Jack Hernandez, owner of J.D. Hernandez Forest Products in Portland, Maine, is a firm believer that bigger isn’t always better. In fact, he’s proud that his company — established in 2006 — has stayed true to its small roots. He says that little companies can make a big impact by forging relationships within the industry. That allows J.D. Hernandez Forest Products to best serve its clients while keeping overhead low.

“It is possible to make an impression in this industry even as a small company. I don’t try to offer every tree service out there,” Hernandez says. “Instead, I focus on what I know I can do well with the resources I have at my immediate disposal.”

As a Maine First Class Landscape Arborist, a First Class Utility Arborist and a certified logging professional, Hernandez can offer his clients a unique solution that presents the best possible options for his clients’ tree care. The company, for example, has specialized logging equipment that other arborists may not have or be able to access.

Having multiple specialties allows Hernandez to specialize in a complex array of services, including hazardous takedowns, lot clearing/land reclamation, utility line clearing, woodlot management and, of particular importance given his market, shore land zoning/resource protection compliance.

Photo: J.D. Hernandez Forest Products

“We try our best to make sure our clients know the environmental benefits of protecting their trees and the importance of trees to our natural environmental balance,” he says. “We don’t simply cut down trees for the sake of turning a quick profit. We always prune and conduct our tree work to the highest possible industry standards to ensure that they are protected.”

Those same standards are followed in the company’s harvesting practices.

“We adhere to best management practices to preserve water quality and wildlife on our woodlots. When working in environmentally sensitive areas, we take precautions to identify the resource in need of protection and formulate an individualized plan on how to protect the resource while completing the job on time and on budget,” Hernandez explains.

As the only full-time employee of the company (there are two part-time workers), making connections and partnering with other industry professionals is essential. Doing so allows Hernandez to pool resources, which keeps costs down while allowing the company to complete larger, more complex projects. It is imperative, though, that small companies not overextend and take on a task that it is not qualified to accomplish without a resource in place.

Hernandez told of a job early in his career when he was contracted to climb and remove a large silver maple between two houses. His initial plan was to use an aerial lift to remove large portions of the branches that were overhanging one of the houses. He couldn’t quite get all the branches and needed another solution.

Photo: J.D. Hernandez Forest Products

He met with a crane service in the area and the owner agreed to help him complete the project for a reasonable fee. He used the experience to learn how to safely and efficiently use the crane, but more importantly, he met a person that has become a valued resource for his business. That crane operator is now J.D. Hernandez Forest Products’ sole vendor for crane services.

“I learned many lessons from that job … the importance of knowing the limitations of your ability and equipment, how to come up with a backup plan, and the importance of networking,” he says.

While Hernandez reaps the benefits of forging those relationships, it’s important that the company reciprocates whenever possible, especially given the specialty niches it serves.

A prime example was when a lightning rod contractor needed to install rods in large spruce trees on a remote island. The contractor had no experience with tree biology, Hernandez says, “much less how to climb them safely.” He was able to climb the trees and install the rods, and in the process build a great working relationship with the company. Whenever the company needs tree work or knows someone who does, Hernandez gets the call.

“I like being known as the ‘go-to’ source for specialty tree work. I also like assisting other contractors that may not have the experiences I have. Referrals should always be a two-way street whenever possible,” he says.

Positioning himself as the expert in his market is a task Hernandez takes seriously. In an industry that he believes has a tendency to portray itself to the public as “tree butchers,” Hernandez says it’s important “to portray ourselves to the general public as environmentally conscious, and to educate them as often as we can on the steps we take to be environmentally conscious.”

Just as important is getting the word out to clients about the benefits of using a reputable arborist. “Many potential clients have no idea what exactly a licensed arborist does and what sets him apart from someone who can just simply cut trees,” Hernandez says.

He helps get that message across through strong Internet visibility, word-of-mouth referrals and a growing social media presence. Hernandez engages current and potential clients through brand pages on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Tumblr. He is currently working on taking his message to clients via a dedicated YouTube video channel.

Photo: J.D. Hernandez Forest Products

The key to building a successful social media strategy, Hernandez says, is to make sure companies don’t mix business with pleasure (he keeps his personal Facebook and blog separate from the brand-specific pages), to keep content current, and to closely monitor what people are saying in the company’s Internet space.

“I try to be engaging and interact with my clients and followers on a daily basis. I also monitor my channels to make sure my followers are appropriately interacting with my brand by not publishing anything vulgar or off-topic,” he says.

Showcasing a company’s brand, especially in a tough economy in which pricing may play more of a deciding factor, is definitely worth the effort that goes into the multifaceted marketing approach. Not playing to the lowest common denominator is a differentiator for J.D. Hernandez Forest Products.

“I stand by my bidding process and my proposals. I don’t worry about losing a bid; I know I won’t win them all,” Hernandez says. “Instead, I focus that attention on where to expand my marketing and outreach.”

Multiple Specialties Come Into Play for Tough Job

With dual certifications as a logger and an arborist, J.D. Hernandez Forest Products owner Jack Hernandez is up for even the trickiest jobs. One job in particular, he says, showcased the importance of having multiple specialties.

A home situated near a pond in western Maine was overgrown with trees after years of neglect to the landscape. Hernandez was tasked with removing about 15 mature red oak and red maple trees that had become hazards to the home, were blocking the driveway, or had been damaged during an adjacent road construction. He also had to prune the remaining trees to improve their health and enhance the view of the lake.

Before he could begin, Hernandez had to gain permission from the town’s code enforcement officer on which trees to cut, which to leave, and how much to prune.

He put his logging skills to work by cutting down as many trees as he could conventionally, and then cutting the usable wood into firewood. His climbing skills came in handy since many of the trees were unreachable from a bucket truck or aerial lift.

“The job was completed without a hitch. The client, neighbors and town officials were all happy with how the job turned out,” Hernandez says.