Tree Care Service Tips


Source: Vermeer

Every tree care contractor has pondered — and probably asked — the questions at one time or another. Is it worth the apparent cost-savings to try and service equipment without using the dealer? Does it matter if the maintenance is preventive, routine or not-so-routine?

A tree care/landscaping contractor and his dealer in Portland, Oregon, seem to have found the answer. The customer handles preventive maintenance on jobsites and at the shop; he turns to the dealer’s mechanics for more complicated fixes, sometimes in the field.

Do-it-Yourself Preventive Maintenance
Chris Nash, owner of Northwest Arbor-Culture, Inc., says he has been a Vermeer customer for several years because the local dealer offers “good quality equipment and great customer service.”

“The fact that they’re about an hour away, yet we still rely on them, tells you something about their service,” he says. “We are extremely aggressive, and the equipment purchased through Vermeer offers me the ability to be as aggressive and efficient as possible.”

Since Nash started his own tree care business about five years ago (he expanded into landscaping last year), he has always handled routine service himself. He estimates that he saves thousands of dollars annually by changing oil, adjusting chipper knives and stump cutter teeth, and doing daily greasing of machine components. But, even that requires someone on staff who knows what they’re doing, he stresses. And, he has hired the right people specifically for that.

Then, he turns to the dealership for major work.

“That way he knows he has certified technicians doing his repairs,” says Greg Latimer, the local Vermeer dealership service manager. “His people are skilled. But, he knows that by bringing it to us, he gets people who understand that particular machine.”

Using the Dealer
Chris Steinlage, owner of Vermeer Oregon, the Portland-based dealership, says he welcomes the opportunity to repair competitors’ products, as well as those he sells.

“When it comes to repairing arbor equipment, we will work on any brand,” he says. The dealership performs comprehensive maintenance both at the store and on-site. In fact, Steinlage says, in-field, dealer-provided service is becoming increasing popular.

“Historically, very few arbor companies used in-field service because they felt it was cheaper to bring it to the store. But over the last five years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of arbor companies that are using in-field service,” he says. “Field service is not that much more expensive than our in-shop rate — because we’re trying to grow that part of our business right now.” And, often, any additional costs can be well justified because machine downtime can be decreased and the company’s man-hour efficiency can increase.

“Contractors just have to put a price tag on their services and determine when it’s more cost- and time-effective to keep the guys in the field and let a professional handle maintenance on-site, or haul it off-site to a nearby shop,” he says. “Depending on a company’s schedule, in-field service can be the most cost-effective.”

The Portland Vermeer dealership has a fully equipped service truck, with a crane, compressor, welder, and most importantly “a certified technician”. They have seen the percentage of time a truck is dispatched to their arbor contractors continue to grow. Steinlage says. “Of course it would be nice to have it out 100 percent of the time.”

So, since the cost is comparable, why would a contractor ever take equipment to the shop for repairs?

“The advantage of taking equipment in-shop for repairs is that the shop environment is much cleaner than the field, and we run it through the wash bay,” Steinlage says. “You can’t see a missing bolt when it’s all covered with mud. When we wash the equipment we can see those things and make sure they’re all taken care of … and customers really value that service.”

Latimer says he encourages customers to handle daily and routine maintenance on their own, and to just bring equipment to him for big, complex, overhaul jobs. The dealership even trains customers after they purchase equipment on how to handle oil changes, blade adjustments and other simple maintenance and repair work.

“You get the whole range,” Latimer says. “Some companies have staff mechanics. Other businesses simply see their time better spent out doing what they do — selling their service — and not trying to fix their equipment. It’s easier for them to say, ‘Send it into Vermeer’ rather than messing with it, depending on the depth of their maintenance capabilities.”

Steinlage believes that service is key to attracting and keeping customers.

“By having a complete service department, you’re much more than just a company selling a product,” he says. “We are really partners in trying to help them be successful.”

Contractors like Nash appreciate that offering, because it’s there if and when they need it. But they also appreciate being able to save thousands doing their own preventive and minor maintenance, with support and assistance from a local equipment dealer. Seems to be a win-win.

So, to recap:

  • Weigh your options; determine whether it’s more cost-effective to hire a skilled preventive maintenance mechanic or take it to the dealer for all repairs.
  • Work with your equipment dealer — ask about training on preventive and minor service. You can trust that they have your bottom line and success in mind.
  • Consider the risks in trying to perform major repairs on your own. As Latimer said, dealership mechanics are often certified and they work on complex equipment issues day in and day out.
  • Consider the benefits of in-field service, even if it’s a bit more expensive. And, this is one more reason to look toward a dealer for some service, particularly if it’s unlikely for you to justify a field service truck of your own.

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