I have decided that I am, at my core, a bit of a hippie. While you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I am a Subaru driving, yoga doing, no sugar eating hippie. About the only thing I like better than my Birkenstocks and organic garden are the people that try to make the world a better place by taking care of the earth and the people that inhabit it. My botanical brother Morgan McBride works for one of these people. Jonathan Saperstein is an outstanding young man that is proving that you can profitably produce high quality landscape products while taking extremely good care of the people that grow them.
When Jonathan Saperstein became CEO of Tree Town USA in 2015 he set out to change the way the green industry produces live goods. In many agricultural entities labor is an input not much different than seed or fertilizer. It is an expense to be managed. Jonathan sees his employees as something different. To him, his employees are the most important link in the entire production chain. His employees have a direct impact on the quality of his products and they also greatly impacted the cost at which he can sell his product. This understanding that the employees truly are the main asset of his business lead him to coin his company’s motto – “Our assets go home at night”.
Today, each of the “assets” at Tree Town USA have access to one of the most progressive benefits packages in the green industry. In addition to paying the employees at rates well above the industry average, every Tree Town employee is eligible for a comprehensive benefits package that includes medical insurance and access to a 401K. Agricultural workers are also offered an incentive plan that includes safety goals and team development activities that can give them addition pay bumps every two weeks. The company offers (and encourages the employees to participate in) free GED classes and free English and Spanish classes.
This past summer, Morgan told about one of the more unique things that Jonathan has implemented at Tree Town. Each day at 7:00 am, every employee that is on site at each of their seven farms lines up and does calisthenics. This was very interesting to me and I asked Morgan if the employees were embracing it. He said, oddly enough, they were. While the time is great for stretching cold muscles it is also time for the teams to come together in a relaxed environment and listen as the supervisors and safety leads lay out the day’s work, provide safety briefings and celebrate safety milestones.
These morning calisthenics were interesting enough to me that I decided to ask Jonathan if they were making a difference for Tree Town. Something about the way I asked the question made Jonathan grin. Jonathan said I was not the first to be skeptical about the benefits of his morning workouts. However, he informed me that since he implemented his exercise program there has been 39% decrease in incidents rates and the average cost of incident has gone from 34 cents per man hour to 4 cents a man hour.
While Jonathan is excited about the decrease in costs his exercise program is producing, he told me the real proof that his policies are working is the increase in profitability that is allowing him to grow his business. While many live good producers are struggling to stay open, Tree Town is adding farms, employees and products. His employee focused policies have attracted (and kept) the best trained employees in the industry. Since he celebrates and rewards the contribution his employees add to the bottom line, they in turn consistently produce top quality products and provide the superior customer service that has allowed Tree Town to differentiate itself and its products in an industry that is often thought of as a commodity. In regards to Jonathan’s impact on Tree Town, David Stoeber of SiteOne Landscape supply said “As someone who has done business with Tree Town before and during Jonathan’s leadership, I can see what a huge impact Jonathan has made on Tree Town. They have gone from being a supplier on the list to The Supplier I judge the others by.”
I am very happy that I know Jonathan Saperstein. As a business man I am excited to watch a new leader in the horticultural industry take chances and implement policies that will positively impact his bottom line and hopefully change the way the green industry operates. As a humanitarian I am inspired that he is shaking up the green industry by taking care of the workers that produce the trees, shrubs and bedding plants that we use to make our little corner of the world more beautiful.