Money may not grow on trees, but it does fall from them — right on schedule every autumn. At least that’s the feeling of landscape contractors who offer leaf removal services. James Michael, owner of Landscape Solutions in Blue Ridge, Virginia, started offering leaf removal (and pickup) services nearly 15 years ago. “The municipalities around the Roanoke area, both the county and the city, had offered leaf pickup as part of their services, but they were looking to downsize. So first the county stopped doing curbside pickups, and I saw an opening there,” says Michael. “I thought it would be a good way to fill in the void between lawn care and snow removal.”
Even more fortuitously, shortly after the city stopped doing curbside leaf pickups, Michael was able to purchase two large leaf vacuums (ODB LCT650 units) at a municipal auction. “It’s worked out quite well for us. A lot of the other landscapers who I interact with in this area absolutely despise leaf removal, and I think, ‘My gosh, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity.’ There’s just tons of money to be made in leaf removal,” he says. (In fact, he makes money on the leaves twice, by composting them at his landscape supply yard and selling the compost.)
Michael says that buying his big leaf vacuums at auction dramatically lowered his costs of getting into leaf removal. “The machines paid for themselves that first year,” he says.
Alex Nickens, owner of Nickens Lawn & Landscape in New Athens, Illinois, got into leaf removal in his second year in business. “We were getting real slow in the fall, and just not having much work,” he recalls. “I saw that other companies were running all around and they had the leaf vacuums, so I ended up investing in one.” Nickens purchased a preowned unit, “and we never looked back – now we’re busy all the way through the fall.”
The machine pretty much paid itself off immediately, says Nickens. There was another investment required, as well. “We started using a regular open trailer and just emptying leaves by hand, but before we knew it we had to get a dump trailer because we were using it every day. It was one of those things where we bought equipment and didn’t really even think about it because we didn’t have a choice – we were so busy with work that we had to keep going.”
He says that being able to offer leaf removal helps Nickens Lawn & Landscape stand out. “It makes us more of a full-service company … and we’re taking care of other lawn care companies’ customers because they don’t have a vacuum. So, for us, it’s been a great way to pick up new customers and just stay busy during a time of the year when it’s hard to stay busy.” You never know for sure how things are going to work out when you add a new service, but Nickens says that leaf removal has been a huge net positive: “For us, there’s not one part of leaf removal that’s not good; it’s a win-win no matter what way you look at it.”