American Tree and Landscape Survives Current Economy by Using Right Machinery, Including a CBI Grinder – Three divisions for land clearing, landscaping, and excavation are a strength today.
Making a living in this economy is tough no matter what you’re doing. But companies with multiple enterprises do better than those that are limited to one core business activity. And it helps when you have the right equipment to support all the different parts of your business regardless of how the economy fluctuates.
Steve Parrino, owner of American Tree and Landscape in Pawling, New York, is one of these entrepreneurs. From the very beginning of his business he has looked ahead, identified a niche that needed filling, and filled it. And by investing in the right equipment—including a Model 6800-T grinder from Continental Biomass Industries (CBI)—he has equipped himself and his company to survive the current economic downturn and be positioned to forge ahead as soon as the housing crisis is past and the economy starts to improve.
Steve is a man who’s always known what he wants.
“I really started working for myself when I was about 13,” he said. “I was always outside—I wasn’t ever an indoors kind of kid. I used to sell cordwood, cut grass and do tree work—you know, neighborhood kind of stuff. Then when I was in 11th grade I took a vocational school conservation course that covered all types of tree work, excavation, machinery, tree identification, landscaping, and everything to do with working outdoors. I graduated first in that class, and after that I started working more and more for myself.”
When Steve got his driver’s license at age 16, his parents bought him a pickup truck, which allowed him to expand what he was able to do even more. By the time he graduated from high school in 1980, his work was no longer just in the neighborhood, but was already taking on a regional scope.
“When I was 20, I bought my first rack truck and chipper,” Steve said. “That let me start doing a lot of residential tree work, such as pruning and take-downs. I also started doing a lot of light land clearing.”
Although Steve still was working by himself at that point, he did occasionally hire help for specific jobs.
“I had some friends who would work with me,” he said. “That’s who I used for help at that time. But it was under my direction; I was the one getting the jobs, executing the work and paying the bills. So it was always my own thing; I was just paying them for their labor.”
In his early 20s, Steve bought a John Deere tractor with a bucket on the front and a York rake on the back.
“We used that for basically everything,” he said. “We used it for snow removal, for loading sand spreaders, and for all types of landscape work. When you have nothing and you get a machine that can pick things up and move them around, you use it for everything possible. It becomes a very versatile piece of equipment.”
One of the factors that allowed Steve to be so successful so quickly was the environment in which he was working at the time.
“There were only a couple of big companies doing any kind of land clearing back then,” he said. “But they only wanted to do bigger work. If someone wanted to clear just one building lot, or an area of one or two acres, there just wasn’t anyone who fit that niche. Tree companies would come in and do it, but they really weren’t set up for it.”
Steve’s company grew with the purchase of a Morbark chipper that was also unique at the time.
“We had the first disk chipper in our area,” he said. “It was a slower feed machine, but it would take bigger material, so it worked well for chipping a large volume of brush.”
At the time, Steve didn’t have a market for the resulting mulch.
“A few people wanted the chips for horse trails, but many times we just pushed them over a bank and let them rot for topsoil,” he said. “At that time, that was really the only thing we could do with them.” Steve purchased a John Deere skidder, a whole tree chipper, and a tree shear, and started doing more land clearing for developers and excavation contractors.
“During that time we chipped the brush and cut the wood up and split it for firewood,” he said. “Then as we started getting into it more, we cut the logs and sold them as timber and used just the mid-sized as firewood.” Located as he is in Pawley, New York, Steve works about an hour from New York City. Some of his jobs have actually taken him into the city; he’s done a number of jobs on Long Island.
By the late 1980s, the company gradually evolved to have three different divisions. One is the land clearing division, one is the landscaping division, and one is the excavation division. Having all three divisions allowed Steve to take on bigger jobs with his own crew and not have to contract.
“We’d start with the clearing and the stumping, and then dig the foundation for the house,” he said. “Then we’d put in the driveway. Having all three divisions made us a lot more versatile, and opened us up to a lot more work.”
Steve said the three divisions often fold together in a way that creates more work in a single job
“When the land clearing slows down, we do more landscape work, which leads to a little more tree work at the end,” he said. “A lot of times when someone buys a new home and we do the landscaping, then they end up wanting to have some trees taken out afterwards.”
In 1991, Steve and his wife Deborah incorporated as American Tree and Landscape Corp., and the business took on much of the character that it has today. His wife does the clerical and office work for the business.
“We now have about 15 employees, including an office staff,” Steve said. “My supervisor, Albert Couto, has been with me for 25 years. I stumbled across him one time when I was hiring people, and hired him just as a laborer. I had another guy who supervised him at the time but they didn’t get along too well. When the other guy left to take another job, Albert really stepped up and started to get involved in the work. Now he’s my right hand man.”
Another key employee, Orlando Mosqueda, is Albert’s cousin and has been with Steve 24 years.
“He’s one of my top foremen,” Steve said. “He handles a lot of the land clearing. The two of them are very diverse in the work they can do. They’ve both done all kinds of work with me and are trained just as well as I am. We’ve worked together and learned together, and we all know how each other thinks. It’s been really good for the company, because we’ve all ended up with the same work ethic.”
American Tree and Landscape is a well established company with skilled machine operators and qualified site foreman. In addition to investments in equipment and other technologies Steve offers safety training to all his employees.
“We have safety meetings on a regular basis,” Steve said. “In this business, you have to train all the time. Accidents happen so easily, so frequently, and so fast.”
About 15 years ago, a large developer moved into the area and Steve started doing a lot of work for them immediately. He’s continued to do a lot of work for the developer through all three divisions of American Tree and Landscape, which eventually led him to purchase the ultimate piece of equipment for his business.
“About five years ago, we took on a large job of about 120 acres for this developer,” Steve said. “We did all the clearing, but until then we had had someone else come in and grind the stumps for us. I decided that it would cost too much to subcontract out that part to someone else, so I bought a 6800-T grinder from Continental Biomass Industries.”
The grinder was just what the company needed to tackle jobs of that size. It has direct coupled, hydrostatically powered motors that provide very high torque for the top feed roll and feed chain, and handles stumps, butt logs and whole trees with minimal preparation. The large capacity feed hopper easily handles full-length trees or large material surges with no problem, and the machine produces large amounts fine, uniform mulch quickly.
In addition, the 12’9” by 60” feed conveyor has high troughing sides which facilitate continuous feed, an impact plate in the bottom, a 17” head pulley and a 17” tail pulley, 6 strands of heavy-duty drag chain, and an extreme high-torque Poclain hydraulic motor. The upper roller, with an internal drive, has a crush force that’s adjustable by radio control. The discharge is 33’ long by 60”, with wide, heavy-duty head and tail pulleys and a 220-cleated belt.
“We went up and took a tour of the factory and met the owner, as well as Aaron Benway, who was our salesman,” Steve said. “They showed us how they build the machines and what they put into them. They customized the one we bought to what we needed; we needed a larger fuel tank and a few other minor changes and they took care of all that for us.”
With Albert running the machine, they started grinding stumps and soon after began making mulch. Since they’ve been using the machine, Steve said, it has required only minor maintenance.
“There were a couple of updates they had to do to the control system and operating system,” he said. “CBI came down and took care of it. And we’ve had a few small issues, but whenever we’ve needed anything they’ve come right down and taken care of it. CBI has a really good service department and they stand behind their product.”
One reason Steve is glad he bought the 6800-T is safety.
“It means I have fewer people out there working, and the fewer people who are out there the better off you are in terms of people not getting hurt,” he said. “The 6800-T reduces a lot of the labor, which reduces the risk of injury and saves money at the same time. It’s one of the more expensive pieces of equipment as far as grinders go, but it’s definitely worth the money.”
Another reason Steve appreciates the 6800-T is that he sees the wood business taking a bit of a turn toward “green” energy.
“The wood business is moving toward using biomass for fuel,” he said. “In our area there aren’t any biomass burn plants yet. But it’s starting to catch on. Our hope is that in the near future our politicians are going to start to get smart and hopefully are going to get a burn plant started so we can create our own electricity here. It’s a ‘green’ way of producing electricity without burning oil or other fossil fuel. It’s something that’s up and coming.”
When that happens, Steve said, he’ll be ready.
“We have everything we need to jump right in,” he said. “We will have to make only a very few changes in our equipment.”
Steve and Deborah have two children, a daughter, 14, and a son, 13. Steve said it’s too early to tell whether they’ll be interested in coming into the business or not.
“My son spends more time out in the field with me than my daughter does,” he said. “I haven’t gotten them too involved with the business because it’s a difficult job and you have to wear a lot of different hats. I’m not looking to push them into this; if they want to be doctors or lawyers, so be it. You really have to be cut out for this type of work.”
Just like everyone else, Steve is eager to see the recession end so more work will be available to him.
“We’re not seeing any turnaround as of yet,” he said. “We still have work, but prices are being cut substantially. However, when things do turn around we’re in a position to jump right in and capitalize on it. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.”
When that does happen, Steve has plans to expand his company again.
Clean Microchips from CBI Achieve Premium Profits from Marginal Materials
With the increased demand for residential fuel pellets, CBI has designed a system to enable you to provide a premium product to pellet manufacturers from otherwise unmerchantable materials. As sawdust and shavings become harder and harder to find, residential pellet producers have had to find alternative sources for fiber to feed the ever-growing market.
Continental Biomass Industries, Inc. has been producing a four pocket drum chipper capable of making large volumes of consistently sized ¼” chips for these producers. These chips, because of their consistent size, do not have to be run through a grinder such as the CBI Grizzly Mill prior to going into the dryer.
According to CBI, elimination of this grinding step dramatically reduces the price of the initial pellet manufacturing system and the ongoing costs of producing pellets. When the microchips come out of the dryer they are at the necessary moisture content to go into the system. The fact that they already have the short fiber length also dramatically reduces the horsepower required to grind them to a final size on the backside of the dryer. Conventional whole tree chips still contain pieces of material that need to have their fiber length shortened by a grinder requiring significant horsepower and thus energy consumption. The fact that the fiber length has already been chipped to the shortest possible length with the CBI 6400 or 8400 Series drum chippers reduces the energy required to produce the final product size after the dryer.
Residential fuel pellet producers need to use clean chips to ensure there are no ash causing materials (dirt, sand, etc.) in the pellet furnace. To further improve this, CBI has introduced the first track mounted three drum flail delimber debarker – the CBI Magnum Stripper. The hydrostatically driven flail drums are cutting edge technology to properly position the flails to maximize debarking efficiencies and enable the unit to provide clean material at high volumes to satisfy the voracious appetite of the 6400 Chipper.
All of CBI’s engineering and in-field experience have gone into the design of this profit producing combo. As with all CBI units, these are designed with you in mind to be productive and durable. Call Aaron Benway at CBI at 603/382-0556 for more details.
Check out the website at www.cbi-inc.com.