A veteran of nasty winters, Dave Harris, general manger of M&M Tree Care in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, talks about all things related to winters in the tree care industry. He discusses the challenges they face readying for and navigating through the slow winter months.
Q: How does your company get ready for the winter months?
A: M&M Tree Care has been in business since 1968. There are currently three generations of the Miller family active in the company. Robert Miller the founder of M&M Tree Care, Robert Miller Jr., current owner and operator and Zach Miller, who is graduating from college and joining the family business full time in December. There is no shortage of experience at M&M Tree Care and it shows in the efficiency and quality of our work. Over time we’ve learned that there’s no replacement for proper preparations to ensure a profitable winter.
Q: Talk about winterizing your equipment … What do you do and why do you do it?
A: At M&M Tree Care, our mechanics go through the entire fleet in the fall to prepare for the upcoming winter. They’ll check things like fluid levels, tires, wiper blades and batteries. We start kind of early but there are a lot of trucks and equipment to get prepared. We usually start the preparations for winter in October. Having our fleet in tip-top shape will reduce the number of breakdowns when the weather gets rough.
Q: How do does your company prepare for winter supplemental jobs, like snowplowing?
A: We plow snow in the winter, so the mechanics check over the snow blowers and salt spreaders. Preparing for snow plowing consists of selling or renewing the work, mapping, routing, putting out driveway markers and setting up trucks with plows and salters. Our spray trucks are all fitted with removable sprayers that are removed in the winter and stored in the heated warehouse. The spray trucks are then fitted with salters and plows for the winter.
Q: What other supplemental winter jobs does your company do?
A: We Christmas lights for a few of our clients, but it’s not something we actively market. We also sell firewood that’s generated from our tree work. We sell it year-round but the winter months are definitely the most popular time of year for firewood.
Q: Do you reduce staff in any way during winter months? Why or why not?
A: We try to keep everyone working through the winter, although severe cold weather could keep the climbers out of the trees. Our main focus is on tree work. A combination of tree work and snow plowing helps most of our employees get a full week of work during the winter months.
Q: Does your company offer any kind of winter specials to customers? Why or why not?
A: In the Midwest, the season lasts from about March 1st through December 1st. We offer a small discount in the winter months to our tree work customers (from December–March) to insure there’s enough work to keep everyone employed. It’s not unusual for us to sell work in July to be done January or February.
Q: Do you use the winter months to catch-up on employee training, shop maintenance, or anything else that may get neglected during busy months? Why or why not?
A: At M&M Tree Care, training is done year-round but there are a few things that we specifically do in the winter, like hazard communication training, hearing tests, CPR, etc. Not because it’s neglected in the summer months, but because we have more time as a management team to organize these activities in the winter.