Leaf removal offers a relatively guaranteed source of income. Unlike snow removal services, which can suffer in years where there’s not much snow, the leaves are going to fall every year. But there are still challenges to collecting the leaves (and the revenue), says James Michael, owner of Landscape Solutions in Blue Ridge, Virginia. One of the biggest is simply logistics. “Unfortunately, and I have to explain this to a lot of my clients, all of the leaves fall about the same time, and everyone wants them all removed at the same time,” he states. Landscape Solutions maintains a spreadsheet with a running list of property owners who sign up for leaf removal; calls begin coming in early, in midsummer, and the company tries to service them in the order they called when the fall finally comes. Curbside leaf pickup is provided not only for its landscape services customers, but also other property owners and even other landscape contractors in the area. “If they get the leaves down the curb, we’ll come by and pick the leaves up for them,” Michael explains.
At Nickens Lawn & Landscape, as the mowing season winds down and there are only a few leaves on the ground, the mowing crews simply mulch them. “Then we just smoothly transition and put the lawn crews onto leaf work,” says Alex Nickens.
He says that, beyond the large leaf vacuum, most of the equipment used in leaf removal work is dual-purpose. The same backpack blowers used to clear walkways and driveways during the mowing season are used to blow leaves to the curb. Nickens also outfits one of his zero-turn mowers with a leaf plow, allowing it to either mulch or move leaves, depending on the situation. “Whatever needs to be done to cleanup a particular property is what we do,” he explains.
Nickens charges by the job, noting that he’s been doing it long enough that he has a good sense of how long a job will take, and this pricing method allows him to make a little bit more money. “Sometimes, I feel if you charge by the hour, the clients are peeking out the window every five minutes to make sure that you’re moving at full speed,” he states. “If you charge by the job, they don’t care as long as they’re happy at the end. It seems to work out a little better for me that way, so that’s what I do.” It also gives him a little flexibility to adjust bid prices for jobs depending on how busy he is at the moment, or if he has to travel a little farther.
Michael takes a different approach to charging for leaf services. Except in cases where the company is providing only curbside leaf pickup (when it charges a flat fee), Landscape Solutions charges by the hour for its leaf removal services.
“There are a lot of variables, so I charge per man, per hour,” says Michael. “If you tell someone that it’s going to cost $100 to do the job and you end up with wind, you have to fight other variables.” Leaf removal can quickly cease being profitable. He says he began by going out to look at the property and giving clients a quote, “but sometimes we’d come out ahead and sometimes we wouldn’t. I think the fairest way is to do it is by the hour. And when we hit the ground, we’re running wide open with those blowers.”
Once the area’s mowing season slows up in November, Landscape Solutions transitions its mowing crews over to leaf removal. “Leaf removal usually takes us all the way into January; this year we did leaf cleanups all the way into February, and at that point we’re starting to transition into spring cleanups,” says Michael. In fact, he notes, “a lot of clients will wait until spring to have us come in there to get the leaves, so we leave the boxes on the trucks, so if someone calls we can roll right out there.”