This tree care contractor’s secret to success? Thinking bigger.
Garrett Jensen’s start as owner of a tree care company wasn’t all that unusual.
He founded Frontenac Forestry about a dozen years ago in the St. Louis metro area and focused on tree trimmings and small removals at first. Like many beginners, he didn’t have much in the way of equipment. No brush chipper. No stump grinder. His crew stacked debris in a trailer that they towed with a Jeep.
“I grew that for a little while and maybe didn’t focus on it as hard as I should have,” Jensen says. “A couple of years later, I put more focus into it, upgraded a little, bought my first chipper and a chip truck, and moved to a little bit larger jobs.”
Now, with the company receiving his full attention and the addition of Andy Haskenhoff as co-owner, Frontenac Forestry is a thriving tree care company with services that largely consist of land clearing for new residential developments. They also do tree preservation work and serve as consulting arborists to construction contractors.
An example of a project was clearing 5.5 acres (2.2 ha) for a new home in a St. Louis suburb. The property was covered in honeysuckle shrubs but also had lots of sporadically placed healthy, mature trees. The Frontenac Forestry crew used a forestry tractor to carefully clear the site while preserving the roots of the trees. Today, it’s a beautiful yard.
Right people, right equipment
“We run one crew and have all the right equipment and just the right amount of people to get a lot of wood into the back of the truck quickly,” says Haskenhoff.
Despite the success, Frontenac Forestry runs into the same challenge many other tree care contractors do: finding qualified labor. The issue can be magnified in the land-clearing business. Land clearing often is the first step in the construction process, and deadlines are usually tight because any delay can throw everything else off schedule.
Jensen and Haskenhoff say these two issues make it even more important for them to have equipment that is dependable and productive.
“We try to focus on getting equipment that is more powerful and more competent so that we can keep our labor costs down,” says Jensen. “Vermeer gives us the ability to get these jobs done, and with fewer people — again, saving on labor costs — and in the timely fashion required for the construction deadlines that we face.”
Best thing on the market
He cites a turning point for his company was the decision, nearly a decade ago, to upgrade to a Vermeer BC1800XL brush chipper.
“It’s still running today,” Jensen says. “It’s our backup chipper. We got a lot done with that. We bought another 1800. We got a lot done with that. Grew the business, started improving our productivity, and now we’ve moved up to a BC2100XL brush chipper. We bought two of them.”
The company switched to Vermeer stump cutters after being unhappy with the brand they previously had and now have two SC60TX stump cutters.
“The stump grinder is just the best thing on the market right now,” Jensen says. “It’s relentless.”
Thinking back to when he wasn’t, in his own words, as focused as he could have been on the business, Jensen now sees the willingness of him and his partner to think bigger as a key reason the company has done well.
“A secret to our success?” Jensen says. “Not staying in the same place and always keeping an open mind on moving forward. Don’t be daunted by buying a larger machine or two more trucks. Don’t let yourself be held down and think that you can’t do it. You can do it.”