Tree Trimming and Removal vs Stump Grinding Business

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bcr091

bcr091

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Mar 13, 2021
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Utah
I made the rather stupid and impulsive decision about 6 months ago to quit my construction job and start a tree company. I love running chainsaws and have quite a bit of experience with them from wildland firefighting and have gotten a lot of technical rock climbing under my belt. I bought a bunch of tree climbing gear and learned on the trees at my house, bought a dump trailer, took some ISA classes and got to work....

What I'm now realizing is that I am an idiot. Trees are not simple, and running a business isn't either. There is always someone who will do the work cheaper (and probably better) There are a million aspects to both arboriculture and business management that I know very litte about. There are also a million tree companies that already exist where I live in Salt Lake City. There are not, however, a lot of stump grinding companies. The one grinding company that I have used on bigger stumps I couldn't grind with my portable grinder I was not impressed with. It got me thinking that maybe as a single member LLC with a lot to learn, stump grinding might be a better business to get into - at least until I know a hell of a lot more. Essentially, I am just wondering if anyone else has been through a similar experience and what they ended up doing, or if anyone has advice/comments on the feasibility and financial prudence of starting a business that does only grinding.

Thanks
 

ATH

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You've gotta figure out:
*what do you want to do...what gets you excited?
*what can you do well? why should I hire you instead of XYZ? Maybe you can get there sooner. Maybe you clean up the grindings, fill with soil and plant grass better than others. Maybe you cause less damage than others. If, for example, you are doing the grinding only, perhaps find another company and offer to sub-contract their stumps. For example, we don't do many removals. Not enough to justify buying a grinder, so I'm more than happy to have a company I can call to take care of those. They just do stumps, so they aren't any threat of competition. My clients all have nice things to say about them, so I have no hesitation about sending them on a client's property. they make me look good by doing a good job and treating people well.


The secret to success in a service industry in 2021:
-show up
-don't be a jerk
-offer reasonable prices (don' need to be cheap...just not crazy expensive when you are starting out)
 
bcr091

bcr091

New Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2021
Messages
4
Location
Utah
You've gotta figure out:
*what do you want to do...what gets you excited?
*what can you do well? why should I hire you instead of XYZ? Maybe you can get there sooner. Maybe you clean up the grindings, fill with soil and plant grass better than others. Maybe you cause less damage than others. If, for example, you are doing the grinding only, perhaps find another company and offer to sub-contract their stumps. For example, we don't do many removals. Not enough to justify buying a grinder, so I'm more than happy to have a company I can call to take care of those. They just do stumps, so they aren't any threat of competition. My clients all have nice things to say about them, so I have no hesitation about sending them on a client's property. they make me look good by doing a good job and treating people well.


The secret to success in a service industry in 2021:
-show up
-don't be a jerk
-offer reasonable prices (don' need to be cheap...just not crazy expensive when you are starting out)

Thanks for the insight ATH! Honestly, I really love climbing trees and running a chainsaw/felling, but I have had mixed results with making money at it given my set up and working alone. I think with stump grinding I could be competitive however because 1) I always call in locates and am very cautious, 2) I actually do clean up after myself and protect property around me and 3) I answer my phone and am responsive (which has not been my experience with others who stump grind around here). The biggest issue with grinding is that I don't currently own a large machine - I only have a handlebar grinder, so I would need to buy a larger one...but I'm not currently getting enough business to justify the expense.

Del, thankfully at least where I am located, jobs are not even remotely hard to get right now, so I do think I could go back to construction if needed. Working trees on the side, especially during the winter, might be what I have to do...but I sure would prefer to just do my own thing.
 
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ShermanC

ShermanC

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Jan 25, 2008
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Mountain View, AR 2-1/2 hours north of Little Rock
I made the rather stupid and impulsive decision about 6 months ago to quit my construction job and start a tree company. I love running chainsaws and have quite a bit of experience with them from wildland firefighting and have gotten a lot of technical rock climbing under my belt. I bought a bunch of tree climbing gear and learned on the trees at my house, bought a dump trailer, took some ISA classes and got to work....

What I'm now realizing is that I am an idiot. Trees are not simple, and running a business isn't either. There is always someone who will do the work cheaper (and probably better) There are a million aspects to both arboriculture and business management that I know very litte about. There are also a million tree companies that already exist where I live in Salt Lake City. There are not, however, a lot of stump grinding companies. The one grinding company that I have used on bigger stumps I couldn't grind with my portable grinder I was not impressed with. It got me thinking that maybe as a single member LLC with a lot to learn, stump grinding might be a better business to get into - at least until I know a hell of a lot more. Essentially, I am just wondering if anyone else has been through a similar experience and what they ended up doing, or if anyone has advice/comments on the feasibility and financial prudence of starting a business that does only grinding.

Thanks
Dear 'bcr', My experience since 1998 has been similar to what you are going through. With $800 in cash and checking, I started Best Tree Service in 1998 at Mountain View, AR after six long years of apprenticeship with a Florida forester. FFTT, (fast forward to today) I have served 853 clients as an arborist and stump grinder. I started grinding stumps on my partner's Vermeer SC206 in 2003 and currently own two* walk-behind 13HP grinders using #500 Green Teeth. In 2017 I started doing pressure washing to fill in time and keep $ coming in. In 2002 I bought a used Echo gas drill to do cabling, bracing and rod bracing. In 2008 I joined Tree Care Industry Association and went to their EXPO in Milwaukee. I was hooked and addicted to this work. In 2010 I went to EXPO in Pittsburgh to get more hooked. Since 1997 I have trained and worked 41 guys in ground man work. I fell 20' in 1999 because I forgot to tie in my saddle to the trunk. I got back to tree work in 2001 with a partner who owns a 40' Task Force (JLG) telescoping lift. He was busy with other work in 2007 so in 2008 I bought my Niftylift TM40 46' two-booms-on-trailer lift and ended the partnership. Today we are still best of friends and he is my landlord where I live in a 19' 1989 aluminum-frame travel trailer. I do not recommend pressure washing as a side business. Stump grinding is competitive, requires frequent and precise maintenance after every project, takes a spread of advertising dollars and the calls must be responded to quickly. *One stump grinder is a 250 lb. Husqvarna SG-13 they sold for two years, bought for $2,100 from a private party in Memphis selling on eBay. The other is self-propelled, was bought new about 2011 from Beeline in Pennsylvania, weighing 450 lbs. with a Kohler 12.75HP for $4,700. The TuffGear transaxle was assembled incorrectly and leaked the 30 ozs. of 20-50W gear oil in 2015. Beeline closed up four months after I bought my machine. The reassembly is on my chore list. I have done mechanic work since 1955 and that skill has saved my budget many times. If you are not a mechanic and do not have a workshop do not go into stump grinding. When you grind you must be thorough to remove buttress roots and go deep enough to get the tap root. I carry 40 lb. bags of top soil on the trailer to fill the hole(s) to soil surface because wood shavings and soil will not be enough to fill. There is more to it than what I have posted but it's enough to keep you awake awhile.
 
ShermanC

ShermanC

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Messages
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Mountain View, AR 2-1/2 hours north of Little Rock
Thanks for the insight ATH! Honestly, I really love climbing trees and running a chainsaw/felling, but I have had mixed results with making money at it given my set up and working alone. I think with stump grinding I could be competitive however because 1) I always call in locates and am very cautious, 2) I actually do clean up after myself and protect property around me and 3) I answer my phone and am responsive (which has not been my experience with others who stump grind around here). The biggest issue with grinding is that I don't currently own a large machine - I only have a handlebar grinder, so I would need to buy a larger one...but I'm not currently getting enough business to justify the expense.

Del, thankfully at least where I am located, jobs are not even remotely hard to get right now, so I do think I could go back to construction if needed. Working trees on the side, especially during the winter, might be what I have to do...but I sure would prefer to just do my own thing.
I am back with more thoughts. Working for yourself has its pros and cons. Finding a ground man for tree work is difficult because the work is hard physical labor to cut trees apart, drag limbs, load trailers, dump, and cleanup. After losing my ground man a month ago I changed some of my work methods so work without a helper on the ground watching me work. I figured a way to use my lowering device, a PortaWrap III, up in the tree beneath the drop line pulley near the lift basket so I can lower the limb(s) then return to the ground to un-hook drag and load. This pace worked very profitably on a 55' tall hickory I took down a week ago. Even though productivity is lower so is the wage expense...zero. I'll do this again Monday for a tree killed by lightning.
About 2014 I had a call to estimate a stump job on a game preserve where there was a nine-bedroom hunting lodge. The property manager estimated 40 to 43 stumps. I asked to tour the area in his truck. it was cold and windy as we drove out on this ridge to a cattle gate. I couldn't count them all so I quoted an hourly rate and offered to start the next week. I had our apprentice do an inventory of every stump by height, diameter and species if he knew it. The 143 stumps took us about four weeks because the weather was misrerable. Some days we had to stop work and the coomute was long. The bill was $2,900 and he was happy. I should have run a profit and loss ledger on that job.
 
pdqdl

pdqdl

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True, and a 12" stump for $75 is actually pretty decent money for 10 minutes of real work... haha!

Never forget that your time costs just as much when you are talking to the customer, driving to the job, driving back, depositing the money, and servicing the equipment. It's all gotta be paid for out of that $75.00.

I like to look up what an Uber ride would cost back and forth to a job. Then see how much is left over to pay for the actual time on the job.

Did I forget to mention overhead? Insurance for: vehicles, business liability, worker's comp, unemployment. Then there's employer's share of FICA, banking fees, rent/property taxes, fuel, maintenance expenses, advertising, ...OMG. It never seems to quit.
 
mikewhite85
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Sep 3, 2009
Messages
918
Location
Wellsboro, PA
This is an older thread but maybe you're still listening?

I think doing stumps is a great idea. I toyed with the idea some years ago. Our tree company in Los Angeles was making 400-500k per year but the expenses were so high, I was not making a whole lot more than my guys. Workers comp was especially expensive and the more employees you have the more potential for drama. No matter how well you vet potential employees you still make mistakes. Not to mention the "literal" costly mistakes that happen on jobs. I thought long and hard about doing arborist consulting and stump grinding full time. Long story short, my path took me to rural PA- and I'm running another tree service.

All that said, in a highly populated, potentially higher income area like Salt Lake City you can do very well with stumps. Equipment cost is comparatively less than a full tree service and you don't have to deal with the cost and stress of employees, let alone tens of thousands in workers comp insurance.

A tree company with a small crew, insurance, and minimal equipment needs to make 1500-2000 per day to do ok. A one man show with a stump grinder can do 500-600 per day and do great. You can also do some small "cut and drop" type climbing on the side without needing all the extra stuff.

I sub all my stumps to a "retired" tree guy in his early 60's who now does stumps full time for about 6 tree services. Depends on what he's doing but he generally makes 400-800 per day with a vermeer sc252. He also just got a larger tow behind machine. 2022 is going to be a great year for him.

There is a lot to say about working on your own and not dealing with the stress of employees and high overhead of equipment. Stump grinding is a simpler and probably easier way to go. I think you can do really well in a more populated area like SLC.

Anyway, those are the stream of my thoughts in a nutshell. If you'd like to talk more send me a message and I'll give you my number.

You do need a larger machine. Good luck!
 
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