Cassopolis native continues to improve, market yard tool

CASSOPOLIS — Throughout Cass County, landscape workers are figuratively, and sometimes literally, breaking their backs trying to reshape and improve the yards of residents and businesses. They dig holes, spread mulch, flatten hills and plant flowers and trees.

Landscaping is tough work, and that is why a Cassopolis native has been working hard to improve his a piece of equipment that is designed to make it easier.

Joel Westrate, who grew up in Cassopolis and now lives in Dowagiac, created the Landscaper’s Buddy, a tool that he says makes it easier and more efficient for landscapers to lift, move and plant trees.

“It’s designed to be used by one, two or three people,” Westrate said. “It has a rear handle, that if someone pulls down on it while someone pulls down on the lever handle, the tree or whatever is being lifted will move quite easily.”

According to the product’s website, it can lift a 40-foot ball tree and has a 2,000-pound carrying capacity. Additional accessories can also be purchased for the product such as a Bulk Loader Remover, which converts the Landscaper’s Buddy in to a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, and a flat cart.

He says that tool is particularly helpful on lake front properties, which often have tight squeezes and turns.

Westrate sold his first Landscaper’s Buddy to Mark Dussel of Dussel Farms in 2013 and has been marketing and improving the tool ever since.

“We’ve made some changes to the product,” Westrate said. “We’ve straightened up the tire guard and made that two inches wider and thicker. We added an extra tube of steal on the lever handle, and as such, we also give it a two-year warranty. We haven’t had any product failures since we’ve done that, so it’s a much improved product from the original.”

He has also changed manufacturers a couple of times. His first manufacturer was too big and the next one was too small. His current manufacturer is out of Grand Rapids and Westrate says they are just right for him.

Thus far, 500 Landscaper’s Buddies have been sold in 33 states and in Canada, Puerto Rico and the Saint Thomas Virgin Islands. Organizations that purchased the product include the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Six Flags and Seaworld.

The customers Westrate is the most proud of are the ones that have come back for more.

“The thing I’m most proud about are the repeat customers,” he said. “I’ve got 50 customers who own more than one buddy now and that makes me feel really good. They order one and they they come back the following year and order more.”

Along the way, several Cass County community members have helped Westrate improve his business and product, including Mayor of Dowagiac Don Lyons.

“He’s gone up to Grand Rapids a couple of times with me to help with the initial designing of it,” he said. “That was instrumental. I lean on him quite a bit for advice.”

To sell the Landscaper’s Buddy, Westrate attends trade shows, visits landscapers while they are working and accepts orders online. He will also be in a few catalogs starting this summer, which he hopes will beef up his distribution.

For more information on the Landscaper’s Buddy, visit thelandscapersbuddy.com.

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