For Meggan Hargrave, acquiring her father’s tree care company – Metropolitan Forestry Services, Inc., a 33-year TCIA member company based in Ballwin, Missouri – meant the opportunity to bring some improvements to the business that her father, Dan Christie, founded in 1976. She and her husband, Matthew Hargrave, bought the business from Christie, a former TCIA board member, in 2018, and with a changing of the guard came the desire to build more professionalism into the Metropolitan Forestry name, according to Hargrave.
“I think it gives you more credibility, the more credentials you have after your name,” she explains. “As part of the rebranding/restructuring process, we wanted to set our focus on safety, and so we set a goal of becoming accredited within the first two years (of ownership).”
Hargrave notes that, although she grew up attending ISA conventions as a child, watching the climbing competitions and taking part in the kids’ programs, she didn’t become involved in her dad’s business until 2007, and that was on a stand-in basis. “They needed someone to help fill in at the office, and that was almost 15 years ago,” she says with a laugh. “I had a bachelor of science degree in healthcare business and my master’s in international business. It never dawned on me back then to pursue this as a career. There weren’t many women in the business (of arboriculture) at that time.”
As Hargrave took over the office-management position at Metropolitan Forestry, she started learning the ins and outs of tree care as she talked to the arborists who worked for her father and wrote proposals. She got her ISA Certified Arborist credential in 2013, became a Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) in 2017 and earned her Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) credential in 2019. “I guess one of the things I was looking for in my life was the chance to continue to learn, and this has given me the opportunity to do that.”
Hargrave says she eventually convinced her husband to join her at Metropolitan Forestry, luring him away from the National Cemetery Administration at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, where he had worked for 20 years. “His background is in civil engineering and heavy-equipment operations,” she says. “Now he’s in charge of everything involving crew management.”
When asked about the “Forestry” part of their company’s name, Hargrave explains that it harkens back to her dad’s forestry degree and him having worked for the parks department early in his career. “He was doing urban forestry before they coined the term. People do get us confused sometimes with the parks department or a governmental agency, but we have pretty good brand recognition in our area, so it works out for us.”
Metropolitan Forestry covers the St. Louis metro area. “It’s a big small city,” says Hargrave, “and we’re pretty centrally located.” She adds that about 95% of its business is residential, with the other 5% coming from commercial entities like office buildings and home-owner associations, or HOAs.
What distinguishes their company from others in the area, according to Hargrave, is that she and the arborists are extremely focused on plant health care (PHC). “Combined, we have well over a hundred years of experience, and we use that to educate our clients about correct and safe tree care practices,” she notes. “Our company is and always has been about educating the customer on doing the right thing for the tree. That may or may not always be aligned with their particular wants. That said, we’re happy to walk away from clients who are looking to do something harmful or counterproductive with their trees.
“To our way of thinking, there’s a lot more to PHC than just spraying,” Hargrave continues. “It’s having diagnostic ability, knowing tree biology and having the experience to know what’s happening with the treatments. It’s about educating our technicians and having them ask investigative questions, knowing how new construction (at the home site) affects tree health, etcetera, so they can offer treatment options. All of this is part of educating the client.”
Hargrave says it was attending TCIA’s Winter Management Conference that first inspired her and her husband to pursue the Accreditation process. “There’s always a big presentation for those who’ve been accredited the previous year, and quite honestly, we felt that we were missing out. I thought it was a great opportunity, and I wanted to do it right after we bought the company. It was the next logical step.
“The first thing we did was take that packet out and immediately check off about 80% of the items we were already doing,” adds Hargrave. “We were happy to see that we already had quite a lot of the requirements in place. For instance, we’ve had a handbook for more than 20 years. We’ve always had a safety program. We’ve always had terms and conditions and a computer program with typed, printed proposals. It was just a matter of getting everything together, revisiting all of our processes and tweaking anything that needed attention.”
According to Hargrave, she and her staff eventually drilled down on those things that needed more focus. “Accreditation made us put things under a microscope, because some of our processes might not have been looked at for 15 years. I found that some of the things you take for granted – because you’re busy and you’re the owner – are important to have documented.”
One of the things Hargrave found they were missing was a documented record of each safety tailgate session. “We needed to document who was in attendance, any near-miss briefing and other things that might come up. Also, one of the biggest things we didn’t have was our DOT driver’s test written down, plus little things like our DOT walk-around.
Metropolitan Forestry earned TCIA Accreditation in September 2019.
“We were surprised at just how helpful the whole (Accreditation) process was to get us organized and start us off on the right path. I felt it had just the right level of detail required,” she adds. “You need all those things in place in case, for instance, OSHA should come in. And it communicates to your people as well, so they feel that you as their employer have their safety and best interests in mind.”
Hargrave concludes, “I think Accreditation is very important for a company just starting out, for taking your business to the next level and being more accountable. And TCIA gives you all the tools to get where you need to be.”