There are a number of things to consider before buying a commercial zero turn mower.
For the professional landscaper perhaps the primary concern should be dealer support. There is no point being loyal to a particular manufacturer if it means a hundred mile round trip for repairs or to pick up parts. Access to spare parts and repairs during busy times is vital to keeping mowers running and clients happy. Many dealers operate a system whereby you will be moved to the front of the queue for future repairs if you buy a mower from them. This is, of course, especially important for the commercial landscaper during busy periods.
Productivity is also vital. The ability to cut huge swathes of grass in as short a time as possible is vital to any businesses bottom-line. The top speed of commercial zero turn mowers varies, but it is generally faster than those aimed at the residential market. Dixie Chopper have a reputation for building fast ZTR mowers and looked to build that on that reputation with the unveiling of the new Dixie Chopper Stryker at the Green Industry & Equipment Expo in Louisville in 2013.
Cut quality is also an issue. There is no point investing in a commercial ZTR whose cut quality is not up to par. Nothing will drive away customers quicker than a scalped lawn, and word-of-mouth may hamper getting future contracts in the area.
Durability is also key. The lifespan or a mower can have a big impact on the profitability of a business venture. Picking a commercial zero turn mower that can stand up to the rigors of hard, everyday cutting for several years is vital.
Operator comfort is also an extremely important consideration. Mowers with full suspension not only keep the operator happy, but allow the mower to cut the grass more consistently.
Safety is of course a paramount concern. Most commercial zero turn mowers today will come with a Roll Over Protection System (ROPS). Buyers of used zero-turn-radius commercial mowers which did not come with a ROPS system may find that the manufacturer of the mower offers a subsidised or free ROPS fitting scheme. Toro and Scag are two examples of such manufacturers.
Fuel efficiency is another important factor in any buying decision. Walker mowers, for example, offer commercial mowers with EFI engines which can be up to 25% more efficient than those without. Other manufacturers offer propane-powered mowers which can also offer savings on fuel costs. Zero turn mowers with EFI or propane engines are not only more fuel efficient, they are also more environmentally friendly. This can be important when trying to win contracts from local bodies who are often keen to stress their green credentials. Landscaping businesses who can advertise their environmental friendliness often have an advantage over rivals who cannot.
In recent years there has been a bit of a debate about the misuse of the term by certain manufacturers or dealers to describe their zero turn mowers. Often premium residential machines from big box stores slip into the commercial category where they do not belong. Most of these machines are not capable of withstanding the rigors of commercial use.
Sometimes mowers are referred to as semi-pro. Such mowers are popular with landscapers who are just starting their businesses, and who either can't afford a full-blown commercial ZTR or just want to make sure they can drum up enough business before investing in a more expensive machine. They are not really commercial grade machines though.
A well maintained commercial zero turn mower will last a long time if properly maintained and used with consideration. A hard working commercial crew, however, will stress even the best commercial mowers.
Operator comfort is extremely important when selecting a commercial grade mower. Operators putting long hours cutting grass will be grateful for the comfort levels which modern zero turn mowers can provide. Ferris mid-mount mowers with suspension have a reputation for offering a smooth ride. Alternatively, front mount mowers from Grasshopper have a great reputation amongst seasoned operators for providing a smooth riding experience. The downside is that you will pay considerably more in many cases for a commercial grade front mount model. Front mount mowers are also harder to transport due to their increased length.
Many commercial operators find that the compact nature of a mid mount mower lends itself to easy transportation. This is particularly useful if a fleet of machines are transported at the same time.