This article originally appeared on Vermeer Tree Care's blog, Tree Views, and you can find it here.
Peter Sortwell, the founder of Arborwell Professional Tree Management based in Hayward, California, took a huge risk in refinancing his house to start a tree care business. Failing was not an option.
After months of research and preparation, Sortwell created a business plan “bible” to keep his goals on track. One of the biggest focuses within his plan was a strategic marketing plan, and as it turned out it made all the difference in the world.
“We don’t do a very good job as an industry in our marketing efforts,” Sortwell said. “When I first started, I spent a lot of my dollars on marketing to get my business name out there — I found that awareness was really important.”
Before Sortwell officially started Arborwell, he canvased a few residential neighborhoods to get a feel for local tree care needs.
“They would say, ‘Well a tree guy came here last year,’ and I would say, ‘Well do you know who it was?’” Sortwell said. “Probably 90 percent of the time they would say, ‘Oh, I don’t know, some guy.’” That just woke me up — I said to myself, ‘You know what? This is because no one is doing any marketing.’”
While Arborwell now services mostly private commercial customers (e.g., large property management companies, corporate campuses, etc.), he found this initial research to be insightful, no matter who the customer was.
“If I’m going to work for someone, even if it’s one time, they’re not going to forget that I worked for them,” Sortwell said. “My original business plan said I would contact them every month. I would make sure they would remember me, and they would know who I am, and who the company was.”
Sortwell invested in efforts to focus his branding message with a logo and eventually a website — and in the days before social media, this really helped him spread his message.
“I did direct mail, email blasts — I did all of it,” Sortwell said. “I said to my sales people, we have to follow up every month. Either that means you need to call them, or they need to get an email or a flyer from us. They need to remember us.”
Now that Arborwell’s customer-base is primarily commercial and corporate companies, they tend to shy away from things like TV, radio and print ads.
“We spend our marketing dollars where our customers are,” Sortwell explained. “For us, that means we’re supporting associations that our customers belong to — so, we’re sponsoring things like golf tournaments, luncheons and regional conferences.”
And it’s working. Arborwell started as a two-truck company with a small infrastructure, and it has grown to seven operating locations, nearly 200 employees, 100 servicing trucks and 200 pieces of equipment.
“You have to invest in marketing your company, whatever that may mean for your particular business situation,” Sortwell said. “Otherwise, how will they know who to call?”
For more marketing tips and trends, view more articles on TreeViews.com.