Arborist Enterprises owner Ben Tresselt reflects on 30+ years in tree care
Este es nuestro intento de convertir las historias en audio español usando Inteligencia Artificial. Aún así le recomendamos que reconfirme ciertas palabras clave y temas. ArborTIMES no garantiza ni se responsabiliza de la conversión del inglés al español de los relatos.
In this new series, ArborTIMES talks to veteran tree care professionals to uncover the hard-earned pearls of wisdom they’ve gleaned over the years. Know of someone who should be featured? Email [email protected].
It all began with a red pickup truck and a desire to provide high-quality tree care.
After graduating with a degree in forestry from Pennsylvania State University, Ben Tresselt went to work for Bartlett Tree Experts as a production worker, where he gained experience in climbing, spraying, and plant health care.
In addition to working full-time for Bartlett, he worked for himself on the weekends. Then, in June of 1991, Ben decided to go all in and start his own tree care company, Arborist Enterprises.
These efforts have since bloomed into a successful, multi-faceted tree and plant care business for Ben, an ISA board-certified master arborist. When asked to share some of the lessons he’s learned after 30 years in the tree care industry, here’s what he had to say.
When it comes to finding qualified employees, Ben’s motto is to “hire slow, fire fast.” Training an employee can be a laborious and taxing process, so it’s best to take your time selecting the best candidates to join your team.
A great litmus test for a good employee, Ben adds, is whether the applicant has a valid driver’s license. This can tell a lot about a person. Moreover, employees must also pass drug screenings and a criminal background check, as some state and federal contracts require this.
Ben has tried to accommodate employees without a license, letting them walk, ride bikes, and take taxis to get to work. One even had a personal driver. But none of them work out.
“Our hindrance as a business has been and continues to be hiring and retaining a quality production staff,” he says.
Employee development is key to Ben’s success. Providing employees with a great work environment, competitive pay, flexible time off, and offering to pay for continuing education have all proved successful in retaining great employees.
As he put it, “We try to attract good people by having a very good business.”
Ben talks about the “Amazon Age,” where online shopping provides instant gratification, and suggests this has shaped client expectations in the tree care business.
“We, unfortunately, are held to that to some degree [as business owners,]” Ben says. “So, where you can be ‘now, now, now’ — like getting proposals or being responsive and returning phone calls or emails or texts — you have to be that.
“You can’t sit around thinking, ‘I’ll get there when I can,’” he continues. “You can, but I don’t think you’re going to be in business for long. And you’re definitely not client focused.”
Because equipment has a limited lifespan, Ben advises leasing whenever possible, especially since you can usually buy the equipment at the end of the lease at a reduced price.
When buying certain equipment, Ben follows a “try before you buy” policy.
“My strategy has always been, if there’s a piece of equipment that we feel could be beneficial to the business, we’ll either rent or demo it,” he says. “We may rent it for a long period of time. But, when we pull the trigger [to purchase it], we usually know it’s going to be a good tool for us.”
Additionally, Ben suggests that the person who will be using production tools the most should always be the ones to demo them.
While Ben is slow to make equipment purchasing decisions, there is one piece of equipment he wished he’d obtained earlier in his career.
“A bucket truck. I never knew how good life was until we got a bucket truck,” he says. “Everything was climbing before that. So, when we got a bucket truck, boy, it made life a lot easier on the body — everything. I wish I would have gotten that sooner!”
Biggest Business Gamble
Sometimes in business, you have to take risks without knowing the outcome. For Ben, it was buying his first bucket truck at the very beginning of his business. Today, it’s his new crane.
Before investing in a big-ticket item, Ben suggests growing your business to the point where buying a large piece of equipment “just makes sense.” Once you get there, it’s not that big of a gamble.
Additionally, Ben suggests trying out your desired equipment multiple times before buying. Once you do, find new and unconventional ways to use it to help ease the financial burden.
Most Profitable Service
When asked what service made him the most money, Ben didn’t hesitate: plant health care.
“Primarily because it’s a knowledge-based service,” explained Ben. “If you’re doing it well and correctly, people are paying for that.”
Conversely, tree removals maintained the lowest profit margin because of the high level of competition for this service.
When selecting business management software, Ben suggests ensuring clients are the number one priority.
“Having a business software system that’s confusing to the clients or doesn’t make sense to the clients … then you’re not client-focused anymore. You’re you-focused,” he says. “Make the software fit your business. Don’t make the business fit the software. When you have a software system that doesn’t accommodate that, that’s a problem.”
As Ben has said for many years, “We are in a customer-service business that does tree care. If the business software helps you to be client-focused, then it’s an asset. if not, then it’s a liability.”
When it comes to insurance, Ben suggests regularly shopping around.
“Don’t simply stick with the same insurance you’ve had for 20 years because you like the guy or you like the girl,” he says. “You should shop for that on a consistent basis.”
Be aware of your coverage limits and being specific on expectations. Make sure you know these things before you need to make a claim to avoid situations where you thought something was covered and it wasn’t.
“Insurance is like anything in business,” explains Ben. “You have to understand what you’re getting for what you’re paying for.”
Ben admits that it was hard to rely on people in the beginning of his business, especially since he had been involved with everything in the field.
“But I learned that trusting people, training them up, and allowing them to do the things that I asked them to do — and letting them fail at times — was worth the effort.”
Now, Ben does his best to clearly communicate client expectations and then give employees the space to figure it out, even if it’s not how he would do it.
“You have to get over that. Because nobody does it the same way,” he says. “The results have to be the same, but the process can be different.”
Climbers Climb, Mechanics Fix
A challenge many growing small businesses face is knowing when to hire a dedicated mechanic to service all the equipment for their tree care company. After all, it’s unlikely one employee will be able to do every job required.
“We learned pretty quickly that when we hire people, they are going to stay in their designated lane,” he says. “I don’t expect a tree pruner to tighten the belts on a chipper.
He emphasizes the importance of hiring employees that specialize in different tasks.
“They will help out as best they can,” he says. “But if it gets out of their comfort zone, they’re done. They can’t do it.”
Watch Your Money!
Ben’s final pearl of wisdom is to not let someone else blindly manage your money.
“Nobody watches your money like you watch your money,” he says. “There have been more than a number of tree care companies throughout the years where someone had been skimming off the top.”
For larger organizations, Ben suggests having a third-party service audit the books.
“That’s the best way,” he says.
Sage Advice is a regular series featuring veteran tree care professionals with something to say. Do you know of someone who should be featured? Email [email protected] and let us know.