Chattanooga's Lumberjacks Tree Service looking to maintain balance between cost and quality

Photography by Matt Hamilton / Lumberjacks Tree Service owner Tyler Schievelhud

Eleven years after Lumberjacks Tree Service started chopping wood, the company is in the chips.

Tyler Schievelhud, a 34-year-old East Ridge native, says he had $500 in his pocket when he started Lumberjacks in 2012. He anticipates the company, a Chattanooga Times Free Press "Best of the Best" category winner in 2022, will gross $3 million in calendar 2023.

"We're founded on the idea of taking care of our customers and employees," he says. "My dad and granddad had textile mills years ago, and they always said money is generated from a job well done -- that if you take care of your customers and your employees, money is the byproduct."

Schievelhud recalls getting his start when he was hired by a construction company to do tree service and roofing. He says he lost that gig, though, in the wake of the 2008-09 Great Recession.

"There were just no jobs available," he says. "I looked, I applied, but the pickings were really slim."

So Schievelhud had some fliers printed up and hit the streets on his own, knocking on doors and offering handyman services. After a couple of years of that, he found his way back into tree work.

"I'd really enjoyed it before," he recalls. "Every job's a little different, and I enjoyed it way more than painting a bedroom or putting up crown molding.

"Then, in 2012, I said, 'Let's just be all about (tree work). It's one thing to be good at a lot of things, but let's see about being the best at something," he says.

Schievelhud says he learned quickly that building a company specializing in tree work presented a very particular set of very expensive challenges.

"First, we try to employ the best people in Chattanooga, so that comes with a pretty good price tag," he says, adding that Lumberjacks has about 20 employees and has three or four crews out on any given day.

"And equipment," he says. "Take a walk around our warehouse and you'll see equipment worth well over $2 million. We just changed all the oil and filters, and that alone ran $15,000. This year we've budgeted more than $200,000 just to keep stuff running, and we'll spend $100,000 on training.

"Our overhead is very, very high," he adds. "We're trying to maintain a balance between a reasonable cost and the best service money can buy, so efficiency is a big thing."

Schievelhud says that as Lumberjacks has grown, his priorities have naturally shifted. He still goes out on jobs, but now it's more about sustaining momentum.

"Marketing, coming up with training, standardizing processes," he says. "We need a lot more jobs as we scale, but labor's tough to come by. I've actually got people from other companies calling and saying, 'I want to work for you.' That makes it a little easier, but you need someone who not only has the right skill set, but the personality and state of mind that fit our culture.

"Lincoln said that if he had five hours to cut a tree, he'd spend four sharpening the ax," Schievelhud says. "It'd be really easy to allow this to get sloppy, and the business could go the other way. It could shrink as quickly as it's grown.

"But the job we've done makes me wonder what we might be capable of in another 10 years."