By Tara Deering-HansenAs a tree care provider, there are many ways in which you can grow your business. One avenue that experts say you should seriously consider is the addition of stump removal service. Times have changed; and there is increased pressure on both residential and commercial property owners to have impeccable landscaping. Leaving behind a stump when taking down a tree was once acceptable, but more often than not, that’s no longer the case.
“I think years ago, in a residential setting, it wasn’t that big of a deal to leave the stump behind; the big problem was that the tree was diseased or a hazard and it had to come down,” says Mark Rieckhoff, environmental segment manager for Vermeer Manufacturing Company based in Pella, Iowa. “But now, it’s become more of a beautification issue. More and more, if a customer has a tree removed in their yard, the first thing they want to do is get the stump cut down as well.”
The full-service approach
Becoming a full-service tree care provider is the main benefit of adding stump removal to your list of services. Instead of prospective customers calling several tree care providers, they can pick up the phone and call your company to take down the tree, chip the brush, cut down the stump and reseed the area. “Providing stump removal service keeps the customer from having to search elsewhere and possibly finding a competitive company to do the whole removal job,” said Rieckhoff. “In a way, you’re protecting your foundation and primary reason for your business.”
So how do you know if adding stump cutting is right for your business? First, Rieckhoff advises tree care providers to do the necessary research and evaluate their market. “Local competition becomes a big factor. If I’m in a small or midsize town, I want to be careful not to enter an already flooded market,” he said. “If there are already 20 providers out there doing this type of work, you may want to consider partnering with one of them and hiring them as a subcontractor. That way you’d still get part of the stump removal business, but somebody else would be doing the actual removal.” Also, not all areas and regions are the same in regard to demand. “Even if one or two people asked you to remove their stump and you had to subcontract the job or send them to someone else, it might have been just those two people,” he says. “There has to be sustainability.”
Tony Hunter, owner and founder of Hunter’s Tree Service in Banner Elk, N.C., says if he didn’t offer stump cutting he wouldn’t be offering his customers a complete package. The fact that he offers stump cutting gives him a distinct advantage over competitors in his area.
“I definitely have been able to close the sale on a lot of jobs because I’ve been able to offer stump removal and cleanup,” said Hunter. Few tree service companies in Hunter’s region offer stump removal and cleanup services, which means he’s been able to add more jobs to his actual business.
Once you’ve determined that the demand exists, next plan how to add the service in a way that’s most beneficial for your company. Adding stump removal service will likely entail purchasing a stump cutter machine, and possibly a truck, trailer and qualified manpower available to operate it.
Another important part of the research process is learning what to charge for the service in your market. There are three basic ways tree care providers charge for stump removal — by the inch, by the hour, or at a flat-rate. “For a long time, it’s been charged by the inch and every business has a different way in measuring the tree stump. But it seems that recently there are more flat-rate charges, because it’s becoming a competitive business,” said Rieckhoff. Tree care providers have also begun to factor in the recent hike in fuel prices and are adjusting their fees based on distance to the job.
Some tree care providers have taken the approach of bidding jobs in three stages: 1) stump removal only, 2) stump removal and cleanup, and 3) stump removal and cleanup with topsoil and reseeding. “By being a start-to-finish guy who lays sod or puts down seed and does the job right, you are able to provide your customers a professional approach,” said Rieckhoff. “Word of mouth will get around and that can get you more jobs at the end of the week.”
The right equipment is key
Rieckhoff says the beauty of offering stump cutting is that, for the most part, it’s pretty easy work. “You need to identify the underground utilities and then you have some cleanup, but the machine does most of the work for you,” he said.
Because of this, it should come as no surprise that picking the right piece of stump-cutting equipment is important to getting this new venture off the ground. According Todd Roorda, environmental solutions specialist for Vermeer, evaluate your customer base and the type of work that you’ll perform.
There are basically two types of stump cutting machines — tow-behind units and self-propelled units. With tow-behind units, operators will have to use a pickup truck to back up the stump cutter machine to the job. With a self-propelled unit, operators will need a pickup truck and trailer to transport the machine. Once at the jobsite, operators can park the trailer, unload the machine, and drive it to the stump.
Once you’ve decided between a tow-behind or a self-propelled unit, you’ll want to make sure you match the machine’s size, horsepower and features to the size of jobs you intend to tackle. “One of the trends we’re seeing is that customers are looking for more horsepower in the smaller machines,” Roorda says. “We’re starting to offer units with higher-horsepower machines that can go through backyard gates and cut larger stumps.” More horsepower generally equates to improved productivity, meaning tree care providers should be able to complete more jobs in less time, thus increasing their profitability.
According to Roorda, as the buyer of any new piece of equipment, you should compare the safety features of the machines and the service provided by the dealers or manufacturers.
Rieckhoff said that knowing the reputation and history of the manufacturer or dealer you plan to purchase the machine from is extremely important. “A good manufacturer will offer training resources and a dealer network that will help train your staff as your company grows,” he said.
In many cases, stump cutter equipment maintenance issues can be traced back to improper use or maintenance. Usually, it’s because the operator didn’t know they were operating the machine improperly. The dealer should explain how to properly operate the stump cutter when it’s delivered and whenever a new operator is assigned to it.
According to Hunter, knowing that many of his stump removal jobs would be for residential customers, he opted for a stump cutter compact enough to fit between gates and fences. More than a decade after deciding to take the new avenue of adding stump removal and cleanup to his list of services, Hunter is confident that he made the right decision. Even if customers decide they don’t want the service, he takes satisfaction in knowing that his customers don’t have to go elsewhere to get a complete package.
Tara Deering-Hansen is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.
Article provided by Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa.