If your company is not yet a member of the HMI Authorized Member Network of tree service providers, maybe it’s time to consider the advantages. “We currently have about 70 tree care companies throughout the United States in our network, and it’s growing,” says Doug Cowles, president. “When adding new members, we look first and foremost for professional companies that have certified arborists on staff, are fully insured and licensed and members in key industry trade associations. Size is not a factor, we have large companies and small companies in our AM network, and they all work well. The qualifications for joining our group should not be a problem for a truly professional tree care company.”

HMI (www.hmiadvantage.com) began as a data resource for its clients, providing expert information about trees and shrubs, as well as determining their average replacement costs. The information on plants is provided by Dr. Michael Dirr, esteemed horticulturist, author and adviser to the company. The replacement costs are derived from the company’s database of roughly 1 million wholesale prices on over 10,000 trees and shrubs. This information was provided mainly to insurance companies and property owners. Shortly after its founding, the company began offering additional services to their clients, such as pre-loss tree inspections, post-loss inventories and emergency tree removals. All of these services are provided through HMI’s AM Network. By using the company’s data collection and inspection tools arborists in HMI’s network collect the necessary information that enables HMI to publish a series of treeFacts, reports that provide their clients with a comprehensive and thorough inventory on all trees and shrubs, along with the health and value of their woody plants. “HMI’s treeFacts Reports represent an efficient way for HMI and its AMs to provide electronic inventories for residential and commercial properties,” explains Cowles. The reports can include tree identification, a description of each tree on the property along with its size and location within the property; a health assessment including a list of symptoms; average replacement costs; care and maintenance instructions; and recommendations for follow-up evaluations.

Through its AM network, HMI acts as a liaison to over 40 insurance carriers including Nationwide, the Chubb Group, The Hartford and USAA. Cowles adds, “The insurance carriers need access to qualified, insured and licensed service providers who can perform emergency tree removal, tree preservation, wildfire preparation and other services that might mitigate their losses. We check our databases, find a local member who is well equipped to handle that particular job and contact them with the details. The estimate is given to the insurance carrier, and the work is then authorized. HMI fees are paid by the tree service provider after work is completed. The only thing we ask our AMs is that they give our clients priority, so that they are not waiting too long.”

To join the network, AMs must be proficient in soil conditioning and fertilization services, tree and limb removal, cabling and bracing, insect/disease treatment, lightning protection, stump grinding, pruning and debris removal. In addition, each tree service company must have at least one certified arborist on staff. HMI also requires all member tree service companies to have gross sales of at least $500,000 and be fully licensed and insured. As a part of the application process, a background check is done on the principal of the company applying for membership. The yearly membership fee is $300.

“I feel that we fill a void in the tree service industry by assuring both the insurance company and their client that a professional tree service company, fully licensed and insured, will attend to their needs in a prompt fashion during an emergency. Before we began offering our services, when a tree limb fell on a home after a weather event happened – heavy snow in New England, an ice storm in the Plains, hurricanes or wind damage in the South – the insurance company would typically tell their clients to call a tree service company out of the Yellow Pages and send them (the insurance company) a claim. As we know, that’s similar to Russian roulette. Now, when storms hit, the insurance company will call us knowing a professional tree service company will make the necessary repairs. We call one of our AM companies in the local area to get to the scene promptly; after the cleanup, the AM has a qualified lead for additional services and a potential new long-term customer.”

Another emergency service HMI offers insurance carriers is what Cowles calls their “First Responder Service.” HMI contracts with tree service companies to provide cleanup services exclusively to the clients of the insurance company after a national disaster occurs. “Hurricanes like Katrina and Irene, or tornadoes like the one that hit Joplin, Mo., cause the local communities to be overloaded with emergency tree service work. We provide resources from different areas of a state, or a region of the country, to get help to distressed areas as quickly as humanly possible. We’ll also contract with our members to bring in heavy machinery (cranes, loaders) if it is needed. We will configure the number of crews and type of equipment needed together with our AMs. HMI will then have the insurer approve the deployment before anyone mobilizes. It happens really quickly; it has to, because the lives and well-being of people are at stake.”

Along with treeFacts Asset Inventory reports, and referrals from many different insurance carriers, HMI developed and supports treeShield, a storm-protection warranty that each of their AM companies can provide to their clients. treeShield covers the costs of services that could be required should storm damage occur to trees and shrubs that are maintained by the AM. Services that are covered by the warranty include cleanup and removal of fallen trees and tree debris; removal of hazardous trees and limbs; and reparation services, such as restorative pruning and cabling.

The treeShield warranty represents a competitive advantage for each AM that can increase their market share and client retention rates. Response to the program has been very positive with both residential and commercial property owners who are pleased that their tree care company is able to stand behind their work with a formal warranty. “HMI is kind of like a combination between the Kelly Blue Book and the AAA, giving our AMs and insurance company clients a reliable source for replacement costs on plant material as well as access to professional tree care companies when storms damage trees and shrubs,” says Cowles.

HMI is actively recruiting tree service companies in certain regions of the country. “Our members tend to come back year after year and so in most areas we are well staffed, however, there are certain regions like the Northwest and the desert Southwest that need some attention. And, we are always looking to expand our network of nurseries.”