As everyone in tree care faces the challenges of working through a pandemic, some businesses actually seem to be thriving, as is the case with Arbor Aesthetics Tree Service, a seven-year TCIA member company based in Omaha, Nebraska. Certified Arborists and co-owners Amy and Jeff Grewe have watched their business grow exponentially over the past year, prompting them to make the decision to pursue TCIA’s Residential/Commercial Accreditation during an already busy and challenging season.
The couple met in 2013, the first year Jeff’s young tree care company became a TCIA member. “I knew nothing about trees when I met Jeff,” Amy notes. “He said he was a climber – I didn’t know climbing trees was even a profession!
“My education is in graphic design, but I also had several years of bookkeeping experience,” she continues. “In 2014, I saw a bill from his accountant’s office, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s more than I make in a year!’ So we made the decision that I would quit my job and come on board full time in his office. I looked at his office processes, which were virtually non-existent, and I also started answering his phone during business hours for the first time ever, since he was always out working with his crew during the day.”
Amy and Jeff were married in 2015 – “We were business partners before we were married,” she says with a laugh – and Amy became a Nebraska certified arborist in 2016. “I found I really enjoyed talking to customers about trees, but I needed to know what I was talking about. Jeff and I went to classes and workshops together, and I’ve grown to love being part of the industry. Tree people are good people, intelligent and caring.”
As a woman co-leading a tree care company, Amy says she brings a unique perspective to the business. “I think I’ve been an organizational asset for sure,” she explains. “Also, I think women have a knack for anticipating people’s needs and managing people’s expectations, which plays into providing excellent customer service. I definitely brought a shift to a customer-centric approach to the business.”
Amy also talks about instituting the company’s “Gift of Beautiful Trees” program, which she and Jeff launched in 2015. Every year since then, the couple has chosen a deserving family to receive up to $3,000 in tree-trimming and/or removal services. “Proper tree care can be expensive for the average person,” Amy explains, “so we began asking for nominations of families or neighbors who might not have room in their budget for tree care. It’s really amazing to me that something as simple as trimming or removing a tree can provide so much hope and change the trajectory of someone’s life when they are living through a challenging season. It lets people know that their community is there for them in their time of need. They feel seen.”
This may be one of the reasons Omaha Magazine has named Arbor Aesthetics Tree Service as its “Best of Omaha” tree service for the sixth consecutive year.
When it came time to consider Accreditation, Amy relates that the process happened in fits and starts. “We first looked into Accreditation at the 2015 Winter Management Conference in Cabo,” Amy explains. “But then we got married right after Winter Management and had a baby the next year, and I just didn’t have the time I knew it would take to devote myself to doing it right. When we started growing and getting really busy, I knew we needed to have more processes in place or this whole thing was going to fly off the tracks.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it – I was totally overwhelmed when I first looked at the process. But I put up a huge white board in the office and broke it out into tiny, tiny pieces, so that every day I could check something off the list and maintain momentum.
“A good friend of ours, Joseph Eves at Coastal Tree Care in San Diego, also is accredited, and he told me I had to find a way to enjoy the Accreditation process. Can you imagine?” Amy says with a laugh. “I’m very detail oriented, so the biggest hurdle for me was to realize that it was better to call it done than to strive for perfection.”
According to Amy, who says it was about six months of “pedal to the metal” to complete the process, implementing a safety program was the biggest challenge. “I really wanted it to be specific to our company, not just something adopted from someone else’s program. Not having field experience made it especially challenging to me. I would ask Jeff my safety questions, and he would help me figure out what I needed. As a result of Accreditation, we realized we had a dire need for a safety director, and Matt Horan got his CTSP credential as a result and was more than happy to step into that role.”
Arbor Aesthetics now has what Amy calls a “peer-to-peer safety program” with weekly safety tailgate meetings led by crew members. One artistic team member drew comics illustrating the topic of distracted drivers, and another put together a PowerPoint on the subject of aerial-lift safety. “We think the best way to learn is by teaching,” Amy notes.
Another important aspect of becoming accredited, according to Amy, was instituting a formal training program. “We found this particularly helpful. Now every new hire is put with a crew leader, so they know who to go to if they have questions. The crew leader becomes their mentor, and they are given expectations from the get-go.”
Her biggest surprise, notes Amy, was the section pertaining to CDL drivers. “I didn’t know anything about DOT random drug-testing requirements, and that part was sort of confusing to me. We also weren’t compliant with the DOT’s daily vehicle inspections – that part was new to me. Now everything is documented. I have no doubt that the documentation we have now could potentially save lives.”
Arbor Aesthetics was one of the first companies to go through a virtual audit process, which Amy says went quite smoothly. “We had about a two-hour Zoom meeting. I think I was probably over prepared, but that’s just my personality. I also needed to send photos of things like proper aerial-lift use, climbers having two tie-in points, proper PPE and safe roadside setup.”
When asked whether she thinks Accreditation is of value, Amy notes, “Anyone who is uncertain whether becoming accredited is a good investment should know that the return on your investment of time and energy will pay itself back in dividends. We should have implemented a lot of these things years ago. This is an opportunity to step back, zoom out and look at how all aspects of your business are working, or not working, together. It’s an opportunity to design your company again from the ground up and put it to paper.
“I see an attitude shift in our company in that we’re doing these things not just to check boxes,” she continues. “We see the big picture, and we value the processes that have been put in place to hold each other accountable, protect each other, communicate our vision across the organization and ultimately provide an unbeatable experience that our clients can feel and appreciate.”