At first glance, the professions of computer technology and tree care don’t seem to have much in common. Certainly, the tools required are very different. But Christina Rancilio, who recently made that career move, says there are actually quite a few similarities. “They’re both very specialized – and you have to earn the respect of your peers by proving you know what you’re doing,” she explains.
Rancilio, owner of Monster Tree Service of Dallas Metroplex, a TCIA member company based in Dallas, Texas, also points out that success in both fields depends on educating customers about what are very technical topics. Finally, she notes, both tech and tree care are male-dominated worlds. So, while the learning curve since starting her own tree care company last year has been steep, by relying on past lessons she’s learned, “things have translated pretty well from my past life to my current one,” says Rancilio.
After many years of working in technology, Rancilio says she became burned out and began looking for something new. Her favorite hobby has long been gardening. “I’ve always had a creative side and like to get my hands dirty,” she says. And the opportunity to work outside rather than inside was important to her. So Rancilio, who lives in Dallas, looked for a business opportunity that would allow her to do all of these things. She briefly considered starting a landscaping company, realizing that the barrier to entry is much lower than that of tree care in terms of the technical skills, equipment and labor required. But Rancilio says the unique passion she found among those who specialize in tree care drew her to this industry.
In surveying her colleagues and associates in the computer world, Rancilio says her plan to start a tree care business was met with enthusiasm. She heard numerous stories about bad experiences with disreputable operators. “They would tell me, ‘When it comes to my trees, I just need someone I can trust.’ Every single time I brought it up, people would emphasize to me how much they wanted someone they could trust.”
The discussions led Rancilio to realize that tree maintenance is a mystery to many people. “The everyday homeowner doesn’t know what’s best for their trees. Many times, they don’t even realize they have to care for their trees,” she notes. This, coupled too often with a lack of communication, leads people to be confused or wary when working with a tree care company. She said she’s seen this in her own experiences dealing with service professionals in various trades who haven’t taken the time to explain things. “They don’t tell me what they’re doing; they don’t tell me what the plan is; they don’t give me that comfort that they know what they’re doing,” says Rancilio. “I want to be different in that way, and make sure people understand. Something I found in my technology career is that the more educated people are, the more their expectations are in line.”
Convinced that tree care was the right business for her, she began to explore different opportunities. “I never thought I would end up in a franchise,” says Rancilio. But after a chance conversation with someone in her business network who specialized in franchise matching, Rancilio decided to learn more. She eventually narrowed her list of top options down to Monster Tree Service, which is headquartered in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and has more than 60 franchises across the country, all TCIA members.
The comprehensive franchise process itself was educational, she says. “You go through these various discussions and presentations – the process takes a little while.” In addition to meeting with the corporate operations team and talking about back-office processes, Rancilio was able to talk with other franchisees and go out on jobs to see firsthand what the profession is all about. “The Monster team is so supportive, especially for someone who is new to the industry,” she states.
Rancilio says that, having come from a services industry, she understood the importance of assembling a qualified team, of having the right equipment in place and having a handle on all of the logistics. One difference with tree care, obviously, is the safety factor, and that’s something she says Monster prioritized during the franchise feeling-out process, and something she has made a priority to learn about and emphasize within her company. “It is a very big thing for me. I want my employees, when they come to work in the morning, to feel like they’re going to be OK when they go home at the end of the day.”
There were already two Monster franchise owners operating in other Dallas suburbs, so Rancilio’s franchise helped add further coverage to the city and its surrounding areas. “Those other owners have been awesome, and we’ve been working together – they’ve certainly helped me with the billion questions I’ve had,” she says.
Rancilio opened her franchise during the summer of 2019. She says that Monster provides a suggested list of equipment and offers input on building the right size and type of staff – including the skills each employee needs to do their particular job. While the process of purchasing trucks and chippers and stump grinders and other equipment, as well as assembling a team of climbers and grounds people, is a challenge in itself, things were compounded when Dallas experienced a rash of severe storms last summer.
“And then we had a tornado in October,” Rancilio recounts.
So most workers with tree care training were already out on storm cleanup, making it difficult to assemble good employees for her business. “That was one of my biggest hurdles. When people know you, they know you’re going to treat them right. But I didn’t have that reputation yet in the tree world.” Short on manpower, Rancilio says, “I was out there doing production work with the guys. Showing them I cared about them in terms of safety. Making sure they knew they were respected.”
The silver lining, she says, is that the experience helped her to develop a good reputation as an employer, and word-of-mouth since then has led to regular inquiries from prospective employees looking for work. Currently, Rancilio has six employees, including several Certified Arborists. “So I’ve got one solid crew I can break up into a couple of smaller crews depending on the day,” she explains. “It’s a great team we have now – I love the guys on my crew.”
Rancilio currently is working to build up a backlog of jobs that will allow her to hire even more employees and grow her operation. And that is her goal. As the business owner, to make that happen, Rancilio realizes she needs to be able to focus most of her time on sales and marketing. It helps that her favorite aspect of the tree care profession is meeting with and helping to educate customers – translating technical terminology and concepts for them, another skill she’s found has carried over from her earlier career.
“Whether we end up doing their (a client’s) project or not, I always want them to be able to understand what they have and help them prioritize. I just think building those relationships is so important.” She’s also noticed that women, in particular, seem to appreciate working with her as their tree care service provider, some mentioning that other contractors have talked down to them in the past.
“I just want to be someone they can trust and who will give them a straight answer,” Rancilio says.