Months after Hurricane Sandy demolished the eastern seaboard, Joe Holland was still responding to phone calls to remove trees.
Holland, owner of Majestic Lawn and Landscape in Rockland County, N.Y., said the majority of his work came in the three to four months following the hurricane. “We worked all the way into January doing clean up, and then a lot of homeowners became scared about their tree situation, so we were cutting down trees proactively before they fell,” he said.
Thinking that the services would be cheaper, other customers with non-urgent post-hurricane issues waited until the following spring or summer to call Holland. For example, one customer had a tree fall in the woods behind her house but didn’t get in touch with him for months after Sandy.
Holland managed the clean up response with the staff he already had in place and didn’t need to add any temporary employees. While it was overwhelming, Holland said the extra money was nice. “We had a tough time getting other things done, but we figured it out and we did it.”
During the frenzy created by Sandy, Holland had to prioritize his work; removing trees from houses and cars came first. Often, though, it would take several more weeks before he could return to the home to remove a fallen tree from the premises.
Manage the backlog. Christopher Hunt, Vice President of Tamke Tree Experts based in Liberty, NJ, the northern New Jersey area, said his company was inundated with work for about four to five months post-Sandy, and like Holland, their first step was to triage the emergency situations (i.e., a tree in a bedroom) versus a downed tree in a yard that wasn’t blocking anything.
“This is not our first rodeo in dealing with storm damage and acts of God of this proportion. In the year before was the ‘Snowtober’ storm, with broken limbs and downed wires,” Hunt said. The work stemming from Sandy carried Hunt’s company for a long time, creating a backlog of work, though he found that his customers were willing to wait, particularly for non-emergency situations.
Keeping customers informed and at ease was Hunt’s priority, as well as his biggest challenge. As Sandy caused loss of power in a widespread area, maintaining communication with both employees and customers was not easy. Within a day or so, however, they quickly were up and running. Even so, “…getting access to some properties and customers was difficult,” he said.
Perhaps Holland’s most considerable challenge emanating from Hurricane Sandy was processing all the wood left over from the storm. “We had mountains and mountains of logs in our facility that had to be cut up and split into firewood; we only finished last September,” he said.
Holland hasn’t run into any problems replacing trees for customers and was able to fill all orders. Hunt reported the same, though he pointed out they do not replant trees frequently.
In light of the 2011 Snowtober storm that rocked the same area, not everyone has the money to spend on aesthetics; most are just taking care of their immediate needs.
Between Snowtober and Hurricane Irene, Hunt has dealt with disasters of massive proportions before, but nothing compared to the volume that Sandy brought. “There wasn’t one property that didn’t have some kind of damage or broken limb,” he said.
Consequently, the landscapers in the area don’t need to worry about business for quite a while. “There will be work out there from the storm for the next five to 10 years to come,” Hunt said.
Lessons learned. Both Tamke and Majestic Lawn and Landscape have taken away lessons from Hurricane Sandy.
Hunt said he is a believer in the five Ps: Prior planning prevents poor performance. “Having a plan in place is essential, one that can be executed quickly and relatively easily, regardless of the conditions outside, regardless of whether or not you have power,” Hunt said.
“You need a way to communicate with clients and employees. If you have a battle plan in place and you can get to work right away and give great service, you can make money. The more times you go through the drill the better you get at it.”
While most of his customers were very understanding, Hunt recognized that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, particularly in a crisis situation of this magnitude. “You’re going to lose some work; you’re not going to be able to get to everyone,” he said.
In fact some out of town companies were cruising around the area, picking up some stray business where they could.
The next time disaster strikes, Holland said, “Just work as fast and efficiently as you can because you will lose customers if you don’t get there fast enough.”