Carrying on the family tree care business takes on new significance when that traditionally male-dominated business is taken over by two sisters. Such was the case when Kim Fleurent and her sister, Brenda Sylvia, CTSP, came into ownership of their father’s long-time tree care company, Barnes Tree Service, Inc., a 26-year TCIA member company based in Rochester, Massachusetts.
Both women had worked off and on for their dad, Dan Mullens, for years before slowly starting to take over the reins when he became ill. Fleurent began working for her father full time in 1994 and currently serves as president, while Sylvia, who came on board full time in ’98, is vice president. The two sisters took on full ownership in 2008.
“We both come from business backgrounds,” says Fleurent, who adds that her husband, David, began working with the company in 1990, became general foreman in ’98 and has been general manager of Barnes Tree Service since 2006. She further explains, “Neither of us (sisters) does arboricultural work, and so we don’t spend time in the field. All the office work keeps us extremely busy. As a CTSP (Certified Treecare Safety Professional), Brenda also does quite a bit of small-group safety training at our shop.”
According to Fleurent, when their father met with his attorney to turn the business over to her and her sister, “My dad’s attorney said, ‘Since you’re turning everything over to your daughters, I think they should become a woman-owned business.’ So now we are certified as a WBE (Woman Business Enterprise) through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Operational Services Division Supplier Diversity Office.”
Sylvia adds, “Kim started full time (with Barnes) before I did, so when the time came to take over ownership, it only made sense that she become president. But we really talk over everything together and sit down as a group to make the best decisions for the company.”
Barnes Tree Service has 40 full-time employees, and 90% of its business is utility contract work with both municipalities and utility companies that service southeastern Massachusetts. “My dad bought the business in ’65, incorporated in ’66 and then obtained his first utility contract in the early ’70s with a local municipality,” says Fleurent. “From that one contract, his utility work expanded. One thing about utilities, it’s year-round revenue and employment. And in tree work, there’s a lot to be said for year-round work.”
According to both women, their motivation for pursuing TCIA’s Utility Contractor Accreditation was to stand apart and be proactive in a highly competitive field. Barnes Tree Service, Inc., earned its UC Accreditation this past July.
“TCIA had reached out to us on several occasions to participate in the Accreditation program,” notes Fleurent. “It just never seemed to be the right time to start such a lengthy process. But then we received a packet in mid-2019 and had a telephone conversation with Charlie Tentas (account rep at that time for the Accreditation and CTSP programs) regarding the program, and this prompted us to take a deeper look at Accreditation. By becoming accredited, it shows our vendors that we voluntarily had an outside source look at our company in depth to ensure we’re meeting all regulations and industry standards.”
When asked if there were any surprises during the Accreditation process, Fleurent answers without hesitation. “Yes! We were already doing the bulk of the requirements! Some needed a little tweaking, and some needed more organization, but for the most part it was a pleasant surprise that we had most things already in place.”
According to Fleurent, the most time-consuming part of the process was updating the company’s business plan. “I think the business plan is something that easily can be overlooked,” explains Fleurent. “The requirement (for Accreditation) is that it has to be less than two years old, and we discovered ours had been put on the back burner for many years. It definitely lacked depth.
“We actually started fresh and created an entirely new plan, which was very time consuming,” she continues. “This required gathering data from years past and doing research on our industry. The biggest takeaway from developing the new business plan was looking at our milestones and looking forward to what we want to accomplish in the future. Now it’s our intent to look at our plan each year, so we can review the goals we listed and see which we can move to the ‘accomplished’ side and what we can add to future goals.”
On the safety end of things, Sylvia says the company was right on top of the requirements. “Safety is something we’re really big on,” she says. “We try to cross all our t’s and dot all our i’s as far as that goes. For instance, every employee reads our extensive safety manual at hiring and must initial each page. If they have any questions at all about what they’ve read, they are welcome to come to us and ask. Then, at the end of the manual, there’s a page they must sign saying they’ve read and understand everything in the manual.
“One thing we did do (as a result of the Accreditation process) was add more detail to the traffic-zone diagram in the safety-
training manual and make sure to have the diagram available in each truck,” she adds. “We actually had the diagram made into stickers for placement inside the toolbox of the trucks for quick reference.”
According to Sylvia, the Accreditation process was well worth all the effort. “I think it’s definitely worth doing,” she notes. “It gives a set of eyes to the business and makes sure all the processes are thought out. We’re proud we’ve accomplished this.”
Her sister concurs. “The Accreditation process is long and time consuming, but so worth it. It was a proud moment as a woman-owned business to receive that certification.”