A passion for tree care is what motivated Mike DuPont, president of Capital Arborists, Inc. – a 10-year TCIA member company operating in the greater Sacramento, California, area – to be part owner of two different tree services over the past couple of decades. “Originally, I ran a tree-service company with a friend of mine,” he explains. We had a good 12-year run, but it was time to move on.”
In 2010, DuPont decided to strike out on his own, and he turned to his wife, Lucy, for support in more ways than one. “Mike recruited me, so I came on at Capital Arborists (as VP of internal operations) right from the beginning,” says Lucy. “I’d been a stay-at-home mom for years and was looking for work, so it made sense. We had our first office set up in a guest bedroom of our house.”
Interestingly, Capital Arborists has four owners, including Mike and Lucy, plus Jeff Alspaw, their VP of production whom they describe as “intensely driven, motivated and full of energy,” and Lisa Venner, VP of their Plant Health Care division. “Clients just love Lisa,” says Lucy. Mike adds with a laugh, “She has such a passion for what she does. If anything, you have to get her to stop talking about it!”
Mike notes that he had worked with both Venner and Alspaw at his previous company, and that they were two of his top employees. “So we asked each of them if they’d like to come on board (at Capital Arborists) as owners.
“When I worked for a tree company in Maryland, I recall that the owner required his people to buy into his company by a certain time in their employment,” he continues. “I always thought that was a good idea. That way, they also are invested in its success.”
Eight years ago, the DuPont’s 25-year-old daughter, Molly, got into the business as well. “It started when she was in high school,” says Lucy, “and she’d help with filing and paperwork. Molly loved following in her father’s footsteps, and she became an ISA Certified Arborist (in 2018). She has a terrific mind for business and a passion for the green industry.” Now Molly serves as Capital Arborists’ administrative manager, and her parents say she was instrumental in the company earning its TCIA Accreditation last year.
This is a family business in many ways. Alspaw’s son, Christopher, is also a driving force in the company’s success. Now the branch manager, Christopher began as an arborist apprentice in 2014. He has since become an ISA Certified Arborist and a CTSP, and he holds a qualified applicator’s license (QAL).
According to the DuPonts, the company has 18 full-time employees, including two Certified Treecare Safety Professionals (CTSPs) and a number of “arborist apprentices.” These employees often are recent college graduates just starting out in their tree care careers.
“We’ve always felt we didn’t want professional grounds workers,” says Mike. “We want arborists, and we want the company run by Certified Arborists, so we encourage all our employees to become ISA certified, and we pay for their training. We’ve had some people who got their training and then moved on laughingly call us Capital U (University). And we’re OK with that.”
“Having these qualifications helps our people feel more invested in the company,” adds Lucy. “We like and want employees to be goal and career oriented.”
When asked about their business mix, the DuPonts say it is about 90% residential clients and the remaining 10% commercial entities. “We actually did a marketing study of our clients,” Lucy says, “and found they are well educated and are outdoor lovers, and that they love their homes and want to care for their trees.”
“They tend to be value driven rather than cost driven,” Mike adds. Lucy concurs. “It gives our clients confidence knowing they have qualified and knowledgeable people working on their property. We like to teach our clients, and they come to realize how much we know and love the science of it.”
According to Mike, what sets Capital Arborists apart from the competition is the approach they take toward customers. “When we’re at a property, we love to connect and be relational with our clients,” he says.
“I love the stories Mike and Jeff come back to the office with,” Lucy adds. “Jeff actually rescued one of his clients who had fallen in her kitchen and hit her head and was bleeding. He called 911 and got her the help she needed.
“It’s also our brand commitment,” Lucy continues. “Doing a good job still matters to people. It gives them peace of mind. It takes a lot of faith to allow someone on your property to prune your trees.”
It’s that commitment to excellence that was the impetus for becoming accredited in 2019, according to the DuPonts, who say they learned about the value of Accreditation from TCI Magazine. “We’re always looking to better our company and our image,” says Mike. “I had brought it up over the years, but then Molly is the one who really spearheaded the idea.”
Lucy notes that she and Molly undertook most of the Accreditation process. “Molly is a very task-oriented person. She had timelines set up for every step of the process. It really was a lot of fun! It helped us put an exclamation point on things like, ‘This is what we do and why we do it, and why we’re good at it,’ and just the business of it all.
“I loved that the process focused on every aspect of the business: accounting, safety, training, sales and marketing strategies,” she adds. “It helped us focus and fine tune all these things. Overall, I’d say I was surprised by how detailed TCIA wanted us to be. But I see a great deal of value in that, and it’s helped us become a better business.”
For instance, Lucy says they had to remedy a couple of small safety items, “like needing chains of a certain length between the chipper and the truck. This was a detail we just weren’t aware of. And I appreciate having to go through the re-Accreditation process every few years. We don’t want to slack off. We need that kick-start.”
The DuPonts say they highly recommend Accreditation for any tree care business that wants to better itself. “Absolutely it’s a lot of work,” says Lucy, “but TCIA is willing to help if you have questions, and they provide all the tools you need. And I think our employees love knowing we have this higher standard for the company.”
As for Capital Arborists, the DuPonts say they want to keep growing their PHC services and also anticipate opening a satellite location in the future. “I don’t think we’ll grow with employees necessarily, but definitely with the services we offer,” Lucy concludes.