Tom Casey tells us how a health scare jump started his change in life that lead to the birth of Griffin Home Service. This guy is awesome.

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Stephen Semple:
Hey everyone, Stephen Semple with the Empire Builders Podcast. And boy, we’ve been giving Dave Young a lot of time off lately, so we’ve kicked them off yet another podcast. And today I have with me someone who I’ve been really looking forward to interviewing. It’s Tom Casey from Griffin Home Services in Florida. Tom has got an exciting story because Tom is the entrepreneur that a lot of us are striving to be. Started a business, bootstrapped it, built it up, went through fast growth, sold it for a big old whack of cash, and right now is not yet living the dream. He updated me that he’s still working on the workout, but he is living a life with a big bank account, so that’s always fun. So what I wanted you to share with us today, Tom, is a little bit of that story because I think it’s great.

We’ve shared in this podcast these stories of all these businesses that are big today, and we do go back to the beginning, but it’s also very different for people to hear the story from a real live person who’s gone through it. And I also find it kind of funny how you ended up starting an air conditioning business, reluctantly starting an air conditioning business in Florida. So maybe you could start off with just telling us a little bit about yourself and how all of that came about.

Tom Casey:
Sure. Appreciate you guys having us on. I listen to the podcast, so now I get to star in one of them. It’s very exciting for me. I can’t wait to brag to my kids.

Stephen Semple:
There you go.

Tom Casey:
I’m a third generation SOB, which you know, but the listeners maybe don’t, meaning I’m a son of a boss, grew up in the business running tools with my dad, that typical home service kind of story for the sons. My grandparents started delivering coal and ice actually back in the day before there was such thing as heating and cooling. Worked with my dad for many, many years. Partners with him, loved every minute of it. Had a great experience. Back a while ago like most contractors, we go to the doctor when a limb has been removed. We don’t go for regular things. And so as you get older, if you have a good partner, my wife makes the appointment. It’s time for your annual checkup, which I go begrudgingly. And this one year, about maybe 10-11 years ago, I went and thought I’d be in and out, and it didn’t quite go that way.

They did the EKG, they came back and forth about six EKGs later. My doctor walked in, had been my doctor for 10 plus years and said, “Hey, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to send you over to the cardiologist. There’s something happening that we can’t do here in this office.” So got in my car, called my wife, “How’d you make out?” Hey, thanks for doing this. Now I’m going to the cardiologist’s office. Went there, did a bunch of tests. Two or three days later I’m doing a stress test, failed that. And in less than a week I’m going under the knife for who knows what. It’s like one of those get your affairs in orders thing. And so my kids were all still younger and still home, and it was a very emotional thing. I wrote them all letters just in case, which is a surreal experience.

And so go to the hospital that Monday morning, first surgery because it could potentially be anything, right? They don’t even know. They wheel me away from my wife who’s crying. It just could be the last time, it’s that moment of you’re looking into the chasm. And so that weekend with a lot of emotions and tears and stuff talking to my bride, we were basically like, if we get past this, it’s time to change. It’s time to just do something completely different, like bucket list time beyond belief because we thought we were working towards something and now the universe has different plans. Fast forward to Monday, I get to recovery, I wake up, I start feeling my chest thinking they would’ve cracked me open. I’d have a bunch of things going on. There’s nothing. Push the button, get the doctor in there. What’d you find?

He goes, “All I can tell you is we went in there and everything’s perfect, the heart’s perfect. We didn’t do anything. We went in, got out, you’re done. You’re good. Go home. Live your life.” And so then we set on a mission of getting away from snow and cold and all the things and going to live where the palm trees are. And so we made plans to move south. We started exploring properties. We ended up in St. John’s, Florida. We ended up buying property, building our dream home or so we thought, and that’s kind of how we got to Florida.

Meanwhile, we still own the business in Connecticut. We’re still running the business in Connecticut, but now we’re living in Florida. I had started a consulting business at the behest of one of the largest home service companies in the country Service Experts. At the time, the CEO was a guy named Scott Boxer who had heard I was moving and tried to recruit me to work for them. But I said, “Listen Scott, you got a wife. I’m building her dream house in Florida. There’s no way we’re moving to Texas.” We’re moving into this house period. We’re not getting away from that.

Stephen Semple:
This here is what you call a non-negotiable.

Tom Casey:
Yeah, this is a deal breaker. So be happily married in my dream house with my wife or be divorced living in Texas working for you. Yeah, that’s not a really hard choice. So I was going around doing trainings for different locations around the country per Scott and his team, and it got to be so much, it was successful and it was lucrative, but all of a sudden I’m finding out I’m spending two, three weeks on the road out of a month and I’m like, “Ugh, this is not for me.” So I remember very clearly eating at the bar at Gas Monkey Grill down in the Dallas area just by myself thinking, “What am I doing?” And so flew home. Coincidentally to this, we built our new house, and the first shower we took, the drains didn’t work. We had water pouring through our ceiling from our AC within the first 30 days. We had mold remediation the first 90 days because the AC leaked inside the wall like the shoemaker, no shoes kind of thing.

So we had a plumbing problem while I was out of town on that gig, and my wife was going to be home to let the plumber in. I could fix all these things, but I kind of had this thick Irish skull that said I paid for it, I’m not touching it. They’re going to give me what I asked for. They’re going to provide me what I paid for. So I get home, greet everybody, hugs and kisses. How’s everybody doing? My first question is, “How did we make out with the plumber?” My wife is basically like, “Listen, I wouldn’t let him in the house. I looked out, he’s sketchy looking. I’m home by myself. I didn’t feel comfortable. You’re going to have to fix it.”

And like the other decision when mama says to do something, if mom ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy. So I now was on a mission to fix all my own HVAC and plumbing in a brand new house. And so she had made the comment during this, which was, “If we did this in our business, we’d be out of business. You should start a company.” And even though I had sort of semi-retired and was consulting and fancying myself to be partially retired, you just don’t get rid of that bug, right? The entrepreneurial bug is like, “I’ve got to build. I’ve got to do.” And I was looking at these companies who were working at my own house. These people are, they’re good people, I’m sure. I’m not commenting on socially humanly, but craftsmanship wise, where I came from and how my career had its trajectory, I’m like, something is really… I’m living in the Twilight Zone of home services here.

So we launched the business. That was kind of the fuel I needed. I wanted to dive into it. So I finished my consulting gigs for the clients I had and kind of went to boutique consulting where I just consult fun things now or whatever, but put all my energy into building the business. So keep in mind, I have now Connecticut, Climate Partners in Connecticut. I launched Griffin service in Florida and then right on the heels of it four months later, I launched Summit Services in Hilton Head. So now I have Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Southeast.

Stephen Semple:
Sounds like retirement to me, Tom.

Tom Casey:
Yeah. So it was fun for a while, but you know what the difference was? Because I was building on my own businesses, I was still spending those couple weeks on the road, but it was like I could control the outcome. In consulting, you guys probably realize when you give good advice, us, your clients don’t always listen to it. So you’re like, I’m being paid. And there’s just a lack of satisfaction there sometimes. So we had Climate, which has been an ongoing entity. We launched Griffin from scratch. Literally zero employees, zero customers, zero anything. It was a good chance to test all those years of experience. So we set about saying, “Hey, our family business was our family business.” So there’s a lot of bumper guards in the lanes of what we couldn’t do because we have these customers for so long and the community, and we were innovative, but it was almost innovative with a governor on it.

Stephen Semple:
Right. This was much more starting with a very clean slate, right?

Tom Casey:
A hundred percent.

Stephen Semple:
The only history you had was your wisdom, your knowledge, your experience. But it wasn’t the history of here’s a business that’s gotten known for this or here’s the type of customers or even, look, family businesses have guards from the standpoint of certain family members also bring with them their beliefs, their dreams, their desires. So you are able to start with that really clean slate, but with all of that wisdom behind you.

Tom Casey:
It was fun. As you sit down and dream scape, a 40 something year old person, you’re going to start a new business in a place where I don’t know a single solitary soul, don’t have a customer, don’t have an employee, don’t have anything. We kind of said, screw it, let’s go for broke. What do we want? As long as we’re going to do it, we might as well think big. And so we literally sat down and started, we, my wife and I, what did we love about our other business? What didn’t we love so much? And just made what our non-negotiables were of how we were going to approach it. As long as we’re going to do it, we’re going to be the best in the market. As long as we’re going to do it, we’re going to be a premium service company. As long as we’re going to do it, we’re not going to do this. We’re not going to do this type of work. We’re not going to deal with these kind of people.

So one of our personal core values is the no asshole rule. We just don’t have any room for drama or toxicity in our life. And so our business that was kind of the rule. We don’t want any drama llamas, we don’t want none of that stuff. So we set about developing our core values simultaneously. We didn’t have a name or a brand or anything. We literally have a concept like this nugget, this seed of an idea. So we listed out probably two or three pages of three columns of names, and we knew we had to tell a story. We knew the story. Because Jacksonville is a huge market, especially for AC, right? It’s not like you’re going to this little sleepy town, you’re going to the largest landmass city in the United States with millions of people and AC companies, you can’t swing a cat without hitting 10 AC companies. So we have to have a story. We have to be able to differentiate out of the gate. So while we’re doing our core values, what’s important to us, I’m going around with my camera parking at gas stations, parking at supply houses, parking at on and off ramps, taking pictures of all the trucks. I print them all out, and I put them on these poster boards to see what are the colors that are in the marketplace, what are the names that are in the marketplace.

I went to a data company, and I was like, “Okay, tell me about these neighborhoods. Tell me the residents, what they look like, what is their income, their education level, their interest.” And found out it’s a big golfing area, wine, boating. So then I went and bought all these magazines from the local bookstores of wine magazines and boat magazines and golf magazines. I went and visited all the country clubs pretending I was going to sign for a membership to see how they were selling to those people already. And that kind of formulated and got us to, we have colors, we have some ideas of stories we got down. Then Griffin is a mythological creature, body of a lion, head of an eagle. And then we could really spin a story around that. But it also matched our core values, which were legendary service, uncompromising integrity, amazing workplace.

Stephen Semple:
So it wasn’t just, hey, let’s do a Griffin?

Tom Casey:
No.

Stephen Semple:
The Griffin actually anchored. See, I often talk about this. Good branding, good visual branding, good any type of branding. Actually what it should do is anchor the emotions that you’re trying to create. So when you’re saying things like legendary service and all this other stuff at Griffin, as you said, it ties to that. So it actually anchors all of those things you are wanting to create anyway. So that’s awesome that you went through that exercise.

Tom Casey:
It’s a time where you’ve got to kind of look yourself in the mirror and say I’ve been doing this a long time, but I did it where I was familiar. I did it where I was from. I did it where… Now I got dropped out of an airplane into a foreign country. Can I do it? Can I make it happen? And so it’s a little bit intimidating, but in that entrepreneurial spirit, it’s also super you love the hunt, you love the challenge, you love to make it work. We never one time said, “I hope it works.” We were like, “We’re going to make it work no matter what. This thing’s going to go.” And so we ended up renting a building with no customers and buying trucks and wrapping trucks. And so we actually went into the digital space and held a design contest for our logos.

Now we had our story, and we had our colors we wanted, so we put out a prize for here’s what we want to do, give us logos. And we held it. Then we got all these replies. Then we held a contest for, here’s our top 10 that we like. We put it out to friends and family and people I knew around locally. And it settled on our logo. And then logo was good. So we could start doing things like business cards, get our website starting to roll. Then we did the same thing with our design for our truck wraps. We had another contest to design our truck wraps. So it was like this really interesting crowdsourcing of going beyond what my abilities were, but I knew there were smart people out there in the world.

And so we have a building, we have trucks, we have all the stuff. We’ve had two employees by this point and we have a phone. And we literally painted the inside of our building to match all of our colors the first week because there was no phone calls. We were like, okay. But if you called that first week or two, boy, you were going to get the best service you ever got in your whole wide life.

Stephen Semple:
I just want to step back and ask you something. So there’s two things you did that I really want to make sure that that is caught. And one is, you went and you took a look at all the competitors and you put the collage on the wall. Now, when you were looking for color, what were you looking for?

Tom Casey:
I wanted to be the purple unicorn of the colors. I wanted to be the color that to see of black and white, I was this bright yellow neon color. The appearance of any marketing, the appearance of any trucks, anything we did, it would just be so blatant and give the illusion that we see you everywhere because you can’t help us see us.

Stephen Semple:
So if everyone was orange, you were not going to be orange-

Tom Casey:
Correct.

Stephen Semple:
… is basically… Because too often what I see is people will look out there and go, hey, here’s what the leaders do and copy it rather than here’s what everybody’s doing. What I need to do is go in the opposite direction. There’s a guy up here in Canada, Domenic Primucci, and he’s the president and founder of a company called Pizza Nova. And he tells a great story of one day he was being encouraged to do a redesign, a rebrand. He didn’t want to do it. And one day he walks into his office, and the guy who was encouraging him to do a change had spread all the pizza flyers out on the boardroom table. And he said, “Pick out yours.” And Dominic looked at it and said, “I can’t find mine. They all look the same.” And he immediately went, “Crap, we got to change this.” But I really commend you for doing taking a look at the whole and having that inform you in terms of what you want to do from this standpoint of you want it to be different. So that’s cool. And I don’t think enough people do that.

Tom Casey:
Our colors in Connecticut were these really unique mix of green, blue, and white. And no one has those colors in that way up here. So all my fleet up there was just like, we see your trucks everywhere. That was the magic I wanted. But when I went to my market and I was like, oh, it’s no longer unique. Even though I’m in love with my own colors, I have a bunch of ideas. I’ve made it work before, it will not get what I want, which is that kind of immediate legitimacy. We don’t want to look like a new company.

Stephen Semple:
But there’s another thing you did, I thought that was brilliant. In terms of figuring out how sales are done in the local market, you didn’t just go and seek out, hey, here’s what the other heating and air conditioning companies are doing. You went to places like the golf course. You went to other industries and saw how are they positioning themselves for this market and decide to learn from them. And this is one of the things I’m always saying to folks is, “There’s more lessons to be learned in other industries.” I think that’s brilliant in terms of what you did. What did you learn from the golf courses?

Tom Casey:
We did learn a little bit about where their members lived so we can go then pull house data and educational data. One of the things we learned for our logo is that all the golf courses had a crest. They all had that logo they could embroider onto a shirt or imprint on a golf ball. So we were like, “Our logo has to have a crest.” So our logo has a really distinctive crest that we wouldn’t have done without kind of digging into that. So the yacht club, the golf club, all these places. And then the same similar lines when we saw there’s a really high level of college education and there’s a real high loyalty to their alma maters. And so what’s that type of thing we tap into? Again, logos, crests, taglines. They all have their thing where they’re hanging out their flags on Saturday for their college team or whatever, and so it was a college thing even though we have professional sports and things like that. That’s not the loyalty.

These people have a deep loyalty to a cellular level to their alma mater. So they’re not going to have that to us because we’re an AC guy, we’re a plumber, whatever, but how do we tap into their subconscious of we are thinking and talking and looking the same way they can relate? They may not even know I’m having a similar feeling that I do about being a Florida grad for this AC company. They feel the same. And so that was what we got out of that is like, okay, we have to really change what we knew from New England to what we’re doing here in the southeast is a very different vibe. We’ve sort of built a lot of stuff around that; our brochures, our business cards and everything was distinctive. Our first business cards we printed on thick plastic credit card stock so that when we handed it to you, it was very rich. And people would go, “Wow, that’s a great card.” I’m like, “Yeah, you can’t throw it away.”

Stephen Semple:
What I like here is, again, what you did is this market that I want to talk to has this weird positive affiliation and connection with these things that do these visual images. If I use some of that, look, some of that positive feeling on a subconscious basis is going to bleed over and you’re going to benefit. Look, I really commend you. You are looking outside of your box and learning from that. So that’s cool. So we’ve now started the business. You got the trucks wrapped, you got the name, you got the logo. You’re slow enough that you’ve painted the inside of the building. But what did you do to get things rolling and how quickly did they get rolling? What was the first year like?

Tom Casey:
First year we did 1.2 million, so it wasn’t too bad

Stephen Semple:
You know what? Not many businesses break the million dollar mark in their first year. Well done.

Tom Casey:
The way we did the first year was really we focused strictly on direct mail because we could control it. We can really target it. And with some of the things we were talking about, logos and colors and positioning, it was something that at least they had to touch the mail. And we didn’t have a budget for radio. We didn’t have a budget for huge pay-per-click campaigns. We didn’t have the money. We’re bootstrapping this thing along, trying to say we’re going to stay within our means. I always say I’d rather go a mile deep than a mile wide. So we kept hitting these neighborhoods monthly, every month, every month with a consistent message.

Stephen Semple:
So you were doing repetition in your… This is a mistake a lot of people make in direct mail. They’ll send out a hundred thousand pieces to a hundred thousand different people. And what you were doing is you sent 10 pieces to 10,000 people.

Tom Casey:
We broke it down, Stephen, to this neighborhood has 475 people in it. Okay, they’re going to get 10-11 pieces of mail per year. So here’s our strategy. I call it stacking. I don’t know if there’s an official marketing term because I’m just an AC guy. So we have what we’ve identified our list. We did it geo-targeting. It sounds crazy, but I’m like, wherever there’s a golf country club, wherever there’s a Starbucks, wherever. These are the things we learned about our customer. Where do they already go? They must live within a certain area around it. Let’s go drive and see. Let’s ask our data company. Where are these people? And then as we got a customer, we’d ask the same thing. Hey, is this the right neighborhood? But if we go to this, say 500 people in this neighborhood and we just hit them, now we get a job, not a service call, but we got to replace the AC.

Now we started to send mail to say to not 500 but a hundred neighbors. We just replaced your neighbor’s AC and give them an assessment. Now, somebody would call, and now they’re going to get another piece of mail next month, the 500 are going to, but now the hundred people got the regular mail and then that we just did your neighbor. Then we get another person, and then we send them a we just did your neighbor. And all of a sudden the repetition of that market is we never even heard of these guys. They look very legitimate. They don’t look like a new ham and egger company, but, honey, maybe we should have them look at our AC because all of our neighbors are replacing their AC. So then we got saturation in a small pond, trucks in the neighborhood. We had job signs right off the bat, printed job signs immediately.

And we asked our customers once we kind of told their story, we told them we were new. We didn’t want to deceive like, hey, listen, we’re just getting going. We’ve been doing this for… I’m a third generation SOB, but we’re new in Florida and told them. They liked our story that I moved down because it was my chance to restart my life, I wanted to be with the palm tree. You guys are ahead of me. You live here with the palm trees already. That’s what I wanted to do. So they were helpful with, “Yeah, leave your sign up. Absolutely.”

And they actually started, which we didn’t plan on, they were like, “You know what, give me some of your cards.” And they were telling the story because we were just genuine about it. But my takeaway was we saturated. So as we got more money, we just kept like, okay, keep mailing those 500 but mail 500 more, mail 500 more, mail 500 more. So the mail list did hit to 5,000, 10,000, whatever, but they’re getting mail every single month.

Stephen Semple:
When you expanded your list and so you’re sending something to someone for the first time, were you sending the pieces that you knew worked before to this new group?

Tom Casey:
Yeah, we’re always evolving. So if we mailed out a stinker, we’re like, okay, let’s go to school on that one. And this is just bootstrapping. We didn’t have a marketing agency. We ended up a few years later connecting with the likes of the wizards and Gary and Jeff and Joe who just, man, they just blew our minds with stuff. But we were doing a lot of right things just from experiential kind of gut level.

Stephen Semple:
And I really commend you for the repetition part. That’s the part a lot of people miss is they want to do more and more and more single touches, and the multiple touches is really the key. That’s what you’ve discovered, right?

Tom Casey:
Yeah. And we looked at our numbers. We had the hindsight of having been in business, but we didn’t have the customer list of the budget of that business. So one of the pushbacks we had to get through was say there’s like this coupon mailer. They have all these home magazine type things, and the cost per house is a penny or a fraction of a penny. It’s like I can mail 120,000 people for $5,000, but first you’re in a book full of every other ham and egger and low ball, and it’s a bargain book, and it’s all about coupon, it’s all bought discount. That was not our story and our message. That was not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do the anti of that. So when you look at mail, we’re doing mail, and mail’s costing us 55 cents, 65 cents, whatever it is. It’s like 20x we could be doing this mass mailer for. In my mind I’m like, I don’t care if it’s 20x, I care what we get out of it. I’m not trying to be cheap on my marketing.

So my philosophy in business has always been, we’ve always been a higher end provider. If we’re asking and telling a story to our customers about investing and making smarter decisions and doing it the first time, why would we not do that in our own business? Why would we short circuit or get cheap in marketing when that’s not what works? We can’t be a high quality provider and then a low quality marketer. And so it took a lot, and it moved pretty quickly. We were busy. First job we sold was a $37,000 job. We ended up winning a national award for the project we did, and it was a renovation of an existing system.

It wasn’t new construction. And so it was nice to land that and have that little bit of work to do to begin with. Then he referred neighbors. And so the mail part worked, and then our website was always just like an online brochure at that time. It really wasn’t generating activity. It was just a place to legitimatize you guys have been here. We focused really aggressively on reviews. There’s people in this market who have 10,000 reviews. We have 10. What we got to do is we’ve got to have better reviews. They’re fat and lazy now, we’re young and hungry, let’s have our pace of reviews beat even the 10,000 guy. We’re going to get reviews every single day. And so we worked hard on that as a small team where we would set the tone up front. Our goal is to deliver five star service, so anything I can do for you, please let me know.

At the end. It wasn’t a hard push. It was literally like, hey, I want to do a good job for you, Stephen. Let me know if there’s anything we can do. And it was always to our texts. There was one, there was two and then there was six. Do the job but then do a little bit more. Just do a little bit more before you go back and say, “So, Stephen, how’d I do? Five stars?” And you would be like, “Oh, my God, best service experience I ever had.” Now we can have a good conversation about, “You know what would really help me out is if you could take a second… ” and we had the app on, we had it on our cell phone where we already pulled up the link for them. “If you could just take a minute and say something like Tom’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

So we literally were actually in a very light way kind of telling them, “If you could just say really good things and mention my name… ” And so that personalization of the reviews and that really aggressive approach moved us very quickly so that when we did decide to do a little more with our website, we already had that base of really good fast reviews.

Stephen Semple:
That you could build off of. But there’s two key elements on this is one is you didn’t take it for granted. You actually created a strategy and recognized you had to kind of hold people’s hands a little bit to get those reviews. That’s number one, so brilliant. But the other part is going back to the beginning where you said about the discounting and couponing and all that other stuff, you can’t give that extra service when you’re discounting. Part of the reason why, if somebody said, “Well, gee, if you could do this for me,” you’re able to go, “we’ll get that done,” is because you had good margin business that you could actually afford to have the guy spend the extra 20 minutes and do whatever that they asked them to do, right?

Tom Casey:
A hundred percent. So our market was like for AC tuneups, and I know the listenership is all sorts of businesses, but our market was like $9.99, $19.99, $29.99, $39.99, really cheap tuneups. And I knew as a professional when we sat down with our guys and said, “Do we want to be that? That’s not fitting with our brand. It’s not fitting with our core values.” So our first tune-up was $159. So we’re competing against $19. Again, the savvy person we want is going to go, there must be something different between $19 and $159. We should give him a call. And then we would go, yeah, if you want somebody just to come with a flashlight and make sure your unit is still there, that’s not us. If you want somebody to actually do the things, the real professional service, the real cleaning… I don’t want to send a salesman in disguise to you. I want to send a professional, trained, certified technician and guarantee the heck out of it. And that was another thing we did. We guaranteed everything.

Stephen Semple:
Which, again you can do when it’s not 20… At 20 bucks, you can’t do any of that.

Tom Casey:
No, you get the taillight guaranteed for 19 bucks. You get the bumper to bumper with the rest of it. So it was a real purposeful, I think, to me, it was deciding what we wanted to do. And if I go back to that, that no a-hole rule. If I’m bargain focused and if I’m doing a poor job and I’m trying to just trick people into spending $20 and I’ll go up sale an $80 or whatever that game is, that bait and switch, I’m going to be attracting the wrong thing. And so I saw this bumper sticker during all this. I really remember this, and it said something like, “Fish where the fish are and use the bait they want.” And I was like, that’s just the perfect thing where my brain is at. Where are the customers I want, and what do they like to eat? If I’m feeding them worms and they want to eat shrimps, shrimps cost more money than worms, but I’d catch more fish.

Stephen Semple:
We have a saying around here, speak to the dog in the language of the dog about what matters to the dog, right? It’s like that whole Pavlov’s dog example. But it’s also funny when you talk about the marketing you do attracts a particular type of customer. I was doing a presentation one time to a group of car dealers, so now I’m going to get complaint letters from car dealers. But, anyway, I was doing a presentation to a bunch of car dealers, and they said, “Look, here’s our problem, Steve. Every customer comes in saying, where’s my deal?” And I said, “Well, you got to stop having every ad being, here’s a deal.” If every ad is, here’s a deal, the customer’s going to come in saying, “Where’s my deal?” I don’t know what to tell you, but if all your ads are discount, discount, discount, the person you’re going to attract is looking for a discount.

So I think a lot of people miss that. So you’ve done this direct mail, brilliant, lots of repetition, small, controlled, you could bootstrap it, you busted through a million dollars in the first year, which is awesome. It’s amazing how often I hear people have that as their target, and they don’t. I even have a bunch of stories in the podcast where that didn’t happen. But there’s a point where the business really got growing. Where did that happen? And what was it like managing this business that was on this real tear of growth?

Tom Casey:
What started to happen to the business is we knew to a certain degree marketing was predictable. We could put a dollar in, push the button, the candy bar would fall out. We knew there’s some cadence of market calls, market calls, market calls.

Stephen Semple:
Right, because you had built a leverageable market system from the standpoint that you knew we do these things ends up with this result so we can repeat it. We can move it three blocks over and repeat it. And that’s a really important point.

Tom Casey:
So for our business, probably the biggest challenge is adequate leads. Maybe equal or close to it is qualified employees. We want to do great work, we’ve got to hire great guys, we’ve got to train them and we’ve got to attract them. So we started early on to say we’re going to pay differently. This is a piecework market, which encourages guys to do a poor job because the more they do, the more make versus I’m going to pay you a great salary but hold you accountable for the results. A lot of companies didn’t have any benefits, and we provided great benefits out of the gate with literally, “Hey, you guys are going to pay five bucks a week towards your health.” And that was only so they had some psychological stake in the game. And my thinking all along was we don’t want to be fighting for the worst potential employees who are looking for jobs, we want to be attracting the best employees who already have great jobs who are not getting treated the best.

And so as soon as we started having that flow of technicians that we could say, okay, we can buy trucks, we can increase marketing, we can really start to increase this slope of the trajectory because we now have the people to do so. We would do these hiring events. We’d put an ad out, and we’d say call and they would call up and we’d be like, “Come on in for an interview at six o’clock on Thursday.” When they showed up, there’d be a room full of people. I would do a group interview. I had these placards, and I’d say, write your name on there and you got to draw something that’s important to you and why you work, and it can’t be money.

I wanted to be able to use their names. That’s why I wanted their names, and I wanted to see who… I was just watching behavior. Who’s not going to want to draw? Who’s going to be reserved? I need people who are people, people. We fix air conditioners and plumbing, but we’re really in the people business. So I need good communicators. And then what I asked them to do is I’m going to call around and say, “Okay, Stephen, do me a favor stand up. Tell me what you drew and why you drew it.” In front of this room of people. You thought you were coming for a job interview, and I’m like literally putting you on the spot. But it really showed quickly you knew the two or three people you were going to go talk to immediately when you were done with that meeting.

These people were like bought in, they were engaging. And so we’re hiring in batches of not one at a time, we were like, “We hired five guys tonight.” You know what I mean? We already had trucks ready to go and things ready to go. And out of all those people who came, I would say more than nine out of 10 of them were working someplace else. So we did them at night. We did them on weekends. And so we solved the employee problem, and now it was just like, okay, what’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Then we added the trade of plumbing. Same thing. We added plumbing. We had a missed start there where I hired a plumber, up to four plumbers, and then I realized, “We’re not delivering plumbing the way we deliver AC then at Legendary.” So I literally fired my four plumbers in one day.

I went to my ops manager and said, “We’re going to apologize to customers for a couple days, but they don’t work here anymore.” And I fired all four of them at once, but I had a pipeline, and I brought in two or three guys within the next week, we rebooted, and all of a sudden plumbing went to the moon. And we recently did the same thing adding electrical. Let’s get going, let’s learn. So when we add new services, new trades, we always said that we didn’t announce it yet. We did it really quietly. We told customers, “Hey, we’re just offering plumbing. We don’t want to do it if you’re going to be mad at us. We’re definitely going to make some mistakes, but we’re going to take really good care of you. You’re one of our test customers.”

We didn’t do it for free by the way, we got paid, but we are kind of upfront clear. “We need you to have a little more patience with us because we’re entering a new area. Are you cool with that?” And if they weren’t, we’d be like, “Hey, let me recommend a different plumber to you. But if you’re cool with that, we’re going to deliver something to you that you wouldn’t be able to buy in six months from now when we’re really up to speed.” And so we just scaled that way. And that’s about when we now had a budget. We had a tolerance for more work.

And then direct mail, there’s so much it can do, so much it can’t do. It’s awesome, but it’s not the end all be all. You need to have a full balanced portfolio of marketing. So our digital assets had to get better. And then we reached out, and we had a conversation with Jeff Sexton. He came and visited us, and we jumped on board and started a radio campaign. And that thing was like the crystallization of everything we had done up to that point because Jeff and Gary and Joe gave us a voice.

Stephen Semple:
Tune in next week when you hear Tom take us through the explosive growth that happened at Griffin Services and how this led to him selling the business for a pretty substantial sum. You won’t want to miss this.

Dave Young:
Thanks for listening to the podcast. Please share us. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app and leave us a big fat juicy five star rating and review. And if you have any questions about this or any other podcast episode, email to [email protected].