I’ve been following the articles in various local newspapers around the U.S. (via Google Reader, it’s a great way to consolidate your RSS feeds and it’s free). Over the past month there has been a large increase in the number of commercial lawn mowers and other equipment being stolen. Some people will steal anything they can sell. Some people may be stealing equipment so they can make a living after being laid off from a job.
As the economy worsens, people are stealing more things they don’t normally take. People don’t usually take equipment that requires work on their part from which to make money. But with the official unemployment rate rising to 9.5% in June, people seem to be willing to steal a job if they can’t find one legitimately.
When it comes down to brass tacks, families need food, utilities, basic clothing and shelter. They need the car to work so they can look for a job and continue to get their unemployment benefits, if entitled to them. They need some kind of work to bring money into the household.
Reports from some who have been caught said they felt horrible about stealing the equipment, but they were desperate to earn some money to feed their families. Many said they were only going to use the equipment long enough to afford a used mower that still runs and cuts grass, then they were going to return the equipment just as mysteriously as it had disappeared. They rationalized it to only be borrowing for a short time so they technically weren’t stealing it in the full sense of the word. Times are bad when you have to rationalize that hard.
Some were repeatedly stealing the same mower or the same few mowers and then returning them the same day while the owners weren’t home. They just used them for the day and took them back. One person was caught when an owner came home early, just in time to see a stranger drive up on his mower to put it away. The “borrower” had been really nice. He changed the oil and filled the gas tank, which wasn’t full when he borrowed the mower that morning.
The owner didn’t press charges and agreed to let the person borrow his mower on days he wasn’t using it. He also hired the guy to help him on the days he mowed. The owner had occasionally come home noticing his yard had been mowed, edged and cleaned up, and found out it was this guy trying to make amends for borrowing the mower without permission. He thought one of his mowing acquaintances had done it while mowing for a neighbor.
This is a sad state of affairs for the business, the country and the world. What can we do about it to protect our investments and jobs? Securely contain and lock up our equipment and fuel. I’ve noticed a lot of local guys moving from open trailers to enclosed trailers, or from open trailers with low sides to ones with very high sides and plenty of places to chain and lock equipment inside them. Locals don’t leave their trailers on the street anymore while they aren’t with them. They put them behind a privacy gate or in the back of their houses even while they take 30 minutes to eat lunch.
Something we might be able to do, depending on our circumstances, is higher another person or two on our crews if we have them. I’ve had a few people call me asking if they could join my crew.
I don’t have a crew and I don’t mow every day because I have another job, so I worked out a deal where a neighborhood single mom rents my equipment for $20/day and pays for her own gas on my work days. I earn a little for my equipment on the days I don’t mow, and my friend makes some serious money part-time. She needed a part-time job to make ends meet.
We drew up a rental agreement with all the terms and details. I based it on the rental agreement the local Triple A Rent-All place uses. Everything is legal even though we’re friends. We didn’t want to risk our friendship over some lawn equipment. She’s made enough extra money in the last couple of months to buy her own stuff. She is looking for a used commercial mower and edger. Her teenager uses their electric residential blower and a push broom to clean up the street and concrete. She says that will be the last piece she buys.
So lock up your equipment securely, and try to hire someone in need of a job if you can. The best way we will get out of this economic downturn is to work together, helping each other as much as we possibly can.