Want to grow your business? Stop doing plumbing.
Many years ago I made the decision to intentionally grow my company.
Life was good. I was running a small three-person operation out of my home, had a 500 square-foot detached building which housed the office and a small area for shop space and inventory storage. I also had the space for secure, off-street parking that kept the trademarked Plumbing Doctor ambulances out of view of the neighbors, and I was awarded a home occupation permit by the City. I was set. The phone rang consistently, and I worked at a very comfortable pace.
We were a small family operation and we were in demand. We were becoming a known local brand that provided a few best practices before best practices had become a buzzword. The demand revealed a problem. The problem was this: We were regularly turning away clients. Why were we doing this? Because we didn’t want to work any harder or any longer. But, we were also bothered by the fact that we couldn’t, or didn’t want to service all the customers that were asking us to service them; we were turning people away. It was a problem and it was stupid. It was a good problem to have; nevertheless it was a problem that needed solving.
We came up with two logical options for a solution: Either corral this company, live happily ever after and have people upset at us for blowing them off, or unleash it and see what it could really do if we tried to grow it by taking care of every single customer that called. We decided on the latter. We would grow Plumbing Doctor.
The first order of business was to get me out of the truck so I could develop our best practices, our brand and our expansion strategies. We knew the company would not realize its full potential unless somebody was dedicated to carry out the mission. That somebody would be me. I had to get out of the truck and into the office in order to execute the plan. But, who would take care of my workload? Who would service the clients that I had been taking care of? We had nobody in house, so we had to go outside and hire somebody.
The idea was: I would hire my replacement, so I could work on developing and implementing systems. The plan backfired.
We had hunted for and hired our very first service technician. He was very qualified to take over my caseload, but within weeks I was back in the truck, once again turning the wrench, running the cable machine and servicing clients. What happened you ask? Did the guy not work out? Were you not happy in the office and loved being in the truck? No and no!
Our solution to the original problem created a new problem. Namely, our introduction of new best practices caused more productivity and efficiency. Our average invoice began to escalate because we were no longer in the business of just fixing plumbing problems. We were now in the business of providing an exceptional customer experience. I called it “The Feel Good Plumbing Experience.” (You can’t use the slogan because it is a federally registered trademark).
One component of the multifaceted, “The Feel Good Plumbing Experience,” is to provide a complimentary whole-house inspection as part of our Customer Care Program, which basically is a service agreement, which essentially is a customer retention tool. What these free inspections did, was to reveal additional problems that the house had. Most of these discoveries were new information to the homeowner. The homeowner wasn’t aware of things such as the emergency shut off valve at the front of the house that had no handle on it, or the air gap for the dishwasher that was not designed to dump water all over the countertop, or the relief valve on the water heater that had been plugged and created a hazardous situation. We simply pointed out these discoveries and the danger they posed to people and property, and gave the homeowner an opportunity to have us solve these issues now, while we’re on site and at a discounted price. We were optimizing every service call.
Instead of a technician spending an hour or two at a house, we were now spending 4, 5 or 6 hours; often the whole day or maybe even several days. It wasn’t uncommon to replace every angle stop in the house or to change out a water heater at a house where we were called to clear a clogged kitchen sink. The system was working beautifully. But, it didn’t solve the original problem of getting me out of the truck and into the office.
The plan 2.0
So, we were back to the drawing board. We knew the strategy was right and we knew that I needed to be free to continue to implement more systems and brand enhancement ideas. The next step was to hire another fully qualified service technician, which we did. Once again, I was out of the truck and into the office chair working on best practices. Once again, our newly developed systems and strategies proved so effective that I needed to get back into the service truck in order to take care of demand. Once again, we recruited and hired my replacement. Once again, I was out of the truck and into the office. This time it worked. I haven’t serviced another customer or written another invoice since. I was permanently out of the truck.
I share this private piece of my story with you because I want you to know the process of designed growth.
Designed growth is sustained growth, which is much different than accidental growth. You can grow accidently because of an uptick in the economy, or because a competitor died or went to jail, or for any number of reasons, most of which you can’t even identify. But rapid, sustained growth happens by design.
What I want you to see here is that the process of designed growth started with me, the owner. And I had to be willing to do something different and sacrificial. I had to sacrifice myself. I had to find my replacement. I had to get out of the truck and out of the way.
The next few years we grew so rapidly that we were recognized by regional Business Journals as one of the fastest growing companies in the region, three years in a row. We bought industrial property, built a facility and moved out of my house.
Many times the only hindrance to growth is the mindset of the owner. You can obtain all the systems, best practices and brand enhancement tools out there, but until you obtain a new mindset, you are stuck.
The Doctor is out.
"This article was originally posted on ww.reevesjournal.com."