According to Certified Arborist Nick Rocco, CTSP and president of Tree Service Express, Inc., a nine-year TCIA member company based in Palm Bay, Florida, going through the Accreditation process and achieving his company’s certification was just the motivation he needed to go after some of his long-time goals. He’s been operating Tree Service Express since 2009, having spent his earlier years as a commercial fisherman out of various ports in New England and then a professional sport fisherman on the international tournament circuit.
“I decided I wanted to start a family and live on land,” Rocco says of his decision to leave commercial fishing. “I’d always thought the green industry was fascinating, and tree care seemed like a good fit. The first storm I worked (in tree care) reminded me of professional sport fishing, the challenges and physical demands, and I was hooked.”
He adds, “It’s like in a hockey game, you always have to be paying attention – and fishing is the same way, too. I’m always telling my crews to be aware of what’s going on around them, because it can change in an instant.” Because of these similarities, the 49-year-old business owner says he’s taken lessons learned from the commercial fishing industry and applied them to his tree care business.
“I never felt valued or appreciated (at previous jobs), and that’s basically why I had to start my own company,” says Rocco. “I appreciate everyone who works for me, from the newest person on up. I feel like everyone has an opinion that’s worth hearing.”
Tree Service Express currently has 24 full-time employees and operates throughout Brevard County and Indian River County on Florida’s east coast. Rocco says he and his crews also travel occasionally for storm and disaster work, having been to Connecticut for ice-storm cleanup, Illinois after the derecho and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. While most of his company’s work is residential, Rocco says he has a few commercial and municipal clients. “A lot of our business is by word of mouth,” he adds. “We have a very loyal customer base.”
Rocco notes that his company has a dedicated crane crew that specializes in removing large trees in awkward spots, which is especially helpful for hurricane cleanup. “We have a 65-ton grapple-saw, knuckle-boom crane,” he says. “We also have four 80-yard debris trucks, so we can do large-scale debris removal.”
During COVID, Rocco felt it was time to restructure Tree Service Express, and part of that restructuring involved becoming TCIA accredited. “I’d been wanting to start up a plant health care (PHC) division for years,” he says. “A tree care business is like a restaurant with a menu of services, and we had been sending people across the street for ice cream. So now we bring the dessert tray with us!” He adds that going through Accreditation gave him the motivation to finally pull the trigger on starting up his PHC services, to the extent of passing rigorous training and inspections to open a state-licensed PHC division.
Another area where Rocco sees goals achieved through Accreditation is in safety. “I was doing a lot of safety training before, but this really upped it to a new level,” he says. “It’s really given me the motivation to create a safety culture, and that’s one of the most important things for us to do. I was winging it before, but now I’m really dialing in on safety.”
He notes that recently he shut the company down for two days to bring in NATS – North American Training Solutions – for a certification program in aerial rescue and lift safety. “My people loved it. If you’re running all this equipment, you’d better invest in safety. I don’t want that (an incident) on my conscience.
“Accreditation means we’re a role-model tree care company,” says Rocco. “Florida has very few regulations for this industry, so we’ve decided to regulate ourselves by becoming accredited. We set the bar in Brevard County – they (other tree care companies) watch us for what we’re doing.”
According to Rocco, “TCIA was there with open arms to help during the process. We had questions, and someone was always available to answer them. It felt like family.”
Rocco says his core group of employees was instrumental in accomplishing the Accreditation process. They include Certified Arborist Matthew Simoni, who oversees operations and sales; office managers Lindsey Treat and Giessel Moreno (“Paperwork is not my forte, so they really helped with the process,” Rocco says); Chris Tucker, crane operator and crew trainer; Tony Fusco, who runs the debris-hauling division; Jason Snitkoff, crew leader/trainer; and Dominic Pallotti, disaster-relief consultant and climber/trainer. “Without my people, I’m really nothing,” states Rocco.
He adds that Treat is studying to become an ISA Certified Arborist, and Simoni is an ISA Certified Arborist and also has started the Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) process. “I really value training and credentials,” he says.
As far as the Accreditation process goes, Rocco says it was basically “just running down a list and getting each thing done. A lot of it was the development of manuals and protocols we came up with. I even offered incentives to make things happen. Really, everyone on staff had to be on board, because everyone had new things to do.
“It took a second to get everyone on board, but then they saw the value of it,” Rocco continues. “It wasn’t just, ‘Nick wants us to do this,’ but, ‘Hey, this is for our own good!’”
One of the major hurdles Rocco says he accomplished during the Accreditation process was fixing his business plan. “I’d been working on it since 2019. The business-plan part really hit home, first creating it and then looking back and seeing our goals getting done. For example, I can now look back and see PHC as being accomplished, as reaching a goal.
“It (Accreditation) also shows customers that we’re not messing around,” Rocco concludes. “Maybe they’ve had a bad experience somewhere else, and they see that we’re different. I’d say Accreditation has helped us in a lot of ways, and some we haven’t even seen yet.”