Written by John Hackwood on April 2nd 2020
Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic on US Tree Service Industry
Image of Arborist Reproduced With Kind Permission Of Jeremy Hallahan, Owner of JH Tree Service Cut 'em Dahn of Ruffs Dale, Pennsylvania
Tree service crews cannot work from home. Technology might exist one day to send a self-driving truck without crew to a customer’s property, attend to the problem tree via a robotic link, remove and chip all brush and then self-drive to the next job remotely. But such virtual tree work is not currently feasible. Tree work needs human intervention on site. If a tree service crew is not on site, they’re not earning.

A full working week has passed since the joint statement by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) on COVID-19 was published. It helpfully clarified which type of tree work can be regarded as essential and non-essential to both government authorities and members alike. The statement also encouraged tree service companies to review their bookings and bring forward ‘essential’ tree work. The statement also recommended that tree firms postpone non-essential tree work. A reminder of the statement’s key contents is shared at the end of this article.

Tree contractors are also deemed to be at low risk of spreading t e COVID-19 infection according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Nevertheless, we began to hear from several tree service clients that they were closing their businesses temporarily in response to the pandemic emergency despite being authorized to operate essential services.
So we wanted to know more about how other clients and the tree service industry as a whole had been affected by the pandemic. After all, the industry now generates some $24bn in revenue each year and employs 284,000 individuals (Ibisworld). This exercise is also helping us to adjust and improve our own tree service marketing support for clients where they are still active.

What is Happening to Tree Service Businesses?

Our own poll-style research on 28th and 29th March among 212 tree business owners quantifies how the US tree service industry has reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping through North America. We outline 6 separate effects on the industry at this difficult time.
Our study shows that 58% of all tree firms are suffering from complete or partial loss of business income as a direct result of the viral pandemic. As a consequence, of the 184,000 US tree businesses trading in 2020, more than 100,000 are losing significant income.
The study also indicates that owners are facing at least 4 separate influences on their current reactions to the current emergency to varying degrees:
  • Necessary measures applied by federal, state and local county government to tackle the Corona Virus pandemic.
  • ​Voluntary decisions by many owners to protect their communities at significant losses to their businesses.
  •  Fewer inquiries from customers
  • ​The Joint ISA/TCIA statement

What does our study show?

A tabulated summary of the results of our research poll is shared below:
COVID-19 Survey Results Summary
It shows the rainbow of responses to a simple question (see head of table) on Saturday March 28th and Sunday March 29th by no less than 212 US tree enterprises.
The statistical relevance of our research is considered at the end of the article along with a breakdown of the response numbers.

14% Performing Only 'Essential' Services

14% of tree firms are prevented from doing non-essential work presently. Non-essential services include tree pruning, vista pruning, tree fertilization, tree irrigation and non-invasive tree pest control (ISA & TCIA). The proportion of 'non-essential' tree work will vary from tree business to tree business but it commonly forms between one third and one half of gross revenues. This percentage is likely to rise if further government restrictions are brought into force to deal with the virus pandemic.

21% Opting For A Voluntary Pause in Operations

An incredible 1 in 5 (21%) owners in the tree industry have voluntarily stood down their service operations and crew even though they are not legally compelled to do so. They are doing this expressly to reduce the chance of spreading the COVID-19 virus in their respective communities. On this basis, nearly 60,000 tree workers in the industry are not working at present.
This remarkable self-sacrifice shows how closely some businesses are bonded to their respective communities. Whilst there may be an element of self-preservation, many in this category must be conscious of their reputation in the community once the pandemic is over. 'Doing the right thing' will come at a heavy cost, however. How long they can stay closed without suffering from severe financial loss remains to be seen.

22% Experience Fewer Customer Inquiries

More than two in every ten firms (22%) relay that no virus-related federal, state or local state notices affect them directly at the moment. And yet their business is still being adversely affected. The problem arises from a reduced number of inquiries by customers. Clearly, some property owners are being cautious about exposing themselves to possible viral infection from tree contractors. Alternatively, their residential and commercial customers may be conserving financial resources to cope with the national emergency in the weeks to come.

How Do You Recover Lost Business?

Firstly, we recommend that tree service businesses make their revised health and safety measures clear in order to reassure nervous customers worried about being infected. Outline your amended working practices based on OSHA recommendations here  and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whose interim guidance for businesses can be found here.

We also suggest that improved marketing efforts could help to replace lost business and gain a greater share of available local work opportunities. Be ready to bounce back when the pandemic is over. Use the downtime to overhaul your company’s marketing strategy and tactics. The majority of ideas mentioned in our previous blog posts are low-cost; so choose which are relevant for your business size, goals and location.

For our part, we are trialing a different cocktail of digital channels to ensure that live calls continue to be sent to clients at previous if not greater volumes.

Tree Service Crew With PPE And Face Mask

42% of Tree Firms Unaffected By COVID-19

More positively, 42% of tree service businesses mention that their business income is presently unaffected by the Coronavirus pandemic in USA.

Thankfully, only 1% of tree firms are so far being compelled to shut down operations by business closure orders, sometimes referred to as ‘shelter-in-place’ orders.

Image Reproduced With Kind Permission of Aerial Arborists, Tampa

Research Methodology & Tables

The Research was conducted using Facebook Polls in two separate Groups, both popular among tree service business owners. Polling started on Saturday 28th March. Respondents were presented with a simple question and 6 options from which they could self-select one that best described their current business situation. The question and the responses are listed below. At midnight on Sunday 29th March 2020, the results were collated after some 212 US tree service owners had participated. Responses from international participants were removed from the reported totals to improve survey relevance to the United States.

The Question:

“As a Tree Service Owner, How Is Your Business Being Affected by New COVID-19 Regulations in Your Service Area? Please choose one of the following options that best describes your business situation:”

6 Response Options:

Raw Results Table COVID19 Survey

Statistical Relevance

Results from polls in two separate FaceBook Groups, popular among tree service owners, were combined. In absolute numbers, 212 participants is a respectable sample size where the results are statistically relevant. When extrapolating the results to build a national picture, some caution is required. This is partly because the respondents have self-selected to answer the poll. In professionally-commissioned research, respondents would be chosen from a large sample ‘pool’ to ensure that US tree service companies of various sizes, types and locations would be fully representative of the overall business population in this service niche.

The Joint ISA & TCIA Statement - a reminder

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) issued a joint statement last week in relation to the viral emergency and the tree service industry. Commendably, it sought to clarify and include the vital elements of the tree industry’s work within the category of ‘Essential Services’. It also sought to encourage the US government at all levels to provide clear directives that ensure tree care companies and arborists can continue to provide vital services in this time of national emergency. The full statement can be seen in this pdf document.  

Which are the 'Essential' Tree Services?

Essential services are defined as those which ensure the safety of people, the protection of property and the treatment of trees affected or at risk of infestation by invasive tree pests. Hence, hazardous tree removal, hazardous tree limb removal, utility line clearance and application of alien tree pest treatments are included within a fuller list of 11 discrete commercial activities.

What is MarketingDirector.com doing?

All staff at MarketingDirector.com are taking physical isolation and social-distancing recommendations seriously. Unlike our tree service clients, we are better able to work from home as best we can, albeit in isolation from one another.

We are still open for business for those clients who are still  permitted to operate because most of our digital marketing work can be conducted through home computers. Business is about 15% slower than normal in terms of the number of calls generated from more cautious local prospects needing tree work. Thankfully, we are able to switch on a secondary suite of digital channels to generate more calls for clients to make up the difference in volume of live calls.

*Ibisworld confirms there are 184,256 “Tree Trimming Services” businesses in the US as of 2020. Ibisworld’s definition includes residential and commercial tree service businesses offering a full range of tree-related services including removal, pruning, stump-grinding or removal and tree pest control.

John Hackwood

John Hackwood helps tree service owners get new customers every month. He is an expert at helping them get clients using proprietary methods and making things super simple to understand. He has been a marketing professional since 1988 and is using this considerable experience to help small businesses in the US tree care sector.

His agency, MarketingDirector.com, only serves the US tree service industry. It specializes in using a unique cocktail of digital marketing techniques proven to drive live telephone calls direct to tree service owners. Its clients enjoy highly-qualified tree work inquiries from prospects in local service areas created for each client on a bespoke basis. Live phone calls are provided on an exclusive basis because they are not sold to anyone else.

If you're interested in learning how John can help you grow your tree service business then click on blue button below.
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