In 2016, I signed up for the TCIA mentorship program. With four employees, one truck and a chipper, we had hit our revenue ceiling at just under $500,000. I felt stuck and was craving some guidance. After a few email exchanges with TCIA, I was paired with Peter Sortwell, founder and CEO of Arborwell, an accredited, 24-year TCIA member company based in Hayward, California (now a SavATree company), and TCIA Board chair at that time. He and I scheduled an hour-long phone conversation. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a very exciting new chapter in my life.
Peter said many great things during our one-hour conversation, but what resonated most was this: “Get more involved with TCIA,” he said. “Go to the Winter Management Conference (WMC), attend TCI EXPO. It’s there that you will meet like-minded individuals who will want to help you grow your business.”
Wait, what? Why would another business owner want to help me grow my business? What’s the catch? I was intrigued, and I had to find out more. TCI EXPO had just passed, but there was still time to sign up for WMC 2017, being held that year in Puerto Rico. I looked into registration, travel and the hotel, and the first thing I thought was, “Wow, I can’t afford this, this is really expensive!” I didn’t realize it then, but the truth was, I couldn’t afford to not do this.
So I spent $785 for registration, $560 for the flight and $1,430 for the hotel, and I budgeted $2,000 for meals and recreation. I signed up for my first WMC without knowing a single TCIA member; I’ll admit, I was both very excited but also quite nervous.
My wife, Jessica, and I arrived in Puerto Rico a few days early and explored the west coast of Rincon. She’s a teacher and had to return to school before WMC started, which was unfortunate because she is usually my support system in new environments. The very first day I was there, I was introduced to Josh Morin, now owner of We Love Trees, a TCIA member company based in Boulder, Colorado. He looked at my name tag and said, “Coastal Tree Care in San Diego – do you surf?”
“Every chance I get,” I replied.
He invited me to go surfing the next day.
Josh then introduced me to Tad Jacobs, CTSP, QCL and owner of Treemasters, an accredited, 13-year TCIA member company based in San Rafael, Calif., and George Bofinger II, owner of Bofinger’s Tree Service and Consultants, an accredited, 13-year TCIA member company based Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I hung out with these guys the entire week, and they seemed like friends I’d known for years. They were all genuinely interested in my operation, asked a lot of questions and provided me with some great feedback. I was blown away!
The rest of the week was a good balance of education and fun, and when I say fun, I’m talking next-level fun! We went surfing, windsurfing, off-road 4-wheeling and hiking. The educational classes were fantastic, but the real magic happened while connecting with my new friends at dinner, poolside, at the beach or on a hike.
At the end of the week, Tad and Josh both invited me to come visit their operations. Again, I was blown away! This seemed like an incredible opportunity to learn how larger, more established businesses operated.
I reached out to Tad right away. What I experienced and learned during this visit could be an article of its own, so I’ll just say this: Treemasters is one smooth operation. Tad truly strives to be the best of the best, and it shows. I learned a lot about operations, efficiency and leadership. This was about a $2,000 investment.
A few months later, I went to visit Josh Morin in Boulder. Josh introduced me to the world of plant health care, something I’d never even heard of before. I learned a lot from Josh that week, but mostly this was the beginning of my journey into PHC. This investment was also about $2,000.
Later that summer, I was invited to go on a dirt-bike trip in Aspen, Colo., with Tad, Josh, Aaron Taddiken – owner of Taddiken Tree Company, Inc., an accredited, 17-year TCIA member company based in Boulder, Colo. – George Bofinger and a few others. We stayed with Jason Jones, owner of Aspen Tree Service, Inc., an accredited, 25-year TCIA member company based in Carbondale, Colo. Again, this trip could be an article of its own. The entire week was one of my most memorable adventures.
The first day, 10 of us on dirt bikes came rolling down the ski slopes of Aspen and into town for lunch. That evening, we rode down along the river and stopped at a pool of hot springs. We all jumped in, cracked open some beers and reflected on the day. During this week, we also were able to tour Aspen Tree Service, an impressive operation. They recycle all of their mulch and resell it to local landscape companies. They have several trucks with tree spades and even have their own nursery. This investment was around $1,650.
Also in 2017, I attended my first TCI EXPO in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as TCIA’s Executive Arborist Workshop in upstate New York. These two events were a total investment of around $5,000. I use the term investment now, because these events were no longer an expense, they were an absolute investment! At these events I met William “Billy” Davis, CTSP, president of Arborscapes, LLC, an accredited, 14-year TCIA member company based in Powhatan, Virginia, and Jeff Grewe, CTSP, and his wife Amy, owners of Arbor Aesthetics Tree Service, an accredited, eight-year TCIA member company based in Omaha, Nebraska, who would also become great friends and mentors.
Before I knew it, 2017 was coming to an end and that meant that WMC 2018 was approaching.
I couldn’t wait to see my new friends at WMC 2018 in Maui! I invested $7,700 in this trip. This time my wife was able to attend WMC, and she got to meet my TCIA family and all their wives. We went whale watching, surfing and hiking, drove the Road to Hana and enjoyed all that island life had to offer. The educational classes were even better than the previous year, but most important, I made more connections and grew closer with my new friends. I was hungry for more growth, and when I asked Josh what he thought my next move should be, he replied, “It sounds like you need a strategic plan. Have you heard of Entrepreneurs’ Organization?”
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a peer-to-peer network exclusively for entrepreneurs, would become the next very exciting chapter in my life. Through the EO Accelerator program, I learned all about strategy, execution, people and cash. EO membership is $5,850 annually and worth every penny! This catapulted us to the next level.
Right after Maui, Tad had organized a PHC forum that consisted of TCIA members. Several of us met in Baltimore and attended an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Plant Health Care (PHC) Short Course at the University of Maryland. This investment was around $3,300. We then met online weekly to help support each other in our growth and with strategy. This launched our PHC department at Coastal, and in early 2019 we purchased a used flatbed, cab-over truck for $18,500 and a skid-mount spray system for $8,200.
We planned another dirt-bike trip during the summer of 2018, this time in Lake Tahoe. Billy Davis and Tod Miller, with Sherdec Tree Service in Cincinnati, Ohio, joined us this time, and it was almost as epic as the year before. We all rented an Airbnb cabin in the mountains and hired a private chef for the week. This was another great opportunity for us to connect and share experiences with one another. I spent around $1,800 on this investment.
I spent the rest of 2018 implementing what I had learned from my friends, which resulted in about 50% growth, putting our revenue just over $700,000. We added a second crew, purchased a new truck for $68,740 and bought a used bucket truck for $56,500 and a used chipper for $19,200. Josh Morin came to San Diego that year to visit Coastal Tree Care, and we learned a lot from him that week. Of course, we also went surfing and rode four wheelers in the desert!
By the end of 2018, we had achieved TCIA Accreditation and I had earned my CTSP credential.
2019 kicked off the year at the 10X Growth Conference in Miami, Florida, with Jeff Grewe and Tad Jacobs. This was nothing about trees and all about business and entrepreneurship. This experience was, how should I say – 10X! This was a $2,460 investment.
WMC 2019 was on St. Kitts in the Caribbean. We went sailing, snorkeling and hiking and rented four wheelers. The conference was complete with amazing island food, solid presenters, networking opportunities and even more connections. WMC was becoming an annual tradition and one I would look forward to every year. This investment was around $6,700.
That summer, Tad Jacobs, Jeff Grewe and I took a motorcycle road trip through Northern California. We started at Tad’s house in San Rafael and drove north to Mt. Shasta and then through the redwood forests and down the Sonoma Coast. We swam in the river, camped under the redwoods and had an amazing journey. We exchanged ideas, picked Tad’s brain and discussed the upcoming 2019 TCI EXPO, at which both Tad and Jeff were scheduled to speak. I spent around $1,350 on this investment.
In addition to attending TCI EXPO 2019 (a $3,000 investment), I went to visit George Bofinger in Baton Rouge (a $2,000 investment). George is an equipment guru, but he is also all about efficiency, and I learned some really good systems during my visit. We timed this so we could both attend a TRAQ course together and earn that credential. I also went to visit Jeff and Amy Grewe in Omaha (a $2,000 investment). Jeff and Amy have created a thriving culture within their organization, and we have adopted many of their ideas that have been significant in helping our own culture evolve.
Again in 2019, we experienced significant growth. We now had nine employees and our revenue was just under $1 million. We were slowly building our PHC department and really seeing the potential this had to be extremely profitable. By the end of the year, we had outgrown our space and relocated to a new location that was three times the square footage and four times the lot size. Our rent more than doubled (at $4,000 per month), but we now had a space with plenty of room to grow into. We also purchased a new stump grinder for $19,900, a mini-skid loader for $28,600, a dump trailer for $9,900 and two company sales vehicles for $32,000 (total).
Josh Morin and I kicked off 2020 with a surf trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico. We surfed every day in warm tropical waters with perfect waves. While there, he and I dove a little deeper into business strategy. This was a $1,200 trip.
A month later, we met up with the rest of the crew in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for WMC 2020. I budgeted $8,500 this year. Little did we know, this would be the last event that most of us would be attending for quite some time. Luckily, it was probably the best WMC yet! TCIA really upped its game with the quality of presenters, there were tons of new members and first-time attendees and my entire TCIA family was there. We went surfing and hiking, practiced yoga, went boating and more. I’ll never forget what I like to call, “The Last Soiree.” Ten of us sat at a communal table at Sonora Prime, a five-star steakhouse, and ordered multiple plates to share. We ate like kings, drank and were merry. This was literally my last normal dining experience with a large group of friends due to COVID-19. The remainder of 2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone.
While there is little one might consider fortunate about COVID-19, it had a positive impact on our industry and most of our businesses. With so many people working from home or out of work and stuck at home, they began investing in home improvements. Folks didn’t just want to be outside, they needed to be outside! Improving or upgrading their outdoor Zen space was a solid investment for them, and as a result, business was booming.
By the end of 2020, we had added a third crew, a salesperson and additional office personnel. We spent $84,600 on a new dump truck, $64,200 on a new chipper and $55,200 on a new PHC rig. We were up to 11 employees and ended the year with revenues of more than $1.4 million, our best year yet.
This brings us to 2021. We’re still in a pandemic. While case numbers were tapering down earlier in the year, they were on the rise again in many locales as summer was coming to an end. But businesses and schools are beginning to reopen, and the vaccines and now boosters are available. We’ve hired three new climbers and expect to add a fourth crew this year. We plan to purchase a new bucket truck and a spider lift, and our revenue goal for this year is $2 million.
Why am I sharing all of these figures with you? This is my valuation of my journey through WMC. It is the best $536,225 I’ve ever spent and also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Had I not attended my first WMC in 2017, we would most likely still be running a single crew, we would never have experienced the growth we’ve had and I would never have met some of my closest friends.
In the end, it’s all about connections, right? We all have our own personal connections locally with landscapers, subcontractors, realtors, nurseries and more. Through TCIA and WMC, I now have new connections. I can call Tad anytime with any issue and he’s there for me. If I have a question about PHC, operations or strategy, I’ll call Josh. George is an equipment guru, Jeff and Amy have mastered culture and Billy is a data and numbers person. These colleagues probably have more than 100 years of combined experience. I don’t know what value I bring to the table, as I’m just the new guy tagging along, but I sure am grateful that we’ve all connected!
If you’ve never been to WMC, opportunities await. TCIA is an organization dedicated to advancing tree care companies, and every single member is willing to help you grow. I am so grateful for TCIA and all they do for our industry.
It doesn’t matter if you have two employees or 200, WMC is a space where we can all come together and support each other on a journey through business and personal growth. It is somewhere everyone can relate to similar challenges and share experiences, knowledge and love for our industry and what we do. Most important, it is a space to meet the most amazing people who will become your new family.
If you’ve never been to WMC and you’re considering it, I hope my journey inspires you. Please know that the entire staff at TCIA and all the members who attend are there to support you. If you need a little help to get you started, perhaps sign up for the TCIA mentorship program or reach out to a membership-engagement coordinator. I’m not a TCIA staff member nor am I on the board, but I am certainly happy to help and will make myself available to anyone who might have questions. TCIA and its Winter Management Conference changed my life and the course of my business; I hope it does the same for you!
Joseph Eves, CTSP, is owner of Coastal Tree Care, an accredited, six-year TCIA member company based in San Diego, Calif.