Have a Grape Day!

Techniques for building client relationships are endless. Lunch at the neighborhood restaurant, golf at your favorite course, participation in one of our technical training seminars with Dr. Rex or a gift for a Charter Oak client. These are all ways to strengthen relationships. One fun way I build relationships with my clients is to get involved with their business. Sound strange? Let me explain.

Years ago I felt my orchard pruning was not up to par. All of us spend winter months pruning ornamental trees but rarely do we prune peach, cherry, plum or apple trees on a production level. How often do we get questions from a homeowner about the “hobby” orchard they planted or inherited? Working in an area suited for fruit trees, I run into this often. I purchased books and practiced on my own trees but I needed more. Remembering I had a client who owned a production orchard in Maryland I decided to call him and volunteer a day’s work in his orchard. His answer was twofold. First, he wanted what kind of nut would volunteer to stand out on a cold winter’s day and prune hundreds of peach and apple trees and secondly that he should take advantage of such an offer before I came to my senses. The day with him is still a wonderful memory. Did you know that trees produce more apples on branches trained to a 60-90 degree angle than on those with a 30-degree angle? I picked his brain and took notes all day. We went over tree planting, training, pruning and insect/disease control. I learned a year’s worth of information in eight hours. He also took me into his home, with his family, for a hot meal at noon. He and I are still friends, 10 years later.

Yesterday, I fulfilled a need with another client. For years I have gotten questions from clients on grapevine pruning. My knowledge and experience with grapes was as follows; walk on them long enough, let them sit long enough and wine appears! Again, I bought books, read them but still had no tangible experience. The thought of giving my clients the wrong technical information was unacceptable. So, off I went looking for the right client to help me. Our Public Relations person in Middleburg, Vicki Bendure, had introduced me to a new client, Paul and Lexi Breaux, owners of Breaux Vineyards. Dave Booth’s crew had just pruned the Breaux’s giant white oak and I thought this a perfect opportunity to become, you guessed it, a grapevine pruner. I asked the Breauxs if I could spend a day pruning grapes in their vineyard under their close tutelage. I got the same answer as I did ten years past, “ what kind of nut…” Yesterday, I spent the day pruning with their wine maker and Mr. Breaux. I learned to train vines, how spur prune Merlot grapes, why vines responded the way they do to pruning and when to harvest according to grape malleability, seed color and brix, or the amount of sugar in the grape. One key issue stands out in both orchards and vineyards. The training of young plants, be they trees or vines, is the most crucial part of that plant’s life. Does that not relate to the planting of our young landscape material? The similarities are intriguing.

I was able to spend eight hours with my client and become part of his life. I accomplished what I had set out to learn. I became a part of my client’s property. I gathered valuable, tangible answers for my other clients, which will increase the value of our company/client relationship. Now here is the dessert. While standing at the vines working, Mr. Breaux asked that I prune the rest of the trees around the house. Ask Dave Booth if it’s a nice place to spend a day. Can you think of a better way to spend warm winter’s day?

I urge you to dig into your client relationships. I remember a sentence from the book, Flight of the Buffalo, “ Vision is a statement of what your customers tell you your organization must be.” I enjoy being part of the Care of Trees because we believe our clients are the essence of our existence.

Next year, it’s a day in the wine tasting room to see if the pruning worked!

Go ahead, do something really different!

Copyright 2005 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.

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