Surviving the Slow Season

Surviving the Slow Season

Tree service companies in most regions of the country have some time of the year during which business is slow. The slowdown is inevitable, but there are ways to keep your company going until business booms again.

Planning ahead

Determine what your total expenses are for the slow season and set aside funds during the busy season. That way, you can meet your obligations without risking assets or employees.

Maintaining that rainy day fund is one of the survival strategies that Noel Boyer uses. A certified arborist and owner of All About Trees, LLC in Springfield, Mo., Boyer says he has never had to dip into his savings. Instead, he minimizes off-season expenses by deferring optional repairs and purchases. Other companies suspend insurance coverage on vehicles that won’t be used during the off-season.

“Knowing that [my employees and I] have families to feed and sometimes the work isn’t there [motivates me to set funds aside],” he says. “It’s better to lose a little in the winter than to have to retrain new people in the spring.” Although many winters have been busy due to ice storms, Boyer has had his share of slow ones. “I haven’t had to lay anyone off in several years.”

Promotional opportunities

One way he’s tackled the slow season is by offering winter specials. He sells off-season work by mentioning winter rates on his estimate sheets. Boyer discourages regular clients from having elms and oaks pruned during the growing season due to disease susceptibility, and instead presells those services and provides them during the winter. He offers a 10 percent discount to those who schedule nonemergency work during the slow season and seeks to divert certain jobs. For example, working in a poison ivy infested area is less hazardous during cold weather.

Earlier this year, Boyer’s business was slow and he considered offering new services, but instead invested in radio advertising. Designed to promote his business’ name change and the advantages of treating trees damaged in past ice storms during the winter, his $5,000 in ads brought in $50,000 worth of work.

Steve Chisholm of Aspen Tree Expert Company, Inc., in New Jersey and brother of two-time ISA tree climbing champion Mark Chisholm, also works with clients to postpone optional work into the winter months.

“We try to delay municipal and commercial services until the off-season,” he says. “Municipalities have learned to budget for work at that time and know they’ll get better rates. They also pass on complaints from home- owners that are more obvious in winter.”

The strategy keeps Aspen in a strong position; their winter backlog is generally two weeks, as compared to four to six weeks during the warm season.

“Be more proactive in talking with condominium associations and management companies in the fall to encourage them to schedule January work,” Chisholm adds. He stresses educating clients to recognize that winter service is better for trees and for surrounding landscape features.

He doesn’t offer coupon promotions, fearing that it leads consumers to seek the lowest price, regardless of service quality. In addition, he points out that off-season discounting can be detrimental to tree service companies as the costs remain about the same year-round.

Other tree service companies promote themselves by devoting extra attention to newsletters, Web site maintenance and speaking engagements during the slow season.

“I never miss a chamber of commerce meeting or any other opportunity to keep my name out there,” Boyer says.

With the explosive popularity of social networking, the next slow season may be the time to check out Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The sites don’t charge for accounts and are easy to use. Tree care tips posted on Twitter and Facebook or videos on YouTube can be a great way to reach consumers and business owners.

Lighting the way to profits

When traditional services aren’t in demand, some tree care companies branch out with seasonal offerings. Services such as snow clearing and firewood sales are common choices.

James Tuttle of Tree Loving Care in Lubbock, Texas, took liberties with the concept of tree services and began marketing his company as a Christmas decorator 25 years ago. His company provides and installs lights, inspects them periodically during the season, and removes and stores them after the holidays.

Early on, the holiday services were a small part of his overall business, but one that he could perform with his existing equipment and crews. In fact, when Tuttle began, he didn’t own a bucket truck and primarily lit trees, rather than structures like homes and businesses.

“We tended to do a few large jobs that might take a week to complete,” he says. “I favored jobs like that because publicity is priceless.”

To light up a large business, such as a shopping center, crews worked during the day and evening. On one high-profile job, a single, large tree required a week’s effort. A shopping center contract calls for Tuttle’s entire staff of nine to work for a day and an additional two to three workers for four additional days.

Tuttle says no changes were needed in his insurance, as lighting work is less hazardous than standard tree services. His area does not require business licenses; in other areas, companies may be required to obtain and/or alter licenses.

After years of success with this service, Tuttle purchased a Christmas Décor franchise in 2007 to expand this aspect of the business. Blake Smith founded Christmas Décor more than two decades ago to augment his lawn care business. In this business model, the franchisee furnishes and maintains all supplies.

“We discourage clients from owning the lights because if we package and store the lights, the next year everything fits and is ready to go. You don’t have any tangled messes,” Tuttle says.

With the expansion, Loving Tree Care is completing many more small jobs, such as residences, and is finding equipment needs differ, especially with newer homes. With the trend of constructing larger homes, often topped with steep-pitched roofs, special techniques and equipment are necessary. Tuttle now uses bucket trucks and sometimes cranes, which serve as rigging points for climbers who are decorating steep roofs.

Tuttle says two to four hours are needed to decorate a typical home with two trees, and a crew of two to three generally completes three to four residences per day. He says that tree lighting is more detailed and time-consuming than structures, although windows are complicated to complete.

The pricing structure for residences averages $900 to $1,500 in Tuttle’s area. He adds that the gross income is divided approximately in thirds: one-third each to supplies, labor and profit.

He urges those considering a holiday lighting service, which could expand into special event lighting throughout the year, to learn the business and its techniques and processes thoroughly. “When I took over the franchise, I was surprised that I didn’t know much,” Tuttle says, although he had performed such installations for decades. Also, it isn’t a 9-to-5 operation. Shopping center work, for instance, must be done after retail hours. He expects to have a crew working 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. this season, which begins in October with the creation of a large animated display at Tuttle’s office site, and wraps up with the removal of decorations by mid-January.

Holiday lighting services can be marketed through company newsletters, advertising, publicity and community involvement. Tree Loving Care donates holiday lighting to families who have members deployed in military service.

Maintenance and training

Downtime during inclement weather can be used for other purposes. Boyer dislikes having his crew out of work, so he schedules occasional trips to tree climbing competitions and has the staff perform equipment maintenance work during those times. “Our equipment is in better shape during the winter than any other time,” he says.

Training and earning certifications are other ways to keep employees busy while ensuring that you have a sharp team to work with when the phone starts ringing again.

Boyer points out that when off-season work is available, it is vital to remember that winter is simply a less productive time. When humans, trees and machines are coping with reduced sunlight and cold weather, a day’s work doesn’t accomplish as much as it does in May. Chisholm finds that winter work, especially if heavy snow is involved, can translate into repeat visits for cleanup work revealed when it melts.

6 Tips for Summer Tree Care

6 Tips for Summer Tree Care

Summer tree care essentials
Summer tree care essentials

Properly caring for your trees throughout the summer months results in a happy, healthy landscape. Whether it’s tree trimming, pest inspections, or watering trees, summer is the perfect time to follow these six tree care tips.

1. Mulching:
If you didn’t get to mulch your trees this spring, it’s not too late. Mulching trees is an important step because it cuts down on weed competition, stabilizes soil temperatures, and helps conserve soil moisture. Mulch trees with three to four inches of shredded hardwood mulch. The proper method of mulching trees is to form a donut shape around the base of the tree; do not mound mulch against the trunk as it promotes disease and insect issues.

2. Irrigation:
During the hot, dry weather of summer, watering trees may be necessary, especially if your trees are young or newly planted. Trees need an average of one inch of water per week. When watering trees, deeper, less-frequent applications of water promote better root growth than shallow, more-frequent irrigation.

3. Fertilization:
Another step in caring for summer trees is making sure they have ample nutrition to support leaf and shoot growth, and fend off pests and diseases. Trees growing in high-stress areas, such as urban or suburban environments, often have greater fertilization needs than trees growing in natural areas.

4. Pruning:
Tree pruning is as much art as it is science. While the majority of tree trimming should occur during the dormant season, there are a few times when summer tree pruning is necessary. First, anytime there are diseased, dead, or damaged branches present, they should be pruned out for both the health of the tree and safety reasons. Second, trees that flower in the spring are best pruned in the early summer, as soon as they finish blooming. This list includes magnolias, flowering cherries, and lilacs. And remember, large trees are best pruned by professionals.

5. Tree pest inspections:
Examine trees for pest infestations on a regular basis throughout the summer. While the vast majority of insects are not harmful to trees, discovering any potential tree pest problems early gives you a leg up on controlling them. Pests such as magnolia scale, bagworms, Japanese beetles, aphids, and spider mites are active during the summer months. These tree pests can be identified with help from your local cooperative extension service as well as certified arborists.

6. Storm damage prevention:
Summer is the season for thunderstorms and heavy winds. To protect your property from falling tree limbs, consult with an arborist to assess the safety of your large trees. Cabling or bracing trees with weak limbs, or removing weak limbs completely, may be necessary.

Use these six summer tree care tips to keep your trees healthy and growing strong.

WHAT TO DO IF A STORM DAMAGED MY TREE?

A roar of thunder, an electrifying strike of lighting or a vicious gust of wind—while we stay indoors, our trees are forced to weather the storm.

We already do our best to keep trees in tip-top shape, so they’re protected from storm damage. But what if they still fall victim to the elements?

Whether light or severe, storm damage to trees can be alarming. Read on to find essential steps for inspection and repair if your tree is injured during a storm.

Repairing Storm Damaged Trees

First and foremost, your safety is the top priority. If storm damage left large hanging branches or broken power lines, call us.  That limb could fall at any moment, and broken power lines could still be live, so avoid them at all costs.

How to Inspect a Storm Damaged Tree

After a storm, walk around your tree and look for these danger signs:

  • Hanging or broken branches
  • Splits in tree branches
  • Broken or uneven tree top, called the canopy
  • Decay, holes, splits or cavities in tree trunk
  • Heaving soil at the base of the tree
  • Pulled or visible root system
  • Uprooted or toppled tree
  • Entire tree leaning

If you spot any of these signs, it’s usually best to phone a professional because your tree poses a risk and could fall or break at any time. Use your discretion, and know a certified arborist can help with every step of the process. They can clean up storm debris, repair damaged spots by pruning and determine if your tree needs to be removed.

Or if you’re curious, learn more about the most common tree injuries and what to do next below.

What to Do When You Find a Broken Tree Limb

  1. Prune small, broken branches to prevent further damage. Pests see an opening in the tree as an invitation to settle in, which can be especially harmful as your tree needs extra strength to heal.
  2. Do not attempt to prune large branches or branches that are too high up.
  3. Prune broken limbs back to the point where they join a larger branch. If there are strips of bark protruding at the breaking point, remove the branch and smooth the wood with a saw.
  4. For injuries like those in #2 and #3,call a professional, so the tree heals correctly and no one gets hurt.

 

How to Save a Split Tree

  1. Minor splits on branches that are not hanging or otherwise deformed should heal on their own. Think of these as small paper cuts that will be better before you know it!
  2. If the split looks like a gash and is still connected to an unharmed branch, smooth the bark out to help the healing process. Think of these splits as more serious injuries that need stitches to heal.
  3. Severe splits on larger branches or the trunk aren’t an easy fix. These splits are like if you broke your finger and cut it badly–a bandage just won’t cut it at this point. You need to go to the doctor, and the same is true for your tree.
  1. For splits listed in #2 and #3–or if you’re not sure how severe the split is–it’s always better to phone for help sooner than later.

 

  1. What to Do if the Top of the Tree Broke Off
  1. Do not top the tree–even if limbs in the tree’s canopy broke off. Cutting off the top of a tree can significantly alter its structure and leave it vulnerable to infestation.
  2. Assess whether most of the tree’s crown is still intact.
  3. If at least 50 percent of your tree’s canopy is undamaged, it can usually stay afloat–with help from your local arborist. But if your tree lost more than 50 percent of its top, it may have to be removed.
  4. BJS Tree Service can give you a definite answer and provide next steps after seeing the tree in person.

Suspect your tree is in trouble? Request a free consultation to get an expert inspection and best next steps.

 

 

Top 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Tree Care Service

top 10 questions for Tree Care
Mark Chisholm

By Mark Chisholm, certified arborist

When it comes to tree care, some jobs are too big and too dangerous, or just need professional expertise to keep the tree healthy. My rule of thumb: unless you can work with both feet on terra firma, you should hire a professional tree service. Working at height requires proper training and protection due to a number of risky variables such as electrical wires, wildlife, nearby fences, buildings or homes. Of course, hiring a tree service comes with its own set of risks. To get your money’s worth and protect your interests, you need to ask your tree care professional these important questions and make sure you understand and agree with their answers.

  1. Will they provide an up-to-date certificate of insurance and a copy of their work contract?This should be your first and most important question. You want to ensure they are properly insured and that you will not be liable for damage, accidents or injuries.
  2. What are their credentials?Try to hire a company with an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist, a Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) Accredited Business or one employing a Certified Tree Care Safety Professional (CTSP). Will they be working in proximity to electrical conductors? If so, they will need to be Approved Line-Clearance Arborists.
  3. Can they provide a list of references?Any quality company will be happy to share a list of satisfied customers. Ask for customers that they have done work for in the past month or so; you don’t want ancient history.
  4. Will they give you a detailed estimate?Get written estimates from three equal companies to compare prices and understand the scope of the job, which leads into the next question.
  5. How will the job be approached and what equipment will they use?You don’t want massive power equipment driving over your lawn and flowerbeds causing collateral damage unnecessarily. If they are going across your lawn, make sure they know the locations of sprinkler heads or other objects that may be damaged. What is their policy if they damage something and is it acceptable to you? It may be a good idea to photograph the area before work begins so you have a record in case there is damage. Make sure you understand how they will clean up during and after the job.
  6. How long will the project take?This is why getting an estimate is handy. One company might say three days while another company says three hours.
  7. Does the company appear professional?What does their company truck look like, is it well taken care of? Is the truck clean and in good shape? If they don’t take care of their equipment, do you think they will take care of your tree and property? Do they have a website? Design and content can give you a sense of their professionalism, as can the appearance of the vehicles they use on jobs. That can give you an idea of how they run their business.
  8. Do they use spikes to climb trees while pruning?Unless you’re removing the trees, demand they not use spikes, which causes unhealthy wounds.
  9. Do they advertise “topping” (removing live sections from the top of the tree)?This is another poor practice, particularly for large, healthy hardwood trees and would indicate that you should continue your search.
  10. Will the crew be using hardhats and other personal protective equipment while on your property?The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that personal protective equipment be used for any tree care operation. A reputable tree care service will require their workers to be protected.

It’s important to protect yourself and your property by hiring a tree care professional for dangerous jobs. It’s equally important to protect yourself and your “tree investment” by asking these top ten important questions. For more information, including resources to help you find a tree care service, visit www.bjstreeservices.com