Twenty years ago, Dennis McKenzie was a young lineman who recognized a problem. The large, local power companies would not trim all of the vegetation that was wreaking havoc with the power lines in residential neighborhoods.
With true American ingenuity, McKenzie and a friend began handing out cards, offering their services to come and trim the problematic vegetation in their spare time. The demand for this much needed service was obvious when, after a few months, the jobs began rolling in.
Now, two decades later, after 11 years servicing residential neighborhoods and nine years working directly for the power companies, specializing in right-of-way maintenance, McKenzie Tree Service, Parsons, Tenn., has grown into a large operation, employing 60 full-time staff members.
McKenzie Tree Service is responsible for maintaining 1,500 to 2,000 miles of Tennessee rights-of-way each year. Every three years the company bids accounts from five major power and telephone companies in the area to handle maintaining the vegetation around power and telephone lines. In addition to yearly right-of-way maintenance for the power and telephone companies, McKenzie Tree Service also works with gas pipeline companies, clears land for building sites, and handles emergency work.
Part of McKenzie Tree Service’s success is communication through all levels of company operations. With anywhere from eight to 20 crews operating separately throughout the state, communication is the key to keeping them all on schedule. Training is also vital to ensure safety and effectiveness. McKenzie employs a mentorship training program for all new workers. Inexperienced employees shadow the veterans, slowly taking over responsibility and receiving on-the-job training. Because safety is McKenzie Tree Service’s number-one priority, training on equipment is taken very seriously.
“One of the biggest assurances in this business is having trained quality workers and the proper equipment to complete the job on budget and on schedule,” said Dennis McKenzie. “Our employees are broken into three different types of crews that handle different sized jobs. Super crews are made up of seven workers and operate out of bucket trucks; the climbing crews are made up of seven workers also; the machine crews consist of only three workers, the machine compensates for the other four.”
To complement the crews, McKenzie Tree Service operates with the assistance of climbing equipment, bucket trucks, chippers and five Jarraff all-terrain tree trimmers.
“The Jarraff significantly speeds up the process,” explains McKenzie, “it can work five times as fast as a bucket truck crew and it uses fewer personnel. It also keeps climbing down, and workers away from the power lines.”
McKenzie Tree Service outlines its safety standards in accordance with Tree Care Industry Association recommendations. At the end of the day, McKenzie workers conduct what they call “tailgate sessions” in which each crew discusses what was accomplished that day. They also review any safety lapses that might have occurred, to prevent them in the future. There are also mandatory monthly meetings in which workers are briefed on safety precautions.
Although safety is the most important responsibility of the business for McKenzie Tree Service’s workers, efficiency and top quality work is the most important obligation to its customers.
“When we tell a company what we’ll do. We stick with it to matter what it costs or how long it takes,” said McKenzie. “I have found that it is easier to be upfront and honest with a customer, when they expect that from you they are willing to compromise and work together on long projects.”
The growing cycle in the area is from April to September, but McKenzie Tree Service is busy year round. From October to April, McKenzie workers are brought into town to trim urban vegetation while the sap levels are down so as to cause less damage to the trees. They also respond to emergency work projects after storms and in the winter months, when ice laden trees pose a threat to the power and telephone lines below them.
McKenzie Tree Service also handles jobs in challenging conditions. For example a few years ago, the company accepted a job that involved cutting vegetation along a mile of power line through a game reserve in western Tennessee. When workers arrived on site they were surprised to see the power line running through a three-foot-deep swamp. They used a four-wheeled model Jarraff at the site that was able to ford the swamp and clear out the line in eight hours. The engine on the unit sits about four feet off the ground and, with four-wheel drive, the machine was able to drive across the level swamp without any problems.
Being equipped with all of the latest equipment is one thing, keeping everything running in tip-top shape is another. McKenzie Tree Service has five full-time service departments (two traveling and three at the home office).
Keeping workers safe, fulfilling customers’ high expectations, and working with quality equipment — along with some good old-fashioned American ingenuity — have all contributed to McKenzie Tree Service’s success.
Article provided by Jarraff Industries, Inc.