The business of Sandy

Features - Trees & Ornamentals

A natural disaster can be as devastating to your business as it can be to your area.

February 13, 2013

Tom Golon has seen his fair share of bad storms through his 35 years in the tree care business. But he never saw one quite like Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast and parts of the Midwest.

“What impacted me most was the amount of trees that uprooted,” says Golon, owner of Wonderland Tree Care in Oyster Bay, N.Y. on the Northshore. “They were healthy trees that we’ve been taking care of for many years. We had some very soft soil because of previous rains.”

And those trees fell across roads and driveways, in backyards and through roofs into homes. While you may want to help everyone who calls, during a natural disaster, you’ll only be able to help so many. Golon says even in emergency conditions, you have to stay loyal to your customers.

“You have to be careful to not get greedy. And not forget about the clients that are there for you year in and year out,” Golon says.

Have a plan. When you know a major storm is going to hit, it’s important to have an emergency plan in place and for you to communicate that pre-storm. One part of that plan is mapping out in what order you will take care of people. Golon helped all customers first. He responded to calls of trees through homes first, then on homes, then across driveways and finally trees down on lawns.

Joe Holland, owner of Majestic Lawn Care, which serves Rockland County, says his company spent the first week removing trees off of houses and cars, alleviating dangerous situations. That meant while he would get the trees on the ground, someone else would swoop in and take the clean-up business.

“We would take the tree off the house and we couldn’t get back there fast enough so another company working across the street would come and finish the job,” he says. “That is fine because we’re overwhelmed and I don’t want the people waiting if they don’t have to, but we lost a couple of jobs like that.”

Golon says the first two weeks, his crews were working from 7 a.m. until dark, seven days a week, though rotating days off for employees. They then went down to six days and now are back to five working days, but still mix in the occasional six-day working week.

Holland’s employees worked eight- to 10-hour days, six days a week, but eventually got down to five, nine-hour days. “I still got a pile of work to do,” he says. “There’s probably a half-an-inch thick pile of papers on my desk,” Holland says.

Aim high. With the amount of work created by a hurricane, your time to give accurate estimates is all but gone. And that can create a financial disaster for your company.

“If you’re not extremely careful at managing your costs, it’s very easy to lose money in a storm,” Golon says.

Holland says he didn’t have time to estimate jobs, so he had to quote people a high price to offset any hidden, expensive challenges.

“The profit is great because people call in a panic and there’s no physical way that I can go and look at these properties and give them a price before we do a job,” Holland says. “I did one job for 90 percent gross profit margin. He wanted a price up front and I said, ‘I’m going to go high because I don’t have the time to BS around with you,’ and he said ‘Fine just do the job.’”

Golon says he recommends raising quotes 40-50 percent. “You are going through a lot of overtime and mental anguish to get through this, and at the end of the day you have to make sure you are making money at this,” Golon says.

Golon says the clean-up work will keep them busy into winter, but customers may now skip over winter work, like pruning. “What could be a possible minus is people may exhaust some of their budgets when it comes to other services throughout the year,” Golan says.

Photos courtesy of Majestic Lawn Care;