Matt grew up on a gravel road in the farming country of Allendale, Michigan. Matt’s parents became friends with Shane’s parents when Matt and Shane were just 7-years-old. They lived about 4 miles from each other and, in their preteen years, Matt fondly remembers walking cross-country and meeting up with Shane between their homes. They did what any young boy enjoys doing, hunted and fished, of course! They too were resourceful at such a young age and would build a small campfire and cook a pack of hot dogs for lunch and dinner. Later, in their teenage years, Matt and Shane would ride dirt bikes to each other’s houses and camp in the woods.
During the summer months, Matt worked at a farm down the road from his home, picking beans, corn, and other vegetables for the local farmer. Matt and Shane were both homeschooled in the 7th and 8th grades so, when their schoolwork was finished for the day, they both met-up in the woods to have fun.
“I feel those years added to our overall self-confidence and allowed us to tackle any challenge head-on in future years,” said Matt.
By age 15, Matt was framing houses full-time in the summer. On the weekends, he would do tree work with Shane. Matt recalls that, even without a valid driver’s license, they would each drive a bucket or chip truck around Grand Rapids doing tree work.
This type of hard-labored work required a strong work ethic and self-confidence, both of which they possessed. It was especially challenging given their young age.
“Looking back, one skill that was not used for me to learn from was how to effectively communicate in a constructive way. The people in the construction industry were verbally abusive and, over the years, the work atmosphere wore me down,” recalled Matt.
Several years after high school graduation, Matt was still framing houses and started noticing he was picking up the same poor communication thoughts and habits that were put upon him the 6 years prior. After this realization, Matt quit framing houses.
During that time, Shane had been talking with Matt about doing tree work with him for his father’s business, Doug Herrema Tree Service, so Matt went to work there full-time for the summer.
Matt was naturally mechanically inclined, so he would load up his toolboxes and a spare skid steer tire in his diesel Volkswagen Golf and do mechanical and tree work for the tree service.
Feeling spiritually-led to further his Biblical studies, Matt moved to Oklahoma and attended Rhema Bible Training Center in the fall of 1996. It was Matt’s first time living outside of Michigan and on his own.
“It was a time of fun, learning, and maturing,” Matt reflected.
Shortly after moving to Oklahoma, Matt went to work for a local tree service, Preaus Landscape, as a mechanic and tree worker. Over the course of that fall, winter, and spring, Matt found that he really enjoyed tree work as a trade and career.
Living on his own for the first time, Matt realized after just two short months he was fully responsible for his own financial decisions. Knowing credit cards and debt would not be a good solution, he cut up all his credit cards and starting paying cash for everything and worked toward paying off the debt he had accumulated in those first two months.
During the summer of 1997, between his two years of Bible school, Matt went back to framing houses because the framing crew missed his contribution and was willing to give him a decent pay increase. The builder also needed tree work done to clear the building lots for the next few houses to be built, so Matt and Shane rented Shane’s father’s chipper and skid steer and started working together on tree projects.
At the end of that summer, when Matt was preparing to go back to Oklahoma for his second and last year of Bible school, Shane approached Matt with the possibility of starting their own tree service. Given Matt’s long friendship history with Shane, knowing he enjoyed working with him, and given his love for the tree working trade, it was an easy decision for him to partner with Shane and start a business.
They used the upcoming fall period to write their business plan, meet with various banks, and get an ad in the local phone book. After Matt started his second year of school in the fall, one of his action items was to come up with a logo, get business cards designed and printed, and get safety orange t-shirts screen printed. A Bible school classmate of Matt’s named Amy offered to help. She had a graphic design degree and was working at a local printing company. Matt hired her to design their logo and business cards. The two of them spent quite a bit of time together and started to date about halfway through that year.
Shane and his wife, Paige, had saved enough startup money necessary to get Integrity Tree Services off the ground. Since Matt was putting himself through Bible school, it was not feasible for him to save money to help start the tree service. However, Matt was able to contribute his equal investment into the company by taking a greatly reduced pay wage their first year in business.
Integrity Tree Services officially made it in the local phone book by January of 1998. Soon after, Shane started receiving phone calls from prospective clients. He purchased their first chip truck, a Ford 7000 cab over straight truck, from a local equipment auction that spring. The auction purchase was such an intense experience for Shane that soon after he won the bid for the truck, he left the auction then came back the next day to pay for it.
Matt’s parents also co-signed an equipment loan for a bucket truck, a Morbark Model 17 brush chipper, and a Mustang 960 skid steer. Furthermore, Matt’s parents also agreed to let Integrity Tree Services operate out of their pole barn and this continued for the next 12 years.
In March of 1998, Matt graduated from Bible school on a Friday, moved back into his parents’ house in Michigan over the weekend, and started cutting trees with Shane the following Monday morning. Matt and Amy dated long distance for one year since she was a year behind Matt in school.
Matt’s only monthly expense was a long distance phone bill talking to Amy. There really wasn’t room for any other expenses since Matt was taking a reduced pay wage to contribute his half of the investment to start the company. Matt would fish in his dad’s pond after work as a means to relax and unwind from the responsibilities of starting a new business.
On New Year’s Eve in 1998, Matt proposed to Amy and, after she graduated Bible school that following spring, Matt loaded all her belongings into a chip truck and she moved to Michigan. Amy is originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so she had quite the adjustment to make to West Michigan’s climate and culture.
Ten months later, in the fall of 1999, Matt and Amy married at her parents’ home in Baton Rouge and Shane and Paige’s daughter, Morgan, was their flower girl.
These two men worked tirelessly to grow Integrity Tree Services. Not because they had a specific goal in mind, but rather it was a natural work ethic that was their driving force. They had to continuously be aware to balance work and family and, for the first several years, it was mostly work and little family. Matt had a passion for the tree clearing aspect of the tree work that Integrity Tree Services was completing for clients and supervised the land clearing work for many years.
In the summer of 2015, they were recommended to contact The Vantage Group, a West Michigan based company of two business coaches, Richard and Darrell, who mentor business owners. Integrity Tree Services’ rapid growth quickly outgrew the expertise Matt and Shane had at that time. Richard and Darrell recommended the book Crucial Conversations as well as several concepts on how to effectively communicate and function within a team of people. Since then, Richard and Darrell have had a dramatically positive impact on Matt, Shane, and the rest of the Integrity Tree Services team.
“One aspect that has increased the impact of the skills learned is that we are able to improve all of our relationships in our lives, not just the working relationships at ITS,” Matt said confidently.
Integrity Tree Services has grown to be an organization full of great people who promote great values and have a passion to continually improve. The goal is not only completing great tree work for their clients, but also to help their team members grow, mature, and win at life.
Matt is excited about the progress Integrity Tree Services has made in the first 20 years and is looking forward to seeing what the Lord has planned for the future of the company.