Listening Is Most Valuable At Trade Shows, Team Meetings

Man listening, learning

Wintertime is trade show season for the tree care industry. During our so-called slow season, I try to attend as many of these winter trade shows and conferences as I can. There’s always something new to learn in this business or brush up on. At the shows, I shop for potential new equipment, attend seminars and catch up with old friends. Over the course of my career, I’ve come to know many fine arborists, foresters, and tree people. Catching up with them is one my favorite activities.

As an attendee, and sometimes a speaker, I’ve grown to have a great appreciation for the people behind the scenes. They are the people who make sure the coffee is hot when we arrive in the morning. They make sure we have something to eat for lunch. They are also the technicians who make sure the A/V functions properly. If you happen to run across them, be sure to say thank you.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Planet Earth, has some excellent advice about attending winter workshops.

He strongly recommends that we embrace training time, or “ground time” as he calls it. Part of the reason he feels that way is because ground time is where we spend most of our time. “You might as well enjoy it,” he says.

And he should know. I don’t know of any profession that trains harder or receives more education than astronauts do. It takes them decades to qualify as an astronaut and a minimum of five or more years to train for each mission.

Hadfield recommends we arrive at meetings or workshops or any new situation, for that matter, as a zero. He uses a binary scale for assessing his contributions. At team meetings, he considers a positive input is a Plus 1. Negative contributions are a Negative 1.

He says you can easily turn your positive value during training into a negative value by interjecting a comment or question too early. Aiming to be a zero when you enter the room prevents that. It’s like the doctor’s adage, “First, do no harm.”

When you arrive, speak only after you know the lay of the land, which he states is hard to do until you fully know what’s going on or being discussed. Don’t speak or ask a question until you have something intelligent to add.

I will be attending several conferences this winter and I will attempt to follow his lead. Listen first. Speak only after knowing the lay of the land. Speak only after I  have something positive to add.

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TCIA Releases Report of Tree Care Related Incidents in 2017: Industry News Roundup

Want to keep up with the latest news in arboriculture? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to lookout for the next quick recap of recent happenings in the green industry.

TCIA Releases Report of Tree Care Related Incidents in 2017
TCIA learned of 129 tree care-related occupational incidents in calendar year 2017. Seventy-two of them were fatal. This report provides what we know about these incidents from the media accounts. Comparing 2017 with previous years, we reported 81, 92 and 92 occupational fatalities in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. The youngest victim we recorded was 20, the oldest was 71. The average age of the victim (all incidents) was 43. This relatively high average age suggests that complacency rather than ignorance plays a significant role in these incidents. Supporting this claim:

  • The typical fall victim was unsecured
  • The typical struck-by victim remained in the drop zone
  • The typical electrocution victim violated MAD and made contact through a conductive tool/object.

For those accounts in which an employer was identified, 22 percent of all incidents occurred with TCIA member companies, and 78 percent occurred with non-members. The “Big Three” types of accident causation are the same as they have been in recent years: Fall, struck-by and electrical contact incidents comprise 33, 33 and 17 percent of the total incidents, respectively.

Takeuchi Appoints New VP, General Manager
Takeuchi-US has hired Jeff Stewart as vice president and general manager, effective immediately. In the newly created role at the company, Stewart will oversee parts, service, IT, facilities and non-machine related warehouse operations. Most recently, Stewart held various roles at Alimak Hek Group in Webster, Texas, including vice president. He was previously been employed in various roles with Takeuchi, spending 13 years with the organization.The company saw record sales in 2017, and there were increases in all areas of the business and business segments.

OSHA Increases Penalty Amounts For 2018
In accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the Department of Labor increased penalty amounts for violations of workplace safety and health safety standards by two percent beginning January 2, 2018. New penalties for willful and repeat violations are $129,336 per violation; serious, other-than-serious, and posting requirements are $12,934 per violation; and failure to correct violations is $12,934 for each day the condition continues.

New England GROWS Dissolves after 25 Years
After 25 years, the award-winning horticultural tradeshow New England GROWS is discontinuing operation. The GROWS board of directors, representing the four founding partner organizations, made the unanimous decision to dissolve and disband both the GROWS event and the organization. Founded by New England Nursery Association, Massachusetts Arborists Association, Massachusetts Nursery & Landscape Association, and Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals in 1993, New England GROWS’ mission was to educate, elevate and support the region’s commercial horticulture industry. Over the course of more than two decades, the not-for-profit organization contributed millions of dollars in educational grants to the industry through its partners, as well as to horticultural and community groups like Cooperative Extension, the Horticultural Research Institute, FFA organization, local vocational schools, and the Boston Schoolyard Initiative.

ALCC Partners With NALP’s Industry Growth Initiative
The National Association of Landscape Professionals has announced that Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) is the first state association to partner with NALP in support of the Industry Growth Initiative, NALP’s program responsible for growing the industry and its workforce. Together, the organizations will help lead these growth objectives essential for the industry’s future. As a demonstration of their commitment, ALCC has committed $15,000 in seed money toward the initiative, with a goal of raising $75,000 in support from its membership.

NCLC Heads To North Carolina Next Month
The National Association of Landscape Professionals annual collegiate career event and competition, the National Collegiate Landscape Competition will take place March 14-17, at Alamance Community College in North Carolina. This year, more than 750 horticulture and landscape students from more than 60 schools will test their skills in 30 real-world, competitive events, and they will interview with landscape, lawn care, tree care, irrigation, and other companies at the Career Fair, which will be held on Thursday, March 15.

OPEI Sets New Headquarters Grand Opening for May 7
The board of directors for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute recently met in Miami, where they elected two new members – Mark Wagner, President, Club Car LLC, and Joseph C. Wright, President and CEO, Excel Industries. It was also announced at the meeting that the final plans for OPEI’s new headquarters building at 1605 King Street in Alexandria, Virginia. were finalized with the grand opening and ribbon cutting set for Monday, May 7 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. The event is open to OPEI members, trade press, and guests who will tour the new facilities. Both OPEI’s Handheld Products and Engines and Fuels committees will be meeting that week in the new conference center. The next board meeting will be in conjunction with the OPEI annual meeting held June 16-18, 2018, in Bonita Springs, Florida.

Terex Utilities Team Members Assist At-Risk Youth in Texas
Terex Utilities team members from across the nation traveled to Houston, Texas for the company’s annual sales and service training meeting in January. While in Texas, 85 employees teamed up with the company’s San Antonio-based service center to get involved in two local community organizations that serve at-risk youth. For one of the projects, 16 bikes were purchased and assembled for Therapeutic Family Life (TFL), a foster-care agency. The other project involved packing 100 personal hygiene kits for Boysville Inc., a home for boys and girls who cannot remain in their own home due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or family disruption.

Almstead Receives 2017 Gold Leaf Award from NYSA
The New York State Arborists (NYSA) International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Chapter, Inc. presented the 2017 Harry J. Banker Gold Leaf Award to Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Co. and its founder Richard Almstead at the NYSA Annual Conference in Suffern, New York on January 29th, 2018. The award recognizes individuals, organizations and communities for either outstanding Arbor Day activities or for outstanding landscape beautification activities. During the last week of April, arborists from each Almstead branch participate in various events that are aimed at educating the public, especially young people, about the arboriculture industry and the importance of trees. Almstead donates hundreds of trees and man hours in local communities through information booths at festivals, school presentations, tree climbing stations for children at fairs, street tree pruning, public demonstrations, and more.

Davey Tree Expands Operations in Denver
The Davey Tree Expert Co., headquartered in Kent, Ohio, has expanded its residential and commercial operations in Denver, Colorado. A Denver resident since 2001, Vince Distrola has been named the district manager of Davey’s new South Denver office. He began his Davey career in 2002. An International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist and Tree Care Industry Association Certified treecare safety professional, Distrola graduated from the Davey Institute of Tree Sciences, the company’s flagship training program, in 2004. Most recently, he was assistant district manager of Davey’s West Denver office.

ALL Crane Rental of Tennessee Wins “Supplier of the Year”
ALL Crane Rental of Tennessee has received the prestigious Supplier of the Year Award from the Knoxville Branch of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Tennessee. Billy Vaughn, general manager of ALL Crane Rental of Tennessee, a member of the ALL Family of Companies, accepted the award, giving his employees full credit. ALL Crane Rental of Tennessee was selected out of 22 companies by their peers to be 2017 Supplier of the Year. ALL Crane Rental of Tennessee became a member of the ALL Family of Companies in 1999. Every year, the AGC of Tennessee – Knoxville Branch presents its subcontractor, supplier and service provider of the year awards. Winners in each category are selected by the branch’s membership through ballot voting. Recipients will have demonstrated a clear commitment to quality, continuous improvement, and customer satisfaction throughout the construction industry.

New President of Nebraska Arborists Association Takes Helm
Kevin Popken of Lawngevity Lawn and the Urban Tree of Fremont took over as president of the Nebraska Arborists Association on Jan. 24 at the association’s annual board meeting held in Omaha. Popken has served on the board for seven years, according to The Fremont Tribune. The Nebraska Arborists Association is an association of arborists from across the state of Nebraska involved in the education, conservation, promotion and care of trees.

Cambridge Arborist Named Tree Warden of the Year
David Lefcourt, city of Cambridge arborist, received the Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ and Foresters’ Association’s 17th annual Seth H. Swift Tree Warden of the Year award at the association’s 105th annual conference on Jan. 9. Lefcourt was recognized for his commitment and dedication to the protection of public trees, and for his work with his community to maintain and improve tree growth and health. Lefcourt has served the city of Cambridge as its city arborist/tree warden for more than 10 years. In that role he is responsible for the preservation and maintenance of over 19,000 city trees, planting 300-600 trees each year and maintaining a proactive six-year pruning cycle, pruning around 3,200 trees annually. He works closely with other city divisions and departments on tree-related issues, and educates residents and contractors about the importance of tree protection and tree care. As a result of his continuing efforts within the Forestry Division to improve existing programs and develop new ones, the city of Cambridge has received a Tree City USA Growth Award for 10 consecutive years.

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Challenges Of Finding Skilled Labor In Tree Care

Help Wanted

It’s no secret to companies in the tree care business that quality, skilled employees are hard to come by. What’s more of a mystery is coming up with successful strategies for finding skilled labor.

“It’s an issue for anyone in the tree industry,” says Arthur Batson Jr., president of Lucas Tree Experts, which is based in Maine and has roughly 550 employees working throughout the U.S. and Canada providing tree services for utility, residential and commercial customers. He says the labor force in tree work (and in construction and related fields) “comes and goes.” “We’re seeing a scarcity now that five or six years ago we didn’t,” says Batson, attributing that mainly to the change in the overall economy. When housing construction is down, that leads to a greater number of available workers — workers who are usually pretty good — in the tree industry, he points out. But when housing rebounds, there can be a shortage in tree care. “We tend to be a little lower on the wage scale, so sometimes you lose those workers when the economy gets hot. Labor is often scarce, but it gets even scarcer.”

Like most successful companies, Lucas Tree Experts has developed various methods to continually attract quality employees. “And retain them,” emphasizes Batson. “I think that the labor shortage is not just about attracting employees but also finding ways to keep them on board.” In fact, he breaks successful labor practices into three categories: attracting employees to apply, making good decisions about who to let in the door, and then keeping the good ones. “All three can make you fail, or make you successful,” says Batson.

As far as attracting quality employees, Lucas Tree Service’s main strategy is to identify every forestry-related program in the areas that the company operates, whether it’s run by a high school, community college or university. “We reach out to those programs and try to integrate ourselves by volunteering, offering our operation personnel to work with those programs, so we’re more closely related to them. We know the number of students who are coming into them and going out of them. And in certain places, we’ve set up scholarships and internships to qualified students,” explains Batson. “You bring some of those students on board; some stay, some don’t, but it sends out vibrations to the next class that there’s a scholarship they can apply for. That’s been a good source for us to try to attract qualified people.”

Batson emphasizes that making this approach really work takes more than just showing up at a school for a job fair in the spring. It requires a concerted and ongoing effort to form a relationship with the school and the students in that forestry-related program. “You really have to get to know who the professor is, or the teachers. And we’ve donated equipment that they can use in their teaching and trainings, whether it be chainsaws or a used chipper — things that will be useful tools for them and their programs,” he explains. “And we offer our expertise. Maybe it’s for a chainsaw safety training or aerial rescue, to try to assist with and become a part of their programs.”

Lucas Tree Experts also takes full advantage of technology to find employees, as well. “These days, you need to use the social media platforms to attract candidates,” Batson says. And look for other opportunities as well, including working with programs for military veterans who are looking for civilian employment.

Apprenticing in arboriculture

A new tactic that some companies are taking to ensure steady access to trained employees is to actively play a role in that training process by formally taking part in an apprenticeship program. The first program was created several years ago in Wisconsin, when a collection of tree care companies from the Wisconsin Arborists Association, as well as industry organization TCIA, worked with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to form an Arborist Apprenticeship Program. One of the companies involved, Wachtel Tree Science, became the first to officially enroll two of its employees in the program in June 2016.

“It’s a state program. And the state was looking for viable careers for people,” explains Dave Scharfenberger, president of Wachtel. The challenge, he says, was to get state buy-in by showing that tree care offers a variety of viable career options, especially for those who might want to work outside. “When we showed the state the number of people in Wisconsin who are working in tree care, some of the average wages, the fact that there are both city and private employees in this profession, they began to realize that this is an industry that wasn’t on their radar screens the way others were.” It’s pretty common in every state to be able to get an apprenticeship to become an electrician or a plumber, he points out, “and it’s the tree care industry’s goal to get arborists there also.”

A crew from Lucas Tree Experts conducts a training program with a group of high school students, hopefully sparking an interest among some in a career in tree care.

The program runs for 42 months and provides apprentices with a blend of on-the-job work experience and specially designed class work at an area technical college. While it took hard work and a group effort to get the apprenticeship program established, now, from the perspective of an individual company, “there’s not a lot that you have to do,” says Scharfenberger. “There’s a little bit of time to understand your commitment as a company, you [and the apprentice] both sign contracts of commitment to each other.” Wachtel Tree Science, for example, pays for the classes (at an area technical college), and also pays its employees in the program for a certain number of hours per semester when they take classes. “And we were able to work with the instructor to bunch that time into appropriate times of the year, so they’re not gone during really busy times. So, when we’re a little slower, that’s when some of these classes happen,” Scharfenberger adds.

The goal is to train these employees to be ready to make a career in tree care. “They’re going to be arborists when they come out, so they get exposure to plant health care, climbing, all of the ground work. When they come out, they’ll be ground arborists, well along the way to transitioning to a climbing arborist,” he explains.

The commitment runs both ways. The company bears the financial investment in getting the apprentices trained, while the employee commits to completing the program and working hard along the way. There is no commitment in terms of a time frame that they must work for the sponsoring company after completing the program. “They aren’t indentured servants or anything like that,” says Scharfenberger. “But history shows, when you look at apprenticeship programs in general across the country, is that these programs help graduate trained people that do tend to be very loyal to the company that put them through, as long as the company is decent with them.” While there is not yet a long track record for tree care apprentices, he notes that the retention rate for apprenticeship programs in general is very high. “That’s what I, as an employee, look for,” says Scharfenberger.

For that reason, he — and others in the industry — would like to see this type of program continue to expand. “TCIA has been instrumental behind the scenes in getting other states to adopt it, and getting the federal government to accept what Wisconsin has done, so that it becomes more of a common thing to have an apprenticeship program,” says Scharfenberger.

A demonstration of climbing and tree care work conducted by Lucas Tree Experts; many people are unaware of what’s involved in tree work and may not realize the job opportunities the profession provides.

Group solutions

Because the scarcity of skilled labor is a challenge faced by almost every tree care company, some believe that it will take an orchestrated, collective, industry-wide effort to really address it. One example of tree care companies coming together to do just that is taking place in Atlanta. There, a handful of companies joined forces to form the Greater Atlanta Tree Care Sector Partnership with a mission of creating a training program that would attract employees into and get them ready for careers in tree care.

Jamie Blackburn, vice president and chief operating officer of Arborguard Tree Specialists, one of the companies involved in the effort, credits the leadership of Brigitte Orrick, TCIA’s director of workforce development, with helping to get the program off the ground in the face of several challenges. Orrick called together an initial meeting of eight reputable tree care companies in the Atlanta metro area about two years ago, says Blackburn. “She explained the issues that go along with launching any type of training program. I think that some companies had this impression that there was this magic wand that somehow could be waved and all of a sudden we’d have this degree program with a great instructor that would be turning out 50 workers a semester. And that’s a little bit utopian,” he states.

Instead, the group was faced with the reality that there was little tax money in the state of Georgia to fund a program through the technical college system. “It’s just hard to convince them to launch new programs,” says Blackburn. In addition, statistics that were available through the U.S. Department of Labor about wages, career pathways, earning potential, etc., in the tree care industry also included lower-paying jobs in utilities and logging. Because that data didn’t accurately reflect what workers in the industry were actually making, it was difficult to get grants to create a training program, or buy-in from colleges. “They need to be able to convince parents that their kids are going to be coming out of the program making a livable wage,” summarizes Blackburn.

So the effort in Atlanta was much more complicated than it was in a place like Wisconsin, where there was formal support from the state and educational institutions. But undaunted, TCIA’s Orrick and some of the Atlanta tree care companies pressed ahead looking for solutions. That focused on working with nonprofit groups, such as Atlanta CareerRise, the Atlanta Regional Commission and United Way of Greater Atlanta. “We were able to convince them in meeting with them about the real wage data, that we really have a labor shortage, and that we really can put people to work,” says Blackburn. Also, a group called the Greening Youth Foundation was already working to train people for outdoor jobs in things like vegetation management and trail maintenance in parks.

What resulted of all these discussions was the Arborist Workforce Training program, funded by local grands and run at a nearby Greening Youth Foundation facility. That six-week program includes training from North American Training Solutions instructor Warren Williams and covers everything from OSHA and industry safety standards to basic arboriculture operations based on TCIA’s Tree Care Academy Modules. Participating tree care companies offer their expertise occasionally and agree to interview each of the program participants once they earn their certificates. Two groups of 20 students have now come through the program; Blackburn says that Arborguard hired two of those students and 18 of the 20 have been placed with a participating tree care company. That’s a tremendous improvement over the hiring rate when interviewing job applicants responding to ads placed on venues like Craigslist, for example, he notes.

As a company, Blackburn says that Arborguard’s interest was in helping to launch a program “that would raise the floor of our entry-level applicants. We know that there’s no program that’s going to turn out experienced climbers or crew leaders; we have to develop that person ourselves. But if we can raise the floor of our entry-level applicants through some kind of certificate or apprenticeship program, then we can shorten the amount of time that it takes us to develop a climber from, say, three years down to 18 months. That’s a huge win for us.” And in addition to specific tree industry skills, like safe chipper operation, students taking part in educational training programs also learn the sort of “soft” skills they’ll need to be successful in their careers — things like simply showing up on time, how to look someone in the eye and shake their hand, how to hold a bank account and more. When applicants to a program are screened for these skills, and then the skills are developed, those who complete the program are much more ready to be productive employees, he points out.

Blackburn notes that there are a number of other similar initiatives around the country, each varying depending on how much support and interest there is from state government agencies and educational institutions. But, he says, as was proven in Atlanta, when tree care companies work together, there are many different approaches that can be taken to help draw in and train the next generation of tree care industry employees.

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Effectively Brand Your Tree Care Business

Effectively Brand Your Business

“It’s important to set yourself apart from the competition,” Judy Macauley, marketing manager for Blooma Tree Experts in Seattle, told Tree Services in 2014. “Some companies rely on cheap price, some rely on quick turnaround. Whatever it is, you should have something that is unique to your company that will make you rise above the crowd.”

Setting yourself apart from your competition is where branding comes in. To put it simply, your brand can be thought of as your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your services and it differentiates your offerings from what your competitors are doing.

Your brand is created from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. For example, at Blooma Tree Experts, “we have at least one International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist at all times on the job site,” Macauley explained to Tree Services, “and we emphasize that in all of our marketing.”

Does your tree company need a brand overhaul? Do you need to stand out from increasing competition in your locale? Branding is much more than just a fancy logo or well-placed advertisement. You need to do more. With this in mind, we’ve compiled some tips for creating and executing an impactful and successful brand strategy:

Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where and how you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. What you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.

Defining your brand requires, at the very least, that you answer these questions: “What is your company’s mission?” “What are the benefits and features of your products or services?” “What do your current and potential customers think of your company?” “What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?” Learn the needs, habits and desires of your customers — current and future.

Because defining and developing your brand strategy can be complex, consider bringing in the expertise of a nonprofit small business advisory group.

Your company needs a dynamic and original logo. If you don’t know a graphic artist, contract one (make sure to see examples of work they’ve done for other companies). Once you get a logo, put it literally everywhere — on your trucks, apparel worn by all employees, invoices and estimates, business cards, email signatures, website and throughout your office. The goal is to get the public familiar with your logo so that when they see it on your trucks, on the road or parked in a driveway, they automatically associate it with you. Hopefully, when they need tree work done, they’ll remember that logo and call you. Also, don’t underestimate the power of refrigerator magnets as a place to put your new logo. A very small expense can turn into a great marketing tool. Think about how many times a day a family goes into the fridge — if they get a magnet from you and stick it there, who do you think they’ll call when they have a problem with a tree they want taken care of?

Speaking of logos, it’s crucial to design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials that are uniform. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout any material you produce. Can you recall ever seeing a Budweiser poster plastered with blue? How about a John Deere promo that’s red? Consistency with branding is crucial.

Create a voice for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and used in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. For example, an Ohio plumbing company brands itself as being extremely professional. When they give estimates to customers, they don’t say “this will cost you $900.” Instead, they say “your investment here is $900.” It’s all about the presentation.

Deliver on your promises. If part of your company branding is that you give free estimates, don’t ever charge. If you promise that you’ll thoroughly clean up after every job, don’t leave one single piece of debris on the ground.

Be different. Find something that distinguishes you from your competitors, and then promote the difference. Whether your tree service performs pruning, removal or plant health care services, you probably have several competitors. These could be local companies or large, national brands. Know your competitors and understand how you should and shouldn’t change. Understand your place in your market and use that to target customers. “The importance of a good marketing strategy cannot be overstated,” Pete Shamlian, CEO of AdMark’s Bear Marketing told Tree Services in 2014. “Fewer customers have money to spend for maintenance, and others are waiting until their problems cannot be ignored any longer. Customers may need to look for a new tree service, or they may be making decisions based not on long-term relationships, but on cost. This means that you need to have a presence … you want the opportunity to bid on all the work in your market. The question is how to do it.”

Identify where your company strengths lie and know what skills your people possess. Some smaller tree care companies have found great success in not being everything to everyone, so to speak. Maybe your company has an outstanding residential customer base but not a great commercial clientele. If so, consider putting all of your resources into the residential sector and make your strength even stronger.

On the other hand, if your company is large enough to offer a suite of different services (traditional tree care, snowplowing, holiday lighting, landscaping, etc.), you’ll want to make current and potential customers aware of all you do. People love to have a one-stop-shop for services: “You mean I can use one company to care for my trees, plow my driveway, hang Christmas lights on my giant pines and clear out vegetation on my property? Sign me up!”

During the process of creating a brand strategy, talk to your customers. Solicit feedback and find out what they perceive you do well and don’t do well. Also, ask all customers how they found you. Find out where your presence is strong and what kind of marketing events and ads work and don’t work for you.

Get listed in Google Places. Make it easy for people to find and contact you. Fill out social media profiles – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or Pinterest. Provide as much detail as you can, being sure to include website links and services offered. All the branding in the world won’t mean anything if people can’t find you.

When it comes to making it easier for people to find you, consider other business owners that you could share referrals with. For example, partner with a local lawn care business to share referrals with.

Be proactive and persistent. You have to keep at it until you find what works for you. Then, to continue your momentum, you have to keep on marketing.

Volunteering your services is great for boosting and increasing your visibility — the only cost to you is your time. Offer to assist at a city tree planting, help clear trees from a new playground site, give presentations on tree care at schools, garden club meetings, etc. When homeowners in your community need to hire someone for tree care services, your name will be the first one that comes to mind. Community involvement increases your presence, helping you expand your customer base. For example, Four Seasons Tree Care in Vista, California, participates as a tee box sponsor in select charity golf tournaments in their area.

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Weather’s Impact On Trees

In the world of arboriculture, or at least the arborist, a variety of factors impart effects on the trees we care for each and every day. One of the most impactful, or at least most commonly referred to is weather. The adage goes like this: “Can’t figure out what’s wrong with a customer’s tree? Well, you can always blame the weather.”

A few terms are helpful to consider: Weather is what we experience day to day and week to week. A forecast is what we expect, or are told to expect. Climate is an accumulation of weather events over a long period of time.

Leaf scorch is a temporary shortage of leaf moisture. Photo: John Fech

In a sense, weather can be a good answer for the unknown or the hard to determine, as it is such a major influence. There’s nothing like it terms of impact. After all, it’s multi-component factor with winds, flood, hail, heat, drought, sun, rain, snow and ice. It’s an all-season and ever-present factor. There is no rest from the weather; it’s dramatic – extremes seemingly are commonplace these days — and, it’s a mimic because weather related maladies are often difficult to diagnose because they closely resemble insect or disease related injury causes.

Drought stress can occur easily when no one is responsible for newly planted trees in a limited root zone. Photo: John Fech

Good and Bad Weather Conditions

Weather is often defined in black and white terms of good or bad, at least from the human perspective — but what’s good weather for a tree? Perhaps it’s best to describe it in two ways, in the establishment phase and the maturity phase, or even year one and year two and beyond.

Initially, even if a tree is touted to withstand soggy or dry soils such as a baldcypress or a chinkapin oak, most trees tend to be favored by moist, not soggy or dry soils, moderate temperatures and moderate winds. Sure, eventually drought tolerant species will be able to survive well on limited water, but at first, moist soils, favor the development of roots and shoots. Likewise, exposure to gentle to moderate winds encourage a tree to respond by developing a strong structural root system and bole to resist wind throw. After establishment, good weather conditions are those where most days are in the desired range for the species in terms of moisture, wind and sun.

Conversely to the above, bad weather conditions are those that present a tree with significant time outside of the desired range for a given species.

An important caveat to the good and the bad is the ugly, which is the time lag or the length of time that it takes for symptoms of injury that are due to weather to express themselves. For herbaceous plants such as tulips, turfgrass or hostas, there is a short time involved with the visibility of a cause and effect of weather ie. it’s hot and dry for 4 weeks, without supplemental irrigation, Kentucky bluegrass is going to wilt in the heat and appear highly stressed. With established woody plants, the symptoms often show up several months later or even the next year in response to the same heat and drought. Most customers simply cannot fathom this difference in responses to weather; therefore it’s wise to try to explain or at least warn them in advance of what could come to pass.

Effects of wind can be significant, like the storm damage to this backyard tree. Photo: John Fech

Commonly Seen

Here are some of the more commonly observed/encountered maladies due to weather:

Drought injury and leaf scorch — Caused by extended periods without adequate rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Prevent it by providing even moisture, mulching to retain moisture once received, monitoring often with a soil probe/screwdriver to gauge moisture content.

Leaf scorch is a temporary shortage of leaf moisture. Photo: John Fech

Winter desiccation — Caused by strong, consistent winds that dry out leaves; worst on broadleaf evergreen species such as holly and arborvitae. Prevent it by irrigating to moisten soil and enter the winter with roots fully hydrated, apply an anti-desiccant product 3-4 times as per label instructions, install wind screens in high value situations.

Winter desiccation can be devastating in some years. Photo: John Fech

Sunscald — Caused by solar rays that warm the surface of thin barked trees in winter, causing it to be warm and cold in a series of diurnal cycles. Prevent it by installing white wrapping or PVC drain tile to reflect solar rays in late fall, remove in late winter.

Prevent sunscald with white wrapping. Photo: John Fech

Sunscald damage to this thin barked tree. Photo: John Fech

Hail Damage — Caused by ice chunks striking the bark with sufficient force to break the surface and allow desiccation and entry of pathogens. Correct it by pruning out badly affected branches.

Wind Encouraged Herbicide Drift — Caused by movement of broadleaf herbicides from adjacent areas. Prevent and correct it by discussing potential for damage with nearby property owners. Provide for future needs of tree but avoid overwatering and overfertilizing.

Effects of wind can be significant, like on this broken ash. Photo: Nancy Null

Frost Injury – caused by cold temperatures received after buds have broken dormancy. Prevent or correct it by avoid species that are prone to frost injury. Prune out badly affected branches.

Wet Soils – caused by overabundant moisture from flood, irrigation system leaks and zealous turfgrass irrigators. Prevent or correct it by measuring rainfall and irrigation amounts received and adjusting accordingly.

Effects of wind can be significant. Photo: John Fech

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Effective Estimating Practices For Your Tree Care Business

You Can Quote Me

For all the information and training available on the technical aspects of tree care work — chainsaw operation, climbing, chipper safety, etc. — one topic that’s often overlooked is estimating. And, really, for a business to succeed, nothing could be more important. Estimating is the foot in the door — the chance to make an impression on a potential client — and it’s the process that, as much as anything, will determine the profitability, or unprofitability, of a job. In other words, estimating is essential.

Ironically, it’s also the one service that’s typically performed for free. “I don’t know of any tree care company in our area that charges for estimates,” says Jordan Upcavage, vice president of Independent Tree Service, serving the Tampa Bay area. “When you give free estimates, yes, you can waste your time, but it’s a foot in the door.” He just recently visited a site to provide an estimate in response to a call that had come in just days earlier. “We’re swamped – we’re booked out at least six weeks out with work. But I showed up the same week she called to give an estimate and the work was already done. So it was a huge waste of my time, but it’s rare for that to happen. To be competitive, you have to give free estimates.”

Some companies have tried to cut down on the number of wasted trips for free estimates. “If someone calls you and you go out there to give an estimate the next day and they’ve already got somebody else doing the work, that’s pretty rude of them not to have called and canceled,” says Harlan Clemmons, who operates Indiana Tree Service in Indianapolis. “All they had to do is pick up the phone.” He’s instituted a $35 charge in those cases to help cover his time and the cost of fuel for the wasted trip. In reality, Clemmons acknowledges, it’s hard to get property owners to pay the fee, but he sends a bill anyhow to try to discourage the practice.

“If we could charge for estimates, we would. But, at least in our area, the way the industry runs is with free estimates,” says Chuck Lowe, plant health care coordinator and certified arborist representative with Beyond the Leaf Tree & Shrub Experts in Pennsylvania. Charging for estimates would definitely limit the number of calls — and potential work — a company received, he states.

Upcavage says that it makes sense to try to weed out any inquiries that might not be worthwhile prior to scheduling an estimate. “If they have one palm tree to trim, we can’t go do that at a competitive rate; it’s just too expensive to send the truck down the road. Or maybe they’re too far away,” he explains. Those jobs are passed on in order to save an estimating trip for a job that can’t be done cost-effectively.

And there are certain types of estimates — those that involve very detailed, time-consuming visits — that can be charged for. “We charge for tree evaluations where we do full write-ups of trees on a property including DBH, species, condition, etc.,” says Sean Lewett, general manager of JL Tree Service in Virginia.

A personal touch

When called out to provide a quote, “It always makes sense to try to do an estimate face to face with the customer,” advises Beyond the Leaf’s Lowe. “It doesn’t always happen that way, because oftentimes they’ll say they’re busy or at work and we should just stop out. When that happens, your success rate drops somewhat, because they don’t feel any sort of personal connection with you. So I do always try to press for a face-to-face meeting.” Being able to discuss the project on-site with a customer also ensures a better understanding of what tree work they are looking for, and therefore a more precise estimate, he notes.

When estimating, Upcavage says he takes an intentionally non-sales approach. “I give lots of estimates every day, and I don’t sell tree work. I teach arboriculture to my customers,” he emphasizes. “I don’t let them say that they need us to cut this and this and this. Instead, I ask them their goals: What are they trying to accomplish or obtain? I listen to what their goal is and then I try to accommodate that goal with respect to arboriculture.”

Many times, Upcavage says, that involves reducing the scope of the job that the client had originally envisioned. “Many times it involves educating them on why we don’t need to do things,” he explains. “I treat every property as if it were my home and my trees.”

If a tree is diseased, for example, he finds out what the client wants: Would they rather remove it now rather than spending money to maintain it only to have to pay again to remove it in the future? Or is it valuable to them enough that they’d rather do some crown work to buy the tree more time? “Again, I figure out what their goal is.”

Upcavage says he believes in being genuine and bluntly honest during the estimating process, rather than pushing services. “And I have a very high closing rate, because I’m not there to try to get the deal. I’m there to teach arboriculture,” he notes.

Factoring in all of the factors

Effective estimating needs to take into account not only the specific tree work that needs to be done, but an individual company’s philosophy or approach to tree work. For example, at Beyond the Leaf, “We try to operate with machinery as much as possible – maybe a skid-steer with a grapple or a mobile spider lift to get up into trees, and we also do a lot of crane work,” says Lowe. “So, in the field, I need to determine what equipment would be required and what kind of rate we would like to see per hour when we’re using that particular equipment.”

Good estimating requires both a knowledge of tree care, and how a particular crew works, he emphasizes.

“Additionally, on each individual job, you need to find out whether they want the wood left or whether it will need to be removed. And that will influence the cost of the job,” says Lowe.

Then there are other customer-specific considerations: If they don’t want equipment on their lawn, for example, that will likely alter how the work needs to be done and the price that needs to be charged.

When he’s estimating, Upcavage says he has a checklist, but it’s one in his head rather than a formal spreadsheet. “I go through all the steps and estimate how long it’s going to take, but I don’t price jobs on man-hours on an hourly rate and put that into a formula that spits a number out,” he explains.

As someone who has worked as a climber, he looks for details such as tie-in and rigging points and what is easy or difficult to limb-walk.

“Then I factor in things like whether I need to bring in a grapple truck. And how many loads with a grapple truck? And what about dump fees?” he says. “Then there are pruning costs, debris disposal costs, permits, stump-grinding.” Experience, he says, lets him know what time and costs will be involved so that he knows how to price a job.

A written record

And Upcavage prefers to present an estimate while he’s on-site with the client. “I think it’s a big advantage to have the opportunity to close on the spot in front of the person,” he explains. “I type the proposal in a software program, I have a printer with me, so I can hand them a formal proposal and look them in the eye and have the opportunity to talk about the costs.” If cost is an issue, then there’s a chance to make adjustments to the scope of work. “That way, I don’t just straight lose because I was too expensive. I have the opportunity to do something that fits the customer’s needs a little better.”

Beyond the Leaf uses Quickbooks for its estimates, so Lowe says his approach is to take his notes back to the office and prepare an estimate there that can be emailed to clients. He says people like to see a professionally prepared estimate like that.

“I know there are some companies that just provide a hand-scratch piece of paper with a price on it,” he says, “but we put everything on our letterhead.”

He includes a line item for every tree to be worked on with a description of the service to be performed to each, but unless a client asks for an individual price for each tree, there is just one lump sum at the bottom. When you price each tree and service separately, customers tend to want to start cherry-picking trees and services in order to try to lower the price, Lowe says.

The company also includes fine print on its estimates that the estimate is good for 60 days, “but in reality, we let it go longer than that,” says Lowe. “Normally we don’t have to change it much for year to year, even, unless our costs suddenly go up.” Still, having that language there is good protection against a client wanting an estimate from many years ago to be honored.

Finally, Lowe says that follow-ups are important after submitting estimates. “You want to give them at least a day or two to look it over, but then follow up if they don’t respond,” he states. “They might be on the fence between you and another company, and that follow-up might be what makes the difference.”

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Chain Saws: Maintenance Impacts Safety

STIHL chain saw

We’re only human, right? Whenever we get a user manual, whether it’s for a toaster or lawn mower, we generally toss it aside and have at the machine. When it comes to chain saws and safety, Terry Green, technical manager for outdoor power equipment for Makita, implores that you don’t do this.

“First, read and fully understand the instruction manual,” Green says. “It will help you understand the reaction forces of the guidebar and chain on chain saws.”

Always wear your personal protective equipment. That would include chaps, which are made of Kevlar and will stop a saw instantly, a helmet with face shield and hearing protection, steel-toed boots and good leather gloves. Lastly, if training is available in your area, take it.

“How to operate a chain saw safely, how to fell trees, how to prevent accidents… classes on these subjects are great tools to have,” Green says.

As far as maintenance goes, Green goes back to the instruction manual as essential to keeping your chainsaw in tip-top shape.
“There will be a checklist in the manual of things to do daily, weekly, monthly, every 90 days,” he says. “Following that is a major key to the life of the chain saw.”

Green says chain saw chain manufacturers state that 85 to 90 percent of saw performance problems are the result of the chain being dull.

“So having good quality sharp saw chain, and keeping it sharp and using the right chain for the saw and bar you have, is huge.”

Another key maintenance item is air filters and fuel filters and keeping the cylinder fin area free from buildup.

“Fresh fuel is one of the biggest issues we see today,” Green says. “People use old, stale fuel. The saw doesn’t get operated daily and the gas sits in the garage and gets water buildup in it, and water is heavier than gas, and when you pour it into the equipment, the water goes in first. So use good fresh fuel and a good quality two-stroke oil mix.”

Users can also benefit from reading the instruction manual when it comes to proper use of the chain saw. A common thing Green sees in classes is somebody who hasn’t used a chain saw before not letting the saw do the work.

“You see them going back and forth on it, and moving it back and forth doesn’t do anything,” he says. “Let the saw do the work. Focus on the task at hand — the limb you’re trimming off or log your cutting or tree your felling. Don’t drain yourself moving that 15- to 20-pound piece of equipment on your own.”

Mentioned in STIHL’s user manual is the importance of making sure the chain saw is in good operating condition before using it, says Kent Hall, product manager for STIHL. That includes making sure all the bolts and nuts are tight and fastened, the saw is properly sharpened and in good condition and properly tensioned, the air filter is clean, the fuel is fresh and clean, and the AV system is working properly.

“One of the more important things is to make sure the chain break is operating and functioning,” Hall says.

With maintenance, Hall points back to the manual and understanding what the maintenance schedule is for that particular model of saw. Inspecting fuel filters on a regular basis and inspecting and cleaning air filters is critical. The nice thing is that air filters on some saws today are designed to be washed with soap and water and air dried.

“We have an HD2 filter on some large displacement saws that, unless they get damaged somehow, will last forever as long as you clean it regularly,” Hall says. “It’s made from a material that never deteriorates.”

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Sycamore Trees And Frost Crack From Winter Temps

Sycamores Snow

A couple of weeks ago, local temperatures fell well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. As with much of the country, during the holidays, night time temperatures plummeted to record lows. By chance, that same week, I happened to overhear a phone conversation between one of our younger staff and a concerned tree owner.

Evidently, the symptoms the caller described to our arborist led him to believe their tree suffered a frost crack. He reassured the caller not to worry as frost cracks normally cause only superficial damage and rarely presents a serious issue for trees.

I overheard him mention the tree was a sycamore. At the mention of sycamore trees, distant alarm bells went off in my head. Thirty years ago, during a similar stretch of severe weather, most of the sycamore trees across town literally exploded. As a species, sycamores retain a great deal of water. The water within the wood can freeze to the point where the expansion in the wood cells causes tree trunks to burst.

Fissures, splits and cracks ran up and down hundreds of city trees. Many of them split open so far you could see completely through 30-inch diameter trees. I remember feeling like I was living in the Yukon or in a Jack London story.

Several residents called us that winter wanting to know if their tree would survive or if they were in danger of falling. Having never seen anything like it before, we were, at first, unsure what to say. We proceeded to examine each and determined that some of the trees should be removed. Others we recommended the trunks be bolted, which, in essence, meant screwing them back together again.

Most of the trees, however needed no help, and when the temperatures warmed to a balmy positive 15 degrees, the fissures unexpectedly snapped shut. The trunks slammed back together so violently it sounded like gunfire. The police actually received so many calls about the so-called gun battles that a public notice was needed to reassure citizens.

Thirty years later, one can still see the vertical seams in the bark of those sycamores. During colder winters, the seams separate slightly, just not as far as that first time. If you hadn’t been there thirty years ago, you’d never know those trees suffered such trauma.

I gently interrupted my associate, explaining to him that the caller’s problem could be more serious than a mere frost crack. I asked him to ask how deep the crack was. When he asked them, they said the crack was, indeed, 10 inches deep.

The brief conversation was a reminder to always, always go see the tree. Medical doctors never diagnose patients over the phone. Neither should we.

Read more: Don’t Diagnose Tree Diseases Over The Phone

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Using A Credit Card For Your Tree Care Business

Credit Cards

Credit have come a long way since the first one, a Diners’ Club card, was introduced back in the 1950s. There are now countless credit card options on the market, and even more ways to use them. Financial company NerdWallet calculates that the average American family now carries more than $16,000 in credit card debt, and accumulates an additional $1,300 a year just in interest.

Dangers aside, there’s no denying that credit cards are useful tools, not just for individuals but for businesses. In fact, many business owners, especially when they are just starting out, use their personal credit card to help get their business up and running. And not just for small purchases; because it can be more difficult to get a business loan for a new enterprise, even larger purchases may be put on the business owner’s personal card.

But that may be a mistake. The experts say that there are good reasons to get a dedicated business credit card rather than running your business purchases through your own personal card. “Generally speaking, small business owners are better served with a small business card instead of a personal card,” explains Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at, an online marketplace that makes it possible to compare different credit card offers. “Small business credit cards often come with higher credit limits, as well as rewards that appeal to businesses, such as extra points at office supply stores.”

Those higher limits give businesses more flexibility when emergency equipment purchases need to be made quickly in order to stay productive. Going through the slower process of getting a short-term loan (even if the interest rate is lower) might result in missed work, ultimately costing more money in the long run.

Another benefit: A business credit card makes internal makes accounting easier. All of your business purchases are kept separate and can be easily tracked and the records retained without having to separate out business from personal charges. And if your tree care company has employees who also are authorized to make purchases, having a business credit card account means not having to hand over your own personal card, and makes it easy to monitor what purchases specific employees are making.

Is it difficult to get a business credit card for a new business? “Many of the same factors that come into play when applying for a personal card are factored in when applying for a business card,” says Schulz. “These include your payment history, your credit score, how much debt you have. Also, be prepared to provide your business tax ID number and other information.”

Every credit card offer is different in terms or rates charged, credit limits, rewards, and so on, so just as you’d do your research cards. “Whether you’re getting a business card or a personal card, some of the oldest advice is still the best: Know thyself. Before you apply, know what you will spend the most on and know what type of rewards you’d like,” says Schulz. While travel miles might be great for personal use, when it comes to your business you might prefer simply getting cash back. So just as you’d do your research to find the right chipper for your business, take some time to compare the specs on different business credit cards.

Schulz also cautions that the protections that were part of the pro-consumer regulations called the “Credit Card Act of 2009” do not apply to business cards. “That means companies are still free to hike interest rates on future purchases, impose fees and close accounts or lower credit limits without warning,” he stresses.

It should also be noted that while there are different ways to structure a business (corporation, LLC, etc.) that offer varying degrees of protection from personal liability, when it comes to business credit card use, it’s not just the business itself that is ultimately responsible for any charges made — business credit cards require a personal guarantee. Similarly, your personal credit can be affected by how you use your business card.

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Trees Take Time In Growth And Care

Trees Take Time

Trees are not the sum of their parts nor can they be reduced to a simple math equation. Fortunately for us, trees are extremely complex and, in fact, they are so complex that caring for them has been described as being equal parts science and art.

To be sure, trees are biological entities, causing them to fall under scientific parameters. They also provide pragmatic, functional benefits that can be measured. Yet, trees also possess an aesthetic quality difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. As such, trees are sometimes best expressed by song or on canvas or a poem. Tree service professionals have the privilege of working with one of nature’s greatest wonders.

It has been said it requires 10,000 hours of work to acquire enough experience to be considered highly skilled. The 10,000-hour rule is explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers,” as, “the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was ‘the magic number of greatness,’ regardless of a person’s natural aptitude.”

I think the 10,000-hour rule applies for arborists and, interestingly, I also think the same rule applies to trees. It takes many years for an oak to grow “majestic.” It takes centuries of stress and competition for that Sitka spruce to “tower” over the forest. It takes decades for that woodland grove to mature enough for the understory trees, such as redbuds or dogwoods, to cause the forest to “glow” come springtime. “Majestic,” “tower,” “glow;” these are all artistic descriptions, and great art is not created in an instant nor are great arborists.

If there is a single attribute we most admire about trees, and tree workers, I believe it is endurance. Endurance implies long-suffering, and there is no denying the job requires a great deal of hard work. That sense of time-spent pervades everything we do. We understand better than most how many years and how much stress it takes for a tree to become a valuable addition to a landscape. Their maturation, as well as ours, requires some time.

That presents us with a problem.

We may well understand that it takes years to grow great trees, but customers don’t always understand that. One of the most difficult concepts to convey to customers is that we can’t fix their tree with a single service. One spray will not correct an aphid infestation. One pruning will not resolve decades of neglect. A trunk injection is not the same as a vaccination. Diseased trees need multiple applications and likely will require them for years. If it is a chronic issue such as apple scab or anthracnose or the emerald ash borer, the tree may require annual treatments indefinitely.

Even when we are pruning, which is one of the few services that provides instantaneous results, we are still cutting off branches (or should be) because we are picturing in our mind what that pruned tree will look like in the future, envisioning its appearance five years down the road, if not longer.

We sometimes forget that our customers are not on the same page as we are. Not meaning to, customers often look at trees as pieces of landscape furniture they wish would never grow any larger. We, on the other hand, look at trees as living, growing and moving structures. They can sway – violently. Their trunks, roots, limbs and twigs swell. The roots spread underground. Branch tips lengthen – all of them. Much like glaciers, a tree’s movement is inescapable, and when not taken into account, can be catastrophic when planted below power lines or over playgrounds.

As arborists, we understand that it takes many years to deliver proper tree care. We just sometimes forget to mention that. We need to help people envision the future, and unfortunately, it is an explanation we often leave out of the conversation. We mistakenly presume the client knows a prescribed service needs to be repeated, maybe even slip into selling the moment, which is not much different than buying that cheaper tool and complaining later it wore out in less than a year.

I recommend our pruning estimates provide a time projection for how long before a second pruning is needed. An estimate for pest control should also provide when the next treatment is necessary. When writing a management plan, provide a time projection for when the plan needs to be updated.

To help clients picture the future, I use neighboring trees as examples. The conversation typically goes, “Mrs. Smith, one day the red pine you just planted (within 10 feet of her home) will be as big as Mr. Jones’ pine next door.” Mr. Jones’ tree may be 80 feet tall with a 50-foot crown spread. As she gazes upward at her neighbor’s tree, the realization dawns in her eyes that one day she, or someone else, will have a big problem.

If we can remember that the public forgets that tree care takes time, our work will become much easier. And, easier would be welcome.

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