This year’s poll going out to 20,000 tree professionals started off with questions about COVID-19. We’ll get to the typical annual questions on the market, but first explore some of the results dealing with the pandemic.

A high proportion of those polled – about one in four – indicated that someone they work with has had a respiratory illness that may or may not have been COVID, an uncertainty due in part to limited testing. In many cases, the uncertainty of those who reported a sickness within the company appears to have affected their opinions and actions.

Among the 188 firms represented by poll respondents, almost one in three indicated that they had made at least one layoff. The average number of layoffs across all respondent firms was three jobs. For firms where there was a respiratory illness and there was a layoff, the average number of jobs lost was 11.

Only one in six indicated they thought existing work limits were “not reasonable,” although another one in six people indicated they would have been less restrictive or agreed with the restrictions “only reluctantly.”

While half the are under state work stop orders (11 percent full stop, 39 percent partial stop), two thirds have indicated they have started up again or never stopped. One percent indicated they had closed permanently, and another percent indicated they may have to close permanently. Of the others, 40 percent indicated the stoppages have so far not affected them greatly, while 58 percent indicated they’ll take a hit.

Almost two of every five firms has applied for the PPP forgivable loan from the federal government. Of those, 73 percent were successful in getting one. Other means of seeking help were emergency loans from the Small Business Administration (12 percent) and taking unemployment benefits (10 percent).

While only seven percent of tree professionals anticipate that they will have clients go out of business, more than a third anticipate lower tree care budgets, and another 30 percent indicate they are seeing work deferred. Only 26 percent indicate that they see little or no effect on their clients.

Of the parts of their business least affected, consulting, removals, plant healthcare and municipal work appear to be the most resilient. Work for homeowners associations, fertilization and any anticipation of new business has been most affected.

When asked what would it take to get going for those firms not yet restarted, 52 percent indicated they would like to see widespread testing and 56 percent indicated they needed legal permission from the state. Less than a quarter of those indicated that they required contact tracing or prospective new liability protections for businesses.

Other market conditions findings for the industry include the following:
– There is a slightly higher proportion of less experienced people in the industry, a trend that has been long expected, as the average age of the arborist or tree service manager is not too far from retirement age. Two years ago, 60 percent of arborists and tree service managers intended to continue in that job for 10 or more years. Now, only 41 percent of them do.
– As has been happening slowly, more women are entering the industry. Two years ago, 4 percent of respondents were women, where today 14 percent were female.
– A consistent and notable characteristic about tree professionals is that they love their jobs. 96 percent indicate they like or love what they do, up from 92 percent.
– As ever, the single thing least liked part of the job is “dealing with employees,” beating out the “unpredictable business cycle,” which was second least liked.
– Customers are showing much greater price sensitivity, with 46 percent of respondents indicating increased sensitivity versus the last poll’s 22 percent.

The survey was part of a market conditions survey that Forest Metrix conducts, usually annually in the summer. The poll was moved up and COVID-related questions added in order to provide more timely benchmarking information to the industry. Forest Metrix makes the Urban Forest Metrix software for tree inventories, tree service workflow and arborist tree healthcare record systems, as well as mobile software for forestry. For further information on the poll or about Urban Forest Metrix, contact Tig Tillinghast (