ONE TO GROW ON

Benny’s Tree Service and P. Carino Landscaping, New Rochelle: Bernardo “Benny” Rivera

bennys tree serviceHurricanes have taught us that shady trees and long limbs growing too close to the house can cause more than mold on roof shingles and siding. Yet, tree cutting is a tall order. Bernardo “Benny” Rivera,  cut his teeth as an arborist working for his father and started his own tree service in 2006. His goal is to prevent the rest of us from being stumped when it comes to when and how to cut down a tree, the best ways to prune them, and how to prevent Beech blight in our neck of the woods. A small business loan from Community Capital New York of $50,000 enabled Benny to grow his business from a few trucks and employees to nine workmen, 12 trucks (adding a Bucket Truck and three wood chippers) and to purchase a complimentary business, P. Carino Landscaping, keeping a local business open and its employees employed when the owner retired. Not only can this company mow, maintain and plant gardens and lawns, it can also incorporate plants like blueberries, rosemary and echinacea into healthy, sustainable landscapes that taste as good as they look. A team comes over for a consultation, then creates ways for your garden to bloom. With hydrangeas, lilacs, jasmine and peonies, along with wildflowers like black-eyed susans and daisies to be sure. But also with cilantro and parsley (diverse gardens attract lady bugs, butterflies and other insects which feed on plant-eating critters, not plants) and kale (a garden border and salad base). The company also takes into consideration the diet of deer and plants that repel ticks (like geraniums). In addition to creating delicious, local and good-for-you plantings, the company also installs in-ground sprinkler systems with rain sensors, repairs and builds stone walls, and undertakes masonry projects.

 How did you get your business off the ground? My bank referred me to Community Capital New York when I was looking to expand by buying another business and additional trucks. I wanted to add a landscaping business to my tree cutting business, and P. Carino was already established in Westchester. My father owned Arbor Tree, and I worked with him until I started my own company in 2006, to provide a complete tree service. We cut down, trim, do spray programs, and prune. Tree removal is highly technical. My workmen are professionals. We’re licensed and insured, and I have a pesticide license, which requires credits and classes. You don’t only cut down trees because they’re too close to the house, dead or diseased. While we work to save trees whenever possible, sometimes strategic tree removal is important for competing species to grow and mature, or if a tree threatens buildings, driveways, or utility wires.

How did your business evolve? Word of mouth drives business growth. Angie’s List works best for me in terms of advertising, but I also use Google Ad words, the Verizon and Yellow Pages directories, and some local newspaper advertising. The landscape business is different than tree work, where you have to sell every day. You constantly need new customers. I found that as I built my tree service business, I became an expert on Beech Tree blight. Beech trees get a bacteria and not many people know how to save them. In all the years I’ve been in business I’ve only lost one, and that was because the owner didn’t follow the program. He didn’t want to pay for the second year. So now I have clients sign a two-year contract for work on Beech blight, and changed the way I do business to ensure the trees make it. I’ve saved a few hundred Beech trees in Westchester where most of my clients are.

What’s the best advice you got along the way? To use a lawyer to secure long-term use of the commercial lot in New Rochelle where both businesses are based. Now that the use of the property is secure, I plan to acquire a spray truck, for spraying trees and lawns, and make improvements like building an on-site office and enclosing the large shelter with garage doors and watertight side walls.

What advice would you offer entrepreneurs? A business is run the way an owner runs it. Put in the dedication and the time. And you have to learn that you’re not going to get every job you bid on. Persevere. When I started my business I was a single father, and for three or four years it was just me and Elijah, my oldest daughter. She helps with social media and photographing clients’ projects. My younger daughters, Melissa and Victoria are just starting to develop their green thumbs. You also need to take care of your employees, and some days that means buying tacos from the food truck to make sure they have lunch. My employees don’t complain if it’s raining, and regularly do big plantings in the rain. When a customer expects work to be done, you have to deliver. The best way to do that is to lead by example. I or my nephew, Justin Serrano, who runs P. Carino, are out in the rain with them.

What advice would you offer your clients? Don’t wait to grind the stumps. To cut down trees, most companies charge based on the height of the tree, usually with a set fee per foot. The fee may vary based on the height of the tree. For instance, smaller trees that are only about 20 feet will be less per foot than, say, a 90-foot tree. But we all charge extra for grinding stumps. If I don’t cut down the tree, I don’t like grinding down the stump because the teeth on the grinder are so expensive–$15 to $20 a tooth. If you hit a rock or strong root it can cost $30 to $40 to replace or repair. You don’t make money on the grinding; it’s part of the job of taking a tree down. Never leave a stump 25 feet or nearer to the foundation because root systems travel, and when the system dies, termites nest in the dead roots.  Leaving stumps leads to termite infestation, and in the long run, that is costlier than to just get rid of the stump.

What’s next? A website. And getting a Home Improvement License to be able to work in Greenwich and Old Greenwich, in Fairfield County, CT.

You can find Benny’s Tree Service and P. Carino Landscaping at 49 Park Place, New Rochelle, NY 10801; go to the website at http://www.bennytreeremovalny.com/, email  bennytreeservice@yahoo.com,  or call either (914) 632-7548 or 914.804.7718.