Last year, we ran a poll of about 2,500 arborists and other tree care professionals to gauge how the industry was faring. A month ago, we ran the poll once more, this time against more than 4,000 pros. As in 2014, we discovered some interesting trends. What follows is an executive summary of our findings.
The Age Trend May Be Reversing; People Still Love the Work
The consulting arborist community has been getting rather old, on average, but this year the survey indicated progress was made finally in recruiting younger faces. Roughly speaking, it looks like about ten percent of pros with 10-20 years of experience left the industry, and a few more than that joined on the youngest category. We didn’t expect quite that movement because when we asked last year, we saw that only about 10 percent of tree pros intended to retire in the next 5 years. Interestingly, even with the new influx of 20-somethings, the rate of intended retirement has doubled. About 20 percent said they would retire in the next 5 years. The baby boomers appear to be heading to the door even more quickly than they had anticipated.
The rate of love for the industry remains quite high. Of all the people responding, only one disliked his job. The ratio of loves to likes is about 3 to 1.
Business Is Good
This is not because the industry has come on tough times. Last year, 62 percent of pros reported seeing better business than the year before, and 54 percent this year said the same. Only 11 percent said it was worse. Although, in both years, more people thought there was increasing price sensitivity on the part of their clients.
What made up that improving business?
Last year, it was tree removal seeing the most increased demand, and then general plant healthcare. This year, plant healthcare blew everything else away, followed by pest treatment, removals, risk assessments and homeowners association work.
In the graph below, the blue bars show what portion of respondents believe the category grew in their practice over the last year, and the red bars indicate what they believe contracted.
Last year the hot new product was tree risk assessments, so we added a few questions to the survey on that. We learned this year that a full 60 percent of respondents said that at least one person in their firm was ISA TRAQ trained. That’s an astonishing proportion of people. In the course of doing business with dozens and hundreds of professionals, we heard stories over the year about people traveling across country just to find a training slot that wasn’t yet full. When we asked how much that training has proven useful to the TRAQ-qualified people, only 19 percent said it hadn’t come in handy, and a few noted in the notes that this was largely due to either demand being low in their region or that they hadn’t had time to market the skill.
When asked what services they would like most to be able to offer pros answered again resoundingly: risk assessments and appraisals.
Competition Is Intense
Most pros are coming from larger communities with more than a dozen competitors. However, in 2015 the survey takers indicated that there was a stronger contingent of people operating in smaller business communities with 1 to 5 competitors. This group went from about 19 percent up to 28 percent. It is interesting to see such positive business sentiment in the industry alongside intense and intensifying competition. That some of the older practicing tree care pros have left the industry may in part help explain why the proverbial pie still seems to be growing. Our survey didn’t leave us with a way to suss out how much of the effect is that versus actual growth.
Software Vendors Have Poor Satisfaction Ratings
Naturally, we asked what people thought of the software they used in tree care. It wasn’t exactly pretty. Among the 2000+ tree pros surveyed, there were 24 different software packages used. When we asked how they liked what they used, the results were unexpectedly poor; and interestingly, poorer than the previous year’s answers. Almost as many people disliked their software as liked it. And the majority of tree pros are using some of the least liked software. The number one software seller in the industry came in 13th out of 24 vendors in satisfaction ratings, and the second most popular vendor came in at 20th. Almost a third of respondents said they were looking at using another product in the next year.
Part of this may be due to several vendors having made radical changes recently to their software, including some forcing clients to move to a cloud-based system. That might prove a temporary blip in satisfaction ratings, once people get accustomed to new ways of doing things and as the software works out kinks.
We were pleased to see Urban Forst Metrix come out tops on the satisfaction list, especially as the list of pros we surveyed had no bias to our company. Some were UFM customers, just as some were customers of the other firms, but no special selections were made of that list to skew the results. The graph below shows a coefficient of satisfaction for each of the top dozen vendors. A score of 0.5 is a neutral score, with as many people liking the software as disliking it. Urban Forest Metrix is named in the graph, and the other vendors are categorized as being either free or commercial options. Not surprisingly, the 5 main free software systems garnered significant satisfaction relative to expectations, although none serve all of the same functions as the average commercial product.
It turns out that just over 50 percent of respondents said that they didn’t use software and didn’t intend to. 35 percent do use software now, and another 14 percent are thinking that they perhaps should. Because there were some instances of data loss in some of the cloud-oriented software products in the past few years, we surveyed tree pros’ comfort with cloud-oriented products today. It broke out almost 50-50, with just a couple percent more indicating that they were comfortable with their data sitting on the cloud.
Our longitudinal study of the industry has proven to be very popular, and we’ve received many good suggestions as to how we can improve it going forward. Feel free to email comments and ideas, as we’re always looking to improve.