Most landscaping companies feed off of direct sales from homeowners, whereas we usually sell through the builders," Pfeilsticker says.
Rain Dance has built in excess of 250 model-home landscaping projects for various homebuilders. In addition to doing residential landscaping, they also have completed several major commercial and municipal projects.
Pfeilsticker, who took ownership of Rain Dance in 1995, says his company specializes in blending an overall soft desert landscape with Southwestern flair while enhancing and preserving the natural beauty of the high Sonoran Desert. The landscaping company achieves this natural environment by harmonizing downsized lawns with drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and groundcovers indigenous to the native desert climate.
And to learn what landscaping design their customers want, Rain Dance uses a unique computer program that enables builders' customers to log on to their website and create their individual landscape design right down to each desert tree, shrub and flower. "The computer program is available to the customers of the more than 50 housing communities we work with," Pfeilsticker says. "It really gives the builders' homeowners a chance to make their landscaping decisions at home and at their leisure."
Rain Dance prides itself on completing awarded contracts on time for project openings, regardless of circumstances. To meet this goal, Pfeilsticker says all Rain Dance crews are equipped with a skid-steer loader. Rain Dance has just under 30 skid-steer loaders, more than half of which are Bobcat® 463 skid-steer loaders.
"For its size, the 463 is a powerful skid-steer loader," he says. "It fits through 3-foot-wide gates to get into back yards without having to tear down a wall or fence. It also has the hydraulic power to easily handle trenching jobs."
Accessibility and maneuverability becomes key when working in confined residential spaces. When Rain Dance crews arrive on a job site, it's not unusual for them to work between newly constructed homes, which are sometimes separated by only a few feet. Skid-steer loader operators must also maneuver around obstacles such as protruding air-conditioning units, decks and lampposts.
While many landscape contractors in the Phoenix area rely solely on hand tools, Pfeilsticker says he's recently seen more, smaller landscapers turning to skid-steer loaders.
Investing in the compact skid-steer loaders and a variety of attachments saves Pfeilsticker money by cutting labor costs in half. Instead of having crews of four or five people, Rain Dance crews consist of only three workers — a foreman, pipe fitter and an operator. And instead of taking the crews one day to finish one residential landscaping job, Pfeilsticker says, on average, crews complete as many as three homes a day.
In addition to the bucket, Rain Dance crews also use a Bobcat LT 102 trencher, with its 2-foot digging depth, to dig irrigation trenches and to loosen soil for hand-digging shrubs and tree-planting holes. "It eliminates the labor required to operate a jackhammer with a clay spade or a walk-behind trencher," he says. "Plus, it costs only a fourth of the price of a walk-behind trencher.
"We'll continue to buy the skid-steer loaders because they're reliable and they save us a lot of labor," Pfeilsticker adds.