I walked 40 miles a day before my Walker

It may sound a little far fetched, but it's true, claims Ray Albert, owner of Ray Albert Landscaping in Vancouver, Washington. "I used to walk 40 miles a day mowing before I purchased my Walker." Now, he says he walks a lot less, makes more money and has more time to enjoy what he does best - gardening and melding together all the elements of a landscape.

walker-talk-volume-17-21_1.jpgAlbert, who has been landscaping for more than 20 years, doesn't look or act his 61 years of age. He walks twice as fast as a person half his age and climbs giant fir trees just for the pleasure of repelling down. He also jumps at the opportunity to learn something new each day, to add to the 150 to 180 class hours he already has logged learning about landscapes and the intricacies of Mother Nature.

"Life is what you make it," he says with a smile. "Have you ever taken time out of the day to watch a yellow jacket and a spider battle it out, or taken the time to interact with nature in other ways? To me, what's important is how much you know and how much you grow intellectually and spiritually. Money just pays the bills."

It's not surprising that this landscaper views his equipment in a different light. When he purchased his Walker Mower 10 years ago, he didn't do it strictly for the money it could make him. Instead, he wanted a machine that would free up more of his time for pruning, edging and overall maintaining properties.

Over the years, Albert's business has enjoyed both peaks and valleys. At the peak he maintained 54 properties using small 21-inch walk-behind mowers. "They were good mowers," he relates. "But I always came home tired."

So he downsized, giving up mowing completely until customers prevailed upon him to mow again. He did, and his account numbers swelled to 35 properties.

"I've always enjoyed working by myself, and 35 accounts with mowing responsibility was too much work. It just didn't give me the time I needed to maintain properties. Landscapes in this part of the country grow fast and require pruning and trimming virtually all year long." So Albert did two thing : He purchased a Walker Mower and downsized. The two moves allowed him to transform his business overnight.

"What used to take me 30 to 45 minutes to mow now took five minutes," Albert says of his 16-hp Walker. "I still stayed on the property about the same length of time, but spent the extra time I now had giving it the personal touch."

The bonus? He still charged the same amount for mowing. Homeowners didn't mind, he says, because the Walker's 42-inch deck left a beautiful cut.

Since purchasing the Walker Mower, Albert has gradually pruned away his less-profitable, less-enjoyable accounts. Today, he maintains 13 properties, including 12 homes and one commercial property- a brew pub.

Perception isn't Reality

"Thing aren't what they're made out to be," says Albert, waxing philosophical about his business. "To me, for example, landscaping is an art form - not an occupation. You'll notice that some of the trees I trim have a different look. It's fun to play around with different designs. And when you look at the leaves on a tree, they're more than leaves. Fallen leaves can be used to make compost, and they act as a natural filter, too.

"My Walker Mower no doubt was designed to be a mower. But over its 1,600 hours of use, I've used it as a tractor to tow my broken down truck off the road and to raise a couple of telephone poles for a swing set. Anyway, it's more than a mower - it's a lawn maintenance machine. Before I mow a lawn, I blow all the leaves, small papers and other debris on the yard. I'll even blow the small branches I've trimmed from the arborvitae out of the beds onto the lawn. The Walker just picks everything up."

Albert stores his mower, along with virtually every maintenance tool in his possession in an enclosed trailer. He is a self-contained landscaper if there ever was one, to the extent that talk from his wife, Tessa, about moving closer to their family in Colorado doesn't phase him.

"I'll just take my trailer and find some new accounts," he says. ''After all, part of living is being flexible. " In some ways we're no different than trees. Those that are most likely to survive over time are those that give a little."

Looking at Albert, one can't help but admire a man who has spent the last 20 years doing exactly what he has wanted to do. But he reminds us that doing what you want to do doesn't mean it comes easily.

"No, landscaping is a tough business. The key to success for me is wanting to do it and persevering. If you work hard enough, you can make anything happen - that's the nature of all business."

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