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Branch (and People) Management

February 18, 2021

In this special episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Noel Boyer to the show. Noel is a Certified Master Arborist and self-proclaimed “tree-hugging” owner of All About Trees. Noel shares his insights about claiming your niche, frugality, and how he builds positive company culture.

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL LEARN:

  • Noel’s philosophies on investing in your employees.
  • The importance of choosing employees to fit in your company culture.
  • Noel’s strategies to retain top employees – especially Millennials.
  • The benefits to educating your customers.

LINKS TO LOVE:

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Ty Deemer:

You are listening to The Green Industry Perspectives podcast, presented by SingleOps, a podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics, and tips on running their tree care or landscape business. 

All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. My name is Ty Deemer. I’m the marketing manager at SingleOps and the host of this podcast. As we continue into season three, we’re going to have Noel Boyer on the show for this episode. Noel is the owner of All About Trees, really well known in the industry, heavily involved with ISA and the TCIA organizations. And we’re really excited to have him on. Noel, welcome. 

Noel Boyer:

Hey, thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. So Noel, we always jump right into things on this podcast, try to provide immediate value to the audience. And we ask every guest the same question, and for you, it can be from the perspective of All About Trees. Since 2005 when you took over as owner of All About, what have been the top two to three things that you view have made you all successful in the tree care industry? 

Noel Boyer:

I think probably number one is going to be that we have worked really hard to brand ourselves as the experts in the field for our territory, for our market. And the way that we’ve done that is we’ve put a lot of emphasis on credentialing on our team. And we have a pretty small company. I think total with the office staff and everything, we’re 15 people. But we have 10 certified arborists on staff and actually two of us are board certified master arborists and got a couple of CTSPs and got all kinds of CDLs and crane certifications for the guys and all. So we have basically made ourselves the professionals in town by taking care of the guys and making sure that they’re educated for what we’re doing and not just like going out there and winging it. And I know that we’re going to get into this later, but that investment in the guys too makes a big difference on the other end of the spectrum too. So I’d say number one is just we’ve done a good job of branding our name as the authority around here in proper tree care. 

Second one I would say is cautious and frugal spending I guess. We’re pretty careful about money around here, and I know that everybody has a different level of ability to handle debt and all that stuff. And I did have debt in the company when we first started everything. But as of right now, we are a debt-free company. We save our money and every year we buy new equipment. And it’s not new, but it’s good used equipment that we go out and find. And so like this year, we added a couple of chip trucks and a PHC truck and a 30-ton crane and a couple of other support vehicles. And we were able to save cautiously as we always do and paid cash for all of those. So we like to run here debt-free if we possibly can. And so that frees up a lot of opportunity for us. I mean if we did need to borrow money, we could do it no problem. We’ve got lots and lots of equipment here that we could collateralize. But it gives us an opportunity to invest more money in the guys or in other things we’re doing instead of paying a lot in interest. 

And then the third thing that is the reason that I feel like that we do well is because we really have an engaged crew. Like our culture is that nobody is here just to drag brush to the chipper. That’s not a very happy job for most people, and I understand that that’s a stepping stone to get you where you’re going to go. But everybody that works here, even if you’re the new guy, from day one, that’s when we start training you to be a climber. And so we don’t have any groundies here. Everybody, all 11 guys in the field are climbers, and we keep them engaged by giving them opportunities to get their certs together, opportunities to go to tree climbing competitions, opportunities to make decisions. We try to let them know what the expectations are, and then I guess part of the freedom of letting these guys make a lot of decisions, if we have a customer that’s upset about something, anybody on the entire crew can go up and say, hey, there’s no need to involve the boss in this deal. If this corner of the fence pickets, then we just knocked out is 50 bucks worth of work, I’ll take it off the bill or we’ll just go get the parts right now and fix it or whatever it is. So I give the guys a chance to resolve conflicts in any way that they feel appropriate. And sometimes it means that they’re going to go out and make a little bit of a mistake every now and then, but as long as it’s something that you’ve learned from, that’s good for me. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I can’t wait to dive into some of those points later in on the show. It’s just really strong start. So just so the audience has an idea of your background, how long have you been involved in the tree care industry? How did you get started? And kind of what has your journey in the industry looked like since the beginning? 

Noel Boyer:

I know I look so young and vigorous that people are going to have a hard time believing this. But I have been in the industry for 26 years. I got a degree in psychology back in 1995, and I was pretty misguided in getting that. I really should have gone to a tech school because I’m a farm kid and I don’t know what I was thinking. But I don’t think it was wasted, but I definitely have no interest in getting back into the psychology field at all. So I needed a job, and a local tree guy here in town was hiring. And so I took a job dragging brush to the chipper for seven bucks an hour and never at all intended to stay there or in this profession at all. But what my boss did at that company was kind of the same thing that I’m doing with my guys. He started teaching me how to climb right off the bat, and we got along real well and he was willing to invest in me and train me instead of just telling me to—I always joked that he called me the branch manager because he’s like, I need you to manage to get those branches into the chipper. So I could have been hired by him, and he just lets me put branches in the chipper. But instead he taught me to climb and taught me how to make proper cuts and took me to seminars and stuff so that I could learn more. 

But the real reason that I stayed was in ’97, he took me to the Midwest Street Climbing Championship and signed me up for it. And I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know the rules. I knew how to climb a tree and all that. So I competed there and I didn’t win which was fine. But then I got the rule book, and I studied hard and practiced a little. And then I did go back again in ‘98 and I won the thing. So I competed at the Midwest chapter for 20 years straight and had a lot of fun and I’ve just met more friends than I could have ever imagined meeting in a lifetime. Just so many good people there and it’s such a family and everybody there just bonds. And every time you go to a tree climbing championship, you just come home on fire. It’s not good enough to just keep doing things the way you were doing. Now you’ve seen a new thing, something you can put into your into your quiver. And so in 20 years of competing at the Midwest chapter, I did win seven times. And so I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve got to go to internationals in England and Montreal, and I’ve been all over the place to go climb trees. And it’s been quite a ride. And that really I think was probably the thing that more than anything else locked me into this. Because everybody wants to do something you’re good at, and I found out pretty quickly that I was a pretty decent competitor at tree climbing championships for whatever that’s worth. I know it’s not real life, but it sure is a great way to keep your team excited. We go to at least a couple of climbing comps every year with our team. 

I worked for another company then for 10 years, and then it was time for me to go out on my own. And I would say that I started this company, but the truth is that I actually bought it for a song. It was just a husband and wife couple who had owned this little company for 10 or 12 years, but they just never really pushed it hard. And in 12 years of doing business, their biggest year ever, I think they did like, I don’t know, $160,000 or something like that. And so we kind of like took it from them and went on a run. So I don’t know how deep you want to get into like, you want to know how big the company is now and all that or…? 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, sure. It always is nice to kind of give the audience a perspective of where your company’s located, the services you offer, and then what revenue you’re doing each year just so as they’re listening they might have an idea of saying, like oh yeah, like that’s about where we’re at or oh, that’s where we’re wanting to go to. 

Noel Boyer:

No, I agree. And it’s cool that you’re doing that because like sometimes if you go to TCIA winter management—well, we didn’t have it this year. But last year there was like 500 or 600 people there. And I’ve always thought it would sure be nice if the roster of the attendees included size of companies so that I could like hunt those people down while I’m there, not only the people that are the same size as me but even the people maybe a step up where I’m going because they’ve already been through the same shit I’ve been through that I’m about to go through. So right now, we’re 15 employees. I got 11 guys in the field and one salesman, a couple of ladies in the office and me. And I’m kind of doing everything. I still am at that size where I haven’t yet learned how to not wear all the hats. But my office is incredible. They do all the scheduling of the estimate scheduling, of the crews. And for the last several years, about all I’ve done most of the day is sales, and I finally had to get some help in here with that. Last year in 2020, we hit right at $1.9 million in sales for the year, and up until this point, I had been doing pretty much all the sales myself while trying to run a company too. And I got to confess that I have been a little bit overwhelmed over the last couple years. So I’ve got help in here now to free me up. Honestly, one of my big goals for this year and the upcoming years is to actually, even if it’s just one day a week, but get back out on the crew and get my ass up into a tree with the guys because I’ve really missed climbing and doing tree work with my crews. 

Other than that, the tree climbing stuff has always been a big hit for me, and right now I’m on the board of directors for TCIA which I’m really excited about that. And I got some notes here about later on if we have time at the close where I can maybe mention some of the stuff that’s going on in TCIA right now because I think that’s important. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, for sure. We always reserve some time at the end to highlight things like that. And I love what you highlighted about the tree climbing competitions Todd Kramer was on our show earlier this season and the season before Mark Chisholm was. And it’s just clear for a lot of people in your shoes, those climbing competitions not only have been what have built the community that you have now in the space, but it’s also like made you more passionate about what you do. And I love hearing about that all the time. If anyone’s that’s listening is in a tree care company and you’re not providing incentives for your team to go, it’s totally worth investing in and going and doing. 

Noel Boyer:

I mean it’s intimidating, especially if you’re a new climber or an old climber. It’s intimidating to go sign up for something like that. And what I always tell everybody is that if even if you’re not going to go there and put your name on the list to get into the competition, there’s always a huge need for volunteers, and if you’re there to volunteer and to help and to join that circle with everybody else, you’re brought into the brotherhood just like somebody who’s on the roster. So there’s 100 ways that you can get involved in the TCCs, and no matter which way you choose, I guarantee you’re going to come home on fire. There’s just no way to go and participate in something like that without coming home with more passion for being an arborist. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. As you mentioned at the beginning of the show, we touched on a few of the things that you really feel like has impacted your business. And part of that you said was about branding yourself and your market as experts. And a lot of that has to do with the certifications of your staff. With that being said, how did those people become members of your team? Did you go out and hire people that already had certifications or was it more the process of like letting people grow in their career and getting to the point where they became a certified arborist once they were a part of your team for a few years? 

Noel Boyer:

On my 11-man team that I’ve got right now, I think maybe two or three of those guys came to me with experience and everybody else we’ve built. And by that, I mean we’ve trained them from the ground up. We had a couple of guys, we have a couple of guys that have been with me, one guy’s coming up on ten years that came from Job Corps and then I got another guy from Job Corps that’s been with me for six or seven. We have got a couple of guys that had some of the basics from Job For which is a federal work training program. That’s one source that if you have a Job Corps facility close to you, it doesn’t hurt to call. If they’ve got an arbor culture group, then sometimes you can touch base with the leader of that part of the school and say, hey, you got any shining stars? And I will tell you that according to the guy that I’ve always dealt with at Job Corps, they’ll have 50 people in the art program of which about four or five are really taking it seriously and trying to shine. And those are the people that we want. I mean we’ve got guys from the construction industry. We’ve got guys from, well, I’ve got a guy that is out of the Army. We’ve got guys that have done all kinds of other things. But I got one guy that was a cook. 

What we’re really after is an enthusiasm and a willingness to join the culture of not just learning for the benefit of you but for the benefit of everybody on the team. Sometimes I start talking about this stuff, and people like, ah, you’re just talking shit and nobody knows what that even means. But the gist of it is that if they don’t have the right attitude, then they really don’t get to stay. We’ve had a couple of guys that I’ve hired that were experienced and actually really good producers. I’ve had guys that I’ve hired that were certified arborists and good climbers and good producers, and they refused to join the culture of the team. And it got to the point where basically every day, everybody’s divvying up to go on to their crews for the day, and this dude’s last one chosen every day. And so kind of in our company, if you are the guy that nobody wants on their crew for the day, you pretty much get voted off the island. Because we all need to be able to work together and most mornings we don’t even know who’s on what crew, that we’ve got crew leaders and we hand in the work orders and they know how many people they need. And then we’re sitting around in a circle smoking and joking in the morning. And they’re like, all right, well, Josh, you take the grapple, you get the chip truck, and you’re going with me. And it’s just like all the guys don’t really care who they go with every day. We know no matter who’s on your crew, you’re going to get somebody that’s ready to get out and jam with you. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s all really helpful information to hear. I’ve heard similar things with people in the landscape space finding great employees through resources like Job Corps. So that’s definitely a good piece of advice to the audience. And then I like what you said about really finding the feel for what employees make sense for you all. And you mentioned earlier on the episode that you’re pretty involved with ISA and TCIA. And you contribute to TCIA’s website and you wrote a post in 2020 about retaining through engagement. And it’s one part of getting that good employee. Right? And getting them through the door and building out a process for them to be trained, but you also need to retain them over time. So I’d love for you to share with the audience what your kind of strategy as the owner of All About Trees is to make sure that you’re retaining the employees that you need to be a successful business. 

Noel Boyer:

I mean I can tell you that it’s really, it’s not magic, and I wish that I had like some secret sauce that I could like hand out to everybody. One thing that I’ve just mentioned is if there’s negativity in the ranks, it needs to be dealt with pretty quickly. If somebody has a problem with somebody else, I really don’t like for that to end up, like they both come to me and tell me the problems. I would rather grab both of those guys and pull them into a room together with me in there too, and let’s just resolve it. I don’t want fist fights on my job sites, but I also don’t want you to just like talk behind somebody’s back. So negativity has to be resolved pretty quickly, and if you have somebody who’s poisoning the well—and I’m telling you now this is one of the hardest things for me because I have always struggled with not getting rid of somebody when I really should and their negativity starts to bleed into everybody else on the crew. And so that one person who can actually drag down the entire team slowly. Even if everybody else has a good attitude, that one guy chips away at that. And so I’ve actually sucked in the past at getting rid of that guy on time to the point where I give them second chances or third chances or whatever, to the point where now everybody else on the crew can see that I’m being weak as a leader in not removing the poison from the well. So I would say number one would be the negativity can’t stay. And I know that—that doesn’t mean everybody has to show up all like bubble gum and candy and unicorns every day. But we do have to work as a team so that we can watch out for each other in our brotherhood here. 

The other thing that we do is like we constantly invest in them. And by that, it’s not good enough to just say, well, you’ve learned how to climb and now go climb trees and chip brush and that’s good. I need them to feel like they’re growing every year and especially whenever we’re dealing with Millennials. More and more, I mean I definitely can tell you that Millennials, at least the ones that work for me, are far more interested in personal growth and development and feeling like part of a cohesive team and feeling like they’re a contributor to that team is more important to them than the money is. They operate a lot more than us old Gen X-ers or beyond where a lot of us when we were younger, we were driven by money. I don’t give a shit if I’m miserable. Pay me. And now these newer guys, my younger guys, they’re not okay with being miserable for more money. They are actually better with less money and having a place to go where they feel like they’re part of something and they’re being invested in. I mean we have our own company bus. We have a bus where we at least a couple times a year, I’ll jump in it and we go to a couple of climbing competitions. We’ll go to the Midwest comp every year. We normally go to like a couple of other competitions, whatever we can work in. I’ve asked all the crew before numerous times what we’re spending on this trip is enough that I can give everybody in this room whatever it is, a 50 cent raise or a 75 cent raise, should I be canceling these climbing trips and giving you guys the money out in raises instead? And it’s unanimous every time. F that. We want the trips. We would far rather make memories and go out and jam and get excited about something to come home to. And so that’s been a big part of our company culture is send them to seminars whenever we can. We just finished last week, well, three of our guys and then we invited in five other guys from out of state to do a crane certification class here at our shop. So we got everybody that needed to be through crane certification. And so we’re just always trying to like keep building on them and keep building on them. 

The unfortunate part about this is that no matter what you do, no matter how good of a boss you are, sometimes people have to leave, and it’s people that you’ve invested a lot of time and money in. And I lost one of my key guys two weeks ago because he had a newborn baby, and they didn’t have any family here close by in Springfield for support and all of their family was up in St. Louis and stuff. And they had to pick up and move where they could have more family support. And it sucks because Jake is a badass and we invested so much in him and he was a great guy. And so sometimes circumstances beyond your control within your culture will cause somebody to pull away from you. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s a great frame of reference. You can check all the boxes of being a good employer, being a good boss, pouring into your team, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. People have to do kind of what’s best for them. But even having that mindset and understanding it is important. And a lot of what we’re talking about, it seems like it’s so focused on just keeping people happy or growing the team. But at the end of the day, you’ve been able to find out that it’s actually spoken to your brand more than anything, and I’ve seen how that’s correlated on your website a little bit. You all are very proactive in explaining tree care and arbor culture work to people that come on your website. You have a section kind of dedicated towards basically saying like, explaining what different tree care work is to your clients. And obviously, that lives on your website, but your team is probably able to do that to your clientele as well. What have been in some of the benefits of like having that transparency with your customers and kind of going the extra mile of explaining the work to them rather than just saying, yep, you need this done and we’re going to handle it and here’s the price? 

Noel Boyer:

One thing that we really like is that a lot of times, people are doing their research now. Whenever they’re looking to try to find an arborist to do their tree work, they’re not just like—it used to be 20 years ago, you open the Yellow Pages and you call the first three numbers of the biggest ads, and there’s some people that are still guilty of that now by you open up Google and you maybe click on the first three that come up. And a lot of people don’t even realize that maybe it’s a less than professional company that’s just paid Google to be at the top of the list. So I think that that’s causing people to dig a little bit deeper into websites and stuff and start looking at what it is that they could expect. The other thing that they’re doing is they’re—and I love it when this happens, but you can tell when somebody has dug into our website. And so I show up to do the consultation or the sales call bid, whatever you want to call it, and you hear them say some of the terminology that you know came from my website, that they actually looked at it and they’re like, well, these were these limbs over my roof here, I’m a little worried about it. And so I’ve been thinking that maybe we should do some crown reduction on those. And I’m like, oh, hell, yeah, they already studied, and they’ve already like kind of looked into the terminology. And the good part about that is that that is the beginning of their expectations meshing with what you’re offering them which is so critical. And I do want to come back on that later because that I think that that’s one of the biggest stakes out there in arbor culture is that a lot of times the customers’ expectations don’t match what we’re selling them. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, I would love to go ahead and dive into that a little bit. Because it is something we planned on touching on. Go into some detail there about why you view that as something that some tree care companies, some arborists are failing to do well. 

Noel Boyer:

I’m pointing this at me, and I’m still learning myself how to get past this. I just, how many times have you written an estimate, and it feels like it’s concise to you. Elevate the lower limbs up to a certain height and this and that or remove the dead wood one inch and larger from the tree. While that seems like a pretty descriptive spec that you’ve just written on pruning this tree, man, sometimes the customers have a, like it doesn’t even matter what’s written on the sheet of paper. They got a whole different picture in their mind. And so the guys show up and do like an impeccable, beautiful job pruning this tree for them, and you finish and you get down you get all cleaned up and they look and they’re like, well, wait, a minute it’s still the same size. I thought it was going to be smaller or whatever. And so we have discovered that whenever we’re writing specs for doing tree pruning, I mean you just got to really nail it down and be very specific and if at all possible, have that conversation with the customer. I mean most of our sales calls, we’re meeting with people. But there’s going to be 25% of them every day that’s like a drive-by look at it, write a quote, email it to them. And people are too damn busy to take the time to meet with me. And the key to me is if you’re going to build your brand, you’re going to build your reputation, you really have to be able to say exactly what it is needs to be done and exactly what it’s going to cost and exactly when you’re going to do it and exactly how you’re going to do it and you have to be able to tell your customer exactly what you’re going to do. And then you have to go do it, and you also have to make sure that that meets the expectations that they had. And sometimes people, you show up and they’re like, well, I want this tree half this size. And so you have to take the time to at least try to educate them as to why I can’t do that as a professional arborist because I’m going to create a much larger problem for you in the future, and it’s actually unethical. And sometimes people are like, I don’t care about that. I want the tree half the size. So quote that. And I’m like call somebody else because no matter how much money you thought you were going to throw at this project, it’s not worth anything compared to what my reputation is worth. I’ve worked so hard to not let a single person in our operating area ever see us drive away from a tree that we’ve butchered the shit out of. I know that the temptation is often there to just say, you know what? That’s what they want. Give it to them. Take their money. And I have had to not do that to protect our reputation. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. And what you’re touching on, a lot has to do with the fact that sometimes you kind of have to fire a customer. You’ve written an article about that for TCIA in the past. There’s just certain clients that aren’t going to be a good fit. Apart from like that scenario that you just gave, like how would you encourage tree care professionals out there to start like going about interacting with customers that really don’t align with what they believe is a good service or the right service? Because a lot of times in service-based companies, like the viewpoint is oh, the customer’s always right. But in this case, it’s not always true. How would you tell someone experiencing something like that, how would you encourage them to handle it? 

Noel Boyer:

It’s not easy and especially when you’re standing there looking somebody right in the face and the pressure’s on. And it’s hard to walk away from somebody like that. But I think my only advice would be like really, really give it a good effort and some of this is going to be like, you’re going to have to like study up and kind of get these pat answers that are locked into your head and they flow off your tongue every time because it’s something that, I mean some of these things I have to say them every day when I’m out there doing sales calls. The people, like the tree’s too big, the tree’s, I don’t want any of this hanging over my house. Anything that they’re asking for that’s inappropriate is something that we probably hear fairly often. So like build your case for why that’s not an appropriate way to handle that tree and be able to practice and stand in front of a mirror and practice it and be able to spit that whenever it’s time with confidence but not so confident that the customer feels like you’re being arrogant. You have to say it in a way that says, hey, I understand, especially here in Springfield, Missouri. In ’07, we had the mother of all ice storms here and 95% of the trees in this city were busted from this ice storm. And it’s 14 years later and there’s still people that every week I go out and they’re like, well, we need to do something about this because there’s going to be another ice storm. And so ice storms are so common here, it just freaks people out, and a lot of people think that the answer is to just like decapitate the tree or sideswipe it or whatever it takes to make it not hang over their house. But what they don’t understand is how that damages their investment in the future. And so I would say just practice your speeches on why topping is wrong, why lion tailing a tree, nobody needs to go in and cut the entire guts out of a tree so that it’s nothing but just sticks with a little tuft on the end of it. And that’s another real common, I mean to me it’s as bad as topping. And so if you’ve got a good explanation and you really genuinely try to educate them and they can feel your passion for it, it’s not like you’re doing it because you want to be stubborn with them or obstinate. It’s because you care, and you don’t want to cause them more problems later down the line. And I think that people, some people can feel that come off of you, that it’s a pride issue, it’s the fact that I really care, and I would love to take the time to educate you if you’re willing to hear me out. And then sometimes you get to the end and they’re like, okay, well, good speech but I still don’t give a shit and I want what I want. And you have to say, I appreciate your honesty and I’m going to go ahead and stop wasting your time now and I’ll let you move on to the next guy that you’ve called. And I think that’s an acceptable way to walk away from work if you’ve really given it a real effort to show you care and to try to educate and then to be ready for their objections. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. What you’re touching on is something that’s kind of come up multiple times on this podcast, and it’s really how tree care and landscape companies are often tasked with teaching or learning how to be an advocate to their client and like an advocate for their client’s yard. Like you are paid to be the expert on what they do, and if they’re not willing to accept like the years of education and experience that you have and like take your expert opinion, sometimes it is just best to move on. But I do like how you touched on that. Like you do have to like sit with them and be willing to explain it first, not from a stature of saying, yeah, I’m just right, I’m the expert but like being an advocate for them and going through the process. And if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. You can always move on. 

Noel Boyer:

I know that it won’t always be like this. We’ve had a crazy year in 2020. But everybody has been sitting at home for the last year and not going on vacation. So everybody’s spending all their money on fixing up their houses and working on their yards and landscapes. And so like even right now, here it is beginning of February and we’re on like a 14 or 15-week backlog of work and that’s not normal as you probably know. Tree guys tend to work through all their backlog in the wintertime and then get back swamped again in the Spring. And so we are swamped into work and whenever you have a 14-week backlog, one thing that it does allow you from a business standpoint is it allows us to work our prices more towards where they really should be. If you’ve got such a backlog in front of you, I mean it’s pretty much the common law of supply and demand. So our prices are going up right now. And also, it allows you to cherry pick your jobs. When people call me and they’re like, hey, I got this big ditch full of poison ivy that I need cleaned out, I refer them to one of the other guys in town here. It’s like I don’t want to do that kind of work right now. I’d like to do arborist work or technical removal work or something like that. I know it won’t always be like this, and I’m not saying that you should turn away a good job ever. But whenever it is so busy like it is right now, it gives you the opportunity to start moving your prices to where they’re supposed to be. I feel like for years, here in Springfield, Missouri, I mean it’s a big-small town is what it is. I think there’s 160,000 people here. It’s not a big market and not only is it not a big market but there are 50 tree companies in Springfield, Missouri. 5-0. 

Ty Deemer:

Wow.

Noel Boyer:

So we have all of these small operators I mean just like everywhere, and you really have to work hard to differentiate yourself from those guys. Because I’m not the most expensive company in town, but I would say I’m the second most expensive company in town which is kind of a nice place to be. I just feel like we weren’t charging enough money to do what we do here because the market didn’t allow it. And so gradually right now because of the situation, we are able to push prices up to where they should be. And it’s not like I’m ever going to be a gajillionaire doing this, and I kind of don’t care. I mean I want to make a good living and all that, but I also want to like push this market. And I’ve got friends here in town that have great little tree companies too, and we’re pushing together. And I don’t mean that in a way like we’re sharing bids with each other. But they’re in the same boat that I’m in, and I know that they’re pushing their prices too. So it’s good to get this market kind of reset to what would be an appropriate level of what tree work costs in a town like this. I’ve got a friend that owns a tree company in in California, and his rates are double or triple what ours are because running a business out there is ridiculous. You can’t go outside and break wind without getting a ticket slapped on you. So we live in kind of the wild west here in Springfield, Missouri. We don’t have a lot of regulation here. And so I don’t have a lot of those expenses that he has out there. 

Ty Deemer:

Got you. Yeah. That insight’s really helpful, and I think it’s a good segue into one of the last topics I wanted to cover that you touched on earlier before we get into some like final wrap-up questions. But earlier on the show, you mentioned how one of the things that’s like helped your business grow is just being like frugal and having cautious spending. And I thought that was an interesting point, at least from my perspective as I’ve gone to some industry trade shows, the ISA conference, the TCIA conference. And I feel like equipment is somewhat all the buzz at those events. Like you just have people that go, and they’re looking for the shiniest, newest piece of equipment. And they like walk in, and it’s like a kid in a candy store. It’d be like the equivalent of someone like you buying a Ferrari. It’s like ah, the new truck this year or the new saw. And I do feel like that’s like a common theme or trending in this industry. And it sounds like you’ve really tried to stray away from that. And I’m curious like what would your pitch to that mind of thinking be to people that are currently all about the newest and best and the shiniest? 

Noel Boyer:

Oh, I don’t have a problem with it. A lot of people say that that I’m the one making the mistake here because I’m missing out on opportunities to have newer, bigger, better, faster, stronger stuff because I’m waiting until I’ve saved up the money to buy a used piece of equipment. And I think what it really comes down to is what’s your tolerance level, man? Are you going to go a half a million dollars in debt for a kick-ass tree mech? Or honestly, you go to that trade show at TCI Expo and a lot of that equipment that you see in that room is being driven by the lack of available workers. It used to be that you could hire a guy to be your climber. You could hire a couple of ground guys, have a chip truck and a chipper. And so now so many people are realizing I can’t hire anybody here. There is literally nobody available in the funnel to come to me. And so they’re like, screw it, what am I going to pay on three, four employees? I’ll just have one guy in this $400,000 tree mech. And so it’s not necessarily that people are just walking in there and going crazy because it’s the newest, biggest, shiniest piece of equipment. For some people, it’s the only way they can stay in business is to go buy that thing because they just literally can’t find any help to do it the way that they used to do it. So machinery is replacing people at a very fast rate in arbor culture right now. Even though I got 11 guys in the field, we’ve got three mini skid steers because every day, every crews like, that one little machine is going to drag three times as much brush as two people and it does and it goes through a three-foot gate and you can take it everywhere. We’ve mechanized quite a bit in our little company too. There’s a lot of people out—I mean I shared numbers with you earlier. We did $1.9 million last year with 11 guys in the field, and I think that if I didn’t have a lot of them, like the grapple trucks and the mini skid steers and some of the spider lift and stuff like that that we’ve got, I think that it probably would have taken me another five, six, seven, eight guys to do what we did last year numerically. So even in my company, some personnel has been replaced with equipment already. Not that I’ve let anybody go. I need to hire two more guys like right now, right now. But the equipment is what is enabling us to do more with less people. And so if you’re if your tolerance for debt says, I don’t mind being a million dollars in debt and the numbers on my business plan prove that I can afford it and it’s going to build my business, then hell yeah, do it. And in my case, I have a lower, I’ve been a million dollars in debt before and dug my way out of it. And so now my tolerance is not what it used to be for being deep in debt. 

Ty Deemer:

So if someone was listening to this podcast, and they were like, yeah, like I agree. Like I have a very low tolerance for debt. I don’t want to get into it. But I will acknowledge what you were saying, like I do need to invest in some equipment so I can grow at a healthier rate and be able to do what I want to do. What does the market look like for used equipment in the tree care space? Where do you find it? And like could you go into that? Because I’m actually unfamiliar with it as well. 

Noel Boyer:

There are like a lot of resources. I think I’m a member of probably 10 different tree care buy sell swap sites on Facebook. And like every day, there’s 10 different Facebook groups of trading tree equipment, and I mean you can a lot of times find what you need in there. There’s also like Tree and Landscape Trader. They’ve actually sent out a magazine monthly with people that, like if you really want to have listings, there’s quite a bit of like the truck building companies that advertise their inventory in there. I don’t know. I think that like, probably the like the Facebook marketplace and those tree trading groups is a way to find about anything. But also, I just kind of like, sometimes you just keep your ear to the ground and this year, my friend that owns this tree company out in California, Tad at Tree Masters out there, the poor guy, he had a beautiful 30-ton crane. Nothing wrong with it. And a couple of really nice big chip trucks, big ones, Peterbilt and International chip trucks. And they are pre-emissions trucks, and California is like, you can’t use that stuff anymore. And so they basically were like you’re now done. They’re perfectly usable trucks, but you’re done with them. You can’t run them in California anymore because they don’t have any of the emissions stuff that’s required out there now. I kind of like had my ear to the ground on that one, and Tad made me a package deal to buy the crane and both chip trucks and his big diesel air compressor for their air spade, all of this stuff that he can’t use there anymore and it’s nice equipment. So sometimes if you’re listening well, you can find what you need. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. That’s cool, and thanks for going into some of the ways other people could look at that. Because I just hadn’t really thought of that before. Getting back into the show, I want to leave you some time at the end to talk about some ways people could start getting involved in TCIA and ISA. But before we do that, I always kind of like to ask two similar questions at the end of every show. And the first one just kind of has to do with looking back on your 20 plus years in the industry, what is something you’d go back and tell your younger self when you were first getting involved now that you know kind of what you know today? 

Noel Boyer:

Number one thing would be learn to say no in so many ways. Learn to say no when somebody’s asking you to do the wrong thing to their tree. Learn to say no when you’re already overwhelmed and somebody’s trying to put more on you. I actually had to like back myself out of a hole because I’m trying to run a business here and I already feel like I’m wearing a lot of hats. And I got to a spot three or four years ago where I was serving on maybe like five or six different boards and community groups and treasurer for the Midwest ISA and like on the board for the Turf and Management Department at the local community college and like all of these things. And I about drove myself crazy because of my inability to say no. And I mentioned the ice storm earlier back in 2007, that it just, I mean I only started this company in 2005. So I was a new business owner out there trying to like hammer down, and it was just overwhelming. We were taking 200 phone calls a day, and we were one crew of three guys. And I didn’t know how to say no and found myself working 100 hours a week for about six or seven months. And I actually kind of went crazy, and my wife had to kind of drag me into the bathroom one morning by my ear and flip the light on so that I could look at what a shithead I looked like because I was toast. And so I had to wake up and start telling people no. I want to do as much as I can for everybody. I don’t mind taking on challenges. I want to help especially my people that work for me. This last weekend, I had two of my guys moving. And so like helped one guy move Friday night, helped another guy move on Saturday. And I love doing stuff like that for my people. But sometimes, you have to learn how to say no. I’m getting better at that. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. So kind of last question, and I always end the episodes with this. What comes next for you as we go into 2021? What comes next for All About Trees? What are you most excited about going forward from here? 

Noel Boyer:

Well, so I do have a bit of my future planned out. I decided five years ago that I don’t want to be an old crotchety man watching my business wither away as my ability and attention span and effort wanes. And so because of that, I went to lawyers, and I have two really good managers. My office manager has been with me for 14 years, and my crew manager has been with me for 10 years. And they are the hammers hitting the nails. They’re the ones that are driving everything. I mean I do what I do, but they’re really driving the company. I used to work at a company that went through a buyout. Right now, I have a couple of different larger companies that have expressed an interest to buy us out, and I could do that. And I know what happens. Well, I know what happened to me whenever the company that I was working for got bought out. It could have been good or could have been bad. It wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t for me. I don’t do well in a corporate setting, and I like this Ma and Pa family style kind of business like what we run. So I just didn’t think that I could feel good about doing that to my people. And I’m not saying that it still couldn’t happen, but I went to lawyers and we wrote up a 10-year succession plan with my two top people. And so they’re slowly taking a small percentage of the company each year for 10 years. So we’re five years deep into it now. Like I got five years left in this company, and then the whole buyout happens. They’re going to have to like go to the bank and finish buying me out for the shares that they don’t own. 

And the reason I did that was to not be an old man watching my business fade but also to reward the people that are willing to like really get behind and push the cart with me. And I think that now that I’ve incentivized these two people to say at the end of 10 years, you’re either going to have 20% of a million-dollar company or a three-million dollar company or a five-million dollar company. And your effort and the way that we do this is going to decide. I think I know which one I would want if I was getting 20% of a company. I would want it to be worth as much as possible. And so that’s exciting for me to know that five years from now, I will be honest, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do yet five years from now. I still got some time to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up. But I do know that I’m probably going to pick something that requires less intensity and stress than this. I’ve got lots of ideas and I can do other things. And so I’m going to move away from business ownership, at least this company here in five years and hand it over to two very capable people. So that’s one thing that’s going to be happening five years from now. 

The other thing that I’m excited about is to continue to stay involved with—I’m not real, real involved with ISA right now but I’m super involved with TCIA right now. I’m on their board of directors, and I’ve managed to say no to a couple of other things. So TCIA, that organization has really, really changed a lot in the last three years, and there’s a lot of good stuff coming down the pipe too. Some of the things that us business owners really struggle with resources for training and for certifications for your people and how to connect with other people and take some shortcuts on not having to reinvent the wheel as you’re building your business and mentorship. And one of the big things that TCIA is working on right now is an apprenticeship program so that we can hopefully feed this industry with some more qualified, capable, trained people, and it’s already being implemented in several schools, especially like in Wisconsin. And whenever they get done with this, it’ll be a product that even if you own a company and you want to go through apprenticeship with your employees, you’ll be able to do that through TCIA. And they’re working I mean like crazy right now to get a lot of those modules and stuff even into a digital format. Used to be you had to like buy a big stack of books and paper tests and mail them in and manual grading and all this stuff. And so they’re really developing a lot of material right now. TCIA has always done a lot of things that have been valuable to me for training tools and opportunities to network and all kinds of stuff like that. But I think the business owners are really going to start to see the benefit of membership there grow even more and more because of the way that the organization is on fire right now. 

The second thing that I feel like is pretty important in TCIA right now is that for 20 years, we’ve been trying to get pushed through with OSHA in Washington, D.C. to take on giving arbor culture our own code, our own standard. Because ever since OSHA has been around, they’ve been basically investigating and dealing with tree care companies, only we don’t have our own standard. And so we’ve got tree care companies all the time getting written up on logging or landscaping codes which are not pertinent to us. And OSHA has never formally recognized crane use in arbor culture, and that’s gone crazy right now, especially with what we were talking about earlier, the shortage of manpower. People are buying cranes like crazy because you can do so much work with them. And so finally after 20, years and TCIA has invested in lobbying strategies. And so we’ve got OSHA with our standard on the table right now, and we have a standard, a first draft of it written. And I’ve sat on the small business panels and been part of the feedback and input to make sure that it’s not—of course, I have no say in it. But my say would be the more that you make it hard for people to follow this regulation, the less buy-in you’re going to get. So if we could have something really close to the ANSI standard for doing tree work where we have some connection there, ANSI is a great standard. It’s under constant revision by industry professionals, and if you could base the OSHA standard off of that, then it would put all of us on the same page for once. And it’s going to help us with insurance, it’s going to help us with OSHA regulations, it’s going to help us with a lot of things. And so it’s looking like unless something bad happens, we might see a final draft on our arbor culture OSHA standard within the next year or two which would be something we’ve been pushing for a long, long time. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s incredible to hear. I definitely am excited to see what happens and takes place with that. Well, Noel, we’re right at an hour. I’ve loved getting to hear your perspective on everything tree care. We touched on a ton of incredible topics, and I’m sure that whoever listens today will get a ton of value. Can’t thank you enough for your time, and I’m really excited to see kind of what comes next for All About and then obviously all the stuff that’s exciting with the TCIA right now. So thanks again for coming on the show. 

Noel Boyer:

You’re very welcome. I appreciate you having me. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely.

Conclusion:

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