To hear Sam Marcisso tell the story, he was sitting at his desk three years ago at Pine State Plumbing and Heating, experiencing a bad day and thumbing through the latest issue of Plumbing & Mechanical. That’s when he saw the ad PM columnist Al Levi runs for his management consulting company, Appleseed Business.
Marcisso contacted Levi and subsequently hired him to improve the operations side of his company, which will turn 15 years old in September. He also brought on consultant and former PM columnist Ellen Rohr to help him with the financials.
Today, he credits Levi and Rohr with helping him turn around his company, which he renamed Pine State Services last year to reflect the broader scope of its capabilities. In addition, the company has a new logo, new training center, new operations manual and new mission to be known as the green authority in the mostly suburban area near Portland, Maine.
“Without their help, I’d be bagging groceries,” says Marcisso, president of Pine State Services and Pine State Energy in South Portland, Maine. “With what I went through, I don’t know how I would have pulled it off. I could read a financial statement but didn’t know what to do with it, which was very frustrating. Now I know how to read it and how to change it.
“On the operations side, the tail was wagging the dog. Al helped me with our operations manual, which basically tells our people how to get out of bed in the morning and takes them through to the end of their day.”
Go, Get, Be … GreenPine State’s commitment to green started from the very practical point of trying to help its customers save money when oil prices spiked and gasoline hit $4 a gallon, Marcisso says. Finding solutions for customers led him and fellow Pine State owners Jim Marcisso (Sam’s brother), Terry Davis and Lee Nicely to ask themselves what they could do to save money within the company.
Measures included improved lighting and an upgraded boiler plant. But that was just the beginning.
Today, with Levi’s assistance, Pine State has labeled its commitment to sustainability as “Go, Get, Be … Green.” The “Go” part of the phrase refers to actions Pine State is taking to make itself green, with “Get” referring to customer education and “Be” to helping customers go green.
“You cannot be out preaching green if you don’t practice it,” Sam Marcisso says.
To that end, the firm posts on www.pinestateservices.com its “Top 30 Growing Green Ourselves List,” which it considers its sustainability report. Among the items on the list are: a water-saving program; energy audits; a green purchasing policy to buy biodegradable products; a water-filtration system; a switch to hybrid or flex-fuel vehicles; software to collect electronic signatures; energy-efficient computers; and a green team of Pine State employees.
A large part of Pine State’s transformation comes from shifts away from heavy commercial projects to more residential work and from new construction to service and installation. Commercial work now accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the company’s $4 million in annual sales.
The emphasis on sustainability has generated enthusiasm among the company’s 32 employees, including the system engineers who had been selling the large commercial jobs, Marcisso says.
“We’re a fairly young company, and the young people grasped the green theme and want to embrace the technology,” he adds. “There’s no pushback at all. In fact, they’re pushing back on me to do more. They’re excited about it.
“One of my service techs tells me there’s no one doing what we’re doing for our customers. We’re seeing a lot of buy-ins.”
Optimal OperationsMarcisso realizes that making Pine State the area’s green authority would have been impossible without first getting his financial house in order and straightening out his operations.
“Sam made a powerful transition from an owner who didn’t know the financial side of the business to someone who took charge,” Rohr says. “Very few business owners know every line as Sam does.”
He shares the numbers in a weekly meeting that includes Jim Marcisso, Davis and Nicely as well as office manager Sandra Nason and install manager Jason Brown.
“All the managers review financial data. That’s a brave thing to do,” Levi says. “Six people, including Sam, review the numbers every Thursday. They’re running the car with the financial blinders off now.”
The meeting also gives the managers an opportunity to focus on their Top 5 No. 1 projects each week. These projects need to get done to keep the business on target, Marcisso explains.
Examples include a truck-stocking program that reduces the number of trips to the supply house and sales training for system engineers that allows them to close a sale in one trip rather than multiple visits. Pine State has completed 20 projects, Marcisso estimates, although new ones can be added at any time.
Besides the weekly meeting, the owners made an even more visible change by moving from their second-floor “ivory tower” offices down to the first floor. The new office arrangement has improved communications, accountability and efficiency, Levi notes.
Pine State’s new in-house training center represents another change to the physical layout of Pine State’s headquarters and its company culture. The multipurpose center opened earlier this year, with an open house held in April.
“We train our own people so we’re not coming to your house to learn our job,” Marcisso says. “We’re also bringing in Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner to see what’s available and demonstrate how it works.
“We attempted to build a training center several years ago, and it just failed. With Al, we laid it out properly, and we got manufacturers to donate equipment. Everyone came together as a team and that built camaraderie. It was fun.”
The training center features solar water-heating equipment, radiant heat with four types of flooring, geothermal heat pumps and a warm-air furnace, among other products. Manufacturers that donated energy-saving products include Burnham, Buderus, Uponor, Bryant, Prestige, Mitsubishi, Rinnai and Grundfos.
The plumbing portion of the training center will feature low-flow toilets and showerheads as well as water filtration equipment. TOTO and Grohe will be among the manufacturers to donate products.
Sales and technical classes in the training center combined with Pine State’s operations manual already have reduced the number of callbacks, Marcisso says. For example, the manual describes the process of handling a no-heat call from a customer.
“We had no uniformity before,” he says. “A no-heat call can be as simple as listening to what the customer is telling you. We train on really listening and becoming an adviser for the customer. There’s consistency now.”
Future GreenLevi and Rohr still visit Pine State quarterly. Marcisso talks with Levi on the phone weekly and with Rohr every other week. In addition, she stays in touch with Pine State’s office manager to discuss financials.
Asked if he would have handled any of their advice differently, Marcisso says he would have acted faster on some of it.
“Change is hard,” he says. “Letting people go who worked for me for a long time, for example. If I had the wrong people on the bus, I had to get them off the bus. There were no hard feelings when everything was done.”
Marcisso is looking forward to more growth. His plans include expansion, possibly by acquisition, as well as new branches.
“Now is the fun stuff, knowing that I have the tools in place,” he says. “I’ll enjoy that. I feel I’ve finally earned the right to have dessert.”