When Kenny Chapman, owner of Peterson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, left the Army in late 1992, he knew one thing: He didn’t want to work for someone else.
But with no business training and no money, he went back to his hometown of Grand Junction, Colo., worked some low-paying jobs and continued to dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Fortunately for him, a couple of entrepreneurial uncles encouraged him and gave him books on business to read.
It was at the lumberyard where he met a drain-cleaning guy who built houses on the side. It was a one-truck company, and the guy took drain-cleaning jobs when he felt like it. As you may have guessed, customer service was not his strong point.
Chapman began talking to him about selling his business. “I remembered the listing from the other drain-cleaning company, so I knew there was money in it,” he recalls. “But I had no background in drain cleaning or business. I had no business being in business - it was a train wreck waiting to happen.”
Eventually the two came to an understanding, and in 1994 Chapman became the owner of Rooter King. He went on a few ride-alongs, but basically learned drain cleaning with on-the-job training.
But he wasn’t happy. “I started to see some opportunity, but I’m not from the industry,” he says. “I never wanted to be a plumber; I wanted to be a business owner.”
So he continued to learn and read about business. In 2000, one particular book struck a chord with him - Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth.” Chapman wanted to learn more, so soon after he attended the E-Myth Academy in California.
“I saw the opportunities there; I realized that I could create systems in the company to run the company, but I was too impatient to create them all myself,” he says.
Building RelationshipsOne of Chapman’s first mistakes came with his acquisition of Peterson Plumbing. The four techs quit and each went out and started his own company - in a very small market. Chapman didn’t understand until later that he hadn’t established any kind of relationship with the techs, which resulted in uncertainty and resentment by them.
He began looking for help in the industry and came upon Nexstar, which he joined in early 2001. With the information he acquired and the mentors he had there, coupled with his E-Myth Academy experience, Chapman began to see the way to make his entrepreneurial dream come true.
“I had the desire but I didn’t have the how-to until I joined Nexstar and began to see what was really possible in this industry,” he explains.
Chapman’s next acquisition was an HVAC company. He took the time to build the relationships he needed with the employees, or team members as they are called at Peterson. Two years later, his latest acquisition, a heating and air-conditioning company, went even smoother.
Building relationships is a constant state at Peterson Plumbing - relationships with clients, relationships with employees, relationships with the industry.
“It’s a people business, it’s not about plumbing,” Chapman says. “At the end of the day, any company in any market anywhere can fix the client’s problem. We have to focus on the people. And if you focus on your client, then you have to focus on the people you’re putting in front of your client. The quality of your service or the quality of what you do is only as good as the quality of the people that are around you. If you surround yourself with successful people, it rubs off.”
Chapman’s right-hand man is general manager, John Burwell Jr. He has a sales background and met Chapman through the car-cleaning business he started. He began helping Chapman with the business before joining the company full time.
Burwell left the company for awhile - he got married, moved to Denver and began his family. He came back to Peterson in 1999 with the intent to help Chapman grow the company, but he didn’t want to get back in a truck.
“Kenny had a desire to become a consultant at that time, and my goal was to run the company,” Burwell explains. “He’s respectful of my position; Kenny’s biggest thing is development of his people.”
Now Burwell runs the day-to-day operations at the company. Chapman doesn’t have an office at the company and he travels a fair amount as a Nexstar trainer (he believes he has an obligation to give back to the industry), but the two still communicate daily, either through e-mail or on cell phones. The company has weekly team-member meetings, and Chapman is there when his schedule allows, talking to the staff and driving home the goals of the company.
“The quality of the people we have at Peterson makes us what we are,” Burwell notes. “The greatest advantage we have as a company is within our walls. Our team members are an integral part of the company’s success.”
In the down economy that we are all living through right now, Chapman believes it is the time to focus internally rather than externally. There are many opportunities to reduce costs inside your business that you haven’t been looking at because it’s been too easy for too many years, he says. Tighten your operations and get better at your company’s core competencies. As other PHC businesses go under, it’s a chance to gain market share.
'Business Owner Is The Biggest Problem'
Company ProfilePeterson Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning
Headquarters:Grand Junction, Colo. (One satellite location in Montrose, Colo.)
Employees:12 field techs, seven office staff.
Service Area: The Grand Junction, Montrose and Delta areas of western Colorado.
Business Breakdown:70 percent residential, 30 percent commercial; all service and repair; plumbing, heating, air-conditioning and drain cleaning.
- Owner - Kenny Chapman
- General Manager - John Burwell Jr.
- Finance Manager - Robin Stevens
- Office Manager - Sonja Cook
- Warehouse Manager - Doug Hatter