Michael Huie, head groundskeeper in Washington state with the Tacoma Rainiers, AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, knows how hard it is to embark on the process of seeking approval from the powers that be to purchase new field maintenance equipment.
Whether you work in parks and recreation for a school district, at a college or a professional team, the process of buying new equipment often must first involve sales. You need to sell a CEO, a director, a board or others on why you need a certain piece of equipment – and why they should spend the money to purchase it.
An efficient explanation
“It’s a tough battle, no matter what level you’re at,” Huie says. “I’ve found some success in gearing my request toward efficiency and what kind of time you can save – translating it into hours saved on your crew.”
Even a relatively expensive piece of equipment might look financially attractive to those approving the purchases if it’s going to save a lot of labor time, Huie notes. “Efficiency is what they see because that equals dollar signs,” he says.
Rick Perruzzi, turf manager with the South Portland department of parks, recreation and waterfront in Maine, agrees that focusing on efficiency is a good strategy. Perruzzi says it helps to talk about how long it currently takes to do a particular process, and how much time would be saved with the new equipment.
For example, until 18 months ago, he and his crew had only a greens topdresser for topdressing some 25 acres of irrigated fields.
“So our turnaround time between coring or verticutting and getting that material picked up and then topdressing was about three days,” Perruzzi explains. “Now, having a Toro MH-400 4-cubic-yard topdresser has cut the topdressing time down from about four hours per field to about 45 minutes. And it only requires one person. So I try to break things down in terms of how many man-hours can be saved, to show how we can do more in a shorter amount of time than we currently are able to do.”
Ryan Newman, director of athletic grounds at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also emphasizes gains in efficiency when arguing in favor of a new piece of equipment.
Before a recent construction project, his athletic grounds team was based adjacent to the facilities management grounds department. “This made it easy to borrow equipment, such as forklifts and smaller walk behind turf maintenance machines,” says Newman.
Following construction, though, the grounds department was relocated to the other side of campus, making it time-consuming to pick up equipment when needed. “We started documenting the man-hours we spent picking up, using and returning their fork lift. It was an easy sell to the administrators when we presented them with the cost associated to borrowing the fork lift,” he explains.
Shortly after, he was able to purchase a forklift because it both increased efficiency and filled a need for his department.
Do your homework
“The strategy that I have found most successful is going in to the meeting with all of your ‘ducks in a row,’ so to speak,” says Chris Mason, head groundskeeper in Pennsylvania with the Altoona Curve, AA affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Be prepared for any questions that may arise – because they do! Take the time to explain to all parties involved in the purchasing process the benefits of having newer equipment, and also explain what your financial strategy is to help alleviate the cost. Try to find ways to reallocate portions of your budget each season to go towards this investment.”
Perruzzi seconds the notion that “doing your research – doing your homework” is very important before going to your supervisor.
“You want to come across as someone who has put a lot of thought into it. Not just somebody who saw something at a trade show and thought, ‘wow, that looks nice.’ You want them to know that you’ve made a calculated assessment of what equipment you think is the best fit for the operation going forward,” Perruzzi advises.
In the bigger picture, he says, sports field managers need to establish themselves as credible and knowledgeable professionals, whether that’s through formal education, becoming certified or seeking out other opportunities to learn. Do this and administrators are more likely to listen to what you have to say, Perruzzi points out. That includes arguments in favor of adding a certain piece of equipment.
In short, before selling administrators on a certain piece of equipment, sell them on your own credentials, experience and expertise, he says.
Perruzzi also says that different size organizations will have varying “layers” of decision-makers to communicate with before equipment can be purchased.
But regardless of that internal structure, he says, “I think the decision-makers – whether it’s an executive or a council – are more apt to spend money on equipment as opposed to increasing the labor force.”
Equipment is basically a one-time cost that those drafting a budget can see and wrap their heads around and even anticipate when money might have to be spent to replace it, Perruzzi says. It’s much more difficult to figure actual long-term costs when it comes to hiring employees.
What’s Hot in Equipment?
Michael Huie, Tacoma (Washington) Rainiers
Huie sees increased demand for “any piece of equipment that helps you disrupt your surface — the Verti-Quake [from Redexim] has become a pretty popular thing to own.”
Ryan Newman, University of Colorado, Boulder
“It seems that a lot of folks are starting to purchase the Air2G2 unit, showing that both vendors and managers are doing their homework. Aerification is one of the most important field maintenance processes that we do to be successful. Vendors have seen a need for large-scale aerification with little surface disruption and managers have stayed current with technology and new products.”
Chris Mason, Altoona (Pennsylvania) Curve
“More of the people I speak with are having the opportunity to purchase new equipment, which is phenomenal for us as sports turf managers. It is putting us in a better position to do our job more efficiently and helping in providing quality playing surfaces for the athletes involved, and also putting us in the best possible position within our organizations to reach our common goal of getting events in and providing both safe and aesthetically pleasing surfaces.” Mason also cites aeration, and specifically use of the Air2G2 unit as increasingly popular practices.
Kevin White, University of Portland (Oregon)
White sees a continuing trend toward equipment designed to boost productivity. “I see machines getting faster and lighter, reducing the impact on the playing surface,” he reports. “Additionally, we’re seeing more specialized pieces of equipment, from injecting air or dry materials into the rootzone, to fraze mowing, various forms of slicing or linear aeration and supplemental lighting. Machines are becoming more tech oriented, utilizing onboard diagnostics and GPS/GIS mapping. The ag industry has had a lot of this technology for a while, and it’s exciting to see it migrating into the turfgrass management side.”
What he would really love, though, is a robotic assistant. “Maybe something that could not only assist in providing additional labor, but that can perform some type of task, such as aeration or spraying or painting … the possibilities are endless!”
Who knows? The day may be coming where a robot is the hottest piece of sports field maintenance equipment on the market.
Safe and sound
Explaining how a piece of equipment will decrease the risk of injury – to an athlete or someone working on the field – is an attention-getter, says Kevin White, athletics field manager at the University of Portland in Oregon.
“For me, anytime safety concerns come up, the discussion typically ends positively. It’s emotionally and ethically difficult for people to deny something knowing it may have a negative impact on the health and safety of someone else,” White says.
Increased productivity also gets the attention of decision-makers, he says.
“This line of work is mostly viewed as a source of cash outflow, so if we can show a positive effect on the cash inflow with a purchase that will improve conditions and allow for additional facility use, or that can cut the time and material involved with a particular practice and demonstrate a favorable return on investment, we stand a greater chance of getting major purchases approved,” explains White.
Finally, White says maintenance costs are another way to get those setting budgets to consider purchasing new equipment. Increased maintenance downtime and the inability to source repair parts are compelling reasons to replace equipment, he says.
“Detailed record-keeping has benefited me and supported my requests by being able to show how much time and money I’m spending either fixing a piece of equipment or renting a replacement when it is in the shop and not on a field,” White says.
Mason also relies on this strategy.
“Usually when it comes time for purchasing new equipment, it is to both increase efficiency and to accomplish a new goal. Newer equipment is a lot easier to maintain, and with that we can focus more time into our field as opposed to setting aside multiple hours just for routine maintenance,” he says.
Mason also explains equipment acquisition in terms of how it will benefit his field.
“A lot of the purchases that I pitch are for pieces of equipment that we do not currently have that could help us provide the best possible playing surface that we can,” he says.
Huie, who works in the pro sports segment of the industry, concurs that top decision-makers are interested how a piece of equipment will help to improve the overall quality of the field or – at least – ensure that more games can be played even in inclement weather. There are also the aesthetics of the field.
“They’re trying to sell a product, so they want it to look good. So things like mowers, in my experience, are pretty easy to sell because that’s what you’re striping with,” he explains.
Those items can be understood even by someone who doesn’t work in sports field management; it’s a harder ask when it comes to “behind the scenes” equipment – say, something to move infield dirt with,” Huie says.
“Most people don’t realize all of the work that goes into taking care of fields,” he says.
One thing Huie says doesn’t work is getting super-technical as far as field or turfgrass maintenance to try to get buy-in for new equipment.
“We can really nerd out on the turfgrass stuff, but that never really seems to help,” he says. “They’ll look at you and say, ‘that’s nice, but why do we need to spend $40,000 on this?’ They may think you’re just trying to cushion your job a little bit.”
Rick Perruzzi has also found that to be the case.
“When you tell someone in the finance department that you’re taking care of a living, breathing organism, they just look at you like you’ve got three heads,” he says. But to explain, for example, that a seven-head rotary mower will help you be able to mow your fields much more quickly with much less labor, makes it easier to understand, he notes.
Comparing that cost versus payback always helps, adds Newman.
“We’re fortunate in our situation, my supervisor is the former field manager, so he understands how new equipment can help our operation in multiple ways,” he says. “The obvious is making the job easier and/or more efficient for the crew, but furthermore, the boost in crew moral is apparent. The crew feels the support of the administration to do their jobs to the highest standard.”
And nearly everyone we talked to said that discussing the versatility of a piece of equipment (how it can be used in different ways, in different seasons, outfitted with different attachments) is a good way to get buy-in.
“Don’t be afraid to ask,” Perruzzi advises. “The worst they’re going to say is ‘no.’ And if it’s something small, they might just get tired of listening to you ask and you’ll get it!” Consider that the squeaky-wheel strategy.