Arborists branching out into wintertime business

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Front Range Arborists owner Tom Flynn found that the tree business can be good in the cold months, too.

Waiting for winter: Front Range Arborists owner Tom Flynn found that the tree business can be good in the cold months, too.

This winter, a typically slow time in the tree business, Front Range Arborists will have chainsaws, chippers, and a disaster trailer ready to roll anywhere in the country for tree cleanup after ice storms hit.

Winter cleanup is a new venture for Front Range Arborists, one that was born of necessity after the company lost a $200,000 tree-maintenance contract with the City of Colorado Springs when it slashed its parks and recreation budget.

Owner and President Tom Flynn, who holds degrees in horticulture and business, bought the company in 1994. Today he employs 13 people, 19 during the summer, and has roughly 70 commercial clients, including the Promenade Shops at Briargate, and about 50 homeowners associations.

The business was growing nicely, with annual revenues of around $1 million — until the recession hit.

“We had a program of trimming 3,000 trees a year in 2008, and it went to zero in 2009,” Flynn said. “The trees are really taking a back seat to other programs.”

After learning that Front Range Arborist had lost its contract with the city, Flynn diversified by increasing turf and plant care programs to keep revenue steady.

“Staying flat in that period was a lot of work,” he said.

But Flynn’s big wintertime break came just after the snow started to fall last year when disaster-hit towns started calling, looking for tree-removal services.

Instantly, years of nurturing tree care turned into tree demolition.

Flynn created the cleanup program, and now, as soon as a storm hits, he can be on a plane with his crew and the disaster trailer following on the road, chainsaws, generators, chippers and all.

“If a big ice storm hits Lincoln, Neb., we could have a five-man tree crew there in 24 hours,” Flynn said. “It’s a matter of being there with the right equipment. Other than tornadoes, ice storms are the most devastating Mother Nature event a tree could endure. You can get an inch of ice built up and it just rips them apart.”

His crew will work with insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove trees from power lines, roads and homes after storms.

Until those calls come in, Front Range crews will stay busy with fall work, finishing the last of its tree-trimming jobs and wrapping the trunks of young trees to protect them from the elements.

And Flynn will be watching the forecast for snow.