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A Simply Elegant Solution

Transporting trees-without wear and tear-has long been a tricky endeavor. That is, until now: The Tree Hugger is ready to deliver precious, live cargo intact, giving you a simple and effective way to sell more trees.
By Sally Benson




Photo courtesy of Warren Quinn

The goal? Safe, secure delivery of healthy trees. The solution? It just might be a brand new product that's as effective as it is simple. The TreeHugger, developed by an entrepreneur who knows the industry inside and out, is an easy-to-use system that cradles B&B and container trees in the back of a truck, enabling the secure transport of trees that arrive intact, undamaged, ready to plant. No broken branches. No tattered crowns. No compromised root balls.

But while it's a simple system of welded steel and slings that's easy to install and easy to adapt, it's also designed to be a way to sell more trees. The thinking is this: The hassle of delivery is half the battle of moving trees off the lot, both for the vendor and the customer. Make it easy to deliver high-quality, high-margin products, and you make it easy for customers to purchase. Provide a simple solution for both parties, decreasing labor costs and delivering a healthy tree, and you've made it easy to sell and easy to buy.

Seeds of inspiration

The TreeHugger is the brainchild of Warren Quinn, former Vice President for Operations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA), which this month became AmericanHort in the consolidation of ANLA and OFA, the Association of Horticulture Professionals. Quinn is an attorney and management consultant - as well as a green industry native. You could say that handling plants in his blood. "I grew up in the business, so I've always understood the materials handling aspects of the nursery and landscape business," Quinn explains. "My dad had a landscape company, and I worked full time for him until I was almost 29 years old. Then I went into law, and then to ANLA. And with ANLA, with all the [landscape operations and retail] tours that we led - I've always known what kind of a struggle it is to transport trees. They just don't lend themselves very well to a static set of shelves or racks or any other product."

Years of exposure to the challenges of selling and transporting trees led to the development of the TreeHugger. "Really, it's a lifetime of observing, understanding how trees are handled," Quinn continues. "The trauma that a tree goes through from the time that it's harvested; how it's handled, shipped to the landscape company or the retail garden center; and then how it is that customers are getting the trees to the home, or if the garden center is delivering the trees. The trauma on the trees is just tremendous. I have seen trees literally nothing but mush and nothing but broken branches and scarred bark by the time they get to the planting site. It's sad.

"It's a miracle," Quinn says, "if it gets to the planting site without being pretty busted up somehow. Especially with a B&B tree, you compromise the integrity of that root ball and it's much more likely to die."



The TreeHugger premiered at last summer's OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Sally Benson

Along the way, Quinn realized that "the industry's not really selling trees; meaning they're not marketing trees," he explains. "They sit there; they're in the farthest part of the garden center. A consumer has to be really committed to buying a tree before they decide to leave their house, because they've got to get a truck if they want something bigger than a stick. They've got to get a tarp; they've got to lift it; they've got to get it home somehow - without it rolling around, by the way - without damaging it; they've got to get it off the truck; they've got to get it into the hole.

"I thought, well, how are trees being delivered? Wouldn't it be great if a customer walked into a garden center, and they see a tree up front? As soon as they walk in, they see this nice, big tree that's 12, 15 feet tall with some shrubs around it, displayed beautifully, with the price - delivered - on the tree. Delivered price, to their door. That's how you sell trees.



Securing trees for transport with the TreeHugger leaves room for the addition of smaller plants, bagged goods, tools and other equipment. Opposite page, the TreeHugger is composed of welded steel and slings, and can be assembled by one worker in just a few minutes.
Photo courtesy of Warren Quinn

"But then I started thinking, where are the gaps in the operation? And that's when I came up with the TreeHugger. A garden center should have two or three of these around, and they'd have a delivery schedule, and a fairly untrained person working for a garden center can be pulled out of the garden center to do deliveries, using the TreeHugger as the tool that allows them to do that in a way that makes sense, in an efficient way.

"It was a very sort of deliberate view, working from the marketplace backwards to the consumer. The question was, 'How do we motivate consumers to buy more trees?' And that's where the delivery piece comes into it. The genesis of this idea, essentially, is to sell more trees," Quinn says.

What the TreeHugger does

The TreeHugger:

  • prevents rolling
  • preserves the integrity of the root system
  • protects trunk and crown
  • delivers trees intact
  • saves time and labor
  • is easy to install and modify
  • helps you sell more trees

In a nutshell, the TreeHugger can make your work simpler.

For a "live" demonstration of the TreeHugger, visit the TreeHugger YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/1hiWCL5 or just search "TreeHugger training." There you'll find a series of five videos that illustrate just how easy it is for one person to assemble the unit, install it in the back of a standard three-quarter-ton pickup, and load container trees for safe and secure delivery.

What it is, and how it works

The TreeHugger is deceptively simple.

It's composed of welded steel and a few slings (see photo, next page), and it's a system that can be assembled quickly and securely by one person. It's relatively lightweight and fits into the back of a standard, three-quarter-ton pickup - but it can be adapted to work with flatbed carriers, too.

The basic model comes with three slings, which one could assume means the capacity is three trees. But once three trees are secured in the TreeHugger, there's room for more to be loaded on top. Both containerized and B&B plants - with diameters up to 21 inches - fit snugly in one TreeHugger unit, leaving room in the truck bed for smaller plants and bagged goods.

"The biggest problem with container trees is that containers don't have the angled sides that spade- or hand-dug B&B trees do," Quinn says. "In other words, a hand-dug B&B tree, you can lay it on a truck bed and the trunk goes up on an angle. You can put other stuff underneath it. Container trees don't have that. Container sides are relatively vertical, so you can't just lay them on the truck bed.

"What happens with containers is that people will stuff whatever they can underneath the rims - some kind of chock or bags of material, mulch or stone, whatever they can get their hands on to prop up the containers," he continues. "The TreeHugger provides that function in a secure way. You don't have to worry about chocks or securing; you just basically place the trees in the TreeHugger and you're finished. You don't have to worry about supporting them with any other materials. It prevents them from rolling around; it retains the shape of B&B root balls because it holds them in a round sling rather than sitting on a flat surface. The slings conform to the shape of the root ball because they're made out of fabric.

"On the base unit, you can stack seven trees within the first 27 inches of the bed," Quinn says. "In the remaining space, you can load shrubs, you can put mulch in there, you can put whatever you want underneath the crowns. So you can mix elements: You can put trees in the TreeHugger, and then you can put all your shrubs, your materials, your tools, you can put a piece of equipment underneath the trees. Because the TreeHugger holds the crown up off the truck bed."

Saving time + labor = saving money

We're all looking for ways to make the best, most efficient use of personnel, and Quinn says that the TreeHugger was designed with resource savings in mind.

"The TreeHugger doesn't change the way companies load materials, really, other than not needing something or someone else to hold them in place and try to tie them together," Quinn claims. "They don't have to tie the trunks together, they don't have to shove stuff underneath the containers, they don't need to worry about chocks popping out, they don't have to attach wooden chocks to the truck bed. I've been there; I've done all of that stuff. You've got a big tree with all that rolling around, what do you do? You've got these 6x6 wood chocks, you cut them at a 45-degree angle, you shove them up under, and if you have to, you drive an anchor into the flatbed. Think of the labor that that takes. Whereas with the TreeHugger, you lay the tree in there and you're done. You walk away, and you go on to other stuff. It saves a lot of time."



Using the TreeHugger, one person can load and safely transport a significant inventory of plants and mulch or amendments.
Photos courtesy of Fresh Brew Studios


Of course, loads need to be staged and loaded onto a truck for delivery but, as Quinn points out, "Once the trees are sitting on the truck bed, I would say it takes a minute and half to load three trees and to put that unit underneath. That's one base unit and one support unit. If you're going to put four additional pieces on top, that's additional time to load them up on top and stack them.

"One of the cool things about the base unit is that it almost replaces a person while you're loading," he continues, "because a lot of times it takes one person to hold the trees up off the bed while a second person tries to secure them and keep them from rolling around with mulch or chocks or bricks or whatever it is they're going to try. So you don't need that second person. [Working with] the TreeHugger is like tying a bow - you don't need that other person. You can let other people do other things or go get more, and the person who's on the truck can stay on the truck and load the truck by himself without any help."

Quinn's vision for his endeavor is "that it become as pervasive or as accepted in the trade as the ball cart, for instance," he says. "If you're handling trees, you have a ball cart, and you've got a TreeHugger. Because the ball cart only helps you get it onto the truck; it doesn't help you transport it to wherever it's going. The TreeHugger is for that specific purpose. Secure delivery of trees."

Secure delivery, preservation of the tree's health and integrity, labor savings, time savings, customer satisfaction, greater profits. It all adds up to selling more trees - and that's the ultimate goal.

Sally Benson is the editorial director of American Nurseryman. She can be reached at sbenson@mooserivermedia.com. Warren Quinn can be reached at warren@TQMgrp.com; visit the TreeHugger sites at http://www.SellMoreTrees.com and http://www.ProTreeHugger.com.