Clients of Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation in Hilliard, Ohio, expect the best, and the company prides itself on delivering on those expectations with a qualified staff that includes more than 15 certified arborists.
The firm, founded by President David Ahlum in 1976, is a full-service arboricultural firm that offers a complete range of tree services, including pruning, removals and plant health care. With his son, Chris, who serves as vice president, Ahlum has built a company that stresses the importance of education and certification – and it starts at the top.
David was one of the first International Society of Arboriculture certified arborists and is also a board-certified master arborist. Chris is a board-certified master arborist and an American Society of Consulting Arborists consulting arborist. There are only 13 master arborists in Ohio, and Chris is one of three in the state to hold both registered consulting and master arborist designations.
A key differentiator for Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation, though, is the number of team members who also are certified. Out of the company’s 26 employees, 16 are certified arborists, including all of the company’s foremen and plant health care technicians, many of them also holding four-year degrees in industry-related fields.
“We pride ourselves on being the best arboriculture firm in the area, and we do that by providing expertise across the board on all of our crews,” Chris explains. “A lot of companies are structured where only the owners are certified, but we have a great team that brings a lot of experience and knowledge. Our clients like that.”
That expertise comes in handy when Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation is called on to manage particularly difficult jobs.
The company’s pruning division specializes in technical removals and fine pruning of large trees, especially in locations where typical equipment cannot be utilized.
“We regularly get referrals from other area companies who cannot, or will not, prune these larger backyard trees. Anyone can remove a tree in the front yard with a bucket truck, but many will not touch a tree in the backyard over houses, wires and landscaping if they cannot get equipment to it,” Chris explains. “We specialize in doing these tough-to-get trees manually without damaging structures and landscape below it.”
One of the company’s key tasks for its Plant Care Division is trying to keep its clients’ ash trees from falling victim to the decimating emerald ash borer (EAB).
“We’re starting to see a lot of dead ash trees. As our clients become more aware, we’re able to treat and hopefully save the trees. Our biggest battle is that clients wait until its nearly dead before calling.”
Just as it’s important for the company’s employees to continually learn and expand their industry knowledge, Chris says it’s important that employees share that expertise with clients. It makes a difference in the field, but also makes good business sense. He knows, and doesn’t apologize for the fact, that Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation is one of the higher-priced companies in the market.
“We are always educating clients. I think this is very important. A good example is that I may price a pruning job at $1,000, but another company may price it for $400. Many times the other company is spiking the tree and cutting a few branches, which technically is not pruning to industry standards. They may also not be insured and carry workers’ compensation, which allows them to have a lot less overhead. These are our two biggest challenges locally on educating clients.”
In addition to the company’s day-to-day work, both David and Chris regularly serve as consultants, appraisers and expert witnesses. They will work with new-build construction companies to take a proactive approach to preserving trees on the lots. Chris says his expert witness work is one of the most fun parts of his job. He’ll travel throughout the state testifying on how he appraised the value of trees that have been damaged or destroyed.
As Chris continues to branch out in his role with the company – he is responsible for day-to-day operations, but his father is still heavily involved – the pair has begun looking ahead to a time when David steps away from the company. Until that happens, though, Chris knows who is boss.
“We both have different strong points, but we both maintain high quality, integrity and ethics. Sometimes how we will do something is different, but many times the end goal is the same.
The transition of day-to-day operations has helped alleviate some things for my dad, but he still prices jobs and talks to clients on a regular basis,” Chris notes. “He also is the only president of the company, which he reminds me of when I forget to involve him on a decision!”
With a succession plan in the very early stages, Chris doesn’t see a time in the near future, if ever, when David will walk way.
“I joke that as long as he can get his wheelchair and/or walker through the door he will always be involved in the business. It’s his baby.”
Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation Helps Save Historic Sycamores
When The Ohio State University announced plans to expand its hospital campus, two large American sycamore trees estimated to be more than 300 years old were in danger of being cut down to accommodate a road being built. Public outcry and a petition to save the trees, one of which had historical significance as part of the Underground Railroad, prevailed.
The road was built between the trees, and Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation was hired to ensure that they were protected from damage during the construction process.
President David Ahlum drew up a preservation plan for the trees, and the contract stipulated that his company was required to be on-site when any work was being done near the trees to ensure the trees and rootzones weren’t compromised.
“When they tunneled through, we made sure they didn’t cut through roots or compact the soil and harm the rootzone,” Vice President Chris Ahlum explains. “In 90 percent of these cases, those trees would have been removed, but Ohio State went to great lengths to make sure they were preserved. It’s been two years and the trees still look great.”