When Neal Reilly discovered the joys of tree climbing and working outdoors while in high school, little did he realize this would become his life’s career path and that someday he would own a successful tree care and landscape company. “A friend of mine introduced me to tree climbing while I was in high school,” he says, “and that led me to study arboriculture at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst. I got into the business with a passion for technical tree work – I especially love pruning!”
Now the Massachusetts Certified Arborist is owner of The Reilly Tree & Landscape Company, Inc., based in Plainville, Massachusetts, and a 17-year TCIA member company. Reilly, who took his company through the Residential/Commercial Accreditation process in 2012, currently is vice president of the Massachusetts Arborists Association.
“I was fortunate to work with Mark Tobin at Hartney Greymont for 12 years, climbing trees, performing plant health care and eventually moving on to learn sales,” Reilly explains. “Mark was president of Hartney Greymont at the time, and also served as president of the TCIA Board of Directors under the Felixes (Bob Felix and his wife, Pat, ran the Association when Bob served as its executive vice president from the mid-1970s until his death in 1996), back when it was the NAA (National Arborist Association). Mark was a great friend and mentor to me during those years – and he’s still a great friend.”
According to Reilly, it was Tobin who convinced him to become a TCIA member shortly after he started up Reilly Tree & Landscape in 2003. “I sort of started out my company on a whim and built it from scratch,” he says, adding with a laugh, “which is something I don’t necessarily recommend. So Mark said to me, ‘If you want to be serious about this, you need to join TCIA and start going to Winter Management Conference.’ St. Kitts was the first one I went to in 2004. I was completely overwhelmed! But Mark took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of great people, including Ron Keith from Arbor Masters (Tree & Landscape), who has become a great friend.
“I came away from that experience realizing that there’s a great opportunity in tree care to have a good life, to work with a lot of professionals in the industry and provide a great workplace and a good living for your family,” says Reilly. “I’ve been going to Winter Management Conferences ever since, and it’s there that I’ve formed many great friendships with people I still draw advice and guidance from when needed.”
The Reilly Tree & Landscape Company has 20 full-time employees and performs everything from tree pruning and fertilizing to lawn care and landscape services, including landscape design. According to Reilly, about 80% of his company’s work is in tree care, with their specialty being educating clients on proper tree care and maintenance. In fact, he says this is one of the things that sets his company apart from others in the area.
“A lot of them are into tree removal,” he says. “That’s just the nature of being in New England. But for us, we’re into the care of trees and maintaining the trees you’d like to keep through careful pruning, fertilization and PHC. In our area, a lot of the big trees in people’s landscapes can be maintained and become assets. We try to educate people that there are other options to just taking trees down.”
Reilly says it was a desire to further distinguish himself from other local companies that led him to pursue Accreditation, along with a hope to learn from the process and better his company. “When I started out, I was just trying to work as hard as I could and always seemed to have my head in the weeds. This (Accreditation) forced us to slow down and take a look at our company with a fine-toothed comb. It gave us a real punch list to pursue, and it was the opportunity to work on issues our company needed at that time. It helped make us the great company we are today.”
According to Reilly, the Accreditation process was straightforward. “TCIA gives you pretty clear guidelines as to what needs to happen, and my general manager, Richard Desilets, and I worked through them together. I think it took three to four months. When we set ourselves to something, we get it done.”
Reilly adds that Desilets has been with him the entire 17 years he’s owned his company, along with his head foreman, Derek Hagerty, CTSP. He also says the most challenging part of the Accreditation process at that time was addressing issues that needed to be fixed while still working 40 hours a week. “It was worth it, though, to become a great company and create a great workplace for our employees.”
As they got into the process, Reilly says there were areas for improvement that became clear. “For one thing, it forced us to re-evaluate our company handbook. What we thought was a company handbook was not acceptable by Accreditation standards. We were missing things like new-employee evaluations and providing guidance for employee benefits and vacation time. We needed training benchmarks for things like chain-saw use and safety. And we hadn’t been doing exit interviews – probably the most important thing. If someone is leaving, you need to know why.
“It also was our opportunity to develop a business plan, something we hadn’t had in the past, and not just a one-year plan, but a three-year plan as well,” Reilly continues. “This gives us a road map for the company. It maps out opportunities for employee growth and allows them to see their pathways for advancement with the company. It also shows that we’re growing and not becoming stagnant.”
As for the future, Reilly says his company is constantly looking for organic growth in plant health care, tree preservation and pruning. As the company’s website says, “A safe tree is a healthy tree!”