All-in with Vermeer: Bartlett Tree Experts Company
A chance meeting in an airport customs line a few years back was the beginning of a working relationship between Vermeer and one of the world’s largest tree care companies that now operates a complete fleet of Vermeer brush chippers and whole tree chippers (if applicable) mini skid steers and stump grinders in one of its key geographies.
Bartlett Tree Experts is one of the largest tree care companies in the world. With more than 100 offices in North America and Europe, Bartlett helps commercial and residential customers maintain trees, from basic care to disease and pest management and research. The 110-year-old company also leads reforestation and education programs in key geographies.
So, when Steve Johnston, Bartlett Tree Experts’ vice president and southeast division manager, ran into a Vermeer manager in line at an airport a few years ago, he saw it as an opportunity to partner with another longstanding leader in his industry.
“I was standing in line waiting to go through customs and this fellow in a Vermeer shirt came leaping through the line,” Johnston said. “He introduced himself to me and said, ‘How can Vermeer and Bartlett do business together?’ We had lunch and a couple of months later, I called him and left a message asking for a Vermeer brush chipper. He called me back in five minutes and said, ‘Give me an address and we’ll be there.’ That’s what started it all.”
Quality and service priorities
Today, Johnston — manager of a team of 160 employees and 11 managers based in the southeastern states of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida — says his operations in Bartlett’s southeastern division are 100 percent Vermeer not just because of the quality and durability of the machinery, but because of the “spectacular” Vermeer customer service provided by its local dealer network.
“There isn’t a time when I call with a question that I don’t get an answer immediately,” he said, adding his division of Bartlett has exclusively operated Vermeer equipment for almost three years. Vermeer brush chippers make up around 60 percent new brush chipper purchases of Bartlett’s entire North American fleet.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to our very first Vermeer brush chipper was the design,” Johnston said. “We liked the safety features and winch system and is the reason we initially started buying them. We get back so much more in value from increased reliability and safety.”
A long history in the industry
Johnston has been involved in horticulture and tree care his entire career, though his entry into the industry came well before his professional life began.
“When I was 8 years old growing up in Harrison, New York, I would hear machines operating in the distance, get on my bike and watch the guys grooming trees,” Johnston said.
After earning a college degree in horticulture and golf course management, he returned to the tree care industry, operating a small family company in Florida for seven years before joining Bartlett in 1994.
“If I had it to do all over again, I would have gotten a business education with a minor in horticulture, then probably an MBA. I even would have dabbled more in psychology,” Johnston said. “In our business, you’re dealing with people, not trees. That’s what comes first: Our customers’ happiness and success.”
Teaching ‘how to fish’
With his long history and growing responsibilities at Bartlett, Johnston is a busy man. That’s caused him to adopt a management style that pays forward the benefits of the way he’s worked with his own managers and predecessors in the past.
“I don’t think I could work for another company other than Bartlett because this job allows me the autonomy to run my own show as long as we are safe and successful,” Johnston said. “I prefer to teach people to fish rather than fish for them. If I can’t be there in the office every day, I want to teach them the right decisions to make in my absence. It’s what they do when I’m not there that matters, not what they do when I am there. I try to work with people who are leaders themselves and people who will do things according to the Bartlett way whether I’m standing there beside them or not.”
The value of long–term relationships
Johnston credits both his success and that of the partnership between Bartlett and Vermeer to similar personal and professional philosophies at both companies centered around service and shared values. And that relationship looks to only grow stronger as Bartlett’s growth continues in the future, including expansion in the United Kingdom.
“Vermeer is customer-centered like us. They’ve been a great partner and we have all been successful since coming together,” Johnston said. “It’s been a great relationship.”
About Bartlett Tree Experts
The F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company was founded in 1907 by Francis A. Bartlett and is the world’s leading scientific tree and shrub care company. The organization’s current chairman, Robert A. Bartlett Jr., represents the third generation of Bartlett family management. Bartlett helps residential and commercial customers maintain healthy trees through products, services, educational projects and programs like the Bartlett Legacy Tree Program, which leads reforestation efforts around the world. Bartlett has locations in 27 U.S. states, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain. Services include pruning, pest and disease management, fertilization and soil care, cabling and bracing, tree lightning protection systems and tree/stump removal. Its corporate offices are located in Stamford, Connecticut.
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