Northampton tree care company C.L. Frank changes hands

  • Christopher L. Frank stands in front of the business he is selling and renaming C.L Frank and Company Division Of Bartlett Tree Experts, out of Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Collin Burt, a Senior Forman with C.L Frank and Company Division Of Bartlett Tree Experts, out of Northampton, prunes a clients tree in Haydenville. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A crew’s truck from C.L Frank and Co. Division Of Bartlett Tree Experts, out of Northampton, at a client’s home in Haydenville. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dan Shortell, a crew leader with C.L Frank and Company Division Of Bartlett Tree Experts, out of Northampton, prunes a client’s tree in Haydenville. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christopher L Frank, sits in his office with all his family photos. Frank is retiring and has sold and renamed the company C.L Frank and Company Division Of Bartlett Tree Experts. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2018 8:52:26 AM

NORTHAMPTON – When Chris Frank told his father that he wanted to go to school to become an arborist, his father turned to his mother and told her to prepare for her grandchildren to starve. 

“For thousands and thousands of years we’ve been trying to get … off the rivers, out of the forests, we’ve been trying to get off the oceans, off the farms,” said Chris, quoting his father. “We’ve been trying to work 60 hours a week instead of dawn to dusk. Is there something we missed Chris?”

Yet, Frank’s decision proved not to be the dire mistake his father declared it to be. Across more than four decades in the industry, Frank has become a nationally recognized and respected professional. He also ended up buying the Northampton office of the company he worked for, the Frost & Higgins Company, in 1986, which was subsequently renamed C.L. Frank & Company.

Still, even the most dazzling of careers must come to a conclusion, an last month Frank sold his company to Bartlett Tree Experts, a family-owned national company. Frank has agreed to stay on as a consultant to help with the transition, and he’s pleased that thing’s are going well at his former company since he turned over control.

“It was just a perfect fit for both sides,” he said.

Frank said that all of C.L. Frank’s employees have stayed on. with the new ownership.

“They’ve all been treated better than we could’ve,” said Frank. “They all have much better futures and careers.”

He also said that the company is hiring, and that clients are staying. Most of those customers are homeowners, but C.L. Frank also has contracts with area colleges. 

“The people that care about their trees, you know, you’re gonna find they’re pretty nice people,” Frank said.

 Frank said he opted to sell the company because of its lack of a succession plan.

“Our succession plan was basically, ‘Please Chris, don’t die,” said Frank, who will be 70 at his next birthday.

However, he said that he didn’t want to sell the company if his employees were not taken care of. As such, the right buyer was important.

“We have always been extremely cognizant of the shoulders we stand on,” said Frank, also noting his parents and Frost and Higgins. “Nobody gets anywhere by themselves.”

Frank said he’s been impressed by Bartlett for awhile, citing both the company’s resources as well as its expertise and character.

“They can manage growth,” he said.

Frank also noted that Bartlett Tree Experts and Frost and Higgins  were each founded with funding from the same person. Frost and Higgins was founded in 1896.

Frank said that he would have been open to selling to one of his employees, but that none showed an interest. He also said that such a move would have been impractical, something he explained to key employees when he had them over for dinner prior to the completion of the sale to Bartlett.

“You have to buy so much,” he said.

Additionally, he said that the company was not large enough to transfer into an employee-owned model.

Frank said Bartlett is large enough to continue to grow C.L. Frank’s already strong business. “We knew the Valley was going to explode growth wise,” he said.

Outdoor life

Frank said that his first major in college was engineering, but he hated it. It was only later on that he realized that this was because he enjoyed being outdoors.

“That’s where my passions were,” said Frank.

He said that it took him a few majors and a few years before he realized this. Then he discovered arborculture.

“I was hooked before I took the first course,” he said.

Frank graduated from the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge, and while he was there he got a placement at Frost and Higgins in its Northampton office. 

“I came to work for them. I never left,” said Frank.

The leadership of Frost and Higgins arranged for Frank to buy the Northampton office, and threw their support behind him.

“You two do know what you pay me?” Frank recalled asking his bosses, when they first brought this up to him.

Frank’s father’s attitude also changed toward his son’s profession after Frank acquired the business. “He relaxed a little bit,” he said.

Frank said that he actually got his love of the outdoors from his parents, as his father was a woodsman and his mother loved to garden. He also said that a big piece of his father’s advice was to follow his passions.

“I’m doing exactly what you taught me,” said Frank, recalling a conversation with his dad.

“But not outdoors,” was his father’s reply.

Frank is also a tree lover himself.

“I probably break a few rules at home,” said Frank, on the trees he plants there. “I experiment more at home than I ever would on your property.”

As a consultant with Bartlett, Frank now shares an office with Greg Beck, an arborist representative for Bartlett who is the only person from Bartlett added to the C.L. Frank office so far.

“It’s been great,” said Beck. “Chris is phenomenal.”

Beck said that he knew about C.L. Frank through his industry involvements when he lived in Oregon. Now he lives in Conway, and when the opportunity to work in Northampton presented itself, Beck jumped at it.

“I’m all in,” said Beck, recalling his reaction.

Previously, Beck commuted to the Bartlett office in Connecticut.

Currently Frank is set to stick around as a consultant until spring, although there is no firm date for his final departure.

Beck, for his part, isn’t in any hurry for Frank to leave, describing him as a role model. “He’s got a home here for sure,” he said.

Currently C.L. Frank’s trucks have had decals added to them denoting the company as a division of Bartlett Tree Experts. However, as new trucks and equipment are added, they will have the Bartlett name on it and and come in Bartlett yellow, as the company becomes another Bartlett office.

Beck said that Bartlett has about 150 offices in the continental United States, as well as a presence in  Ireland and England. He also said that Bartlett’s resources will be a game-changer for the company, noting it has nine employees with doctoral degrees and a research facility in North Carolina. He also said that Bartlett not moving into western Massachusetts before was in part because of C.L. Frank’s reputation. 

Frank said that Bartlett has asked to be considered as a buyer some years ago, should Frank put his company up for sale.

Collin Burt is a senior crew leader at C.L. Frank, and has worked at the company for about 13 years. He says that a loyalty to Frank was the main reason he stayed, although he also enjoys the work.

“Everything’s going as well as it could be,” he said, of the transition.

Aside from new paperwork, he said that not much has changed. “It’s been fun,” he said.

He also said that he is looking forward to finishing his career with Bartlett.

As for Frank’s own future, he said that “I’m going to let life come to me for a change.”

As for his parents, both are deceased, but Frank says they aren’t gone.

“My mother and father are with me every day,” he said. 

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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