Integrating a Grapple Crane Into a Tree Care Business

“Increases in safety, speed and efficiency have impacted every part of our business,” says Joe Pipitone, whose crews are seen here using their grapple crane to clear a utility line. All photos courtesy of Joe Pipitone.

This article looks at a few of the topics that will be addressed during a panel discussion, “Grapple-Saw Business,” at TCI EXPO in Indianapolis this November. The two-hour educational session will host grapple-saw owners from four different-sized tree companies who give their insights on integrating grapple-saw cranes into tree care operations. The goal of the presentation is to lay out the entire experience occurring before, during and after the acquisition of a grapple crane.

Joseph B. Pipitone, owner of Top Notch Tree Care, a six-year TCIA member company based in Kingsley, Pennsylvania, is one of the select panelists who will be answering questions at the workshop about his grapple-saw business decisions. TCI Magazine caught up with Pipitone to ask some preliminary questions in advance of the workshop.

TCI: Joe, this workshop has been an idea of yours for quite a while. What was the impetus behind such a concept?

Pipitone: After three years as a K-boom crane owner and two years of research prior, I felt like I had a lot to share with other owners who were considering making the move to purchase a crane. If I could go back in time, I would have so much to share with the person starting that journey. I have had so many great mentors in the industry, and I wanted to create an opportunity for several owners to share their wisdom in a large-scale venue. If we can answer questions, share experiences and offer wisdom, we want to do so. Success for this presentation will be to enlighten potential buyers/operators to questions they’re not even asking currently, and I am confident that will happen. We want to help owners fill in the blanks with the conversations we cultivate in that two-hour period.

Joe Pipitone with his two babies, son Bradley and his Effer grapple crane, “named Ferdinand after my grandfather.”

TCI: Describe your day-to-day operations before adding a knuckle-boom grapple saw to your organization.

Pipitone: We are a small, four-person operation in northeastern Pennsylvania. We have always been focused on safety and professionalism. Day-to-day operations before our crane involved mainly us using a towable lift or climbing to rig down trees in a traditional manner using ropes, a GRCS and standard rigging tackle. Integration of our grapple crane has changed all that. Increases in safety, speed and efficiency have impacted every part of our business. From culture to our marketing and sales efforts, scheduling, speed of job completion and the bottom line, we have seen great benefits.

TCI: Once you decided you would add a grapple crane, what steps did you take in the year prior to making the move? Specifically, what did you do financially to prepare the organization for such a huge purchase?

Pipitone: Once I decided to add a grapple saw, I watched a lot of YouTube videos and earnestly sought out other owners to talk with on the phone and ask questions of. At TCI EXPO, we spoke to all the suppliers and looked at the products so we could do further research. Financially, we worked as hard as we could, saved money for a down payment and paid down other debt to improve our debt-to-income ratio. Discipline was key to positioning ourselves for such an endeavor. We are glad to say, so far it has all been worth it.

The maintenance and day-to-day pre-check on these units are vital to the success of the day, according to Joe Pipitone.

TCI: Equipment maintenance is always a consideration in any business. How has using a grapple crane changed your maintenance program?

Pipitone: Buy an electric grease gun! These units have taught us a lot about self-reliance, maintenance and safety while working with high-pressure hydraulic systems. The maintenance and day-to-day pre-check on these units are vital to the success of the day. I will add that we have become very good at spotting and stopping leaks, changing hoses and greasing the unit. You have to be willing to turn a wrench when you own one of these cranes. Just as with all our equipment, a keen eye and ear, along with the correct tools and a case of grease, go a long way.

Even with the grapple crane, Joe Pipitone still finds opportunities for climbing.

TCI: Describe the learning curve experienced with implementing the grapple crane into your organization.

Pipitone: Explaining the learning curve would take more than this short article. This is one of the main reasons we are putting on the workshop at TCI EXPO. The four panelists presenting this educational session each have different stories about the grapple-crane learning curve for their particular organizations. This can be a rather stressful, frustrating and costly part of the equation, and it is the goal of this workshop to help you know what you’re walking into by sharing what we learned along the way. We want to provide as much help and wisdom as we can.

The grapple-crane panel discussion at TCI EXPO will take place Friday, November 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. EDT. Unlike most other TCI EXPO educational sessions, this workshop will not be recorded for on-demand access. Even though more than 200 attendees are expected, there will be opportunities for workshop attendees to ask questions. Get there early for a good seat, and be ready to take lots of notes so you can apply the knowledge to your own grapple-crane research and integration.

Tchukki Andersen, CTSP and Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA), is staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association.

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