How Tree Care by Robert Miller got started
In the early spring of 1990, my father, Robert Miller, moved to Hernando County to be with his mother and her new husband, Gordon. Grandma and Gordon lived in Brookridge which is a gated community north of route 50 in Brooksville. Tree Care by Robert Miller wasn’t yet on his mind.
My father had spent almost his whole life in sales. He specialized selling Ford trucks for which he had won awards, but he was ready to start a new career. He still wasn’t quite sure just what it was he wanted to do, and then it happened.
Hernando County provides the opportunity
One day while driving down U.S. 19, he saw a man walking down the road. It was a sweltering hot day so my father decided to give the man a ride. On that ride, the man told my father about an idea he had. He said, “We need to get some tools and a chainsaw and offer palm tree trimming.” The salesman in my Dad saw an opportunity. He went to his mother and asked to borrow some money to get the tools he and this man would need to trim palm trees. She let Dad borrow the money, and he got to work right away.
Tree trimming is hard work
After completing the first few palm tree jobs with the man, he decided to leave (I guess the work was too hard for him). Not my Dad, he kept going. He decided to get out on his own and rented a tiny house from Gordon. My Dad worked hard and struggled to put money into his new business. He wanted to build an honest life and an honest business that he could be proud of. And he did! When I would visit him he would drop me off at the YMCA in the morning so I could hang out with my friends and then pick me up when he was done working, all with a smile!
Why integrity matters in business
When my father wasn’t working hard at his new business, he was helping his elderly mother and Gordon. One day Gordon called my father frantic because he could not find a shoebox that he had filled with a large sum of money. After searching for it for a few weeks, Gordon was sure he would never find the box again. While doing his laundry in the small home he rented from Gordon, my father noticed an old shoebox on a shelf in the garage. He pulled it down, and sure enough, it was full of money. Enough money to change his business. My Dad could have kept the money with no one being any wiser, but he’s an honest man. He immediately called Gordon and told him to stop worrying. Gordon was so grateful that he gave my father the little house.
Great tree work leads to growth
Since Gordon gave my Dad the house, my father had more money to put into his tree care business. He was able to hire some girls to work out of the tiny house, and he taught me to call people and ask if they needed any trees trimmed. Today this wouldn’t fly, but back then it worked well. In 1995, he rented his first real office. It was on Lamson Avenue in Spring Hill, right behind Sherwood Forest. During this time, we became friends with John and Challenger Irrigation, who we still do business with today.
I start working at Millers Tree Care
At the age of 18, I took over running the office at my father’s request. I had no idea what I was doing, even messed up the W-2s, and someone had to fix them all. It was a big ordeal, but it taught me a lot about the business and the need for excellent help. Now I pay someone to handle that kind of important paperwork, but back then it just felt like a crisis, so I left my father’s small business and went to work as a waitress and then into real estate. By the time I was 21, I had my realtor’s license. Tree Care chugged along without me. The company grew and built a good reputation, but the office fell behind in terms of organization and technology.
What Charlie and Katrina taught us
Hurricane Charlie hit in 2004, and my Dad received an influx of work. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, my Dad put together a crew to help with disaster relief. Tree Care registered with FEMA and got to work. My father loved to work hurricane cleanups, and all of his hard work paid off. He built our current building in 2005. Dad wanted to expand and needed more space to pursue his big dreams for the company so he bought a sawmill and a shredder. Dad wanted to build things with the debris from job sites, which was a great idea but he ran into a few problems. Wood needed to be dried for a few years before you can build with it, so making money from that lumber was a very slow process without a kiln to help the drying process along. Even with all of that, Tree Care did very well.
The Crash and how Millers Tree Care survived
When the economy crashed in 2008, like a lot of other people, my father was hit hard. Not many people were interested or could afford to put money back into their homes by trimming trees. My father found himself and his business in a bad situation. His health suffered from his long-term smoking habit, and he had to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy when the equipment he had financed during the boom became more of a liability. The company stuttered but survived.
My new role at Millers Tree Care
In the years after the economic crash, my father put aside some of his big dreams. He didn’t work on building the company; he focused on getting by. Over the years, I had come and gone with the company, but in late 2008 I realized it was time to pick up where my dad left off. I was finally mature enough and had enough experience to help. The only problem was that I didn’t have any authority. This time, I started on the phones and worked my way to office manager. Anything I wanted to change, I had to convince our GM and fight for. I spent two years building our customer database. Tree Care’s GM at the time was efficient and great at many aspects of the business, but he and I didn’t see eye-to-eye when it came to customer service. We argued about a lot of things, but I stuck with it.
Dad and the GM decide to retire
In 2012, my father let the GM go and retired himself. On the same day! One day we had a GM and the founder of our company, and the very next day, they were both gone. It was a steep learning curve. I didn’t have experience in the finance department, and we didn’t have an accountant. Our business banker helped me make payroll that first week, and I spent hours on the phone obtaining passwords to gain access to necessary accounts.
I have never been more terrified in my entire life than I was during the first year I took over, but I didn’t want to let everything my father had worked so hard for be ruined by mistakes I made. I had to learn how to hire people, fire people, and many other things I hadn’t ever considered. During that first year, my Dad was around but not focused on the business. He was drained from all the years of working hard, so I knew it was my turn to put in the work. By the end of 2012, I had paid off all of our debts from our chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the business was stable.
2013: A magical year for Tree Care
My father was so impressed with all of the hard work that he decided to hand it over to me. I officially became the only shareholder, President, secretary, and treasurer of Tree Care by Robert Miller in early 2013. A week later, my husband and I started school for Arboriculture. We passed our exams in December of that year. My father moved out west to travel and enjoy his retirement, and I got to work on fulfilling some of our big dreams for the company. Our customer service became outstanding. We also got more involved in our community. Employee morale came up, and for the first time since the economic crash, our employees felt they had job security. This helped cement my focus: our employees and our customers.
Millers Tree Care employees are family!
Tree Care by Robert Miller has several employees that have been with us for four to eight years. We also have employees who have been with us even longer. Ana Cleto has been with Tree Care for 24 years! He is an amazing tree climber. Our company wouldn’t be what it is without him. His son, Cleto Juan, has been with us since he was 18. He is now 34 and a father of two with another baby on the way. Jose A. Medina recently retired after 18 years with us. He was an amazing tree climber and worked until he was 64. His son, Jose O. Medina, has been a member of our family for 14 years. He just purchased his first home in Brooksville. This kind of employee longevity is a big part of our success.
Our employees feel like family. Some business owners might say that’s a bad way to do business. They might say it makes me too empathetic, but I believe that our company thrives when our employees thrive. Our crews know we will pay them well. Through their employment here, they are able to buy homes, enjoy their lives outside of work, and take pride in their jobs. This translates into excellent customer service and jobs well done. Our crews have been working together for so long that they instinctively know what the other members are going to do. This allows for greater efficiency and safety. What some business owners don’t understand is that investing in our employees is the best kind of investment for the company.
My father started Tree Care. He grew it and shaped it with his integrity and hard work. I have tried to continue in his footsteps, but also continue to build our company. I am proud of our commitment to our employees and customers. With these in place, I know our company will continue to grow and flourish. I am here to answer any questions you might have about tree services or our company. You can reach me through our website or at (352) 592-1203.