By Paul Taylor
In a sluggish economy, if homeowners have to choose between paying their mortgage and maintaining their trees, it’s likely their trees are going to get the short end of the stick. This poses a problem for tree care companies trying to keep their crews busy. Reducing your pricing structure as a key strategy to win more bids is a losing long-term proposition, especially with the rising cost of doing business. So how can you increase your competitiveness without reducing your hourly rate or spending thousands of dollars on new equipment? One answer is quite simple — clean up your act!
Despite the fact that the service industry sector as a whole generally fares better during times of economic downturn, I don’t think there is much question that the current state of our economy is being felt by folks making a living in the tree care industry — especially given the soaring cost of fuel. There isn’t much that tree care company owners can do to influence OPEC or the economy as a whole, but there are definitely a handful of relatively inexpensive measures that can be adopted to increase the likelihood of sales conversions during times of heightened competition.
A uniform look
You can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover, but count on the fact that homeowners will judge you by your outward appearance. I’m not suggesting that you and your employees should be wearing ascots and blue blazers on sales calls or to the jobsite; but a simple, clean uniform look will help foster a professional image and will enhance the perceived value of your service. Ripped jeans and sleeveless tee shirts embellished with the name of your favorite heavy metal band are not likely to impress the clientele, nor add jobs to your schedule. Custom screen-printed or embroidered workwear can be a relatively inexpensive way to convey a powerful message to your customers. You won’t have to look far in your hometown or online to find scads of embroidery/screen print shops that can work up embellished tees, polos, or button-down work shirts for a very reasonable price. Make sure your employees have enough shirts in their rotation so they’ll have something clean to put on each morning. During hot weather, I often bring an extra shirt to work so I can change mine mid-day. It’s a heck of a lot more comfortable sporting a clean, dry shirt and it keeps me from looking like a dirt bag when I have to speak to a customer or do an unexpected estimate.
You may not have the newest fleet of tree rigs on the road, but there’s no reason it can’t be polished and running like a Swiss watch. Take the time at the end of the day to hose down your trucks and equipment to keep them looking sharp. It is also helpful to perform regular maintenance reviews so you are less likely to experience a breakdown on the job. There is nothing quite as embarrassing — or less professional — than blowing a rotted hydraulic line on the manicured lawn of one of your best customers (I speak from experience on this one). Not only is your equipment likely to last longer if it is well maintained, but it will definitely help bolster your image.
Take the time
If it weren’t for your customers, you and your employees wouldn’t have a paycheck. Never ever forget this! As a company owner, you shouldn’t be hesitant to chat with your customers to let them know how the job is progressing or to ask them if they have any questions or concerns. Likewise, your employees should be encouraged to be polite and offer customer service when and where it is needed. I realize that an outgoing personality isn’t going to help you much up in a tree, but fostering good relationships on the ground is a surefire way of increasing the likelihood that you get the call the next time your customer needs work done. If they like you, they are also much more apt to recommend your company to family or friends.
Price and consumer confidence are two key factors taken into account when homeowners decide on which tree care company to hire. All things being equal, if I had to decide between several outfits to hire to work on my trees (assuming their bids were at fair market value) I would hire the company I felt to be the most professional and competent. A well spoken and informed sales pitch will give you a definite edge against the competition, but so will outward appearances. In many instances you might only get one shot at winning over a would-be customer, so always go the extra mile to put your best foot forward. Not only will consumers be more inclined to hire and retain the company in which they have more trust, but they will often be willing to pay more for what they perceive to be a higher quality service.
Paul Taylor, founder and former “head monkey” of Arborwear, has been involved in the tree care industry since he bought his first chain saw (before he was old enough to drive a car). He is now involved in a new venture, Long Splice Design, and specializes in the design, manufacture, and sourcing of sewn products. You will also find him a couple days a week plying his favorite trade in the treetops. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.