The husband and wife team behind Chapel Tree Services tell the story behind their thriving business.

MATT and Jenny Long run Chapel Tree Services, a family-owned business based in Ross-on-Wye. Bringing together complementary skills and adding in a huge amount of hard work, a brilliant team of people, a passion for the work they do and a few challenges along the way, their domestic and utility arb business is thriving.

Having been brought up among the trees of the Wye Valley, with interests such as biking, climbing and kayaking, it was a natural route for Matt to combine his love of being in the woods and climbing with a career in forestry and arboriculture. After completing a HND in Forestry/RFS Certificate in Arboriculture at Newton Rigg, his career over the past 20 years included work in the UK, Finland and America, as well as deployment to the Caribbean for the charity DART.

When Jenny’s career took them overseas to America, Matt secured a climbing arborist job in Boston. Thinking of his time there, Matt said: “It was in America that my climbing career really took off and I knew arboriculture was what I wanted to focus on. While there I worked for Savatree, an incredibly professional arb business, and I loved the work I did. The tree care being carried out was really advanced and that experience and level of professionalism has stuck with me. For those wanting to work abroad there are great opportunities. They really value the UK arb qualifications, and you can learn so much.”

Forestry Journal: The Chapel Tree Services team.The Chapel Tree Services team.

Back in the UK, Matt struggled to find full-time domestic tree work, so trained for his utility arb qualifications and started working as a full-time utility arborist. He was quickly promoted to crew leader but knew long-term he wanted to work for himself and run his own company. So, in 2005, he started Chapel Trees.

He started slowly, building up his own work on Saturdays, with the initial base his shed at the converted chapel he and Jenny were living at. In 2010, Matt decided to take a leap of faith and go full-time on his own. Deciding that a little more than a shed would be needed, he rented some barn space, bought a chipper and started to fully focus on building up his own business. Over the next five years he grew the business, along with his reputation for high-quality work and excellent customer service, with an increasing number of regular domestic customers.

READ MORE: Cromwell Forestry: On the street where you live

In 2015, Jenny joined Matt in the business full-time, bringing her business management and marketing skills to complement Matt’s arboriculture experience. Chapel Tree Services became a limited and VAT-registered company and secured its first utility contract. Jenny recalled: “In the first few years, Matt established a number of key local customers and cemented a reputation for himself as providing a very high-quality tree service. Then when I joined the business, I started to put together a company profile (the logo, website, branded uniform, local advertising, signwritten vehicles, etc). We established a company identity and things started to grow.”

Understanding the need to build a full-time team rather than rely on freelancers, they recruited their first employed staff, and six years later now have five full-time arborists, four freelancers who work part-time, plus a part-time office administrator who works with Jenny in their new office at the yard.

Forestry Journal: Matt and Jenny Long.Matt and Jenny Long.

Jenny said: “There are a number of things that have been key to our success, and the first is Matt’s absolute passion for tree work and his commitment to high standards of work, service levels and clean up. Without that we would never have built up our reputation and the brand that is Chapel Trees. He also credits his time in the USA and the advanced knowledge of tree care he gained there as being a key part of our success. The other key to our growth has been having the right skills, not just between Matt and I. As we began to grow, it was vital we had the right staff to uphold the brand we had created. Anyone can spend money on marketing, whether that is social media campaigns, advertising, signwriting or an expensive website, but what you need is a strong retained base of customers who will come back to you again and again and will refer you. You only get that with a strong delivery from a trusted brand. Delivering the same high level of service again and again – from the moment they request a quote to the clean up after we finish the job – means we are never short of work now.”

READ MORE: Diversity in urban tree populations

Combining domestic and utility work has also enabled the company to maintain a high volume of work and keep a steady number of employed staff. “All our staff have to be trained for utility work,” said Jenny. “It gives us a safety net so we can handle the peaks and troughs of domestic work. Most of our team prefer the domestic work, but they all know that regular ongoing work, albeit less profitable than domestic, means we always have work for everyone and we have been able to offer more full-time employment rather than rely on freelancers. Plus, the utility work is generally really flexible, so even though we schedule about four to six weeks ahead of ourselves, if a domestic job cancels I can just put everyone out on the power lines – and, if we have an urgent or emergency domestic job come in, we can just pull everyone onto that. Customers really value us being able to jump on urgent work straight away.”

Forestry Journal: Volunteering for DART (Disaster Arborist Response Team) has been important for both Matt and Jenny.Volunteering for DART (Disaster Arborist Response Team) has been important for both Matt and Jenny.

As with many arb companies, one of the biggest challenges for Matt and Jenny has been finding the right staff. While the recruitment process begins in Jenny’s hands, all potential employees have a trial day with Matt. Proud of the team they have built, Jenny said: “Matt drives me mad as we have had staff apply for work with us who have all the qualifications and experience, but if he doesn’t feel they have a passion for the work he won’t hire them. He wants someone who can show the same enthusiasm on a hedge-trimming job in the pouring rain as they will on a big climbing job in the sunshine. It has taken us a while because we are so fussy, but I will agree the right staff makes all the difference and we now have a team we trust completely and are so proud of. We know we have it right when customers never ask specifically for Matt now because all of our teams will deliver the same level of service. The brand was ‘Matt Long’ for a long time, but it is definitely now ’Chapel Trees’.”

Matt and Jenny work hard to focus on making their company a good place to work. Understanding that staff retention is as important, if not more important, than the recruitment process, they believe treating your staff as well as you ask them to treat your customers is essential. Jenny feels that a good starting point is: “Going above and beyond what is expected, making extra effort for them, putting them first and showing them that you appreciate them all means they should be happy and motivated at work. We take time to give feedback, good and bad, and ask for open communication in return.”

Forestry Journal: Jenny Long is a trustee at the Arboricultural Association and chair of its media and communications committee.Jenny Long is a trustee at the Arboricultural Association and chair of its media and communications committee.

With regular team meetings (usually with beer, doughnuts or both), annual performance reviews and ongoing training, there is a lot that other companies could learn from Matt and Jenny’s people-focused approach. Add to that an annual family canoe trip and BBQ for staff and their families (including Chapel Trees’ smallest two helpers, Matt and Jenny’s sons) and a Christmas meal for everyone and it is clear that Chapel Tree Services really tries to go above and beyond to make its company a family business in the truest sense.

READ MORE: Tree planting: a performance gap

For many, the challenges of the last 12 months saw training days put on hold, but Jenny said they felt it important to continue with this, when safe and able to do so. “During lockdown we had Hi-Line Training in to run a safety day for us, where we carried out some aerial rescue refresher work, two-rope working techniques and some other climbing practices,” she said. “We feel it is important to keep staff up-to-date and team safety days have many benefits.”

Forestry Journal: In 2017, Matt travelled with DART to the Caribbean to help with clean-up.In 2017, Matt travelled with DART to the Caribbean to help with clean-up.

Elaborating on their belief in training for all staff, Matt said: “We also put all team members through the EFAW + F course, the one-day course with extra elements for forestry/arb which cover catastrophic bleeds and falls from height. We are not prepared to settle for the cheap online first-aid course that some of our staff come to us with (often that their employers have put them through) as we want all our staff to feel confident to deal properly with a first-aid situation.”

Forestry Journal: Chapel Tree Services has continued with training days during lockdown.Chapel Tree Services has continued with training days during lockdown.

As well as her full-time role within the business, Jenny is a trustee at the Arboricultural Association (AA) and chair of its media and communications committee. She said: “I first came into contact with the AA in 2017 when myself and Matt were both volunteering for DART (Disaster Arborist Response Team). Matt was selected for deployment to the Caribbean that year, helping with the clear up after the hurricanes that devastated the islands. I was doing media and communications for them (I even got the team on the One Show) and the AA kindly sponsored the deployment. When I met the chair, Stew Wardrop, I was really interested in the work the association did and was surprised to discover there was a charity set up just to support those working in the arb sector, although it was apparent there was much work to do to open the association up more to contractors and to the public.

Forestry Journal: A recent safety day with Hi-Line Training saw the team practicing aerial rescues.A recent safety day with Hi-Line Training saw the team practicing aerial rescues.

“I joined Women In Arb, a working group set up by the association, and really enjoyed meeting some other women in the industry. Then, a year later, I put myself forward as a trustee as I felt I could really help drive the contracting and public-facing side of things. Three years on and there is still much to do to increase public awareness of the AA and to help engage more contractors, but with an increase in the arb-approved contractors scheme applications, the vast array of digital content they have produced through lockdown and projects such as the public tree care supporter scheme and schools membership programme, progress is being made. For me, the association needs to be the go-to place for all arb professionals and businesses, to get the support and help they need so we can upskill the whole tree-care industry.”

Forestry Journal: The annual family canoe trip.The annual family canoe trip.

With the business still growing, do they have any plans for the future? Jenny said: “The next step is accreditations. We have to stay one step ahead of our competition if we are to continue to win new business and external accreditations are key. We also feel we are now at the stage where we would value an external assessment. We are looking to hire some more admin support in the office and another full-time crew leader, but we are happy with three full-time teams. Matt and I both feel we want to stay at a size where we are still connected to the day-to-day business. Matt is pleased that with me by his side he can concentrate on what he is good at and leave the management to me. His best days are still the ones where he is working with a team, even if these days he is on the ground supporting the newer, younger climbers.”

READ MORE: Tales from the Trees: Help

With a sense of teamwork and family at the core of their business values, will their two sons be following in the footsteps?  Matt said: “For now they love the kit and the cash they can earn when they help out with a bit of firewood delivery, but who knows if they will take it all on one day? We are just delighted that we have managed to carve out a career for ourselves that is rewarding, flexible around our family life and pays the bills.”

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.