Sporting a population of nearly 10 million people, the Chicago metropolitan area (Chicagoland to those in the know) is one of the largest markets in the United States. Such density clearly offers tremendous economic opportunities, as the demand for most any service and product is going to be quite large. For Kramer Tree Specialists, the success they found was in servicing residential and commercial customer needs for tree care and maintenance. But with the boom in landscape development and management over the last decade, and the passing in Illinois of a landfill ban on green waste, their mulch division has exploded to contribute a significant increase to their overall business.
Tim Peters, manager of mulch operations for Kramer Tree, joined the team more than 14 years ago. “This is a family-owned business that has been in existence for more than 35 years now,” he described. “Our core business has always been to be the best tree care and arboricultural company in the Chicago marketplace, and we work hard to maintain that reputation.” But as the demand for landscape products increased (both retail and wholesale demand) and the passing of the Illinois landfill ban on green waste products in the 1990s, Kramer Tree recognized the potential for the business opportunity this presented. “Most of our original source material was the organic waste we generated from our tree care services,” continued Peters. “But now we take in fifty loads a day of material from a number of streams, including municipal brush and leaf collection, landscaping companies, land clearing projects and even some clean wood waste and pallets.”
Kramer Tree basically produces three mulch products: their high-quality special blended mulch, a red/brown/black dyed mulch, and a leaf mulch. Incoming material is separated by size and type; leaves, brush, and larger logs up to 10 inches in diameter. Kramer Tree puts a high priority on ensuring a quality product, and the source streams and production process needs to meet their high standards.
Leaves are reduced in a tub grinder and transformed into an organic rich leaf mulch. “Our leaf mulch makes a tremendous soil amendment which is widely used by our landscape customers,” Peters explained. Their light brush and clean demolition wood is also processed through the tub grinder, and allowed to cure briefly after the first reduction. “Upon order, we then regrind that mulch before passing it through our coloring trommel to create our red, brown and black dyed mulch products.” Peters added that the colored mulch is new to Kramer Tree in the last few years, but the demand for it has soared. “We just started doing the coloring a little more than a year ago when the C&D stream started coming in. The small landscapers really love it, and it brought back some other customers that wanted a colored product. We’re responding to what the marketplace wants, and this demand is very strong right now.”
The largest wood waste that comes in also gets reduced, but rather than trying to force big material through a fuel-needy grinder, Peters turned to a different solution. “The big material we get, mostly from land clearing but occasionally from our tree service or from landscapers, can be upwards of 8 to 10 inches in diameter, which can be murder on a high-speed grinder.” Reducing large material in a grinder creates significant wear and tear, and consumes an enormous amount of fuel as some grinders can burn more than 40 gallons per hour. “After doing some research, we discovered the Doppstadt DW shredder and quickly realized the benefits we’d gain from a change in equipment,” Peters continued. “The 32 rpm shaft reduces with high-torque rather than high-speed, so the wear and tear, as well as the fuel consumption, drop dramatically. We also like how easy it is to feed: the machine is usually waiting for us to put something in it, rather than our operator waiting for the machine to catch up to us.”
Burning less than 10 gallons per hour, the DW series slow-speed shredders perform primary reduction much more economically than a high-speed grinder. With much more tolerance for bulky, difficult material, Doppstadt’s DW shredders also include an automatic breakaway comb that harmlessly passes unshreddable material without halting production. And while the final product is clearly larger than the finished product from a high-speed grinder, Peters explained that he sees that as a plus. “We’re doing two passes anyway, so there’s no reason our first pass needs to produce a finished size equal to our final product; it’s really just wasteful to take it that far. We get nearly 200 yards per hour through our DW, so the production rate is fantastic. It’s just a great overall machine.” And there is another hidden benefit they realized as well. “Because the reduction from the DW [slow-speed shredder] is larger, the piles don’t get as compact, which means they don’t cook as much and you eliminate the risk of high temperature and combustion. That’s a significant peace of mind for an operation like ours.”
Kramer Tree again turned to a Doppstadt product when they implemented a plan for producing colored mulch. “We selected the Amerimulch system for our coloring needs, but still needed a platform for mixing the mulch and colorant. Doppstadt products are known for their efficiency, and an SM trommel seemed like a perfect solution for what we needed. We get 100 yards per hour through it with no problems at all.” With a fuel efficiency of fewer than two gallons per hour, the SM 720 trommel performs flawlessly as a mixing drum for their coloring process. “We actually wrap the drum in plastic to keep the material in; it only takes about 20 minutes to do and we replace it once every week or so.” Even though they don’t use the trommel to screen, Peters agreed it is a great multi-use product. “We actually don’t do any screening with it,” admitted Peters. “But for an operation that does have screening needs, and also wants to produce colored mulch, you really can’t beat it.”
Having moved to their current 10-acre site four years ago, Kramer Tree is perfectly positioned to continue serving the massive Chicagoland market for years to come. Their operation is well-oiled and neatly kept, with 5.5 acres on concrete and plans for another acre still to go. It’s obvious that this is a well-run company, and the Kramer Tree team reflects that philosophy in the quality of the products and services they offer. As they continue to grow, the opportunities they find will likely be a product of their own success, and it’s clear they see so much more to pursue as they move ahead.