Extreme Business Training

Originally Published in Tree Care Industry Association Reporter

Running and growing a professional tree care business involves providing training in a number of important and very different areas. An individual’s role in the business usually determines his or her training requirements.

Tree climbers have a number of options to train and improve their safety, skills and proficiency. These options include professional trainers and working with mentors on the job.

Plant health care technicians have government licensing requirements to ensure public safety by becoming a registered Technician and a Commercial Applicator. During this time they can train with an experienced technician to improve skills in the field.

Sales arborists generally have to obtain one or more certifications (ISA Certified Arborist, CTSP, etc.) to help with the technical requirements of their work. They can then train to excel at communication, customer interaction and customer satisfaction.

CEOs, business owners, and managers must also train to become the best they can be. There are several different owner/manager training organizations that do just this. In the Washington, D.C., area there are Vistage, Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), and Strategic Coach, to name a few. These organizations all offer a different approach to business coaching, but all offer good advice. TCI EXPO and Winter Management Conference (WMC) also offer incredible opportunities to learn the latest business trends and tactics. The speakers at these events are leaders in the green industry and are always excellent. You can also make new friends and reconnect with old friends at these events. It’s these friendships and personal experiences that have enriched my TCIA membership experience for the last 18 years. These friendships also offer an incredible learning opportunity.

A few years ago, several TCIA members and I started talking about visiting member companies as practical business training. This is a common practice that is done in many other industries. It provides the visitors and the hosting business valuable peer review, feedback, input, and actionable ideas. It became clear that, while it seems like it’s never a good time to leave our businesses, we had to commit to taking a few days off or it would never happen. A few of us committed to doing this and the payoffs have been huge. Over the last three years, I have visited and toured tree businesses in Massachusetts, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Colorado.

Recently, a group of us had the good fortune and true pleasure to visit another TCIA member company that has reached “iconic” status in the industry – Swingle Lawn, Tree and Landscape Care. Tom Tolkacz, Swingle’s CEO, and John Gibson, president, have done an amazing job growing this company. Swingle is the largest independent tree and landscape company in Denver and surrounding markets.

The first day we arrived we went straight to work. The Swingle executive team provided our group with a (Vistage style) overview and a briefing on all aspects of their business. We received presentations on marketing, production, safety, accounting, IT, plant health care, and sales. They encouraged our questions as we discussed what they do. We looked at their fleet, warehouses, and offices and how they kept all of this organized.

In two, half-day sessions with Tom, John and the staff, we learned more great business advice than we could get in a week of general business coaching. We all created a long list of to-do items for when we returned home. This experience alone made the trip, and the time taken to do it, a win for everyone. However, what we did next was the icing on the cake. Following the business meeting we wasted no time and started a three-hour drive to Nebraska – to go turkey hunting. Several of the veteran hunters confirmed that turkeys are smart and can be tough (fun) to hunt. The drive to the hunting lodge allowed us time to debrief on more business questions, stop occasionally for a brief history lesson on the Wild West, and start our next “training” – how to hunt turkey.

The next few days we hunted twice a day, getting up at 4 a.m. to make sure we were well situated when the turkeys came down from their roosts. Tom and a professional guide made sure each of us were well situated to be successful, however “closing the deal” was up to each one of us. At the end of the hunt everyone had a bird, we made some great memories, and we had lots of laughs.

As we were driving back to the airport to fly home, everyone knew that the last few days had been something very special. After 10 years of talking about this trip, it finally took place. It was far better an experience then ever could have been imagined.

Getting involved isn’t always convenient, but it’s always been rewarding. To quote a tree industry veteran and mentor of mine (Walt Money), “You get out of this industry, what you put into it.”

TCI EXPO and Winter Management Conference are the best places to find your next “extreme” business meeting partners. I would encourage you to take the time to visit your friends.

-Written By Andy Ross