By Randy Happel
Jeremy Tibbets is one of those rare visionaries with an uncanny ability to see both the forest and the trees. Hence, it was his appreciation for the collective role that individual trees serve in shaping the health and appearance of urban forests that motivated this San Francisco-based master arborist to pioneer one of the most innovative tree care service companies in the nation.
This entrepreneurial spirit was evident in Tibbets at an early age.
“I had a great uncle who’d operated a successful tree care company for many years and encouraged me to get into the business,” said Tibbets. “I didn’t know a whole lot about trees at the time, other than having an appreciation for their beauty and their role in the environment — something a lot of people take for granted.”
In 2001, Tibbets founded A-Plus Tree Service, and for the next three years, he lived and breathed trees. He bought a book on safe climbing and partnered with some of the best climbers in the business to become a skilled climber in his own right. He became immersed in the study of trees — species, characteristics, pest and disease vulnerability — and honed his pruning, trimming and shaping skills en route to earning master arborist certification; all while steadily establishing a diverse client roster.
Shortly after Tibbets started A-Plus Tree Service, he was introduced to a sales rep from Vermeer who offered Tibbets tree care support and counsel.
“I learned a lot about the business and tree care equipment from him,” said Tibbets. “He knew the industry and gave me a lot of good advice; especially with equipment purchases. There’s no doubt he played a big role in getting the business established.”
Energized by the many equipment innovations and engineering enhancements to the Vermeer line of environmental and tree care equipment, Tibbets felt comfortable about his new tree care venture and more confident knowing he had a trusted equipment partner alongside him. Tibbets had found his calling; it was apparent he was in his element among the trees.
ArborPLUS takes root
After a few years working with commercial clients in the urban forest, Tibbets had gained an appreciation for the many challenges they face maintaining the health of their valuable wooded resources, and realized that few, if any, tools existed for long-term planning. So Tibbets teamed up with Sarah Hon, a UC Berkeley-educated graphic designer with a degree in environmental science and also knowledgeable in GIS technology. Together Tibbets and Hon co-developed an innovative geographic information systems (GIS) inventory program that has become the foundation of his tree care business model; appropriately named ArborPLUS.
ArborPLUS is a web-based program designed to provide arborists, property managers and contractors with a birds-eye satellite view of their urban forests and a database of historical data for every tree. As a web-based application, there’s no software to buy or install; all information can be input and retrieved easily simply by accessing the Internet. There’s even an iPhone app for use by onsite personnel that allows arborists to identify and verify the location of specific trees and validate completion of work in real time.
“ArborPLUS is dynamic and easily searchable and can integrate with existing software to gather, input and analyze all sorts of information,” said Tibbets. “A comprehensive GIS inventory provides property managers with information they need to develop a comprehensive community forestry management plan; and helps facilitate more accurate long-term budgeting.”
Building a file for individual trees begins by plotting and entering GIS coordinates, snapping a photo for visual reference and logging pertinent data specific to each tree including species, height, general condition and health, and any special notes of importance.
The data helps move customers from the reactive mindset of “we have a few trees that should probably be trimmed” to a more proactive approach including a long-range planning component where every tree is placed on a trimming and shaping rotation based on size, growth rate and position within the forest. Then, certified arborists from A-Plus visit the property and recommend specific pruning and/or health treatments specific to the tree’s unique needs.
“Everything about a tree — from pruning to insect control and feeding — can be accessed from the application,” said Tibbets. “ArborPLUS allows for more efficient and cost-effective tree care management planning that ultimately saves money. The program also helps streamline the RFP process for procuring bids for various tree care projects.”
Once trimming, pruning and treatment recommendations offered by A-Plus are entered into the database, property managers can generate an entire RFP for different projects with just a few clicks of a mouse. Detailed procedures, maps and digital pictures make the process efficient and consistent, and lessen the chance that mistakes (wrong tree; wrong limb; wrong pest treatment) will occur. And for Tibbets, ArborPLUS has allowed him to better plan for the future by more accurately projecting workload and subsequent equipment purchases.
Tibbets’ entrepreneurial spirit epitomizes what can be accomplished with dedication, innovation, and, yes, some risk-taking. In the decade since founding A-Plus Tree Service, Tibbets’ company has enjoyed exponential growth supported by a diverse roster of clients who appreciate the company’s ethics, conscientious and thorough work, and responsiveness.
From one visionary founder and one chipper to a workforce of more than 40 professionals, an extensive fleet of Vermeer tree care equipment, and a unique vision for how individual trees shape the personality of entire urban forests, Tibbets is leading a movement that not only holds promise for bettering the tree care industry; but for revolutionizing it — one tree at a time.
Randy Happel is features writer at Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.
Article provided by Vermeer, Pella, Iowa.