Get ready to hit the ground running in the offseason
There are only so many tree care jobs available – and possible – during the frigid winter months, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. It’s an important time to plan ahead, prepare for the coming “busy season” and take steps to improve and advance your business, be it through management, personnel or machinery and equipment.
Every tree care business has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and those should be taken into account when strategizing the best approach to the “offseason.” For an increasing number of tree care businesses today, however, there really is no slow time of the year in locations where the right volume and diversity of work is available year-round.
“In a lot of places, I don’t think there’s really an offseason anymore. Most tree care business owners are trying to stay busy year-round and keep their workforce employed and happy,” said Vermeer Landscape Market Manager Brett Newendorp. “This varies a lot from one company to the next, but I see more crews all the time trying to stay busy, even in the coldest months.”
How to prepare for busier times
For others, especially those in northern climates where winter weather can all but cause the entire world to stop functioning because of bitter cold temperatures, conditions make it difficult for much of any tree care work to be done. In that case, winter is the best time to make sure once the work pipeline does open up in the spring, you are ready to operate at 100 percent capacity.
“If you’re trying to stay busy, look for opportunities that fit your business niche. Some are good at snow removal, for example,” Newendorp said. “Some choose to do, while others choose to get their fleet ready during the winter for the following year.”
If preparedness is your priority during the winter, the best strategies also play to your business strengths, entailing steps to be ready both for the coming spring and summer of work, and ensuring your business stays nimble and adaptable well into the future.
“It’s important for business owners, crew leaders or managers of any type to sit down and set goals, then create a plan around those goals,” Newendorp said. “Once you do that, you’ll have an idea of what you feel are the most important steps you need to take. Some might have to do with your personnel, some might have to do with overall business and sales plans and others might have to do with your equipment.”
Equipment and machinery readiness
If equipment is your priority, it’s important to conduct major equipment maintenance and inspections as well as stock up on key parts so when busy time starts, you won’t be as likely to face costly breakdowns.
“Conduct your yearly maintenance, check over your machines, look for things you can do to make sure your machinery is going to be ready to operate efficiently the next year,” Newendorp said. “Stock up on wear parts. For brush chippers that might be knives; for stump cutters, it’s teeth and pockets. On mini skid steers, take a look at tracks, rollers, idlers and the undercarriage. Stock up on filters, fluids and all those parts needed to maintain the machines in top working condition.”
Taking care of this kind of maintenance during the winter may also be more cost-effective. Your local Vermeer dealers, Newendorp said, often make plans to help tree care business owners make the most of their time and resources during this time of year.
“A lot of times, our dealers have great maintenance, service checks and parts specials this time of the year,” he said. “They want their customers’ machines running the best they can, too.”
Attention to business growth
Another component of winter preparation pertains more to tree care businesses in growth mode. If you anticipate more business in the coming year, it’s important to make adjustments so you’re not swamped and can meet your customers’ needs once the spring thaw comes and goes.
“You should be sizing your machinery and entire organization to the size of your business demand,” Newendorp said. “If you’re a business trying to figure out how to organize for that growth and become more efficient heading into the busy time, it’s important to become educated.”
Opportunities like the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) host annual conferences and events during the winter. Another great resource for tree care businesses is the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Each offer events tree care business owners and managers can attend to “learn from the best and learn what systems and organizational tactics you can put into place” to keep your business on track moving into spring and summer and beyond, Newendorp said.
“Most landscape and tree care professionals across the U.S. are really hungry and have a strong desire to grow their businesses,” Newendorp said. “It’s an entrepreneurial community that is diverse and members want to help each other out. It’s pretty unique to the landscape and tree care fields.”
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