A worker for Josh Skolnick’s Monster Tree Service works on a Chestnut Hill tree that was recently damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

by Grant Moser

Monster Tree Service is just another success in a string of businesses for Josh Skolnick, 29. When the Fort Washington native started the company, he had never cut down a tree in his life. “Everyone doubted me. There wasn’t one person, even my accountant, that thought this was going to work,” said Skolnick. “Now I’m making millions of dollars.”

In middle school, Josh began push-mowing neighborhood lawns. He was soon busy enough that he had to hire help. Every afternoon when school finished, he would head straight to work and wouldn’t stop until the sun went down. By the time he got to high school, he had invested in some commercial lawn mowers, and by the time he graduated from Upper Dublin High School in 2002, he had 80 residential accounts.

His business was so profitable that he worked out an arrangement with the school that let him leave school at 10 a.m. every day to run his business while earning school credit. Shortly after he graduated, he acquired several other landscape companies and had close to 400 full-service lawn care accounts.

This brain for business comes naturally to Skolnick. “My father said I was always bartering and negotiating from a young age. He always thought I would be my own boss one day. But the Boy Scouts helped me grow up too. (Skolnick is an Eagle Scout.) I was Senior Patrol Leader of my troop, and I learned a lot of leadership and management skills that didn’t cost me anything. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from those mistakes.”

In 2005, Josh began Mulch Monsters, a company that installed landscape mulch products for large landscape companies in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. He ran both companies until 2007, when he decided to sell Josh Skolnick Landscape to concentrate on Mulch Monsters.

Over the course of the next year, his former lawn care customers kept calling him. “They wanted to know who they should hire, who could I recommend to clean their gutters, powerwash their decks, seal their driveways. I took care of everything for them before, so they still called me for recommendations. I began to notice that a lot of them were asking about tree care,” Skolnick said.

Skolnick became interested. He felt that some tree care companies had prices that were too high and saw that some weren’t willing to take on certain jobs. He hired a tree climber to work with some of his men in June, 2008, to take down a dead tree for a customer and learn what was involved in the business. That afternoon, he walked up and down the neighboring streets and sold $20,000 worth of tree care. Then Skolnick got very interested in the business.

He invested in a chipper. He converted his dump trucks to handle chips and started marketing Monster Tree Service. Skolnick thought he could do the work for a lot less than other companies, especially since he was in the mulch business and could use the chips. Within a year of being in the tree business, he sold Monster Mulch because the trees were so profitable.

The business grew so quickly that he started thinking about opening more offices, but decided on franchising his business instead. “The one thing I realized was if the people who work for you don’t have any skin in the game, it’s just a job for them. They’ll show up and do what’s required, but that’s it. They won’t go the extra mile that you will when you own the business yourself. There was no franchise tree service company out there, so why shouldn’t I be the first one to do it?”

Skolnick knows that the key for his company to be successful is for his franchisees to be successful, so he has put together an experienced team. He admits he doesn’t know everything about the tree business, but that’s why he went out and headhunted the best people he could find when beginning Monster Tree Service.

“The key to my business being successful is the people who work for me. I give them all the right tools, all the newest equipment, so they can be as efficient and safe as possible. Some of the equipment can be expensive, but I don’t care how much something costs, I care whether it’s going to make it back for me,” said Skolnick. “That’s what sets me apart from a lot of my competitors because they are small businesspeople who think, ‘How can I possibly buy a machine that costs more money than my house?’ Well, the roof over your head doesn’t make you money.”

Skolnick just launched the opportunities for franchises in June, and expects some of the first to open by springtime. He also expects the interest in franchises to grow, partly because of Superstorm Sandy. “Sandy was a huge eye-opener. A lot of people are beginning to realize they need to respect trees. They’re dangerous if they’re not maintained or taken care of. We are seeing a lot of people calling to get preventive maintenance done. I feel like it will bring more awareness to the tree care industry.”

Josh is happy with how Monster Tree has grown and its potential. “Any mistakes that were made, I’ve learned from, and they’ve only made me better as a business owner. Every day is a learning experience. Our eight-year goal is to have 100 franchise units doing approximately $150 million in business system wide.”

He credits much of his success with not being afraid to ask questions. He listens and observes and educates himself. He also keeps his eyes open for future possibilities. When business colleagues run into him, the running joke is “OK, Josh, what’s next?”

“It’s true I stumbled across the tree care business, but the fact that I’ve become successful is not an accident,” said Skolnick. “I’ve already got the next two or three business opportunities planned out. I love the challenge of building a new business.”

For more information about Monster Tree Service, visit www.whymonster.com.