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  • Karl Pokorny

CUSTOMER SERVICE the Old fashioned Way.

From 1961 to 1985 my parents, Wallace and Sarah Pokorny, owned and operated the Beaver Tree Service in a small agricultural community in east-central Indiana. Wally sold tree care services and worked with the crew every day while Sarah raised four children and ran the office. Many years later my two brothers and I also worked on the tree crew in the summers and my sister took calls and helped set appointments.

Like many who start tree service companies, my father started out clearing brush, removing tree and selling firewood. He soon began climbing trees with homemade rope saddle and a Sears chain saw. By 1963, the business had expanded enough to justify purchasing a Mitts & Merrill chipper and a Vermeer stump grinder. Wally also hung up his rope saddle in exchange for a leather "floating O-ring" saddle he designed and had a local saddler build.

The local costumer base was thin. For the business to survive, my father traveled extensively in a three county area. Our competitors who were the usual mix of "euc and oak-men" were selling to this same small customer base. However, the Beaver Tree Service had such an excellent reputation that they always had at least a month of backlog of jobs. Many customers would call and tell them to of the work without asking for an estimate.

Wally and Sarah considered expanding to multiple crews and even had an opportunity to branch out in to line-clearance work, but they decided they wanted to remain small. They stopped advertising except for a phone number in the Yellow Pages and still- even in this small farming community- they had more customers than they could handle.

The keys to their success in business are no secret: hard work, continuing education, fairness in business, and a strong ethic of providing excellent customer service. In fact, they both epitomized customer service.

In 1985, when Wally's body said "that's enough", they sold the business and retired from tree work. A couple of years after their retirement, my mother found the following article from a Nov. 5, 1965, edition of Christianity Today, which had been taped inside my father's clipboard for 20 years:

"The people from whom we bought the old farmhouse left us a kerosene-burning kitchen stove, but took with them the 55-gallon oil drum and stand on which it stood. So we telephoned Austin Corbit, the oil dealer.

It was early spring, a bright, brittle New England day, and my wife was there alone when Austin's man drove down the lane. She showed him where he should put the barrel in the barn and went back in the house. Soon she heard a knock.

'Does your husband have a saw?' he asked. 'And may I cut up those old two-by-fours in the corner of the barn?'

It would have been so simple for him just to have delivered what we'd ordered- a barrel full of kerosene- and then gone away. Instead, he swiftly cut the old gray two-by-fours into proper lengths, spiked them together with nails he had pulled screeching from weathered wood, and toenailed the stand against the barn wall. Then he lifted the empty oil drum atop the stand and filled it for us.

Austin's man could have filled the barrel and left me to discover how to empty it (with siphon, with pump, with curses) or how to get all 400 pounds of it up onto a stand (with plank or hoist, strain and pain) so gravity would drain it easily. He could have said 'you need a stand, Missus Call me when you get one.' But he had not. He had simply asked himself how he could help us, and then gone ahead- without intrusions, without fanfare, without expecting reward.

This was almost 20 years ago, but I still would not think of dealing with any other company. Somehow Austin always hires men who are exceptionally helpful. Not talking-helpful or asking-helpful, but thinking-helpful, doing-helpful."

The man in the article could have easily been my father on a tree job: Doing everything from reparing an outhouse door to cleaning plugged gutters, to "sneaking in" some free pruning work for a little old lady that he knew could not afford it- my father was always "thinking-helpful" in every area of his life.

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