As David Spector’s company has grown over the past 12 years, he’s recognized that what worked as a new, small company still works as a seasoned, large company. Passion, education and attention to detail built a solid reputation. But when the recession started to take shape a couple of years ago, one thing had to drastically change.
“We needed to diversify,” says Spector, co-owner of TLC - The Landscape Company in Mesa, AZ. Actually, TLC was quite diversified already; the company had been offering commercial maintenance and enhancement services, lawn care, irrigation maintenance, auditing and design for years. But when the recession hit in 2008, and property managers started seeing their budgets squeezed, Spector wanted even more to offer.
From Dabbling to Dedicated
“We launched a tree care division in 2009,” Spector tells. TLC had long been offering basic tree care services to existing clients, but the Spectors wanted to commit to a dedicated division that was fully equipped and staffed, and aggressively marketed. He sat with wife Bridget and son Louis to discuss the plan. Bridget is a partner and TLC’s controller. Holding a master’s degree in accounting, she mapped out investment needs and revenue goals. Comfortable with their business plan, all three Spectors got their international arborists certifications—and forged ahead.
“We bought a Toyota Hino dump truck, which we had customized to meet the needs of our tree care division,” Spector says. “The truck was purchased as a cab and chassis only. We had the frame cut and the box custom built. We do all of our trees by climbing and rigging. We need lots of gear to support this type of working style. So our truck has lots of boxes, holders, doors and drawers, and even a slide-out work table used for field dressing chains and cleaning air filters.”
TLC already owned Stihl chainsaws and a Vermeer chipper. As for the customization of the truck, Spector hired the same nearby machine shop that fabricates all of TLC’s maintenance division trailers, which Spector has designed himself (see video at GreenIndustryPros.com/video; click on Trucks & Trailers).
TLC also created marketing materials and added an “arbor division” section to its website. No longer would tree care services only be provided upon existing customer request.
Louis, the company’s operations manager, then asked existing employees for volunteers to move over to the tree division. After tryouts and training, they were off and running.
Soon a key staff addition was made—even though it wasn’t in the Spector’s original plans for this new division. “Our tree crew was out working one day when a guy pulled up in a pickup,” Spector recalls. “He walked up and asked if we were hiring. I said, ‘No, not really.’ The guy asked if he could grab his tools out of his truck and show us how it’s done; he said he could climb and prune three palm trees in a third the time it was taking us. I said, ‘Sure, I gotta’ see this.’
“He was like Spiderman,” Spector continues. “Sure enough, he climbed up one tree, did his saw work, swung over to the next tree and took care of that one, then swung onto the third tree, completed that tree, swung back to the original tree and repelled down. In 10 or 15 minutes he was back on the ground. I said, ‘On second thought, we’re hiring.’ Turns out that he’s an ISA-certified climber.” (TLC has since hired an additional certified climber.)
Inventorying and tracking is a primary tool of TLC’s tree care management program. “We document the location with our GPS (Global Positioning System), so species and other relevant information of each tree is tracked,” Spector says. “We can also tag the trees so that each is specifically identified for ease of verification and tracking both in the office and in the field. The data is added to a database and plotted using sophisticated GIS (Geographic Information System) software that can layer information on top of an aerial photograph or other community maps. The data can be filtered in any number of ways to show individual species of tree, storm damaged trees, trees near home, etc.” This system also works well for all assets on the property that benefit from a mapping and tracking system.