It’s rare that a company name describes the product or service that firm offers. Think Apple, Starbucks, Google or Exxon/Mobil, and those monikers hardly hint at what’s behind them. With The Tree Doctor, however, what you see is literally, what you get. The Rhode Island-based company, uses a combination of up-to-date technology and a proven arborist’s skill, to offer an in-depth knowledge of what’s best for its customer’s trees. As a result, The Tree Doctor has built a successful tree care business, firmly “rooted” in customer service and customer satisfaction.
A great fit
Like most in the tree service industry today, Ken Coelho’s start was a humble one. Based in Warren, R.I., the man behind the Tree Doctor name started with another area firm where he first split fire wood and then advanced from there.
“I liked the business immediately, so I took to it very quickly,” he said. “So I moved on to learn how to chop and saw, then how to climb, then how to work from a bucket and so on. It wasn’t long before I was in charge of positioning and running my own crews.”
That company continued to grow, but, as is often the case, was then purchased by another company. The change in management did not bode well for Coelho.
“One of the first things the new owners did was try to cut my pay,” he said. “I knew I had to leave and told them, ‘give me three months, and I’ll be a one of your biggest competitors.’ They warned me that I couldn’t call any of their existing customers, but I knew I didn’t have to. Based on the service I provided, I was certain those customers would find me. They did, and I still have them as clients to this day. That other company, by the way, is no longer in business.”
Modest start feels right
One of Coelho’s first items of business was to purchase a smaller Morbark chipper from his previous employer.
“That unit was a Model 290, which was comparable, I guess, to what Morbark today calls their M8D chipper,” he said. “It was small but powerful, and it really helped us hit the ground running and establish ourselves. I knew from using chippers in the past that Morbark’s were some of the best-built machines available. I’m mechanically inclined as a fabricator/welder and mechanic, so I’ve seen my share of weak spots in some of the other chippers I’d used. I can pinpoint stress cracks and weaknesses long before they’re going to happen, just by the way a machine vibrates—I certainly didn’t want to deal with any of that. So, I knew what I was looking for and luckily, I got it.”
That modest start—just Coelho, one other worker, the chipper and a truck—allowed them to develop their customer base within an 8- to 10-mile radius from Warren.
“I focused at the beginning on smaller residential jobs and then decided that that was a pretty good place to be,” he said. “Other companies start out with a plan to grow as big as they can, as fast as they can—I didn’t see us doing that at all. We deal with neighbors and friends and we rely heavily on word of mouth. We’ve done just fine with that approach.”
Growth is Inevitable
Though huge growth wasn’t a consideration, Coelho’s business still grew large enough for them to need to add people and upgrade their existing equipment. Coelho added two more workers to his team. He also traded the smaller chipper for several larger Morbark units over the years: first on a Model 2100, then on to a 15-inch Morbark Tornado. From there, he acquired the unit they are currently operating, a Morbark Beever M18R chipper, purchased through the Swansea, Mass., branch of Schmidt Equipment.
“Over the years, I’ve established a great working relationship with the folks at Schmidt,” he said “They are the John Deere and Morbark dealers for this area. Since I’ve used John Deere equipment—backhoes, skid steers and so on—for a long time, I’ve always enjoyed working with them. They will bend over backwards to make sure I am taken care of, and Jeff Mansfield, the salesman who calls on me, is both knowledgeable and hands-on—something we need more of in this business. So when it came time for me to up-size my chipper, I went right to them.”
Over time, the steadily rising costs to dispose of debris in the eastern Massachusetts/Rhode Island area necessitated the most recent upgrade in chippers. “Those costs just seem to keep on rising, so the less I have to pay to dispose of wood waste, the better our bottom line,” Coelho said. “Our M18R handles just about all the wood waste that we generate as part of our everyday business, so not only is it more productive, it also benefits us by reducing trips to the landfill.”
What’s in a Name
One of the questions Coelho said he frequently receives is the origin of the “Tree Doctor” name. Though it was not his first choice for a business name, he now sees how much sense it makes.
“I was originally going to call my operation ‘New England Tree Service,’ but a guy I used to work with, who had a small trimming business on the side, already had that name tied up. So, I decided I needed something catchy. When I go to a job, more than anything, I feel I read the tree; it tells me what needs to be done. So I see myself as something of a physician to that tree and the name “Tree Doctor” came to mind. Looking back, I think the name alone has helped us get a lot of business.”
Today, the Tree Doctor and his crew, maintain a decent backlog of work. Coelho is proud of the fact that, though they might do five jobs in one day, they only do one job at a time. His crew is able to do that using the M18R chipper, an International aerial lift truck with 55-feet of working height and a couple of chipping trucks.
“I only have one complete crew, and we won’t leave a job until it’s finished,” he said. “The most I will do is leave one man behind doing the stump work while the rest of us move on to another job. We take a lot of pride in our work and try to leave a job cleaner than it was when we got there. The time it takes to blow the gutters out, make sure the walkways are clean, the decks are all clear and so on can make a huge difference in customer satisfaction.”
Making the List
The extra effort Coelho puts forth has made an obvious difference, both in his steady workload—he counts more than 70 accounts as regular customers—and in his company’s reputation for quality and dependability. Today, The Tree Doctor holds a pristine rating with the area’s Better Business Bureau and he has garnered an even more prestigious endorsement as well.
“A while back, I got a call from the people at Angie’s List telling me that they were contacted by so many of our customers giving us a AA rating that they wanted us to be one of their preferred companies. That is a nice thing to hear, but it does not surprise me. We’ve worked very hard to always do a good job, and the equipment we use plays a big role in that as well. If we had a chipper that was plagued with problems and frequently breaking down—like those some of my colleagues run—we wouldn’t be able to service our customers the way we do now. So everything we bring to bear, from the smallest chain saw to our aerial lift truck to the Morbark M18R, is a part of the bigger picture. After all, even the best doctor needs good instruments.”