Excellence, Not Growth, Motivates Accredited Tip Top Arborists

A Tip Top Arborists team on a takedown. All photos courtesy of Tip Top Arborists.

Creating a tree care business based on integrity and quality control has been the focus of Jim Lewandowski’s career as owner of Tip Top Arborists, Inc., a 27-year TCIA member company based in Lancaster, California. Tip Top earned its TCIA Accreditation in January of this year, and Lewandowski and his wife, Susan Beck, couldn’t be more pleased. “We are more than honored to have that logo on our website and on all our proposals,” he says.

As Lewandowski explains it, he worked at the company before he took over ownership. “It was just the owner, myself and my dad for a while. The owner was a chiropractor – he did tree work a couple of days a week for exercise! At one point, he was in the process of selling and it fell through, so I asked if he’d sell to me. I was 22 years old when I bought the business – I didn’t even know how to spell ‘arborist,’ and now I am one!”

Tip Top has been in business for 47 years and has seen steady growth over the years. “I started with a bright-orange Dodge 600 chipper truck that had belonged to the County of Los Angeles’ tree division,” Lewandowski explains. “I also had an old Wayne Manufacturing chipper from the county and two chain saws. Now we have 35 full-time employees.”

Lewandowski’s sales manager, Tom Baal, joined Tip Top Arborists in 2005 and says he’s been around trees his entire life. His father was deputy forester for Los Angeles County Fire, Forestry Division, and as he says, “The nut didn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Baal adds, “I would say we’re not your run-of-the-mill tree company. We bring to the table about 125 years of combined managerial tree care experience.”

Jim Lewandowski started Tip Top Arborists with a used Dodge 600 chipper truck, an old Wayne Manufacturing chipper and two chain saws. “Now we have 35 full-time employees,” he says.

Credentials and certifications are very important at Tip Top Arborists, which has five ISA Certified Arborists. Lewandowski’s wife, Susan, in addition to being the corporate secretary, currently is the company’s only CTSP. “That happened because I didn’t take studying seriously enough and failed the test,” admits Lewandowski. “But I’m retaking it, and Tom also plans to take the test. In the meantime, Susan is very active in safety training and goes over the safety manuals on a regular basis.

“We’re very focused on safety,” he continues. “We use the ISA safety books and the guidelines of SLI (Safety Leadership Innovators, a three-year TCIA corporate member company based in Orlando, Florida), a company that provides safety training for the arboriculture industry. In fact, Joshua from SLI came out and did a full-blown safety audit for us, even before we started the Accreditation process.”

Baal feels that what sets Tip Top Arborists apart in their area is “licenses, certifications, professionalism and having the right amount of workers’ comp insurance. And that’s a big deal here. We’re not the cheapest company, so we’re constantly educating our customers and the public on the value of working with a reputable, well-insured company.”

The Accreditation team at Tip Top Arborists includes, from left, Randi Wilson, Tamra Moussette, Susan Beck, Jim Lewandowski, Tom Baal and Val Rogers.

Tip Top has a unique service area that encompasses a 60- to 70-mile radius within northern Los Angeles County. This includes the communities of Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Clarita and Valencia. “Our main area of operation is high desert,” says Baal, “and then we have a sub-tropical region and even high mountains. Each area provides special challenges. Of course, water is a big thing and can be very problematic. People put in xeriscaping, and then a lot of them think they don’t have to water their trees. They don’t understand why their trees are falling over.”

Baal adds that Santa Clarita has an oak tree ordinance to protect its various species of oaks, and he says Tip Top Arborists is one of the few companies in the community licensed to work on the city’s oak trees. Currently, their service area is battling the gold spotted oak borer (GSOB), which Baal says has killed thousands of oaks in Green Valley. “GSOB requires very specific methods of removal and disposal,” he notes.

According to Lewandowski, the motivation for becoming accredited was to increase his company’s professional image and show that they follow industry standards. Baal adds, “No one in our area is accredited, and we wanted to stand out by setting a high bar.”

When it came time to begin Accreditation last June, Lewandowski says they formed a team that met every Wednesday to work on the process. “It was like looking forward to Christmas,” he says, “knowing we had this common goal. And it kept us accountable. My project was the business plan, and I thought I could get it put together in no time – and I couldn’t! People kept asking me, ‘So Jim, how’s that business plan coming?’”

The Accreditation team included Randi Wilson, consumer policies; Tamra Moussette, HR; Susan Beck, CTSP and business plan; Lewandowski, business plan; Baal, TCIA coordinator and team leader; and Val Rogers, data integration.

“The business plan was a big challenge for me,” adds Lewandowski. “It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’d never had one before. It was in my brain, but not on paper. Now everything is documented: finances, our safety program, operations budget, accounting, goals. That was one of the big puzzle pieces that was missing.”

A Tip Top climber at work. What sets Tip Top Arborists apart in their area is “licenses, certifications, professionalism and having the right amount of workers’ comp insurance,” says Tom Baal.

Baal agrees. “As a whole, Accreditation made us put all the pieces together from the basic foundation we already had. We had the IKEA dresser in a box, and we had to assemble it.”

Lewandowski explains that he and Baal set up a formalized employee-review process as part of Accreditation. “It was something I dreaded, because I knew it was going to cost me in raises,” he laughs. Baal adds, “But it helps us keep the employees we have by setting goals, giving them raises, training them and getting them certified in other areas. And our communication has greatly improved, both in-house and with our clientele.”

As for the future, Lewandowski says, “We like the company the size it is now – we don’t want crazy growth. What we do want is more CTSPs, more EHAP certifications, more ISA Certified Arborists. We’re going to keep this car we have and take good care of it, put new tires on it occasionally and make sure it runs well.”

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for a wonderful article, Patricia!
    We sincerely appreciate the time you took to interview us.
    It was truly a group effort, and we could not have achieved this membership without 100% participation.

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