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Fall 2012

The right fit: Tree care specialists and compact equipment

Bobcat skid-steer loaders and attachments are a good match for tree care professionals, complementing larger equipment and improving productivity and employee morale.

Patrick O’Connor (left) and brother John O’Connor say their Bobcat S185 skid-steer loader helps improve their tree service productivity and loads their remote-controlled brush chipper.

Patrick O’Connor (left) and brother John O’Connor say their Bobcat S185 skid-steer loader helps improve their tree service productivity and loads their remote-controlled brush chipper.

In the tree care industry, a dependable and compact machine that picks up and delivers branches and other trimmings directly into a brush chipper and carries logs from a backyard jobsite to truck or trailer parked in the street can make a big difference. Firms that added that type of equipment — a Bobcat® skid-steer loader — report:

  1. Better employee morale
  2. Fewer injuries and accidents
  3. Jobs completed faster
  4. Improved productivity

“A skid-steer loader is perfect for our business,” says John O’Connor, co-owner of a Michigan tree care company. “It fits together like a doughnut and a cup of coffee.”

Tree work completed faster

Every time John and Patrick O’Connor purchase new equipment for their tree care business, they have expectations as to how it will benefit the company.

“Then we find other ways to use it,” says John, “and it fundamentally changes the way we do our work. Now when we estimate a job, we know exactly what we can do with our equipment, and that allows us to bid jobs differently. One thing we know for sure: We can get jobs done faster.”

Six years ago, the brothers, who own The Lumberjacks Tree Service, Ann Arbor, Mich., decided a skid-steer loader would help improve productivity and employee morale. “At that point,” says Patrick, “we figured we might as well buy the best one on the market. That’s why we went right to Diuble Equipment and ordered a Bobcat S185 skid-steer loader.”

The first job for the new loader was picking up logs with the grapple attachment and loading them into a truck or trailer. What used to take four or five hours was done in 15 minutes.

“Our life instantly became easier,” John says. “We made money with the loader beginning with the first job.”

Later, they trimmed trees along the streets in a manufactured home community. The S185 followed the crew, gathered up the trimmings and dumped each load into their remote-controlled brush chipper.

The same scenario was repeated at a 100-unit townhome cooperative.

“That project probably accounted for 25 percent of our revenue in one year,” John says. “Our employees don’t have to pick up wood and don’t have to haul anything out of backyards. Instead they can use their skills to operate equipment instead of being brush draggers. We have virtually eliminated the possibility of our workers getting hurt handling wood.”

The loader also enabled the brothers to add profit-making services.

"For example,” says Patrick, “when we previously removed a stump, we left a big pile of mulch behind. Now we offer a service we call ‘stump rehab’ where we use the loader to scoop out all the mulch, level the area, bring in topsoil, rake and put down grass seed. For about 15 minutes of work we can typically add $300 onto the bill. That’s a perfect niche for us.”

There are other ways they earn additional income with the loader:

  1. If there are paths around the property, they offer to spread chips after the tree work is completed
  2. They pick up most of the tree debris on the ground with the grapple attachment and feed it directly into the chipper, thereby eliminating the nuisance of raking up
  3. When the tree work slows down, they rent out the S185 with an operator

A few years ago when the economy was driving tree care firms out of business, the O’Connor brothers looked for ways to lower prices and, at the same time, become more profitable.

“We decided having a big brush chipper and a nimble Bobcat loader with a grapple attachment gave us a huge leg up on the competition,” John says. “That equipment allowed us to become incredibly productive immediately and provided us with the results we were looking for — the ability to charge our customers less and elevate our profitability at the same time.”

Dan Dietrich, owner of Dan Dietrich Tree Service, recently purchased a new S770 skid-steer loader.

Dan Dietrich, owner of Dan Dietrich Tree Service, recently purchased a new S770 skid-steer loader.

Land-clearing projects really pay off

For long-time tree care professional Dan Dietrich, a change in strategy that took him out of one phase of the business and into another is paying off in three ways. That’s three as in receiving income three times for the same work.

The owner of Dan Dietrich Tree Service LLC began his career 38 years ago trimming trees in the Pittsburgh area. A veteran climber, he eventually found his niche — clearing land for developers. Less climbing and more income is a combination that Dietrich finds hard to beat.

“Instead of getting paid one time by a homeowner for trimming or removing a tree, the land-clearing part of the business offers a much greater financial opportunity,” he says.

Dietrich is paid per acre for clearing the property, plus he sells the logs to sawmills and firewood to homeowners. “Income from wood chips is not significant,” he says.

His business has really picked up during the last year due to increased drilling throughout the Marcellus Shale natural gas geologic formation, which extends throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia and southern New York.

“We have been hired to clear land for pipeline rights-of-way and for drill pads,” he says. “This is a high-pressure project because of its size and tight schedules. We have to complete our work before others can begin. It seems like we are always in someone’s way.”

Among the equipment Dietrich relies on to stay ahead of deadlines is a pair of Bobcat skid-steer loaders — an S770 and an S220, both purchased from Bobcat of Pittsburgh.

With his Bobcat S770 skid-steer
loader and industrial grapple, Dan easily
lifts and carries this massive chunk of wood.

With his Bobcat S770 skid-steer loader and industrial grapple, Dan easily lifts and carries this massive chunk of wood.

“I previously operated another brand of loader,” he recalls. “It was constantly breaking down. One day I called someone to come out and push the machine up onto my trailer. He did it with his Bobcat loader. A week later I had my own Bobcat loader. I’ve been a loyal Bobcat owner ever since.”

Dietrich put 6,000 hours on his first machine and now has a similar amount of hours on the S220. Hours are piling up on the S770 as well. He says the industry-leading visibility and spacious and comfortable cab of the M-Series loader provide a superior work environment for someone who often spends eight hours a day in the driver’s seat.

“I’ve had many people ask what we are going to do with a Bobcat loader on a land-clearing job,” he says. “When we are finished, they have a lot more respect for what a small machine can do. Our loaders are very productive in many phases of the job, including helping the larger tree equipment.”

He uses his skid-steer loaders for pre-mowing the site, removing brush with a Bobcat forestry cutter attachment (using the S770), prepping piles of logs for the grapple skidder machine, hauling smaller limbs and branches to the brush chipper with a grapple attachment and cleaning up.

“The more work we can do without handling the wood by hand, the greater our efficiency,” Dietrich says. “That’s why I need all my equipment to be reliable. The reliability score for my Bobcat loaders has been very high.”

Turning trees into useable lumber

For John and Patrick O’Connor, owners of The Lumberjacks Tree Service, the value of a Bobcat® skid-steer loader extends to another of their enterprises. The brothers are partners in the Urbanwood Project, a cooperative that markets completely reclaimed hardwood lumber.

“When we take down a tree that can be turned into furniture-grade lumber, we are able to lower our price to the customer because there is likely to be a good market for the wood,” Patrick says. “We use the S185 with the grapple attachment to move logs and with pallet forks to handle the lumber as we work with our partners to create a wide variety of green products.”