NORTH FEATURES


Why Not Add Tree Services, Too?

Entrepreneur Josh Skolnick rolls out Monster Tree franchise opportunity
By Ron Hall


Monster Tree Service


Founder and Owner: Josh Skolnick
Founded: 2008
Headquarters: Fort Washington, Pa.
Markets: Southeast Pennsylvania, portions of New Jersey and Delaware
Services: Hazardous tree assessment, tree removals, trimming, thinning, stump grinding, removing deadwood, cabling/bracing, crane services and tree/shrub pruning
Employees: 22
Website: www.whymonster.com

In June 2008, a client asked landscape professional Josh Skolnick to take down a 70-foot-tall elm tree. Skolnick, 25 at the time, had never taken down a tree before. But, since he constantly told clients "we're a full-service company," he hired an experienced tree contractor to remove the elm.

That's when he discovered an opportunity. Leaving the arborist to dismantle the tree, he literally went door to door offering tree removals and related services in the suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where his Skolnick Landscaping had been providing landscape services. In just four hours he sold $20,000 in tree work.

Suddenly, Skolnick was in the tree business.

He hired a full-time arborist and started Monster Tree Service in Fort Washington, Pa., an affluent unincorporated community north of Philadelphia. Selling his residential landscape and mulch blowing businesses, he began providing tree removal and pruning mainly to former landscaping clients in and around Montgomery and Buck counties. Monster Tree has since expanded into New Jersey and Delaware.

Skolnick admits he's never been hesitant about selling his services or himself.


Franchise founder Josh Skolnick says there are lots of experienced arborists seeking careers and eager to join companies that can provide them.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MONSTER TREE SERVICE.

Strong (and young) start

He started in the landscaping business at the age of 13, mowing residential lawns in his neighborhood with a commercial walk-behind Gravely unit. By the time he was in high school he had so many customers he had to add a crew, and then another. But even as a high school student, he knew he didn't want to spend his summers mowing lawns. He wanted to own, run and build a million-dollar business - a goal he reached before getting into tree care.

"I wasn't jaded in the landscape industry," he says. "But I could see that there was a tremendous need for professional tree work. Even though I had no experience in tree removals I was sure we could build a company to meet that need."

Monster Tree Service, with Skolnick marketing and selling, while also building a team of arborists, generated more than $1 million in revenues its first year in business. Now, four years later, the company has 22 full-time employees.

The company offers hazardous tree assessment, tree removals, trimming, thinning, stump grinding, removing deadwood, cabling and bracing, crane services, and tree and shrub pruning.

Skolnick says he approached the tree service business with a plan of providing services with well-trained, uniformed crews and state-of-the-art equipment, including bucket trucks, large chippers and stump grinders. Equally important, the service is built upon responding to property owners' tree service needs promptly, including providing estimates within hours rather than days, he says.

"I realized that I needed to purchase state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line equipment right out of the gate so that we didn't have to deal with equipment breakdowns and suffer injuries or other issues related to our guys not having the proper equipment," says Skolnick.

That approach, and the practice of using three-man crews so services could be performed efficiently and quickly, led customers to perceive his Monster Tree Service as a much larger company than it was. Some clients thought it was a national brand. That started the wheels turning.

He considered opening company branches, but instead opted for a franchise model.

"Franchising would require less initial investment even though we have lots of capital supporting us," says Skolnick. After months of planning, this past April he announced the availability of Monster Tree Service franchises.

New profit opportunity

This is a perfect time for landscape business owners to consider adding a tree service division to their operations, he claims. Property owners appreciate the convenience of dealing with a single contractor that can provide all necessary outdoor landscape and property management services. Tree care is one of those vital services.


Tree work requires specialized, often costly equipment, but there's no need to acquire it all at once. Adding tree services to an existing landscape company is a step-at-a-time process, says Skolnick.

"Landscape companies, whether they're involved in maintenance or installations or both, are going to come across situations where trees are going to have to be removed," says Skolnick. "Perhaps it's a tree that needs to be taken out for the installation of a patio. Of course, there are lots of other services that property owners need a professional tree company to perform."

Skolnick says a person doesn't have to own a landscape business to become a Monster Tree Service franchisee, but they should be a businessperson. "We will not be teaching people how to remove, climb or trim trees," says Skolnick. "We want people that want to run a profitable business. We don't want a franchisee coming in that's up in a tree everyday or running the equipment.

"We're going to teach them how to run a tree business and how to make money doing it. There are very few guys that truly understand this business and how to run a tree service company effectively."

Career path opportunities

As Skolnick sees it, there's a sizable pool of qualified, passionate arborists in the business, people that love working in and on trees - but many of them want more than just jobs. They want to work for companies that have modern, safe equipment and offer opportunities beyond an hourly wage.

"We're publishing ads in industry publications to drive qualified employees to us. We'll prequalify them and will make them available to our franchisees," says Skolnick. "These are people, arborists, that will be willing to relocate because they have a passion for trees and for working outdoors."

Of the thousands of tree care companies in the U.S., few offer true career opportunities for their employees. "I can name them on one hand," says Skolnick. One of the goals of Monster Tree Service is to change that.

Skolnick says his business plan is to build a network of 10 to 15 franchises in the first year.

"We want controlled growth," he says. "If we have the opportunity to do more, I'm not sure we would because we want to give every franchisee our full support, the support they will need to be successful." That includes five days of training at the Pennsylvania headquarters, followed by training at the franchisee's location.

"Monster Tree Service and myself have developed a proven system that will teach people how to make a mark in an industry that needs more professionalism," adds Skolnick. "We're going to teach all the systems and the processes and offer the recruitment of the proper employees to ensure that franchisees are successful."

How much will it cost to get a Monster Tree Service franchise up and running?

It depends on how quickly the owner is able to ramp up, vehicles and equipment costs being the largest variables. He estimates start-up costs (including the initial franchise fee) ranging from $96,000 to $439,000.

"Even though it's a fast-growth process, we're not going to suggest that anybody come in and right away go out and purchase a new bucket truck, a brand-new chipper, a brand-new stump grinder. Most people will have to do it in stages and develop the business first," says Skolnick.

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been reporting on service industries, including the landscape/lawn service industry, for the past 28 years. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.