Arborists and tree care professionals play an essential role in our society, not only in the health of our world’s precious trees but for countless other reasons. With that being said, the tree care professionals I’ve met over the years share many common traits. One of these is a legitimate, pure love of the job. Arboriculture is a proud industry, rich in tradition and pride. But as we move toward 2018, another trait I’ve observed in tree care professionals (especially those who operate or work at smaller companies) is a concern about financial stability and success.

What do I mean by that? More simply put, a growing number of tree care professionals are realizing that making a living in the industry is much more challenging than it once was. As part of Tree Services‘ 2017 State of the Industry Survey, we asked you about making a living as a tree care professional:

Do you think it’s easier, or harder, to make a living as a tree care professional than say, 10 years ago?

  • 52% – It’s harder to make a living in this business now than it was 10 years ago
  • 48% – It’s easier to make a living in this business now than it was 10 years ago

There isn’t much separating the two answers, but the numbers say that more respondents feel it’s harder to make a living in tree care now than a decade ago.

Why is this the case?

First, let’s keep in mind the importance of this issue. Make no mistake about it: everyone’s out to make a living. Arboriculture is no different than any other service industry in that the customer is king. Consider this quote: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Those words were spoken by Sam Walton. Not familiar with him? Well, he knew a little something about business as the entrepreneur best known for founding Walmart and Sam’s Club. At the time of his death in 1992, he was worth a reported $8.6 billion. His is a qualified opinion.

Every tree care company is out to get — and keep — customers in order to make a profit and stay in business. So, why is it harder to make a living in the industry now, as opposed to a decade ago?

Possible factors are increasing competition in certain areas, expanding business costs (labor, equipment, etc.) and the fact consumers choose to spend their money on things other than tree care.

“I’m only five years in this business, but even in that time, there seems to have been a proliferation of tree service companies in our area,” Chris Todd, owner of White Glove Tree Services in Toronto, told us earlier this year. “[This has led to] some downward pressure on pricing, which is what leads me to my feeling that it’s a little tougher these days.”

So, how do you handle your competition?

Are you lowering your prices on various services? Are you giving free estimates when you used to charge? Are you having to expand your suite of services (doing holiday lighting, for example) to keep up? Perhaps you’re finding it difficult to find skilled workers, as more tree care companies have popped up in your area in recent years?

The other side of this debate is the 48 percent of respondents who said it’s easier to make a living in the business now, as compared to a decade ago. What are the factors? How about the fact that technology (smartphones, tablets, etc.) has made many aspects of business much easier? Or that professionalism and digital (web and social media) marketing have increased within the industry?

In any case, how you’re feeling about your ability to make a living largely depends on your unique set of circumstances. One thing is for sure — as long as there are trees, there will always be a need for professional arborists.

After all, arboriculture is perhaps the original “green” industry.