Would You Go BIG or SMALL if You Started Over From Scrath?

climbingmonkey24

Well-Known Member
Location
United States
If you started over from scratch, would you go big or stay small?

I consider myself a small business. I have a nice dump trailer with hydraulics. Small chipper. I climb everything and mainly do pruning and trimming for residential settings and stay away from large removals, etc. It’s sort of become my focus / niche.

But when I see these other companies with huge crews, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of brand new fancy equipment, etc. it just get’s me wondering how they got there.

Did they put themselves in debt for years not making any profit until everything was paid? Or build slowly overtime adding new equipment gradually while still making some profit, etc.?

For those of you who are in big business with all the expensive equipment and trucks, if you started over again would you still want to scale it to where you are now or would you prefer to keep it small and simpler?

I personally have ambition to accumulate more equipment but gradually. Like I’m interested in a mini, maybe a lift, etc. but still wondering how I want to go about it and how to maximize profitability while keeping overhead in check.

Somehow I can’t help but get somewhat “intimidated” by huge companies with all the iron.
 
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Reach

Well-Known Member
Location
Atglen, PA
Big. Still working to get there, it is hard, and expensive, but I think it will be worth it in the long run. Staying small has never been an option for me, I’ve planned to get bigger quickly since I started this company. First business I started, we grew slow and steady, took ten years to get to where we’ve gone in three this time.

Nothing wrong with staying small, no reason to feel inferior; if you don’t feel like you want the stress of growth, and you don’t feel an insatiable, burning desire to grow, probably staying small is the way to go. No offense to anyone, but not everyone has what it takes to get big, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most people can’t even manage working by themselves, much less working with millions of dollars a year and many employees.
 

mavericktreecare

New Member
Location
Lancaster
@climbingmonkey24 I’m right there with you. It’s been a treat to stay small, but I think its tough when you’re working next to a full scale operation in the field, you look over, and they are slamming work While you swing gingerly through the canopy on a pruning job. I guess grass is greener comes into play. Whenever I talk to people in small vs big biz, I forget to think about the large company overhead, receptionist, constantly changing crew members, and general up-sell mentality. When I look into the ‘why’ of my current career choice...making money doesn’t hit priority, taking care of trees and learning as much about them as I can continues to come in first. So, I think as we get older and older, getting equipment to help is the way to go...but then again, what do I know ‍♂️
 

RopeShield

Well-Known Member
Location
Ontario, Canada
Once you have big investment/big equipment, your focus will be removal.

That is not ok, for me the focus is retention because in the end an improved world for my children and neighbourhood is big old trees.
Once you prove yourself in knowledge and practice in managing hazardous trees over time the big ugly storm damage and high hazard trees with zero to low access for equipment is where the real money is in terms of ongoing maintenance or removal. Insureres and property owners trust someone more completely knowing you can save or remove
It is a better world.
 

ATH

Well-Known Member
Location
Ohio
Make room for me on that boat!

For a long time I'd say I would buy this or that piece of equipment but I don't have any room to store it. They're putting doors on my barn next week so that excuse is about dead! Now I have no money...

I have never set out to be big. I'm not out to maximize profit. My goals are to take care of clients' trees, work hard, and have fun. So far so good. I exceeded expectations of profit last year...that is good too!

I guess my growth goal is to grow where we need to be to be able to serve clients. By the end of last year we were three to four months out. That is not okay by me...so we need to grow to provide better service.
 
Big iron doesn't prune, cable and brace, etc.

Seems to make a crew a wrecking crew.
So I'll throw out what we used to call the friendly challenge: To the arborist supply houses - the Treestuffs and the Wesspurs and the Honey Brothers and even the ISA's - how about beefing up your cabling supplies, your pest/ disease control supplies, your tree planter pot supplies and your fertilizer and soil testing kit supplies to service the arborist that wants to do the "other" work. Etc. Climbing and removal stuff is sexy all right. But a comment that Craig Bachmann made in a recent Treestuff arb talk session really hits home with this train of thought I think. Arb practice should include other stuff than removals. Ease of finding some supplies is often a rate limiting step.
Reg Coates had pointed folks in the direction of a book - "The Man Who Planted Trees". Why are planting supplies for starting trees from cuttings not a commercial "thing" yet with ISA and arb supply shops? The hormones and potting supplies would make a great addition to our toolkits I think.
Imagine going to a client who has a much loved tree that has to be removed and telling them you could help them to try and start cuttings from that tree - true older trees have lower chance of success but none the less, it might be worth a try. I know clients I've had that would have done this. And again the whole cutting propagation thing is really ignored I think by ISA and the industry (who are very focussed on "wreckers" and "disassemblers").
Let's get outside the box folks? Or maybe I'm still in a food coma from last nights big dinner?
My 2 centz for Sat AM . . . .
 

evo

Well-Known Member
Location
My Island, WA
I’m in a unique market small market. My service area is a little over 5 miles wide, and about 25 miles long. The maximum is 5x65 and I will tip toe into the northern reaches.
There is no going big here, with a population of 90,000, 6 certified arb companies, and about 12 other (ranging from logger types to flyby night unlicensed).
The biggest company around here is second gen, does crap work, and are only big because they are a jack of none. Their tree crew is only about 3-4 and likely pull more guys off the landscaper side of the business when needed. To the best of my knowledge they have a chip truck, grapple truck, bucket, big and small spider, mini, stump grinder and one chipper.
To take a chip truck and chipper across the water is about a hour and $100 each way, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone across.
I want to invest in quality, as the removal market is so competitive. As “big” as I want to get is maybe two chip trucks (even a 1ton for the small), maybe two chippers (big 12” and little 6”), maybe a air compressor. And a crew of 3-4. With the extra crew I could pick up an additional work day per week. Do more admin durning business hours, leaving the crew on the job. And or doing a few small jobs as the crew is working on a larger project and I’d be the floater.

I’m nearly there, and I’m estimating it would at least double my gross with only adding 20-30% overhead. I have 1.5 guys, plus myself.

Besides some mini attachments, I’m considering a little npr flat bed. Thinking I can pick one up at a auction that already has a mounted 185cfm. The extra bed space will be for my dump insert (likely modified larger). And a spot for the mini.

I’m currently working on restructuring my scope of work and business plan within arboriculture. Essentially creating two divisions, both specialized. The second could allow for a much larger service area, longer contracts, and this second dream truck would fit the bill nicely.

My local (service area) competitors, include a guy that bills out at over $150 per manhour with nothing other than a pu/and dump trailer. A multi generational local that caters to the wealthy of the wealthiest clientele. He does good work, many times unneeded work, or will get pigeonholed doing crap he doesn’t want to (or is wrong ethically) to retain the client. Then there is the other guy with about 2 years of business ownership under his belt. Prices all over the map, crap pruning, bogus cabling, conifer spike climbing, and really doesn’t know the first thing with tree care other than making the client happy and doing removals
 
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climbingmonkey24

Well-Known Member
Location
United States
I think I certainly like the pruning market more than removal because I enjoy the work. I enjoy taking a tree, and improving it's health and appearance and then seeing customer's happy with how it looks after. Not to say it isn't fun to do a removal here and there, but I find I'm real happy pruning.

When I think about "growing" for myself, I think about how to improve my pruning market while also maybe taking on some bigger removal work here and there, but NOT replacing the pruning work with removal work only.
 

Tony

Well-Known Member
Location
Lancaster, PA
I would start a plant health care company that did tree care for existing clients and by referral only.

I don’t agree with many of you that big equals removals only.

That is only the case if your focus is production not customer service.

So many forget that at our best we are a customer service industry. A tree has never signed my cheque. I have cared for them and their environment for years

80/20 rule

Tony
 

climbingmonkey24

Well-Known Member
Location
United States
I would start a plant health care company that did tree care for existing clients and by referral only.

I don’t agree with many of you that big equals removals only.

That is only the case if your focus is production not customer service.

So many forget that at our best we are a customer service industry. A tree has never signed my cheque. I have cared for them and their environment for years

80/20 rule

Tony

I totally agree on leading with customer service and value.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do know I have heard of “big” companies with all the expensive equipment who won’t even come out for a smaller pruning job, etc. if it isn’t paired with a removal because they have so much overhead.

Now I can’t nor would I give an opinion on any other company besides my own, just pointing something out that I have heard.

I’m sure there’s “big” companies that do pruning and other stuff too.
 
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climbingmonkey24

Well-Known Member
Location
United States
Can do both depending how much time you’re willing to sacrifice / spend running the business and actually working in the field. Too each their own. Whatever makes you happy.
 
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Serf Life

Well-Known Member
Location
Maine Island
Once you have big investment/big equipment, your focus will be removal.

That is not ok, for me the focus is retention because in the end an improved world for my children and neighbourhood is big old trees.
Once you prove yourself in knowledge and practice in managing hazardous trees over time the big ugly storm damage and high hazard trees with zero to low access for equipment is where the real money is in terms of ongoing maintenance or removal. Insureres and property owners trust someone more completely knowing you can save or remove
It is a better world.
I am with you in principle all day long. The unfortunate reality of my market, and North American culture in general seems like, clients often want removal over pruning. I try to talk folks out of removing trees weekly and add in options for crown reductions and cabling even when they don’t ask.

My success rate is damn low and....the big money making weeks are removal heavy ones. I also live on a thin soiled island covered in even aged spruce so I have to be able to deal with neverfuckingending blowdowns. I’m kitted out for decent volume but my “focus” isn’t removal.
 

swingdude

De' Island Buzzer
Location
Barbados
I am the small time pruning man who can do big removals. Pruning makes me a lot of profit. And my clientelle reflects that. I love working in trees over and over taking very little. Removals are a one time thing. I live on 166 sq miles. We need to keep our mature trees. But many love cutting them down. At 54 I am over removals. If it is necessary do be it. I do treework to pay bills. I intend to work til I die because I am built for that. Money means nothing to me. But we are all different. I am an allround arb. But these days I enjoy a great swing around a big tree taking deadwood. Yeah I am not the norm. I like that. This be me...... FB_IMG_1618704315774.jpg
 

Lemonjello

Member
Location
Oahu,HI
If you started over from scratch, would you go big or stay small?

I consider myself a small business. I have a nice dump trailer with hydraulics. Small chipper. I climb everything and mainly do pruning and trimming for residential settings and stay away from large removals, etc. It’s sort of become my focus / niche.

But when I see these other companies with huge crews, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of brand new fancy equipment, etc. it just get’s me wondering how they got there.

Did they put themselves in debt for years not making any profit until everything was paid? Or build slowly overtime adding new equipment gradually while still making some profit, etc.?

For those of you who are in big business with all the expensive equipment and trucks, if you started over again would you still want to scale it to where you are now or would you prefer to keep it small and simpler?

I personally have ambition to accumulate more equipment but gradually. Like I’m interested in a mini, maybe a lift, etc. but still wondering how I want to go about it and how to maximize profitability while keeping overhead in check.

Somehow I can’t help but get somewhat “intimidated” by huge companies with all the iron.
Yeah we most all get the “ cool tool” envy I suppose. New Gear, saws, ropes, rings, rigs and all the toys and gadgets. There’s a weird dynamic going from a “one job/one crew” to getting bigger and several crews, more equipment and trucks. You tend to go from being tree guy into management of this Thing you created. I got into this by dating a girl and her brother had a tree service, needed some ground help and I eventually got into climbing. Moved away for a contract job in a different field and just did weekends and side jobs, climbing for other companies here and there for years. Meanwhile my contract job turned into my own business doing events, lighting, rigging, scaffold and tower work. Started small and grew. Warehouse, equipment, 3 trucks,5-7 employees and I spent 75% of my time running the back end and 25% client relations, field supervisor/ site work. I hated it. This whole pan-fricken-demic literally shut that industry down... I switched gears, sold equipment, trucks, warehouse and back again full time contract climbing for a bunch of other companies.
Here in the Islands we do a lot of trimming and pruning and some difficult access so that kinda means a lot of climbing and rigging. Some crane work. I have a healthy pile of gear, saws and rigging gear and keep my stuff clean organized and show up on time, I work safe, I carry my own liability policy, I’ll meet up to check out the job if available.(Gives me a better sense of plan if it’s an involved removal), set my price and sometimes bring on another rope man/ rigger/ groundie I know and work well and trust for more complex delicate work (to help prevent possible expensive mistakes) so my overhead is low, make good money and generally get to do some fun/interesting work.

While my experience is not exactly he same in same industry but I’ve had the small to medium, back to small and selective.
Bottom line:
If you’re okay and good with “running” a company including all the added stress and taking a step back from being in the tree with the reward of possibly more profit, then grow! NOTE:( It will tag along in the back of your mind how much you owe on your new equipment and overhead, which may lead to biting off bigger jobs than you are comfortable doing so you can make payments and payroll which leads to more stress about money) If you have a business mind and can balance the financial/work risk/reward, more power to ya!

If you do it more for passion and the ability to make a good living while enjoying your hard work and working with a good small crew then get good equipment for you and your crew and dial in your work flow and enjoy it. (better chipper, upgrade truck, maybe a mini skid, crew gear, signage, flagging, cones road signs, training for crew) If you have a reputation as a good climber, great crew, safe, clean work. prune/trim skills on point, word gets around.
 
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swingdude

De' Island Buzzer
Location
Barbados
Yeah we most all get the “ cool tool” envy I suppose. New Gear, saws, ropes, rings, rigs and all the toys and gadgets. There’s a weird dynamic going from a “one job/one crew” to getting bigger and several crews, more equipment and trucks. You tend to go from being tree guy into management of this Thing you created. I got into this by dating a girl and her brother had a tree service, needed some ground help and I eventually got into climbing. Moved away for a contract job in a different field and just did weekends and side jobs, climbing for other companies here and there for years. Meanwhile my contract job turned into my own business doing events, lighting, rigging, scaffold and tower work. Started small and grew. Warehouse, equipment, 3 trucks,5-7 employees and I spent 75% of my time running the back end and 25% client relations, field supervisor/ site work. I hated it. This whole pan-fricken-demic literally shut that industry down... I switched gears, sold equipment, trucks, warehouse and back again full time contract climbing for a bunch of other companies.
Here in the Islands we do a lot of trimming and pruning and some difficult access so that kinda means a lot of climbing and rigging. Some crane work. I have a healthy pile of gear, saws and rigging gear and keep my stuff clean organized and show up on time, I work safe, I carry my own liability policy, I’ll meet up to check out the job if available.(Gives me a better sense of plan if it’s an involved removal), set my price and sometimes bring on another rope man/ rigger/ groundie I know and work well and trust for more complex delicate work (to help prevent possible expensive mistakes) so my overhead is low, make good money and generally get to do some fun/interesting work.

While my experience is not exactly he same in same industry but I’ve had the small to medium, back to small and selective.
Bottom line:
If you’re okay and good with “running” a company including all the added stress and taking a step back from being in the tree with the reward of possibly more profit, then grow! NOTE:( It will tag along in the back of your mind how much you owe on your new equipment and overhead, which may lead to biting off biggest jobs than you are comfortable doing so you can make payments and payroll which leads to more stress about money) If you have a business mind and can balance the financial/work risk/reward, more power to ya!

If you do it more for passion and the ability to make a good living while enjoying your hard work and working with a good small crew then get good equipment for you and your crew and dial in your work flow and enjoy it. (better chipper, upgrade truck, maybe a mini skid, crew gear, signage, flagging, cones road signs, training for crew) If you have a reputation as a good climber, great crew, safe, clean work. prune/trim skills on point, word gets around.
I enjoyed reading this. You have the idea about islandarb life. It really is the bomb. Here getting good employees is hard. No one likes treework for the passion just the paycheck. I am doing it all even thinking for my crew. That can be a drainer.
 

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