Q&A: Owner of Sacramento-area tree removal service discusses storm’s impact on business

While the Sacramento region is now experiencing drier — and much less windy — weather, the first few weeks of the year saw the City of Trees littered with its namesake. Over one thousand trees fell in Sacramento alone, leaving city crews and local tree removal services scrambling to respond.

Michael Ganchenko has owned Kingdom Tree Services for seven years. He spoke with CapRadio about what the past few weeks have been like for his business, from the volume of calls received to damage he’s seen and whether most fallen trees were already unhealthy when they were uprooted.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me what you’ve been seeing out on the job recently.

Oh man. It’s been, really, a lot. The winds have definitely done their thing, taking trees from their roots, [having them] coming down on houses, on fences, on cars. I’ve seen cars being punctured through, I’ve seen houses being punctured through. We’ve literally had to rip out branches from the roofs, and they’re inside of living rooms, bedrooms, toilets, bathrooms, everything. It was quite the scene.

What have the past few weeks been like for your business, compared to a regular two-week span?

The past few weeks, we’ve probably done at least 100 [removals], if not more. And we’ve just been [doing] one after the next, after the next, after the next. People are calling us from like, 4 or 5 in the morning, till 3 in the morning. I’m taking calls all throughout the night, barely getting any sleep, responding and going after it. I’m doing the quotes, I’m doing the meeting, the work itself, I’m doing all of it. And so it’s really been a journey to say the least, these last couple of weeks.

Depending on the season, typically we do about 20 [tree removals] a week, 10 or 20 a week on a rough estimate.

How about now? Have things started to slow down?

It’s definitely kind of slowing down. The first three, four days, we had about 200 calls a day. And we would’ve gotten to more, if we had more people to work.

We have about eight guys on the crew. Not all of them are available all the time, because they do side work as well — they’re trying to open up their own tree services, landscaping businesses, so they’re filling in as needed. For the most part, we have about three, four guys that are consistent, steady.

With the winds the last two weeks, we could have easily used 20 guys. It’s finding that balance of, “OK, the winds are gonna pass. Do we want to keep looking for guys to work? Or do we want to maybe hire another one or two or three guys and just give them steady work, instead of having an overload and then having to release the guys again?”

Have people been coming out of town to help the local tree service crews? Tell me a little more about that and how it’s affected Kingdom Tree Services.

I hear people coming from Colorado, from Washington, from Nevada, from Arizona, and picking up the workload. There was work for everyone, and now it’s kind of plateauing. It’s kind of settling down, and there’s less and less work as time goes forward.

[Recently,] we got a guy out from Canada, who gave us a call. He’s like, “Hey, I heard about your winds, I used to live in the Oakland area…And I want to see if you guys need any help.”

So he’s been working with us for the last four or five days now. And since then, we’ve had guys reaching out to us trying to work with us … because of emergency work. Now it’s kind of slowing down with some companies, with some tree services and so now, these guys are being let go, and they’re looking for smaller businesses to pick them up into engagement work right away. There’s a lot of factors and a lot of aspects happening at this very moment with tree work and industry in general.

Now that things are slowing down, how long is the average wait time for tree removal?

We’re looking at about three to five days for us right now, because it’s been slowing down. But I’ve heard of tree services who have a wait time of up to two weeks to two months. So it really varies.

And there’s a bunch still in the process of getting approval from insurance. So once those come in, we can start planning them out further ahead. We’ve been getting about 500 quotes, and a lot of those are still in the process — just because they’re not closed doesn’t mean that it’s not something that we get to later.

We work seven days a week if we need to — usually we try to do six days a week, but right now we’re doing emergency work. And we’re literally on the roofs at like three in the morning [if needed] with flashlights, saws, all of that.

It takes a while for the insurance companies to approve the quotes. So a lot of it is still on hold even after, after the winds and the rains… there’s still trees that are on the roofs that we’re still [waiting before] taking off, because of the fact that the insurance has taken a while to get approval. That’s another big [reason] we’re taking so long to get to certain trees.

Some customers, as you can probably imagine, are very frustrated with the situation. There’s a lot of that going on in the midst of just getting trees removed. There’s a lot of frustration. But one piece of advice I would recommend: If you call a tree service, please give them some grace. They’re trying to help you — don’t be mean to them, because they’re already working their butts off, and the last thing they need is attitude and frustration from customers that they’re trying to help.

Anecdotally, when you were looking at the trees that had fallen, were you seeing mostly unhealthy trees?

I’ve been seeing a lot of perfectly healthy trees, we’re talking Chinese elms, 100-, 120-feet tall, redwoods, even oak trees, down with the roots… It can look good on the outside. But if the roots aren’t deep enough, that whole 100-foot tree is coming down. And so it’s quite a scene to see the last tree that I think would fall down, yet it’s coming down with full force.

A lot of it is based on the root system, whatever the root system looks like. If it’s strong enough, it’s not going anywhere. But if the root system is not strong enough, if it’s not deep enough, it has a good probability of coming down.

Anything else you’d like folks to know as this current round of storms dies down?

I would recommend homeowners and even renters to go out and assess the trees [near them]. Start with looking at the foundation, start with looking at the root system, so if there’s any kind of uprooting that’s happening, be proactive, and get on the phone and call a tree service and have your tree assessed ASAP. Because that could potentially be preventive damage for the [house’s] safety, first of all. If you see any kind of tears or breaks from the branches, definitely look at all of that.

Another thing is: A lot of the customers are absolutely fabulous and great. So I just want to appreciate all the great customers that have been out there. We appreciate you and we want to continue to serve you.

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