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10 year logoBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘As winter draws to a close here in the northeast,’ wrote Bruce Zaretsky to start his May 2009 On the Level column, ‘we begin preparing in earnest to deal with the inevitable springtime rush.  There are contracts to sign, materials to order, plants to grow, schedules to set and hires (if any) to be made.  And we do all of this knowing that, once the weather breaks, we want to burst out of the gate like an odds-on favorite at the Kentucky Derby.

‘To make this happen,’ he continued, ‘we need to be ready.’


‘As we see it in our business, tools are – right after our employees, of course – our most important assets.  Unfortunately, it has long been our observation that some on our staff don’t value those tools the same way we do as managers.  . . .  Rather than get steamed about such situations, years ago I decided to hold a special annual class for my employees called “Be Kind to Your Tools.” ’  


‘I tell them what the tools cost, what service bureaus charge to repair them when they break and, finally, what the down time means to the efficient, cost-effective flow of business. . . .  I supplement this meeting with refresher sessions throughout the year on tool needs and repairs.’  


‘It’s long been my observation that even lifetime, battle-hardened veterans of the landscape industry are remarkably naïve when it comes to understanding the costs associated with their activities and what it takes to keep us all moving forward.’


‘I [also] do all I can to stay close to situations in the field.  I visit every job site at least once each day, and I pay close attention to what tools are working, which are breaking down and which might need to be pulled off the line for periodic maintenance.’  


‘But of all the time spent on these issues as the work moves forward, there is no meeting more important (in the context of tools, anyway) than the one I call at the end of every year.  This is when I sit down with my mechanic/equipment operator . . . to discuss what needs to happen over the winter.  Not only does this give us a great idea of how much to budget for these maintenance items, but it also enables us to discuss whether it’s time to scuttle an old piece of equipment and replace it with something new so we’ll be fully ready for spring.’


‘[W]e all draw from a common pool of tools, equipment and vehicles, keeping everything in storage sheds or on the yard for use as needed.  . . .   No power tools may be left on a job site unless they can be locked up securely and are therefore inaccessible to thieves or young children; operators must check fluid levels and filters each morning and again before initial use; and all tools must be cleaned thoroughly at the end of the day.’   


‘Obviously, tools occasionally (but invariably) need repairs.  . . .  Whatever happens, we have simple sheets in our office labeled “Equipment Repair Request.”  Designed for use by our crew chiefs, these sheets include spaces for listing a piece of equipment and reporting what’s wrong with it, how it happened and if it could have been avoided.’  


‘Through the years,’ Bruce concluded, ‘the systems outlined above have worked well in keeping us on track, on schedule and moving forward.  . . .  What we try to do is create an environment in which employees accept accountability for their tools and equipment.  It’s up to them, as users of these key assets, to be sure these devices are kept in tiptop shape and cared for appropriately, and it’s up to me, as their employer, to be sure that they have what they need to do their jobs effectively and well.’

Does your own company have a system in place for tracking, maintain and servicing tools of the trade?  How do you encourage staff to take proper care of them – and how do you approach accountability for abuse or damage?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below!


Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky and Associates, a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  Nationally recognized for creative and inspiring residential landscapes, he also works with healthcare facilities, nursing homes and local municipalities in conceiving and installing healing and meditation gardens.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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