Ride-On Trenchers – A Growth Market?

Wherever there's new building and development, you'll find ride-on trenchers. What's new with this type of equipment? What do you need to know to maximize your investment? We asked leading manufacturers for their opinions on this particular market; following is the result of that discussion.

Rental: How is the current market for ride on trenchers?

Matt Collins, Ditch Witch: This market has been trending up since the start of 2010. Over the last three years, rental companies have gradually started replacing and expanding their aging fleets.

Jon Kuyers, Vermeer Corp.: The current market has remained level for 2013. Last year was an exceptional year, and we are waiting to see the potential demand for new machines that entered the market this spring. With the interest we saw at The Rental Show, we are very optimistic.

Josh Beddow, Toro: Rental sales of larger ride-on trenchers are increasing but not at the pace of the smaller units. We do believe rental stores are stocking more walk-behind trenchers instead of small ride-on trenchers because of the advances made in walk-behind units. Since the trenching depths (around 3 to 4 feet) of many small ride-on trenchers are comparable to a walk-behind trencher, many rental stores are making the decision to go with walk-behind units.

Rental: How do you see demand changing as construction and housing bounce back?

Beddow, Toro: An improved construction and housing market will benefit the rental industry as a whole and will certainly impact the contractor's need for trenchers. With new housing comes the need for new utilities, which is where the bulk of work is for ride-on on trenchers. Contractors may also be hesitant to expand fleets immediately to meet demand, relying more on rental until they can be sure the housing turnaround is here to stay.

Collins, Ditch Witch: With the improvements in the economy and the rise in housing starts, we anticipate steady growth in this market segment through 2014. Since the downturn in 2008, contractors appear to be relying more heavily on the rental sector to offset the risk of purchasing new equipment. This trend could very well continue up to the point where rental businesses see a considerable increase in equipment utilization rates.

Kuyers, Vermeer: Recovery is somewhat regional right now. There are positive signs in areas of the country where construction is booming – for example, North Dakota and Texas – relating to an increase in oil and gas gathering and production. Overall, I feel construction continues to improve.

Rental: What is the scope of your company's ride-on trencher line?

Kuyers, Vermeer: We offer our RT450, a 42-horsepower model with a maximum trench depth of 60 inches and maximum trench width of 12 inches; the 65-horsepower RTX550 with 60-inch trench depth and 12-inch trench width; the RTX750, a 74-horsepower model with a 60-inch trench depth and 12-inch trench width; and finally, the 120-horsepower RTX1250, with a 72-inch trench depth and 18-inch trench width. The RT450 is the most popular unit for residential and landscaping applications; however, depending on ground conditions and increased difficulty of the job, a larger trencher may be needed.

Beddow, Toro: With the recent acquisition of Astec Underground equipment, Toro is now pleased to offer the ProSneak 360 ride-on trencher and vibratory plow and the 65-horsepower RT600 ride-on trencher.

Collins, Ditch Witch: We just introduced the RT30 at The Rental Show in February. If you're looking for a less-expensive, entry-level ride-on trencher, the new 25-horsepower RT30 is an ideal machine for trenching 3- to 3 ½-foot trenches.

Our 43-horsepower RT45 is a standard in the rental industry and an ideal machine for trenching 4- to 5-foot trenches.

Rental: What unique features do your machines offer?

Collins, Ditch Witch: Our new RT30 has a compact footprint, tight turning radius, four-wheel drive, and industry-leading maneuverability. It's ideal for installations on tight, residential jobsites. It also offers an advanced, maintenance-free pivot that is simplified and raised to function out of the dirt and debris, ensuring reliability and long-term durability. The exceptionally robust trencher drive motor utilizes a larger shaft and bearings than those of smaller trenchers, to enhance reliability.

As for the RT45, its direct-coupled, high-torque digging chain motor and Tier 4i compliant-engine give it plenty of power to muscle through almost any soil condition. An advanced air-filtration system is designed to improve engine performance, and air filter elements are easy to access and replace.

Kuyers, Vermeer: TrenchSense is a Vermeer exclusive technology that is standard on all ride-on trenchers. It monitors engine and chain operation and automatically pauses the machine when a problem occurs. If the trencher hits an obstacle, the tractor immediately backs up and the chain reverses to dislodge obstruction – all without operator interface.

TrenchSense was designed specifically to protect the trencher from potential damage caused by difficult ground conditions and for operators with minimal trenching experience. For instance, if the trencher hits a boulder, TrenchSense will disengage the chain and prevent hard shutdowns to the tractor. This saves the trencher from potential damage that can result in significant downtime.

Beddow, Toro: The Toro Pro Sneak has a small footprint – it's only 36 inches wide. It features an optimized operator position that ensures safety and provides maximum visibility of the jobsite. The RT600 is the only trencher in its class to feature a planetary-driven trencher that uses a flywheel, torsion shaft, and planetary gear box to deliver smooth, powerful and consistent trenching as ground conditions change.

Rental: Do you have any insight into how to set ride-on trencher rates for maximum profitability?

Collins, Ditch Witch: From a manufacturer's perspective, I'm not sure we can do a lot to affect rental rates, but we can do our due diligence in keeping costs as low as possible to help offset the rising cost of engines. It's likely that prices on ride-on trenchers will increase due to Tier 4 emissions compliance, so we introduced an entry-level ride-on trencher to help offset these costs. The New RT30 was specifically designed to lower initial investment costs, lower cost of ownership, and improve or protect a higher ROI.

Beddow, Toro: The first place to start is to look around at your competitor's fleet of trenchers. Comparing the age and how well the machines are maintained is important. Pricing on smaller units tends to be pretty competitive, because those units can be found in most rental fleets, unless the rental company is able to offer something unique and value added to the user – easier to use controls, safer machine, higher productivity, etc.

Kuyers, Vermeer: A rental business owner shouldn't set rates solely based on the competition. Rental business owners need to position themselves as an expert and provide a service to customers. The most effective way would be to evaluate the customer needs, set the machine according to those needs prior to rental.

There are many considerations that should be evaluated when renting out a trencher, environmental factors being the most important. A trencher used in clay won't have near the wear on it as a trencher used in rock or cobble. Also, what will the trencher be doing? How deep will the trench be? What chain is best for the application? What type of maintenance will need to be performed when it comes back from rental?

This information should be considered when setting the rental rate. That way, the owner is assured the machine will be utilized correctly, as well as higher satisfaction from the customer.