The Success Group Internationals’ biannual expo took place Wednesday, Sept. 23 to Friday, Sept. 25 at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club in Boca Raton, Fla. Approximately 407 companies attend (929 people). Out of that, 115 companies were plumbing contractors (245 people). There were also 64 vendors in attendance.

Having seen the list of sessions at the time of reservation, many went in with certain expectations.

“With this particular event’s agenda, I was specifically looking forward to learning more about the club memberships, and the information provided during the proper payroll session as well as the strategic planning session,” said Lynn Tomasek, president of Brothers Plumbing, Heating and Electric, who has been a member for 16 years. “Every time I attend an event I know it will fuel my fire and spark my motivation for goal setting.”

“We always try to take home one good idea and spend time with friends we only see twice a year,” said Rachel Egner, co-owners of Steve’s Plumbing, member for 9 years. “In the past, I felt like I needed to really get the most from the presentations on stage, but now I realize it’s just as important to take a few days break from the business, spend time with other members and share information.”

Day 1

Activities began at 7:30 am with an array of different events — including a fishing tournament, classic golf tournament, everglades adventure and a shopping tour of Sawgrass Mills.

I arrived just in time for the 7:00 pm Casino Night welcome reception — open to all SGI members — in honor of Roofers’ Success International’s 10-year anniversary. A great opportunity to network, members could talk and play Vegas-style games while enjoying appetizers, complimentary drinks, music and dancing. Money raised from the event went to help benefit Folds of Honor, a charity to provide educational scholarships to the spouses and families of veterans that were killed or disabled in action.

At the end of the night, chips were handed in for raffle tickets and a few prizes were given away. Major Dan Rooney, founder of the charity, spoke after the raffle and thanked everyone for their donations — which totaled $5,850. He also encouraged owners to incorporate charity fundraising into their businesses’ by asking callers if they would like to add a dollar contribution to their bill for [the company’s charity of choice].

“We teach our members they should be stewards of their communities,” said Paul Riddle, vice president of operations and part-owner of SGI. “They shouldn’t simply take; it’s important to also give. Moving forward, we believe we will continue to adopt different charities for each Expo.”

Day 2

The next day began with a 6:30 am breakfast followed by four vendor breakout sessions a half-hour later. The breakouts covered a mix of topics including consumer financing, fleet financing, technical training and InSinkErator updates.

At 8 am everyone gathered in the grand ballroom for the opening featured speaker, Major Dan Rooney. During his presentation, Rooney shared his story of combat and serving others while highlighting the importance of faith, teamwork, accountability and finding your life’s mission. His stories have empowered others with the skills to identify the moments of synchronicity — chance with a purpose — guiding their lives and leaving them with a road map to become a positive force for change.

“No one is here by chance,” he said. “Volition, the power of choice which will culminate the legacy of your life, brought you here. Pursue the fire in your heart.”

After a short break, in which Rooney signed books and took pictures with people, everyone went back into the ballroom for the second half of the morning general sessions — titled The future of training with SGI.

Rebecca Cassel, president of SGI, was the featured speaker for the session. She discussed what the future of training will look like now that SGI is no longer affiliated with Clockwork/Direct Energy. Improvements include more locations, facilitator training, blended learning techniques and curriculum enhancements. New hires also were announced as well as a strategic roadmap to booking success.

“As an owner, I am pleased with the announcements regarding our new training program,” said Michael Taggert, president of Plumb Magic in Fredericksburg, Va. “We await this new program as the old one was severely dated.”

Member then broke apart for lunch. Rather than attending the general lunch session, all of the ladies of SGI were invited to a special lunch just for them. There were special guest speakers from within the organization who discussed topics specifically geared toward women and their roles in contracting.

The afternoon breakout sessions were in three parts. In the first grouping participants could attend one of three options: Build It to Sell It, Part 1, by Lon Cassel; Develop a Strategic Vision for Your Company for 2016 and Beyond, Part 1, by Rebecca Cassel; and The Pros and Cons of Adding another Trade to Your Business, by Riddle.

I attended Lon Cassel’s session. Cassel has sold multiple businesses for millions over his career, and during this session, he outlined what an owner would need to do in his or her company to one day sell it for millions of dollars, providing for a comfortable, enjoyable retirement after so many years of hard work.

The first note of import is the company should not be in debt. An owner should look at his earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. EBITDA can be used to analyze and compare profitability between companies and industries because it eliminates the effects of financing and accounting decisions. Another thing to look at is the intangible assets the company has — such as the name of the company, its reputation and its unique selling propositions.

The second grouping consisted of four options: Build It to Sell It, Part 2; Develop a Strategic Vision for Your Company for 2016 and Beyond, Part 2; 10 Things You Need to Know Before Making Your Next Hire, by CertiPay; and an AirTime500 exclusive session You Have Won A Great Victory in Court, by Tom O’Connor and Keith Goodwin.

As many members had concerns over hiring, I decided to attend the session by CertiPay. Alfred Roush, vice president of HR Services, listed the ten things to look at as:

• My people – Respecting the relationships your employees already have;

• Survey and exit interviews – Knowing why people left will help you keep new employees;

• Individual value – Let employees know they are valuable and replaceable, so as not to be held hostage;

• My system – Know your process, who your best and most difficult employees are;

• Past success – Look at HR practices, reinforcing the good and addressing the bad;

• Onboarding – Put a process in place, protect yourself from future liability and add technology to save time;

• Talent pool – Use background checks, application filtering, reference requirements and referral incentives to current employees;

• Mentoring – Mentor new and current employees. Communicate success and note that successful mentees can become successful mentors;

• Consistency – Establish a standard for promotion/discipline. Coach and train managers to apply standards; and

• Magic quadrant – On a performance and behavior chart, see where your current employees fall. If the person’s performance is high but his behavior is low, he may just need a mentor. If it is vice versa, then he needs more training. Those who score high in both make the best mentors. If both scores are low, then you need to look for a new employee.

With all these points in place owners will be ready to find and keep great employees. “Everyone in the plumbing industry struggles with finding quality people, but often, contractors forget to take care of the great employees they already have — and they ultimately leave them,” Riddle said. “In this session, we addressed how plumbing contractors not only must compensate their technicians, but also what kind of working environment they must provide.”

The third session consisted of four breakouts as well: an AirTime500 exclusive session on Furnace Heat Exchanger Safety Inspection Training, by O’Connor; Getting Outside the Box (Creating a Value-Based Business), by Dr. Dwayne Pickett Sr.; Pushing Past the Million Dollar Mark: Growth Strategies for the Small Contractor, by Riddle; and Winning with Radio (The Do’s and Don’ts of This Highly Effective Marketing Medium), by Eric Spence.

With many looking for new ways to advertise, I attended the radio marketing breakout. During this session, attendees learned that (according to Nielsen, an American global information and measurement company) radio is actually the No. 1 mass weekly reach medium, beating TV, online and smartphones in both the 18-plus and the 35 – 49 age categories, each reaching more than 90% of the population.

They also heard from an assortment of fellow SGI members who’ve enjoyed success with radio in their marketing mix. Spence explained what should and should not be done, as well as what type of budget should be considered. He and the guest speakers provided guidance into what should be included in spots and played examples of successful ads.

“This year, we offered more sessions and allowed our members to choose which ones they wanted to attend,” Riddle said. “We realize that not all contractors have the same needs or desires — this way our members could listen to content they felt best addressed their personal situations and needs.”

The evening wrapped up with a vendor showcase, which featured 64 vendors, a live gator, a photo booth with funny hats and glasses, and plenty of food and drink. This was a great time for members to relax, network and discuss the days sessions.

“This particular time, the majority of my take-a-ways came from the Strategic Planning session with Rebecca Cassel,” Tomasek said. “I’m excited about the planning spreadsheet they have come up with for our use as well as focusing on our specific vision and business plan this next year.”

Many noted that the energy was different now than in years past. “It’s positive and forward thinking,” Egner said. The new ideas and changes are so positive for the membership. Everything is geared toward our success.”

Many also highlighted that one of the best things about Expo is that owners get to recharge their spirit. “When you are in the trenches every day it is sometimes hard to stop and really focus on the larger picture of your company,” Taggert said. “Expo allows us to get new ideas and to learn but it also allows us to look at our vision and our plans. It gives me the desire to continue and be successful.”

Day 3

The final day began much the same as day two, with an early breakfast and six breakout sessions — including Private Brands Group: Increase Your Average Ticket with Private Brands; The Brand Guys: Solutions for Marketing Your Business; Call Capture: Seasons Have You in a Sales Slump?; and HomeAdvisor: Reach Customers, Win Jobs.

The members then split into group-specified general sessions — PSI, AT5, ESI and RSI. The PSI group featured a proper payroll session, a 10-year-member recognition ceremony and a session on increasing club-membership sales.

During the payroll session, the membership provided data accumulated from surveys to discover the averages of compensation packages across the nation. Everything was collected from tech to office pay. The information provided hardcore data that could impact how owners compensated their teams from this point forward. It also touched upon encouraging contests, employee recognition, work/life balance, relationships between employees and their managers/boss, and chances for advancement within a company.

The club-membership sales session was more of a question and answer session between attendees and PSI members who thrive at selling club memberships. Topics talked about included retention, monthly vs. yearly payment, credit vs. checking accounts, and offering lifetime guarantees.

“More than ever, presentations were delivered and facilitated by members,” Riddle said. “Our members had the opportunity to learn from other successful contractors, rather than listening strictly to Plumbers’ Success International or Success Group International staff. We think that’s so valuable because they’re the ones who are in the field dealing with the day-to-day challenges and thriving.”

After a general lunch break, everyone grouped back together in the grand ballroom. Attendees heard from Ziglar motivational speaker Krish Dhanam. Dhanam arrived in New York City in 1986, from southeast India, with nine dollars in his pocket and a burning desire to achieve the levels of success he’d seen in the American-made movies he viewed as a child. He won a sales contest and a ticket to a seminar conducted by Zig Ziglar. That encounter in 1991 led to an association with Ziglar and his company. He went from telemarketer to vice president of training for Ziglar Training Worldwide and director of international operations for Ziglar Training Systems.

“Plan with attitude, prepare with aptitude, participate with servitude, receive with gratitude and that should be enough to separate you from the multitudes,” Dhanam said. He also encouraged attendees to become constructive critics.

Afterward, David Rutherford, who served eight years in the Naval Special Warfare Community as a SEAL student, combat paramedic, operator and instructor, talked about The Froglogic Concept and how attendees could apply it to their businesses. He combined his personal story with the track record of Naval Special Warfare to create a performance program that features missions designed to help gain the competitive edge, deal with stress, elevate performance, strengthen teamwork, embrace chaos, and forge leadership.

The four main concepts are: embrace fear, forge self-confidence, live the team life and live with purpose. “There is no such thing as fearless,” he said. “You can’t defeat fear; it’s a part of us. Embrace it. Failure also is essential in life. Be willing to fail and grow from it. You can’t find purpose without searching for it. Help others, lead with love and live with courage.”

With a standing ovation and shouts of the SEAL cry “Hooyah,” the expo wrapped up and everyone slowly dispersed talking about what they were taking back with them.

Overall views

When talking to attendees, many had a lot to say about the event. Here are some people’s thoughts:

• “This particular event was different for me in that there were a multitude of motivational speakers that shared their messages with us and I was inspired by what I heard. I reconnected with old relationships that are supportive and friendly; I met new members at this event and made new relationships that inspire me. It’s nice to have so many successful people in my industry to talk to, share ideas and stories with. We share advice and thoughts, successes and failures. We get to know each other on a personal level as well. The amount of support everyone has for each other, not only from the leadership team, but from the members is phenomenal! I also brought back new information, renewed energy and motivation to continue to grow my business profitably. I consider this successful. Time and money well spent!” ~ Lynn Tomasek, president of Brothers Plumbing, Heating and Electric.

• “I enjoyed Rebecca’s presentation on developing a strategic vision for your company. I’ve wanted to write out my vision for a while, and this gave me the help I need to get this accomplished. Also, David Rutherford was excellent. His lesson on embracing your fears and pushing through pain to accomplish great things was fun to listen to. Inspiring, for sure.” ~ Rachel Egner, co-owners of Steve’s Plumbing.

• “For me personally this event was different then past ones because I was asked to give a speech at the ladies luncheon and I did. After giving the speech I had some fellow lady members approach me and say how they appreciated my speech and that they are also in a family business as well. After talking to these ladies I learned a lot from them. I was terrified to do the speech at first but after giving it and hearing what the other ladies had to say to me I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and did it. I appreciate being part of a group that I know I can count on to help make us successful at what we do.” ~ Stephanie Rene Hamric, CFO, Affordable Plumbing, Sewer & Drain.

• “SGI’s methods have helped me to double my business and show a strong profit. I have also learned how to develop a company that is profitable. Many companies struggle with understanding what a profit really is. I know I did, and now I know what my numbers really are and can better manage my company. The payroll section was very important to me as we always look to retain good talent. Knowing where we stack up nationally and regionally helps me keep my compensation packages and pricing competitive in our market. The incentive session has given me ways to help motivate my team. The contest ideas also have us thinking in new ways on how to motivate our team, especially the millennials that work for me. I also enjoyed the session on membership sales. I got some great new strategies that I will be implementing in the near future. Customer relationship and longevity is crucial to the survival of a company in the market. Being able to sell them is a key to my success.” ~ Michael Taggert, president, Plumb Magic.