Were you at the Tree Care Industry Expo in Baltimore from Nov. 10-12? If you were, you had the benefit of attending extensive and can’t-miss educational opportunities with top industry leaders in business, safety and arboriculture. You got to experience a wildly successful expo and trade show, with all of the leading, preeminent industry manufacturers and vendors showing off their best, newest products to help you better do your jobs and run your businesses successfully. You were also able to take advantage of the invaluable opportunity to network and have fun with industry colleagues and peers in a fantastic city.

If you didn’t attend, you clearly missed out. (Next year’s TCI Expo is Nov. 2-4 in Columbus, Ohio. Make a point to be there!)

Tree Services was indeed in Baltimore — we observed and learned a lot. Every session we checked in on was filled with engaged and interested attendees, all soaking up the knowledge and information being presented. The trade show floor was packed and buzzing with activity each day. Here’s six (of the many) things we took away from the 2016 TCI Expo.

1. Safety meetings are more than crucial: “I believe safety meetings are almost like little miracles,” said Nicholas Bomber, CTSP, director of safety training and general tree care for SavATree. “Through the power of what you say in the meetings, you can actually influence somebody to do something better or safer.” Bomber’s presentation provided a road map on how and when to conduct safety meetings, ideas for possible agendas and ways to make them engaging and effective. “What does effective mean?” Bomber asked. “Effective means you need to deliver your intended results. Make it simple: The intended result of a safety meeting might be to get your employees to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) as they should. You then conduct your regular Wednesday safety meeting, and through the power of your voice and some handouts at your tailgate session, all of a sudden you see they’re wearing their PPE – a little miracle.”

2. Safety meetings, part 2: Bomber, an 18-year industry veteran, suggested that during safety meetings, crew leaders need to be more of a “coaching leader and not a boss, which increases employee engagement.” He reminded the audience that “people who are engaged are less likely to have [safety] incidents.” He also discussed how safety meetings can serve many purposes. For example, use the opportunity to remind employees to remove trash from the trucks, clean out chain saws and fill out post-job paperwork right away. “Most people need to be reminded about things like this seven times before they understand or buy in,” he said.

3. Manufacturers rely on you: One of the best parts of trade shows for attendees is getting to put their hands on equipment from leading manufacturers. But from the manufacturers’ point of view, interaction and feedback with customers at the show is just as important. “At shows like this, we certainly gather feedback from customers,” said Kent Hall, product manager with Stihl. “Our customers are willing to provide input about what’s good about the products and what’s bad about the products. These comments are taken very seriously and they are communicated to the product management group, like myself, and we then communicate that to the research and development group, as well as the engineers. The tree service people are one of the more vocal groups within the power equipment industry.”

4. New product showcase: Vermeer unveiled its AX19, the first model in its upcoming AX Series of brush chippers. The 19-inch AX19 features dual horizontal feed rollers and a new manual feed roller crushing system to help tree care contractors load and process large branches and logs with less chain saw work. “Profit margins in the tree care industry remain tight and arborists are voicing the need to further enhance their productivity,” said Matt Hutchinson, product manager for tree care, rental and landscape at Vermeer. “Customer feedback drove the development and design of the AX19. Vermeer made changes to the infeed, the placement of the feed rollers, the architecture of the hydraulic system and optimized the cutter system. The synergy of these features helps provide enhanced productivity.”

5. Wood banks are growing in popularity: Wood banks are similar in concept to a food bank, as free firewood is processed and given to people in need. Wood banks are also tools for community outreach and wood utilization. Clarisse Hart presented on wood banks at the TCI Expo and reported that there are now over 65 wood bank programs in the U.S. in rural areas, cities and suburbs spanning 21 states. These programs are in need of skilled arborists to lend their time and expertise. For more information on how you and your tree care company can help, check out Woodbank.org.

6. It’s all about safety: Dr. John Ball, CTSP, of South Dakota State University, expressed to his audience during the “Arborist Safety: May the Odds Always be in Your Favor” presentation that tree care workers need to increase the safety training given to new employees. “We don’t train our workers well enough,” Ball said. “It’s always been survival by fire, and we need to be better about that.” Ball also brought up points including promotion of more hand saw use to finish cuts, the importance of safety checklists on the job site, the necessity of effective command and reply systems in the field and how the emerald ash borer is causing more and more accidents and injuries to climbers working on affected trees.