What was it realistically like your first couple years?

Tr33Climb3r

Well-Known Member
Location
Wisconsin
For those of you out there who are self-employed, what was it like when you first started? Before all the big equipment, etc.? Or did some of you even choose to stay small instead of expanding?

Like me for instance, I’m still at the point I do all my work by climbing. I haul brush away with a hydraulic dump trailer (which is more than enough I can fit a lot of brush in there). But I am ambitious and eager to expand. I’m not really looking towards a bucket or chipper for my next investment but instead a spider lift. I can do more with it.

Realistically, did some of you guys start out with the big equipment right away or did you start out with maybe a pickup, etc. climbing everything, maybe even subcontracting and slowly and gradually worked your way up over a period of years? How long did it take?

There really is a psychological aspect here. You see companies with the huge equipment and you want to compete with them, but it has to happen over a period of time by working up to that point (in most cases usually). It just doesn’t happen overnight as a newer business. It can be discouraging at times. Anybody relate here?

I started out in a Family business that was a night and weekend thing (Dad worked full-time with Asplundh at the time). Just a 1-ton pick up truck with a chuck n duck chipper. When I stated going to school I'd come back on the weekend and work. For a two man operation my dad and I made some good money. Now that we grew to multi-crew (14 team members) with an 8,000 square foot shop. Multiple F650 size trucks, trailers, Terex 75' bucket truck, articulating loaders, etc.
I will say that a two man crew vs a 14 person operation is really no different if you keep the debt to income ratio similar. There were times that we were stretched thin because of the debt. Now we are at a place where we are planning on making even large purchases with cash.
What does your market look like and what do you think it can support?
Looking back now I would have waited maybe to make more purchases with cash. But our market had the room for a larger company so I took the loans to get there quicker.
 

SomethingWitty

Arkansawyer
Location
LR
I know company owners being puppets of tree climbers who feel that they are celebrities.
There is something to be said for not bidding work that you can't perform.


Celebrity climber takes between $1000 and $1,200 a week.
Portable lift is $450 payment a week.
Mini loader $180 a week payment.
Don't get me wrong I do my own climbing when is need it, I'm just preparing for when my knees can't take it anymore.
The biggest part of being a top-level climber is being a top-level tree worker. The climb is just the commute, and somebody has to ride that lift.


Those numbers are a little low for a "celebrity" climber... unless you built your own.
 

Edi

Member
Location
Illinois
There is something to be said for not bidding work that you can't perform.



The biggest part of being a top-level climber is being a top-level tree worker. The climb is just the commute, and somebody has to ride that lift.


Those numbers are a little low for a "celebrity" climber... unless you built your own.
Being a top-level tree worker is one thing, feeling superior because they are the only ones in the crew who can perform the climbing task is another one. Just talking base of what I see with some tree services around here. I also know humble Tree climbers/arborist/top-level worker. I don't have a climber with me I climb the tree myself, I'm just preparing myself for not having to take in the future the BS I see around here.
The numbers I'dont know for sure but I think it is what they getting around here. But If I'm going to pay a guy more than $1,200 40/hrs and he doesn't want to pick a single branch because he is the climber or he doesn't want to get his own gear ready, Man I will quiet being owner and just work for some one else as a climber.
 
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SomethingWitty

Arkansawyer
Location
LR
Being a top-level tree worker is one thing, feeling superior because they are the only ones in the crew who can perform the climbing task is another one. Just talking base of what I see with some tree services around here. I also know humble Tree climbers/arborist/top-level worker. I don't have a climber with me I climb the tree myself, I'm just preparing myself for not having to take in the future the BS I see around here.
The numbers I'dont know for sure but I think it is what they getting around here. But If I'm going to pay a guy more than $1,200 40/hrs and he doesn't want to pick a single branch because he is the climber or he doesn't want to get his own gear ready, Man I will quiet being owner and just work for some one else as a climber.
I get it. If you're paying someone $30+ an hour and any of that is lounge time, then they're messing up. Nobody is worth much without getting work done.
I don't quite make that at my regular gig, but I make a bit more when I'm floating. Usually the companies have something more important for me to do than rake if they are using me to go slay nasties that they have been procrastinating. I've even been called out after the hard parts of a tree to go do another just because the scary stuff is done.
Contracting is supposed to be unforgivingly technical and exhausting. Just being a climbing foreman is a whole different critter.
 
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arborandearth

Well-Known Member
Location
Chico
A lot of interesting stories and input in this thread.
I stumbled upon this Instagram account. Nuggets of advise for contractors: http://instagr.am/p/B-TFVgMj9CL/ Bite size pearls of wisdom that could lead to deeper knowledge if one digs. A lot of little quotes on each posts, most I've had to learn the hard way. Like, "take a deposit and write a contract because not all clients will pay" and "pre-qualify customers - ask about their other quotes and budget". The last one has helped me know if the client is honest, if my prices are in line with the market or too low, and if they have realistic expectations.
 

A_Reittenbach

Member
Location
Saginaw
Talk directly to those companies whose business model you think would fit well with you

I know guys who have fleets of 10+ trucks, and guys who are happily cruising along with 2 pickups / chip bodies and little 6" chippers. At the end of the day there isnt that big of a difference in profit on the day to day. A lot more headaches with big equipment, Moree employees, more maintenance, upkeep, etc

The one time where the big toys pays big is when a storm / other natural disaster hits. Then you cash big time

TLDR "Grow or Die" is one model, "Keep it small and keep it all" is another. Lots of pros and cons to both, in terms of mental burden and financial commitment / freedom
More money more problems
 

southsoundtree

Well-Known Member
Location
Olympia, WA
If I divide the $600 payment (includes $49 inland marine - actual payment is $571 with insurance) by 20 work days in a month it is actually $30 a day i need to charge to break even and make the payment. I think I erroneously stated $20 a say.

Everyjob, however, I charge $125 for the machine - sometimes we work 2 jobs in a day (resulting in $250 a day in machine income). 20 x $125 per job/day is minimum $2500 a month in earnings. Fuel is so minimal, we are never on it for more than a 4 hours a day, air filters and oil kit about every 2 month's is $150. $2500 x 12months is $30,000 when my payments each year are only $7,200.

Think about it hourly...to break even, it costs me $3.75 an hour to run yet I charge $15.62...and there is zero workers comp, it has never called in sick, no outside drama, and the only thing asks for is about $7 in diesel each day, regular nut tightening, oil and filter changes.
Tracks, grapple, replacing zerks, trailer, truck to pull it, driver.

I love my mini! Way better than 4-10 guys.

Mini before a lift, IMO. Lifts don't do so much in MY market

A mini is cheap by comparison.

A sawyer can put 10s of thousands of pounds on the ground in a day. A mini can move 10s of thousands of pounds in a truck/ trailer/ firewood storage area onsite per day.


Climbing is easy work compared to lifting.

Mini loaders stuff thousands of pounds of branches into chippers a day.


Buckets are great sometimes. You develop no more climbing skills in a bucket. My market demands climbing and felling skills.

The more climbing and felling skills, the larger the pieces come down, the better a mini works.

You may be right that a $100,000 lift is the next best purchase for you and your market.
 

Sfoppema

Well-Known Member
Location
Central MA
That seems low to me for the mini. That’s around 70 days to make your payment and 20% profit before you add insurance maintenance fuel and a budget for future repairs etc. Curious how you came up with your rate as I am still figuring my numbers? Not knocking, just asking.

My DW sk1050 costs conservatively $23/hr to run. (Paid 38k. Use for 2000 hours, sell for at least 15k, 38-15= 23k divided by the 2000 hours of use makes it $11.50/hr just to buy it. then approximately $5/hr for maintenance/insurance and approximately $5/hr for fueling gets you $21.50 per hour. add a few dollars just in case you missed. Probably costs less, but better to plan for more than less.

The payment really has little to do with the actual cost of running the machine. If you are using the payment to determine your operational cost, you're making a mistake.

Serf, I would suspect your 800 would be maybe $17-20 per hour to run. That's just the machine running, not including the operator on it. So if you are paying a guy $25/hr to run it, it costs another 6 or $7 for payroll/comp etc for him your at 50-60/hr depending on your model machine and your guy. That's before you make any money.

Saw a guy with a 1050 offering himself and the machine for 40/hr.... Poor guy....


Sorry to hijack the thread, but I guess these are good numbers to think about as you are getting going.
 

Sfoppema

Well-Known Member
Location
Central MA
If I divide the $600 payment (includes $49 inland marine - actual payment is $571 with insurance) by 20 work days in a month it is actually $30 a day i need to charge to break even and make the payment. I think I erroneously stated $20 a say.

Everyjob, however, I charge $125 for the machine - sometimes we work 2 jobs in a day (resulting in $250 a day in machine income). 20 x $125 per job/day is minimum $2500 a month in earnings. Fuel is so minimal, we are never on it for more than a 4 hours a day, air filters and oil kit about every 2 month's is $150. $2500 x 12months is $30,000 when my payments each year are only $7,200.

Think about it hourly...to break even, it costs me $3.75 an hour to run yet I charge $15.62...and there is zero workers comp, it has never called in sick, no outside drama, and the only thing asks for is about $7 in diesel each day, regular nut tightening, oil and filter changes.


Refer to the post I just made for Serf life. I can see the logic in your math, but your method is incorrect.
 

Sfoppema

Well-Known Member
Location
Central MA
First couple years..... Working a third as much for more money than I was making for my previous boss as a climber. Definitely wishing I had more efficient gear to perform the extremely laborious tasks that I was performing with the ragtag friends that I was able to convince to help me from time to time when I wasn't alone. However, I was doing my own thing, kicking my buddies some dough, and making much better money than I had previously made. Loved it. More freedom. Granted, I was single and had no one that I had to provide for. I can see that position being more stressful.

The cheap motorized equipment that I bought broke all the time and I dumped most of my earnings into fixing things. Save up for something that is going to get the job done without breaking all the time....

I'm still bucket/liftless and neither are on my wishlist. Climbing is my niche in my market. Everyone else already has them. I do the backyard stuff, using the mini to get the material out. Why buy tons of equipment that everyone has already? In my experience, the guys with the lifts/buckets/cranes won't want to send a climber to do a backyard job if there is plenty of work already keeping their arsenal busy. They'll recommend me so they don't have to do it. I'll get good money for the job because no one else wants to do it. I will want to do it.

You might have to reach a bit at first to find work, but it will change and soon you will be cursing your phone for ringing so much and your decisions to expand and hire people etc. Just do good work and don't be a shyster and the work will roll on in.

Things I would have done differently:
-Save your damn money. If you are going to buy cheap beaten up equipment, only do so if you can get rid of it for more or less what you got it for.

-Don't buy an old pickup truck and spend a ton of money converting it into a chip truck that will also be your everyday driver. Trust me, it sounds like a good idea, but it is not.

-Buy a mini skid with branch manager grapple before the chipper for sure (especially since you already own a dump trailer) No clean up work via climbing gear is the highest profit margin you are going to get for doing tree work. Followed by shrub/ornamental pruning. Very few clients will want to deal with the mess, so it would be quite difficult to consistently line up 20-40 hours a week of "no clean up" work. You already have the dump trailer, so you can remove debris if needed. The mini will make this a much more enjoyable/profitable experience. You can also sometimes convince homeowners to leave the material in the woods or in a pile somewhere, whatever. You could hire yourself out to smaller companies or people in a similar boat as yourself just starting out. They are great tools and free you from significant labor costs and the need for additional help.

-Been more satisfied staying small. Presently downsizing my already small operation from the distaste I've developed for expansion. Plan is presently to be rinkydink with nice/new equipment and all subbed help.

Cheers
 

Sfoppema

Well-Known Member
Location
Central MA
One of my collegues runs a 7 man crew 2 bucket trucks big chipper and so on. The other one is alone, sometimes one helper, an f150 and an 7x14 tipping trailer, where he cuts the the brush with a 661and this 10 years+. The lonely one only does quality climbing jobs, has all new equipment, is always happy and relaxed and one of the richest persons I know, he does incredibly well, 120k car, beautiful house, model wife and everything paid. The other one is always stressed and on the run behind the equipment and lazy employees, not poor but far away from the focused single.
This helped me making my choice.
This should be published as a proverb somewhere.
 

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