ISA’s executive director shares his thoughts
For an overview of the tree care industry, from an industry leadership perspective, Arbor Age recently asked Jim Skiera, executive director of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), to comment about the state of the industry.
AA: What key issues or challenges are — or will be — at the forefront for the tree care industry now and in the year to come?
Skiera: Increasing energy costs will impact the cost of tree work and training. It will also impact discretionary spending habits. The people able to articulate the benefits of trees and tree care as long-term investments will shine.
AA: What advice would you give to tree care professionals regarding the industry during the coming year?
Skiera: People are beginning to understand the true value of the urban forest. The green infrastructure movement is becoming popular with policymakers for environmental and also economic reasons. Now is the time to develop relationships with policymakers and take time to develop a plan for how you can align your services with meeting the needs of this growing trend.
AA: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with? And what areas need to improve?
Skiera: I am most pleased with the increase I have seen in public and policymaker awareness related to the benefits of trees and the urban forest. The utility industry is starting to see management budgets stabilized as the concept of best management practices is aligning with regulations. Now we need to improve awareness for the need for management of the resource the urban forest and the individual trees in our cities. Worker safety is still a major concern, and we cannot do enough, fast enough, to improve in this area of the industry.
AA: What would you like industry professionals to know about ISA during the coming year?
Skiera: The ISA will be bringing on a number of online courses to help people keep up with their arboriculture studies and maintain their professional credentials. We are also working with our chapters to develop and deliver advanced arboriculture training opportunities locally.
AA: What is your boldest prediction for the industry regarding the remainder of 2011 and into 2012?
Skiera: Managing the health of the urban forest will be identified as a primary resource and goal for stormwater management by the engineering community.
Industry members weigh in
To get the pulse of those in the field, Arbor Age also surveyed its readers regarding the good, and the bad, of business in the tree care industry in 2011.
Q: What have been the biggest positives for your business this year, and what are some of your goals moving forward?
We were able to sustain sales at or above previous levels despite a slow economy. The opportunity to learn and utilize advanced rigging techniques gave us a competitive advantage. — Rob Gillies, Rob Gillies Tree Care
We’re starting off very strong in the residential market this year — lots of quality work coming in. Also, I finally earned a piece of the commercial market through two major landscaping firms as their go-to arborist and tree care company. I am looking to further increase our profitability by adding low (overhead) cost, quick turnaround, and desirable services to our menu. Furthermore, I am looking to break into larger commercial work by winter. I am implementing a new safety program in the company with the help of TCIA, and looking to become an accredited company by fall. — Nathan Ridge, president, Louisiana Arborist Top Gun Tree & Land Services
I think people are staying put and not buying new homes. This seems to have been a plus as people are doing a lot of work around their existing places to clean up their trees. — Jeff Hansen, owner/CEO, Hansen’s Tree Service, St. Louis, O’Fallon, Springfield, Branson, Mo.
We had a very strong winter here in Mammoth [Calif.]; 600 inches of snow at 8,000 feet with a lot of wind most of the winter. There will be plenty of work this summer. We also have a fuels reduction mandate that is increasing the push to compliance. The competition for jobs is fierce. — Greg Cook, owner, G.C. Forest Products, Inc.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges for your business this year, and how have you approached those challenges?
Forecasting sales, professionalism of staff, and weather. For sales we have focused on immediate response to RFQs and closing deals. Staff will need some training and possibly replacement. Rain gear! — Gillies
Costly repairs to equipment have been a big stress point this spring. Thankfully, we’ve had our best first quarter to date, and the money was there for the repairs (just enough). It doesn’t bother me though. My equipment should be ready for the rest of the growing season with little to no interruptions. My business is 100 percent my livelihood. When my equipment breaks, I don’t think twice about temporarily cutting other costs in order to keep things up and running. If I let equipment breakdowns pile up, it will cost much more in the long-run to fix everything later rather than sooner — not to mention lost job opportunities due to the downtime and inability to meet clients’ needs. Even if I may break even or lose a little money during a work week because of a repair, I make sure to fix things and get jobs done to keep a good image with my customer base. They must have confidence in me, my crew members, and my company. Bottom line — organization and maintenance are paramount. I do not put off today what can be done tomorrow, as much as possible. — Ridge
The biggest challenge for us has been cash flow. We have been burned for over 200K in the last two years. Developers and homeowners just file bankruptcy and run and you’re stuck with liens and all the legal garbage, and a lot of times never see the payment. We have put a stop to being easy, and are more aggressive in collections, which has helped a bunch. — Hansen
My business is off about 45 percent from the high-water mark of $2.24 million in 2007. That’s $800-$900K/year in lost income, and, believe me, we really feel it. We’re not losing it to the cut-rate companies as much as the whole tree work pie has shrunk. We’re in our third [bad] year in a row, but I’ve become grudgingly used to running a non-profit organization. I hope we see some turn around like other parts of the country are seeing.
John Hushagen — Seattle Tree Preservation, Inc.
Q: What do you feel is the overall “state” of the tree care industry as whole in 2011?
The industry suffers from a poor public image and lack of professionalism of many companies. — Gillies
I can only speak for the tree industry in southeast Louisiana with any real knowledge, but things definitely seem to be on an upswing around the New Orleans area. People have learned a lot since hurricane Katrina. The fly-by-night “tree guys” aren’t getting as much work here as they used to. People are looking for arborists who know what they are talking about. There seems to be a greater awareness of trees this year with a big focus on promoting tree health and preservation. — Ridge
The tree care industry as a whole has a lot of clean-up to do. It has improved, but we still need to get guys to keep their trucks and equipment clean and respectable so that the image of the industry comes up. — Hansen
[Editor’s Note: If you did not receive the survey, or did not respond prior to the print deadline, and would like to respond to any of the above questions for inclusion in the online version of this article, please e-mail your responses to John Kmitta at firstname.lastname@example.org ]