Josh Skolnick managed a lawn and landscape business throughout middle school and high school in southeastern Pennsylvania. He grew the business to the point where he had several full-time employees working for him by the time he was graduating high school.
Initially, he didn’t intend to enter the tree care side of the industry. He focused on landscape maintenance and subcontracted his customers’ tree care needs to two or three local companies. Although the tree care side of the industry intrigued him, he says it seemed to be an intimidating market.
“You would see these big trucks and equipment and a lot of liability and cost,” Skolnick says. “There was a level of intimidation where you didn’t want to cross that bridge.”
In 2008, one of Skolnick’s customers asked if his company could take down a dead elm tree. So, he rented a dump truck and a chipper to remove the tree. That job led to other tree care requests within that neighborhood, which then prompted Skolnick to transition away from landscaping and into the tree care side of the industry. He launched Monster Tree Service in 2008, which has since turned into a franchise and reached $11 million in revenue this year. Skolnick attributes the growth to good marketing and good people.
“It’s a split between both of those,” he says. “We’ve mastered the marketing and know how to get the phones to ring, but getting the phones to ring doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right people to manage those leads.”
Crawford Landscaping Group, based in Naples, Florida, sought to grow its tree care business when it hired a certified arborist in 2009. Since then, it grew the tree care segment from a $300,000 revenue division to a $1.3-million revenue division by 2017. Mike McNeill, sales manager at Crawford Landscaping, says growing a tree care division primarily requires an investment in good people as well as offering a good service.
“If you provide a quality product with exceptional customer service, you establish a great reputation,” he says. “Then, everything else falls in line.”
Building a tree care division can certainly lead to profits, as it has for these two companies, but it requires a good marketing strategy, the right people to represent the company and a way to stand out.
Focus on marketing.
Marketing and branding a business or division is critical to getting a company’s name out there in the community to build a client base. The beginning of the new year marks a good time for companies to plan their marketing program for the upcoming year. Jeff Pfeil, president of Bozeman Tree, Lawn & Landscape Care, made a habit of developing a marketing plan in the beginning of the year two years ago.
For many years, Pfeil says he adjusted his marketing plan throughout the year, changing it as he received sales pitches for radio advertisements or other marketing programs. However, as his Bozeman, Montana-based tree care company grew, this approach to marketing became distracting – especially during the busy season.
“One of the biggest mistakes I made was not having a solid marketing plan before the season and then letting sales people distract me from my business in the middle of busy season,” he says.
Today, Pfeil makes a marketing plan in the beginning of the year and adheres to it. He adds that he only adjusts the plan mid-year if there are major changes in the tree care market.
Pfeil only spends about 1 percent of Bozeman Tree, Lawn & Landscape Care’s total budget on marketing each year. He says some of the tactics he uses are simple, like making sure all of the company’s vehicles are branded as well as placing lawn flags in customer’s yards after performing a tree care service.
With more consumers turning to the web to find products and services, Pfeil also recommends companies devote some of the marketing budget to their website and SEO, as it’s not that expensive.
Also, old-fashioned marketing techniques like door hangers at customer properties can still pay off today. Matt Anton, co-owner of Ozark Outdoor Solutions, launched his business in 2015 to serve as a full-service landscaping company with subcontracted tree care work in Nixa, Missouri. Not long after launching business, Anton decided to place door hangers outside houses in the community to promote the new business. He says this tactic worked well to generate new customers.
“Often people toss mailers away because you get a handful from the mail, but with a door hanger, they at least look at it because it’s the only thing they took off the door,” Anton says.
And for companies looking to expand, outside marketing professionals can offer ways to develop the tree care service brand in new communities or territories. Monster Tree Service partnered with 919 Marketing in July to build its brand on a national level.
“There’s a lot of things that we do that we wanted to be able to share on a much larger scale than what we can do on a localized level,” Skolnick says. “In partnering with 919 Marketing, they’re delivering our message at a national level.”
let good employees represent the brand.
In addition to marketing, it’s important to hire the right people for a tree care service company or division to grow. This means hiring people who will serve as good representatives for the brand and leave customers happy.
“It’s extremely important when you’re considering a good marketing plan to have production staff in place,” Skolnick says. “Without sales, you have nothing, but sales members also need support of production crews completing jobs and the office staff taking calls.”
Employees represent a company when meeting customers, so Pfeil says he makes sure his employees all keep their trucks clean and wear clean company uniforms when going to jobs.
McNeill adds that Crawford Landscaping hosts lunches with condominium association managers and prospective customers throughout the year, where Crawford Landscaping personnel meet with these prospective customers to teach them about the services it offers.
“We started offering these lunches about seven or eight years ago,” he says. “Just being an ambassador of Crawford Landscaping in the marketplace helps people think of us when they think of arbor care.”
Although it can be tough to find good people to fill positions in the industry today, Skolnick suggests offering competitive wages and a good training program to ensure workers stay. He says Monster Tree Service employees attend a one-week training program at its corporate office to learn about the company and its marketing and sales models.
“It’s extremely important when you’re considering a good marketing plan to have production staff in place.” Josh Skolnick, owner, Monster Tree Service
Make the business pop.
A solid marketing program and good workers can grow a tree care business or division, but differentiating the business or division is essential to profit and stand out from competition.
One way Pfeil managed to differentiate his business from competition was by offering plant health care services. He says this seems to be something that’s overlooked by a number of tree care companies and divisions in his region.
“It’s been huge for us,” he says. “Honestly, maybe three in 10 people might call us because they want a tree pruned for aesthetic appeal, but seven out of 10 would call if their tree is dying. So you capture a much broader range of people that need a tree service. Once you get to their property because they called about saving a tree that’s dying, then you have their attention and you can educate them on pruning and mulching.”
One way that Crawford Landscaping tries to stand out is by being proactive with promoting its storm cleanup services. McNeill says the company sends a letter to its customers every spring to market those jobs in advance of a hurricane or tropical storm.
“We send them what we call a ‘hurricane letter’ months before hurricane season begins,” he says. “That letter outlines identifiable costs associated with cleanup and is an authorization for us to come on the property and perform those services.”