Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Professional Tree Care. Part 3

Often as not a well-recommended small company will prove as knowledgeable as one of the majors, and usually will be more prompt and economical. But you have nothing to lose, and maybe much to gain, by inviting a survey also from a company that advertises regionally or nationally. These people have big investments and reputations to protect. Their local representatives are prone to be just as hungry for business as the lesser operators, and therefore inclined to high-pressure you, but they can be assumed to be better informed, especially as to parasites and diseases for which remedies change from year to year. Also, local agents of big companies are strictly accountable. If you give them your work and later have complaints, you can get redress from higher authority. When you make known your wishes - and may this book help you define them - be sure the salesman knows you are going to compare his recommendations and prices with those of at least one other "expert." At the same time let him know you are not bargain-hunting. As in buying a car or painting a house, you cannot expect to get any better tree service than you pay for. Money spent on cheap tree work is money wasted. Good tree service has to cost good money.

Much more is involved in it than meets the eye. The workmen's wages may not average more than two dollars per man-hour, but before he profits the employer has many other costs to cover: compensation and liability premiums, outlay and maintenance on vehicles and tools, warehousing, office overhead, selling expenses, training time, supervision, advertising. A not unreasonable rate for a two-man crew with truck and tools is around $12 an hour. Add at least four dollars an hour labor charge for each additional worker above two. Add specific material costs such as cable, eyebolts, wood screws, wound dressing, cavity fill. It follows that you cannot expect to get a day's tree work done - good work, that is - for less than about $60 per operative on the job. An important fact to remember is that, except where the tree company proprietor is his own salesman and foreman, the man who takes your order is not the man who will do your work. The salesman will lay it out, price it, inspect it when finished, but he turns over its actual execution to a crew foreman. Some information about this important character will not come amiss, and your asking for it should not be so taken. A foreman can make or break a salesman, by performing good jobs or botches for the prices set. (Fairest to both parties is a "not to exceed" price in which the company has some leeway but passes any savings back to the client.)

In looking over your trees and estimating the time and materials they require, the salesman must translate in terms of a given crew's work capacity. This will vary directly with the foreman's ability, his attitude, and his men's attitude toward him. When you are satisfied that the salesman knows his business, means well by you, and has written up your order fairly enough, ask him about the foreman he plans to assign to your job. How long has he had this foreman? Where are he and his men working now? May you visit and watch them at work? If there is any question about a foreman's quality, this line of questioning will soon smoke it out. Good foremen are the backbone of all tree service, and good salesmen are delighted to show them off. The best foremen are workers who have come up through the ranks in the same company, and not too quickly. They are not men who have switched around from company to company to get higher pay, or young fancy Dans promoted early just because the companies were shorthanded. You can usually spot a first-rate tree foreman by his economy of motion and of words. He keeps an eye on his men's work as it goes along, and keeps them moving. Before his juniors come down from their trees he makes sure all their cuts are properly made and painted so that time will not be lost sending a man up again. He handles the most ticklish operations himself. His men don't hesitate to ask his help or instruction, because they trust his leadership and he has given them crew spirit.

If such a foreman comes to you with questions or suggestions after the salesman has gone, he may not strike you as being a brilliant conversationalist, but listen to him carefully. He is up in the trees every day. He can see much more up there than can ever be seen from the ground. Even if his ideas differ from yours and the salesman's, unless they are miles out of line, accept them. In a like way, the best salesmen are those who came up from foreman. They are taken out of the trees, put into business suits, and promoted to a drawing-account-plus-commissions basis primarily because of their thorough know-how, not their persuasiveness. I am speaking now of big-company salesmen. From the client's viewpoint, former foremen are the best. They are the least likely to be high-pressure artists. Big companies must have volume to meet their overhead. They have to support a hierarchy of high brass, promotion hotshots, cost accountants, billing clerks, and laboratory and research staffs which give the company prestige but serve the customers very vaguely. Throughout the organization there is harsh emphasis on sell, sell, SELL.

To put firecrackers under the salesmen's coattails, meetings are held at which the most unblushing Babbittries are enunciated. Contests are conducted, with prizes for the fiercest go-getters. Lectures and literature analyze the prospects' sales resistance, and how to break it down. A favorite theme is snob appeal - keeping up with the Joneses. This type of training produces glib spielers who have learned their tree patter in the company's sales seminars. They might as well be selling automobiles or brushes door-to-door. Nowadays the big companies hire all too many of this type in their frantic pursuit of business volume. But for treemen tried and true, fancy sales techniques have no charm. Short of the direct question to men who solicit your business, "Have you yourself worked in the trees?" a sound rule for judging them is: the less they talk, the more you can believe them.