1. Analogous to other performance considerations

In areas of the country where water resources are scarce (and expensive), it’s common for landscape irrigators to perform an efficiency audit on their clients’ systems. This process is a thorough, step-by-step approach to increasing the efficiency of the output. One of the most important factors in an irrigation audit is evaluating the distribution uniformity of the system and looking for ways to increase it.

The first step in looking for efficiency is to start with baseline info on output. This is done by simply watching each zone of the system run for five minutes and looking for obvious flaws, such as heads that don’t turn, pop-up adequately or spray into the parking lot instead of the turf area. The next step is to make initial repairs based on the observations, run it again and then measure output to learn if the alterations made an improvement in efficiency. After the initial big fixes have been made, the auditor progresses to looking for fine-tuning opportunities, such as reducing run times by 10 percent, changes in the landscape plant material or installing new water-efficient nozzles. The process is capped off with a final output measurement.

2. Efficiency

In order to gain efficiency in your pest control program, follow the example of the landscape audit and develop baseline information. Start by thoroughly outlining everything you do for the customer, including all the little things that you may do for no charge. Try to be inclusive.

Get into the nitty gritty of your pest control services by considering routine programs for customers with a history of tree insect and disease problems like apple scab and lilac/ash borer control. Look back through the records of the past three or four years to evaluate if these applications are still needed, should be discontinued or if these trees have other needs that aren’t being addressed.

3. Evaluate yourself

It’s important to look at the business itself, including the spray equipment, the trucks and the office machines, but it’s equally important to look at yourself and your abilities. Being a certified pesticide applicator is a must, but it’s only a beginning.

There are three basic groups of tree care service providers. First, there are the “mow, blow and go” services that mow grass, recycle yard waste, prune small trees, perform yearly spring landscape cleanup and haul away brush for their customers. Next, there are licensed arborists, who have been trained in pest control application techniques, understand important pruning techniques, are usually CPR and first aid certified and have good climbing skills. Licensure is granted to arborists by a local municipality or governmental agency, similar to licensed plumbers and electricians. The highest level of skill or demonstrated aptitude for tree care service providers are the certified arborists who have taken it upon themselves to go through additional training and self study and have advanced skills in cabling, bracing, plant health care analysis, risk assessment and pest control options.

Self-assessment can be difficult, but ask yourself the hard question: Which group are you in? Is it time to upgrade your skills to the next level? Possessing advanced credentials is a valuable tool in marketing your services, as well as overall self-improvement.

4. IPM services

IPM is designed to provide effective pest control while protecting valuable environmental resources. The good news is that IPM can be profitable as well, if you recognize its value and are able to communicate it to the customer.

As you establish yourself as a quality tree care provider, clients will come to understand the value of inspection, tree placement, separation of turf and ornamentals, cultivar selection and all of the other facets of IPM. When you schedule regular inspections for clients, inform them that an hourly rate will be charged, even if you don’t apply any products. The value of the service to the client is providing a customized landscape tree analysis.

5. Document follow-up treatments or callbacks

Another area for fine-tuning is the callback. If part of a planned overall treatment schedule, such as the third application of a three-part program, then they are both justifiable and profitable. However, if the callback is necessary due to an ineffective treatment, a red flag should be raised. Consider if the second visit is needed due to a need for better timing of the application or an improved application technique.

After all the individual parts are reviewed, take a step back and consider the program as a whole. Depending on the extent of the need for change or areas that are likely to be revamped, you may want to consult with arborists in other locations for their input.

Always be on the lookout for chances to fine-tune your pest control program. Statewide, regional and national arborists conventions, as well as other green industry conferences, offer excellent opportunities to tweak your services.