Urban Forest Metrix released the results of a survey sent to a couple thousand arborists asking about their own local business conditions. The upshot? Demand in the industry is growing rapidly, but so is competition. A lot of facts came out of the study, such as which areas are proving to be the most successful for growth (tree health consulting, risk assessments and appraisals, in that order). The brief analysis below works through the data to come up with some useful observations. 

Executive Summary

Arborists in 2014 think that business is improving. 61 percent said that business conditions were better or better by a lot. Only 4 percent thought they were worse. When you look at the individual categories of work, things got more interesting.


In addition to the booming market for tree healthcare consulting, appraisals and tree risk assessments were large drivers of increased business. Lawns, landscaping and related items saw declines. 


Economy-dependent tasks like construction planning were suprisingly not depressed, as the construction market hasn’t recovered completely in most markets.

That probably explains why, despite the rather comprehensive increase in demand for most arborist offerings, price pressures pushed customers to be generally more price sensitive.Tree professionals saw a great deal of competition, and increasingly so. Aside from a few lucky markets where arborists indicated that they had no competition, the number of people operating in their markets ranged from half a dozen to more than a couple dozen.


In the graph at left, the pie chart shows that only a narrow group of arborists, about 8 percent, thought that customers were less sensitive to price in today’s conditions. The other chart (below) shows that there is consensus that there is much more competition in arbory than ever before. In the free-form answers that people gave there was a common tone of frustration about this, including concerns about poorly qualified tree workers going into business for themselves.arborist-competition


The chart below shows what arborists say that they do on a day-to-day basis in their personal practices (in blue). In red are the areas where they indicate that they are the only person or firm in their market doing that particular activity. You can see that there are few practitioners without competition for a particular task, but the most common is TRAQ tree risk assessments (9 percent have the market to themselves). Tree inventories and construction work are close behind.



The Arborists

Arborists love their jobs. The majority, when asked to rate how much they liked the work, rated it the highest possible, saying they “love” it. The rest liked it, and not a single arborist felt neutral or negative to the profession. This is remarkable among working adults.tree-professional-aging

They are aging, however. See the chart at right showing the shark fin-shaped age curve. Also, only 8 percent of respondants were female. 

The arborists are generally sole proprieters, or working with just a few employees. The larger firms tend to aggregate around 16-25 employees. 79 percent of those responding said they owned their own firm, with another 4 percent indicating they were an equity partner. They have a lot of experience. By far the largest section of arborists had more than 30 years of experience, which is notable relative to other industries.


A rapid fall-off is shown below at 10 and fewer years of experience, indicating that the industry may soon face a lower population of qulified arborists, as the older people retire. To test this, we asked how many more years the arborists intended to work (below right).


When the results are split by age, we find not surprisingly that the younger workers intend to work longer. However, and importantly, even the youngest among them, if they work all the years they intend, would not fill the pipeline to fully replace the retiring arborists.


In the face of increasing competition and demand, yet a declining population of certified arborists, the market may be trending to a lower share of work that is done by fully qualified arborists. This would square with many of the comments given in the poll expressing frustration with “fly by night” operations.  This is an area where we might expore more fully in our next survey, which we intend to field in the fall of 2014.

When asked what their biggest gripes were, arborists didn’t overwhelmingly point to a single thing, but the most popular by far were the unpredictable business cycle and, even higher, dealing with employees. The notes about employees were quite colorful and may go a long way to explain why so many arborists like being sole proprietors.

Of all the people surveyed, a little more than a quarter currently used arbory-specific software to help them in their business. However, another 16 percent are actively considering or intending to adopt something in the next year, showing that the industry may quickly turn from a mostly paper industry to a mostly computerized industry quite rapidly.

Of the people using arbory software, a 42 percent indicated that they would expect that they would be using something different for their current methods next year, with another 30 percent saying that they would if they saw something better came along, showing that it is still a developing market.

About Urban Forest Metrix

Urban Forest Metrix is a computer and tablet application (optimized for iPads) that allows for quick and well-integrated tree record management, risk assessments, appraisals, estimates and task assignments. It works how an arborist would expect a modern application to work – largely in the background with a very easy interface. It integrates with the internet, GPS, GIS, email, home office databases and the users’s own phone and tablet devices. Call or email for a quick demonstration.