Veterans of tree care
The more trees change, the more they stay the same
Tree Views explores the evolution of the tree care industry in America.
Trees began to populate Earth 385 million years ago, some 155 million years before the first dinosaurs began auditioning for roles in Jurassic Park. Today, the oldest surviving trees are several thousand years old, which of course, can be revealed by carbon dating the root system. You know, science stuff.
Today, tree care is big business in America. But how did it come to fruition? And how has the landscape of the industry changed in recent years?
An industry sprouts
The history of tree care in America dates back several generations—almost to the days of Paul Bunyan. Commercial tree care enterprises (as far as Tree Views can confirm via Google-led research) began sprouting around the country in the mid to late 19th century.
For instance, it was 1880 when the Englishman John Davey founded The Davey Tree Expert Company in Kent, Ohio, “on the basis that trees could be saved and made to flourish with proper attention.” In 1901, Davey would publish The Tree Doctor, a book detailing proper methods for doctoring trees. Eight years later, Davey founded the Davey Institute of Tree Surgery to train his company’s growing employee base on his signature tree care techniques.
Thus, the business of tree care in America began to bloom and would mature over the next several decades.
Evolution of the tree care industry
The tree care industry has evolved tremendously over the years, in terms of safety, technological advances and overall knowledge of trees. Jerred Walsh, owner of Arbor Pro LLC in Hartland, Wisconsin, got his start in tree care 21 years ago, at age 19. Walsh has observed many changes in the industry, which in most cases, benefit both the trees and tree care professionals tending to them.
Tree Views asked Walsh to describe the changes he’s seen in four key areas of the tree care industry.
According to Walsh, safety was a point of emphasis 20 years ago, but wasn’t top of mind like it is today.
“I would say wholeheartedly that safety has been the biggest change over the years; safety was a big deal when I started but it’s an even bigger deal today,” Walsh said. “Worker safety is the number one issue now. And that’s the way it should be.”
Tree care, Walsh said, was a more labor-intensive occupation before the advent of tools now found on almost every jobsite.
“Obviously the machines today are more dependable and more powerful,” Walsh said. “The capabilities of some of the attachments, like winches and things, are outstanding. Back then they weren’t really available, at least on any dependable scale. But again, it all comes back to safety. The number of safety sensors now on things like brush chippers makes it so much safer and efficient. The equipment we use (Arbor Pro uses quite a bit of yellow iron, by the way.) keeps getting better.”
- Professional accountability
It wasn’t long ago that a company’s reputation grew largely via word-of-mouth—as in the spoken word. Today, consumers can Google search companies that offer the services they need, and use sites to review local companies and learn more about their reputations. Walsh believes this creates business opportunities and helps hold tree care companies accountable.
“The general public now has a voice that can be heard through sites like Angie’s List or even Google reviews,” said Walsh, whose company also uses Facebook to promote its services. “I think it keeps people honest. If you’re going to be a real business and have a future, you have to perform work that earns you positive feedback online. When you do that, (consumer rating sites) become a good tool for promoting your business.”
Of course, social media and consumer review sites can be double-edged swords.
“There may be times that you perform the job the right way, but the customer perceives things differently,” Walsh said. “Well, they can get on social media and put things out there that impact your company’s reputation. That can be frustrating. But you also have an opportunity to leave a comment that can combat their statement and offer an explanation for why you did things the way you did.”
- Education and certification
In an age where online courses and resources are just a click away, Walsh said there’s still only one way to learn the tree care business.
“The programs available today can help you learn the language of trees – things like tree ID, diseases and insect issues – but it’s still a hands-on profession that requires on-the-job experience,” Walsh said. “If you have a desire to get into this industry, I truly believe you don’t have to go to school. If you want to become a good arborist, just pay attention and learn as much as you can every day.”
A four-year degree may not be required to become an arborist, but Walsh has seen a growing trend of people earning professional certification.
“Today, it’s almost expected that you be a certified arborist or have certified arborists on staff,” Walsh said. “These certifications show you are taking the time to continue learning new techniques and attend seminars to earn professional credits. Many (tree care companies) advertise that they are certified, so customers have come to expect it.”
What changes have YOU seen?
Are you a veteran of the tree care industry? Let us know what changes you have observed in the comments section below. Those who leave the best deal-closing tips will receive a complimentary Vermeer T-shirt or hat.
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