Twenty-four years ago, Asplundh got its start in the island nation of New Zealand as a joint venture partner in a line clearance company called Electrix. By 1995, Asplundh had bought out its partner and Asplundh Tree Expert (N.Z.) Ltd. was born. Today, approximately 250 men and women are employed by Asplundh NZ, serving dozens of local and regional councils, as well as three major utilities.
Since the late 1990s, Asplundh NZ has been offering specialized vegetation management services to markets beyond the utilities. With the popularity of rugby in New Zealand, diversifying into grounds maintenance for large sports stadiums was a good start, along with maintaining trees, flower beds and turf as part of its parks and open space management services. Some municipal contracts include cemetery maintenance, burial plot excavation and interment. Unique to Asplundh NZ are its facilities management contracts that cover managing, repairing and maintaining municipal and commercial assets. These include transmission sites, substations, council buildings, public toilets and picnic areas. The Asplundh NZ team also performs land clearance projects, planting, hedge maintenance and private residential work.
Managing Director Kevin Burt reports that the combined utility, council and private tree-related services account for about 60% of its revenue, while parks and open space management totals approximately 32% and facilities management rounds out the last 7%.
“This means that we not only have great utility arborists and line clearance specialists, but also amenity arborists, horticulturists, expert turf specialists and great builders, too,” says Kevin. With Asplundh NZ headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, there are 13 depots spanning both the North and South Islands of the country.
When it comes to customers, it’s the local and regional councils, as well as utility companies, that represent the lion’s share (about 85%) of Asplundh NZ’s business. The rest are private commercial and residential customers who entrust Asplundh NZ crews to look after trees, prune shrubs and mow lawns. Kevin says, “We focus daily on our core purpose, which is to achieve the best outcomes for our clients through delivering integrated vegetation and open space management solutions.”
A Unique Line Clearance Market
The New Zealand utility line clearance market is quite different than in the United States, Canada and Australia with only a small proportion of utility companies fully outsourcing their vegetation management. Asplundh NZ works for all these outsourced utility companies either as their primary provider, or through providing ‘second cut services’ to the tree owners. What does ‘second cut’ mean?
Well, since there was a change in New Zealand legislation in 2003, once the utility company has paid for a tree on its residential/commercial network to be trimmed for the fi rst time, the responsibility then falls to the tree owner to keep the tree out of the lines. The tree owner may be a homeowner, municipality or company that owns the land on which the tree grows.
Qualified line clearance contractors therefore have a growing requirement to sell their services to private tree owners. To meet this requirement, Asplundh NZ is training its forepersons in retail sales techniques and is developing advanced customer and tree data management systems. The subsidiary’s financial management and billing systems are also undergoing an overhaul to effectively manage the quoting, work orders, invoicing and payment receipts from thousands of individual customers.
A concern to the industry, however, is public safety. Despite being warned not to, tree owners themselves, or tree companies who are not qualified or equipped, are getting up into the trees to prune them to avoid the cost associated with clearing a tree from the power lines.
While the 2003 legislation has created a certain degree of upheaval, there is clearly an upside for Asplundh NZ as it continues to be an industry leader through its smarter systems. While 50% of its tree business is currently related to utility vegetation clearance, there is now an ever growing list of private clients. As Kevin says, “While we’re there pruning the tree owner’s trees away from the lines in the front yard, we naturally try to do work for them in the back yard on their favourite trees.”
With change comes opportunity and the Asplundh NZ team is seizing it!