About 10 years ago, Django Kroner moved to Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky, to pursue rock climbing. He worked as an apprentice for a carpenter that built cabins, spent much of his free time rock climbing and lived in a tree house that he built.
After living in the tree house for three years and seeing how it inspired the guests he had stay over, he realized that sharing the canopy experience could bring him contentment and make money.
“I knew I wanted to build more after I was living in the tree house,” he says. “But the only way I knew how to do that was through a business.”
With a background in carpentry and construction work, Kroner had some of the expertise necessary to construct tree houses. However, he realized if he wanted to excel as a tree house builder, he had to know a lot about tree health. So, he decided to work in tree care as an apprentice with several arborists in Cincinnati for two to three years to get a solid background on how to care for trees.
Once he gained some experience in tree care, Kroner launched The Canopy Crew in 2013. It served as three businesses in one: a tree care business, a tree house construction business and a tree house rental business.
Trial and error.
Like many small business owners, Kroner says he experienced a lot of trial and error when starting The Canopy Crew.
To get the business rolling, he began with a focus on tree care work for customers in Cincinnati to build recurring revenue and clients. He was a one-man operation at first, helping clients to prune, remove and plant trees. He also did tree care work for other companies to make money on the side that first year in order to buy more equipment and tools.
Kroner says he averaged 70-hour work weeks when starting his business.
“When you start, you can’t turn (the business) off,” he says. “I worked as much as possible, saved money and eventually saved up enough to buy land and build a tree house rental on.”
By 2014, The Canopy Crew had a team of four employees, so Kroner decided to move forward and construct the company’s first tree house rental property. Kroner dubbed their first rental The Sylvan Float, which is in Red River Gorge.
“It was small, simple,” Kroner says. The company’s first rental can fit two people, and features gas heat, a stove, a dish washing station, a composting toilet, a lofted bedroom and a wraparound deck.
Since that first rental property construction, Kroner says The Canopy Crew has received increased demand for all its services. In addition to the constant ebb and flow of tree care work in Cincinnati, clients began calling the company for tree house construction work in Ohio and Kentucky. The company also constructed two other properties in Red River Gorge.
With a growing business, Kroner had to hire additional people and delegate work. Today, Kroner has a team of 13 employees – some are focused mostly on tree care and some are focused mostly on tree house construction. He hired a management service to handle booking for the tree house rental properties. Kroner says he still jumps around to manage the three branches of the business, but he says they all flow together.
“There is crossover,” he says. “For example, we’ll take the trees that we harvest from the tree service, mill them up to lumber and then turn them into tree houses. We’ll also take profit from the rentals and put that toward planting trees. There’s this ping pong between the (business segments) that happens, which makes it more sustainable.”
The Canopy Crew does most of its work in Ohio and Kentucky, but Kroner says he’s receiving demand for the tree house construction work across the U.S., thanks in part to publicity the company received on Animal Planet.
“We did a TV show with Animal Planet (called Canopy Kings),” Kroner says. “We’ve had a lot of great PR and advertising through the news as well.”
So, with a presence on cable television, Kroner’s company has received calls from across the country to construct tiny homes in trees. He says he even had the opportunity to do consultation work for a tree house build in Tulum, Mexico, last year. Although doing work internationally was time consuming, Kroner says he loves to say yes to unique opportunities.“You never know what you’ll gain from things like that,” he says.
Kroner says the Tulum build was a “challenging, fascinating project,” for which The Canopy Crew performed the design work. Since his crews lacked local knowledge on trees in Tulum, Kroner hired an arborist in the area to help and local crews handled the bulk of that construction.
Travel for tree house design work and builds takes Kroner out of the office for days to weeks, but he says he has staff on hand to manage day-to-day tree care operations while he’s out. “My crews can move forward without my constant presence, so I can hop back and forth,” he says.
With three business segments to manage, Kroner says he doesn’t intend to delve into any other add-on segments anytime soon. He says he hopes to further develop each of the branches of his business and improve on efficiency.
“We have a pretty broad spectrum at this point,” he says. “It provides a lot of satisfaction and creativity and work. I feel like we still have a lot of room to grow in each of those areas.”