The NEXT 40 Years – Maintaining a Culture of Investment (and RE-investment)

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Because 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of Cumberland Valley Tree Service – Landscaping, we’ve posted a series of articles outlining our history. The first post was about safety because, well, safety is always first, and then we went back and acknowledged the people who gave us a leg up when we needed it and challenged us to be a better company – and better people.

CVTS-L has changed a lot over the last forty years.

And so has our industry.

Tree care techniques that were commonplace in 1978 are now frowned upon thanks to input from organizations like the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

A renewed emphasis has been placed on safety thanks to standards advocated by organizations like the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

Landscaping now requires a working knowledge of hardscaping and outdoor kitchens in addition to plant health and creative design.

Plant Health Care uses research and communication with university laboratories to take a proactive approach to insect suppression and soil fertilization.

In 1978, Joseph and Ruth Kirkpatrick told George Pogue Sr that there was a better way to do tree care and a better way to live. Pogue knew tree care and the Kirkpatricks knew how to run a business. Pogue took their advice and started his fledgling company (and himself) on the path of improvement and growth.

In 1985, George Pogue Jr joined CVTS-L full-time, and he brought with him a degree in Forestry from Penn State and the knowledge that there was an even better way to do tree care. By becoming a member of tree care organizations and adhering to national standards, CVTS-L could set themselves apart from the local competition.

To escape the stereotypical image of the “hairy guy with a chainsaw,” Pogue made sure his crews were well-versed in Dale Carnegie’s techniques so every team member in the field could capably represent the company.

From that time on, tree service was customer service.

Over the course of four decades, we’ve had our share of setbacks as well, and it was our commitment to our employees and raising the industry standards that enabled us to adapt and bounce back stronger than we were. Sr’s relationship with the Kirkpatricks began after falling out of a tree and breaking his back. Jake Schrom transitioned from tree care to landscape design after losing his leg in an automobile accident. During the financial crisis of 2008, we rode it out by sticking to our fundamental values.

So, yeah, we’ve learned a lot over the years.

Much of that knowledge came from formal education and industry certifications, but as our Safety and Training Director Aaron Feather says, “The biggest credential is experience in the field.”

In our previous blog about safety, Evan Brumfield said, “Every generation that moves up learns from the generation before.” This is a message that we take to heart, which is why at CVTS-L we continually invest in ourselves – and the industry. And that includes other tree care companies who are technically our competition.

Tree care is a notoriously competitive industry, so why would we help our competition?

Because it is the responsibility of every company in this space to move the industry forward.

We have forty years down, but we’re looking ahead to the next forty, and when you take the long view, you see that we’re all in the same boat and that our real competition is shoddy work and unsafe working conditions. And that requires a culture of investment.

We all want happy customers, and we all want to make it home at the end of the day.

To companies that are just starting out, maybe you’re a father and a son with one or two trucks – we’ve been there. But you don’t have to start where we were in 1978. In terms of quality work and adherence to national standards, you can start where we are now, and we offer our knowledge to you as a resource.

Here are some of the ways that CVTS-L invests in the industry – and our employees – to help move the industry forward. For us, investment is all about teaching, sharing and being transparent about where we missed it.

Investment #1: We contribute financially.

The Arborist Safety Training Institute (ASTI) – launched by TCIA – is an organization that provides training at low or no cost to smaller companies. In our industry, we all face the same dangers, but without ASTI we wouldn’t have access to the same safety information and equipment. We pledged $10,000 to ASTI to help them achieve their goal of providing “grants for job and safety training to minimize consequent deaths and injuries, and promote overall workforce safety.”

Investment #2: We share resources and information.

We will assist anyone who asks us for help. In the past, we have shared everything from training materials, forms, handbooks and even marketing strategies with colleagues. We’ve also helped other companies purchase equipment and provided help with questions regarding insurance, finances and hiring. When we were starting out, we didn’t know a lot of this stuff either, but we had people who patiently showed us the way – breaking us of our bad habits and providing a foundation on which to grow. And now we try to provide that for others who are on their way.

Investment #3: We share our people.

We encourage our employees to pursue credentials and certifications, and one that has been especially beneficial is the TCIA’s Certified Tree Care Safety Professional (CTSP) program. Part of completing the CTSP program requires candidates to train other tree care workers, which is obviously beneficial to us when they return back home. However, our Safety and Training Director, Aaron Feather, is also available – through the TCIA – to be invited to provide training for companies that might not have the resources to have their own safety director on staff. He is currently planning an aerial rescue training session for the spring of 2019. In tree care, information and training really can save lives – but only if it’s available to everyone.

Investment #4: We invest in our employees.

At CVTS-L, we train every employee as if they will someday become a foreman. We love versatile employees. We have people who are certified arborists who can run a spray rig in the spring, run a tree crew in the summer and winter, and then float over to our landscape crews as needed. The skills that employees learn at CVTS-L as part of their jobs can be considered jobs unto themselves in other contexts. For example, our employees are trained to drive our trucks and some of them are even CDL-class drivers, which can be a full-time job by itself. Some of our landscapers become skilled in masonry for hardscaping projects in addition to their knowledge of plants, chemicals, insects and diseases. Our tree care workers also become experts in equipment maintenance, knot tying and overall safety.

Our people are our greatest asset, and we try to invest in them for the long haul. We never like saying goodbye to employees, but in the cases when we do, we know that they are better for having spent time with us because we’re already looking towards the next forty years.