The Dialogue with Ben Hazel

This feature is a question-and-answer session with a new Blount County Chamber member. So here we go with our 14th installment visiting with Ben Hazel, President of Pree's Tree Specialists, Inc., whose mission is to help our clients navigate the care or removal of their trees through honest and professional service and advice..
 
Describe what you do. We provide a full spectrum of tree care services from planting, to removal. We have two Certified Arborists on staff as well as one Certified Tree Care Safety Professional; these certifications bind us to a code of Ethics and give us the knowledge necessary to offer solutions to clients that are in line with the latest standards in the industry. We plant, prune, diagnose illness, treat trees, install support cables and lightning protection systems, fertilize and aerate root systems and offer professional advice. We have been thoroughly trained to remove hazardous trees as well.
 
How did you get started? My entire life, I have had a fascination with trees. I think it was due to a large Norway Spruce we had in our front yard. It had limbs all the way to the ground and it was everything to us as kids...a fort, a climbing tower, a hiding place, shade in the summer. I started working with trees right out of high school but it was almost 10 years before I realized how much this industry has to offer.
 
How did you get your background? Fifteen years ago, when I realized that this was the path I was going to take, I saved up about $1500 and sent myself to a one week, formal training course at the Biltmore Property. This course taught tree climbing, rigging and felling. They are basics but this course taught how to do it safely and systematically. From there, I started pursuing different certifications. I am now an I.S.A. Certified Arborist and a Certified Tree Care Safety Professional.
 
Describe your customers. We are a relationship company. I know that is tossed around a lot these days but when you are working with your clients trees, you are working with something that might outlive both of you. It's important to use logical and proven practices and we take that seriously. Our customers are those who care for their properties and their trees and who want to work with and establish a relationship with professional company. We also work with numerous realtors, golf courses and other businesses who know that they can't afford to waste time sifting through the endless list of roughneck tree guys claiming superiority over one another with no tangible credentials. Our clients recognize value in the consistency of service and professionalism.
 
What are the major hurdles in your business? This industry is largely unregulated. Anyone who owns a chainsaw can start a tree service tomorrow by putting a sign on a truck and an ad in the Yellow Pages; formal training and certifications are voluntary and anyone can claim experience. This makes it difficult for the average homeowner to "compare apples to apples" when selecting a contractor which opens the door to enormous variations in pricing and dishonest practices. It is part of my 10 year plan to initiate change in this area. Homeowners deserve the opportunity to work with fair companies. Many states in the country already require formal training to perform tree work. It is my goal to add Tennessee to that list. People are getting hurt and homeowners are being exposed to unnecessary liability.
 
Name three things you wish you knew when you started or began working at the business. 1. When I started I thought there were three positions: climber, "limb dragger", owner. This industry has so much more to offer and the opportunities grow everyday as we learn more about trees. 2. I wish I had learned the safety culture first. 3. I would have liked to have known the benefits of hiring good people sooner. I tried to do everything by myself for years.
 
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy teaching proper tree care to homeowners, meeting new people and seeing what trees are capable of. They can do amazing things and live for centuries. I also love my team. We have a dedicated group; everyone is here because this is what they want to do.