Sometimes a name says it all, and according to Phil Sims, CEO of Integrity Tree Services – a 22-year TCIA member company based in Grandville, Michigan – integrity is one of the core virtues of the company. “Our mantra today is to positively impact people for the better,” he says. “Our desire is to truly create an environment where people can grow and experience career progression, with training for leadership.”
Integrity Tree Services was founded in 1998 by Matt Langeler and Shane Herrema, two boyhood friends who shared a passion for tree work and outdoor pursuits. Their dream, according to Integrity’s website, was “to build a business with a company culture that not only provided excellent working conditions for its employees, but also provided a service to the public with the highest of integrity.” Sims notes that, although Langeler and Herrema currently serve on Integrity’s board of directors and are not involved in the day-to-day operations, their original vision still guides the company.
“In about 2015, both Matt and Shane determined that they wanted a level of more stable growth, so they started making intentional investment in professional leadership,” Sims says, noting he was asked to come back on board at that time in a financial leadership capacity, having done tree work for the company before earning his degree in accounting and practicing as a CPA for several years. Sims now heads up Integrity’s executive leadership team, which is charged with the management of day-to-day operations. Jake Van’t Hof, CTSP, plays a critical role on the leadership team as director of safety for the company. Van’t Hof has a degree in occupational safety and health and has been with Integrity since 2001.
“I started working for Matt and Shane while I was in high school,” Van’t Hof explains, “cleaning up the shop on weekends. I’ve always loved the outside environment, being around the equipment and power tools. I knew I wanted to further my passion for tree work and develop my technical skill set, and this (company) gave me that opportunity.”
According to Sims, Integrity Tree Services had about 60 employees when he joined in 2015. Now the number of full-time employees is 160. When asked how the company achieved such growth, he says, “Utility space has been our main area of growth. We’ve maintained our residential tree care roots, but we are primarily utility work now. We’ve been able to develop high-trust relationships with our utility contractors, what I believe are mutually beneficial relationships, and we’ve achieved these goals by bringing on board people with expertise.”
Van’t Hof concurs. “We were able to grow by word of mouth, by friends and co-workers who shared with others the truth of who we say we are. We attract those who want to work and have a passion for this kind of work.”
“Another thing that’s been very interesting over the past couple of years is that some team members left and came back to us, citing our honesty and transparency,” adds Sims. “They were promised things by other companies that never happened. They come back and say, ‘Yeah, you guys really do care.’”
Van’t Hof notes that, on the utility end, they try to keep team members in their home areas, so they can go home as much as possible. “Even when they’re on the road, the crews are very much like family, a brotherhood similar to that in the military,” he says. He adds that utility contracts provide more consistent year-round work as well, especially in their service areas of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, where they operate a satellite office.
When it came time to consider TCIA Accreditation, Van’t Hof says it was a desire to further differentiate themselves from other tree care companies in the region that led them to pursue dual Accreditation – both Residential/Commercial and Utility Contractor – at the same time. “Originally, we applied for just Residential/Commercial Accreditation, but (TCIA auditor) Randy McDonald said some aspects carried over to the other, like things pertaining to financial recordkeeping, for instance, and he suggested we do both. Since we’d upgraded most of our systems since 2015, I saw that a lot of these things were already in place, so the process really didn’t take that long, just a couple of months.
“It was very much a team effort between different departments and the executive leadership team,” Van’t Hof continues. “It definitely was a good double-check – we found some minor things that needed correcting and had some good takeaways, like using the correct language for documentation and recordkeeping. Also, there were some compliance-related matters we found that could save us money on insurance.”
Integrity Tree Services earned its dual Accreditation this past November and was able to go through its auditing process on site with proper COVID-19 protocols in place. “We were masked up when necessary and practiced social distancing, had hand sanitizer available, our usual day-to-day protocols,” explains Van’t Hof. “One thing I found to be helpful was to have all our documentation printed out ahead. Prep is the key to avoiding any problems (during the audit).”
According to Van’t Hof, Integrity plans to look into adding the Accreditation logos to company trucks and apparel, as well as including Accreditation certificates to their standard bid response. “If the bids are close, it could be the thing that gives us the edge.” He adds that the logos already appear on their website.
When asked what the next few years hold, Van’t Hof says 2021 is the year “we’re going to hone in on growth, considering COVID and the new normal. Being deemed essential is a great responsibility.”
Sims adds that Integrity Tree Services will continue to evolve and innovate. “We really value innovation as a company,” he says. “We get a lot of joy from improving as we get feedback from our team members. We’re eager to continue to grow through people who are passionate and intelligent about what they do.”