Family Business

Tommy was finally getting over his anxiety about the acquisition of his employer, Komfort King. His boss and former company owner, Will Hayes said everything would stay the same, and mostly, it had. There had even been improvements. The benefits were way better. The growing sense of comfort made it all the worse when the text message hit.

His phone dinged Sunday night. The message read simply…

All Company Meeting @ 7:30 Mo. Attendance is Mandatory

As soon as he saw it, Tommy knew that, as a service manager, his own phone would get lit up. He texted Will to ask what was up. “No idea,” came the reply. “Just got the same text u got.”

Great. And right on schedule, his guys started asking what gives. He texted all of them. “Don’t know what’s up. Might not b bad. Might b good. Might b nothing.” His gut told him it was something else, something bad.

* * *

Tommy got to the shop at 6:30 a.m. as usual. He made coffee and started checking over the call board, even though it was no longer a “board,” but part of their field service software. He was also jotting down notes for the service meeting, which he would start promptly at 7:00 a.m.

The techs were filing in, giving each other grief in the way they always did. Tony was showing everyone the picture of a buck he took Saturday morning, despite the fact, everyone had already been texted the picture. Bill was taking it on the chin because the Lions lost on Sunday. He was good-natured about it. After all, the Lions almost always lost and Bill had learned to embrace the mediocrity,.

Tommy got everyone together and started going through his action items. He started with the supply chain issues. He went over a call-back, using it as a learning opportunity to review their diagnostic process. He had Tony up to talk about the features and benefits of a new UV light they were promoting as an add-on during cold and flu season. Tommy noticed the private equity guys through the window of the training room door and felt his stomach do a little dipsy do.

The door opened and two private equity guys filed in, followed by Will. Tommy interrupted Tony, who was doing a good job. “Guys,” Tommy said, “It’s time for the meeting, the other meeting. Let’s make some room.”

The technicians scooted their chairs to the side. Some stood up and offered their chairs to the CSRs and other office people who walked in a little bleary-eyed. Will walked to the front. “Everyone, this is Cooper Simmons and Smythe Lancaster from Riverrock, the company that bought us.”

Tommy noticed how everyone was shifting uncomfortably. Simmons and Lancaster didn’t fit and it showed. They were not the type of guys to go hang out at the tavern down the street after work to slug down a Leinenkugel’s over a game of pool or darts. They were the types who drank highly rated wine that cost more per bottle than most of the techs earned in a day.

Simmons stepped up. “Good morning everyone. First, let me express just how pleased and excited we are at Riverrock to have Komfort King as part of the family. It’s a growing family and that means opportunities for everyone. This morning we will close on Comfort Commander. Smythe here will update us on how this will impact the Komfort King operation.”

Lancaster took Simmons’ place. Tommy couldn’t help but notice an innate smugness in his Smytheness, as he called Lancaster to himself.

Lancaster began, “First, in order to optimize our solution execution structure within our business line operations we will be consolidating our regional environmental solutions under the Comfort Commander established organization and utilizing their considerable brand equity. This is not only beneficial but necessary for advancing our actionable administrative framework, so that we drive further congruence in our executional structure, streamlining and gaining efficiency in marcom, that’s marketing communications, and lending simplicity to our overall corporate and go-to field operations.”

Tommy was struggling to understand what he was hearing and if he was hearing it correctly. Based on Will’s stunned look, he was reading it right. Based on the glazed over looks of the rest of the team, no one had a clue what Lancaster just said.

Lancaster paused, smiled, and continued. “This action is critical to the establishment of a controlled operational approach, congruent with the need to align investment opportunities where robust executional outcomes are maximized to meet the EBITDA expectations we have set. Conversely, this necessitates the need for overhead and infrastructure optimizations to ensure we maximize the operational harvest in line with, if not in excess of planned growth. Accordingly, the requirement for some to be transitioned out of the organization is necessitated and will be communicated later today.”

Simmons stepped forward and nudged Lancaster back. “Well, that’s that. No one can lay out a complex institutional message quite as concise as a Harvard MBA like Lancaster here. If there are no questions, we’ll be off.”

Bill raised his hand. “I’ve got a question. Just what the heck did he say?”

Everyone laughed. Simmons did as well, adding, “Good one man. I can tell you are the wit of the operation.”

Before anyone could say anything else, he turned and walked out of the training room and deposited himself in Will’s office with Lancaster on his heels. Will mouthed to Tommy, “Get them on the road.”

Tommy said, “Alright, techs stay here for five. Everyone else get going.” Amid the murmurs and grumbles, Tommy announced, “Look I don’t speak Harvard any better than the rest of you. Let’s just get to work and I’ll get with Will. Now go!”

Tommy watched the techs head out and reassemble in the parking lot. Meanwhile, he could hear Will raising his voice in his office. He went to the warehouse and started taking inventory to keep his mind off of whatever the heck was happening.

* * *

An hour later Will called Tommy and Claudia, the office manager into his office. He sighed. “You heard what the guys from Riverrock said.”

“I heard,” said Claudia. “I didn’t understand.”

“Well, here’s the long and the short of it. We’re going to be part of Comfort Commander and both of your positions are going away. You aren’t being let go. You’ll keep your seniority, but Tommy, you’ll be a senior service tech again and Claudia you can choose dispatch or CSR.”

Tommy felt like his gut was being ripped out. He’d worked so hard to get to service manager and he thought he was doing a pretty good job of it. Not anyone could manage a bunch of service techs. In some ways, it was like herding cats, but Tommy was good at it. He wished now that he’d gotten his contractor’s license. If he had, no issues. He would start his own company. The problem was this was something he was going to do down the road. Unfortunately, he just ran out of road.

Tommy listened to Will and Claudia review options in a fog. Claudia would take what they offered. She was a single mother and didn’t have a choice. Tommy on the other hand was childless and according to the docs, he and his wife, Lynn were unlikely to ever have a child.

“What if I say no,” asked Tommy. “What if I don’t want to go back in a truck?”

Will leaned back and made an upside down vee with his hands and pursed his lips on it. “I can get you six weeks,” he said.

Six weeks, Tommy thought. Well, if he couldn’t find a service manager’s job in six weeks he could always go to work for another company as a technician. He wouldn’t be worse off than what Riverrock was offering and maybe he would come out ahead. “Done,” he said.

* * *

Tommy grabbed his things and went home. He’d have to tell Lynn, but it could wait. He wanted to be able to show progress in finding a new job before he told her he quit. Fortunately, she had a steady job as a teacher, so no matter what they had her income.

Tommy mentally made a list of the people he needed to call. He would start with Air Equipment Distribution. Before he could dial his phone, it chimed with a text. “Not now,” he thought. Word must already be spreading. When he looked, the text wasn’t what he thought.

He read the text…

Incredible Opportunity – Become the chief of operations for a storied family business, whose owner is looking to step down. Must have a servant’s heart, good management skills, practical technical aptitude, an ability to excel under pressure, and a tolerance for seasonal business variability. Excellent compensation package. Reply YES to inquire, NO to stop receiving texts.

Wow, Tommy thought. This is me. It was from an 800#, so he had no idea who sent it. He replied “yes” immediately. A second later, a new text appeared…

We have an interview available at 11:00 a.m. at the Yuletide Inn and Conference Center. Reply YES to accept.

11:00 a.m.? That wasn’t much time. It didn’t matter. He would make it. He could almost envision getting out of the need to tell Lynn he quit his job and instead, tell her he got a better one! He replied, “yes” before realizing he had no idea where the Yuletide Inn was located. Tommy knew the area like the back of his hand, but not this place. Almost as soon as he completed the thought, a text came in…

Click for directions.

He clicked and an app he didn’t realize he had, popped open. KringleMaps opened and gave him directions. It seemed strange. The directions led to a Highway 18 Tunnel and stopped. Where was he supposed to go when he got to the other side? He didn’t care. This gave him a goal to pursue, so he started his truck and put it in drive. He wanted to be in motion.

* * *

When Tommy arrived at the Highway 18 Tunnel north of town, the map hadn’t changed. Oh well, he thought, I’ll drive through and maybe it will kick in on the other side of the mountain.

Tommy had driven through this tunnel dozens of times, but he never remembered the light show. It must have been something recently installed. Waves of different pastel lights undulated around him. The tunnel was longer than he remembered.

Suddenly, Tommy emerged. He looked around. There was snow on the ground. Snow? Must be a microclimate, stopped by the mountain. Up ahead he saw a sign directing him to the Yuletide Inn and Conference Center to the right. Strange, he’d never seen the sign or road before. Must be new.

Tommy pulled up to the front of the inn. As soon as he got out, a black and brown Harley Davidson motorcycle came screaming down the drive and slid sideways for a perfect stop. A portly old man in a leather jacket, wearing biker boots jumped off the bike. Like a lot of middle aged bikers, he boasted a Duck Dynasty type beard. As he took off his helmet, his head was topped by a tied off red bandana.

“You must be Tommy,” he roared, extending a hand.

“Uh, yes sir. I’m here for an interview.”

“That you are, laddie. Come with me. We’ll get started,” said the man before stopping cold. “Oh, sorry. My name’s… well, you can call me Chris.” He extended a hand.

Tommy shook his hand and found he instantly liked the biker. He seemed naturally, well, jovial.

“Come on,” the biker said. Let’s go inside.

When they walked into the inn, Tommy did a double take. The inside seemed way larger than he thought it would be. There was a huge stone fireplace with a roaring fire. In the corner was a large Christmas tree.

“Come, come with me into the library,” said Chris. He turned and shouted, “Mary, oh Mary would you bring something hot to drink into the library? The young man I was talking about is here.”

Tommy walked behind Chris and took a seat when offered in front of a battleship sized conference table. It was covered with antiques of various kinds, from puzzles and small games to various nick-nacks. The walls were covered with old books, very old books. No sooner had he sat down than a woman bustled into the study with two cups and saucers.

“Here love,” she said as she placed one saucer before Chris. “I hope you like hot chocolate,” she said while placing the other in front of Tommy.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you,” said Tommy. He sipped the chocolate. It was amazing. “Wow, this is terrific.”

“Isn’t it delicious,” observed Chris. “Mary makes the best hot chocolate in all of the world.”

“Oh you,” said Mary, clearly pleased. “Well, I’ll leave you two to talk.”

“Now,” said Chris, “Let’s talk a little business.”

“Yes sir,” said Tommy. “Um, what is the business?”

“That’s rather complicated. Like heating and air conditioning, I’m in the service business.”

“Hey, wait-a-sec. I never said I worked in HVAC.”

“You didn’t? You must have. Or else, how would I have known?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it’s not important. Tell me what you think of running a service business.”

“We respond to people’s needs. We do our best to deliver comfort where people work and live. Or, well I used to.”

“Yes, I understand you left your employment.”

“How could you know that?”

“Clearly you must have quit or you wouldn’t be interviewing with me. Now, more about your philosophy of service.”

Tommy shifted in his seat. “Okay, the thing is that people need us when they need us and we’ve got to respond fast. But that’s only part of it. We have to understand what they really need and try to help them understand our solutions.”

“Oh?” asked Chris with a raised eyebrow. “How so?”

“A lot of the time we can fix a broken furnace or air conditioner, but that’s not necessarily in the homeowner’s best interests. We make the repair on an old system and while it’s working again, it’s still an old system. They’ll pay more in utilities than if they had a newer, more efficient system, face future expensive breakdowns, and still be confronted with the need to replace that old system in a year, two, or maybe three.”

“Is that always the case?”

“No. Sometimes people just want it fixed as inexpensively as possible because they’re planning on moving. Sometimes they just can’t afford the expense.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s not easy. We ask questions. Sometimes they tell us. Sometimes we have to feel it out. And if it’s something like affordability, we have to find a way to make it affordable with financing, for example.”

“Interesting,” said Chris. “Well, my business also requires you to perceive people’s needs and wants. Moreover, you must desire, sincerely desire to serve them.”

“So, what is your business?”

“Tell me about how you manage your crew?”

Tommy laughed. “It’s kind of a misnomer to say you manage service techs. You prepare them and point them. Really, you lead.”

“How so?”

“You better be authentic. They’ll sense it if you aren’t. You can’t ask people to do things they don’t believe in or that conflict with their values. You try to direct them to places where they can win. These guys are really good, but a lot of them are insecure. They try to bluster their way through or act cynical when they are out of their comfort zone. Take performance pay.”

“Yes?”

“It’s new and some guys resisted it, even though they would make more money when they switched to performance pay and they would get more control over their jobs. So, I picked one guy who stood to do well under it and who was a vocal leader. I got him to try it as an experiment where he got the highest check of performance pay or straight time. He ended up selling himself and once he was sold, he sold everyone else.”

“Interesting. So what do you do when there’s a rush? I understand your business is somewhat seasonal.”

“Somewhat? It’s all seasonal. Will, the owner tries to fight it, but we still see a rush during extreme weather.”

“So what do you do?”

“You prepare. You balance out the peak season with the off-season. Make sure guys take off when the work slacks. But once the weather kicks in, it’s all hands on deck.”

“Our businesses are remarkably similar. We both have to lead groups who can be a challenge. We both serve others and have to perceive their needs and desires. We both face extreme seasonality, though mine is a tad worse than yours. And we both serve people in their homes.”

“So what business are you if you aren’t in HVAC?” asked Tommy.

“First Tommy, tell me what you want. I know you’re a good soul, with a good heart, but what is your heart’s desire? What do you want out of a job? Out of life?”

Tommy rocked back. Hmm. What did he want? “I want to make a difference,” he offered. “I want to do work that’s important and that makes people happy. That’s the great thing about HVAC. We leave people better than when we arrive. They’re happy to see us. I don’t mind the rush when it comes. It’s an adrenaline rush. I don’t think I would like it year-round, but seasonally? I thrive on it. But really, it’s doing work that matters that’s important.”

Chris looked at him. “So do you want to know what the job’s all about?”

“Of course.”

“I think I need to show you. Can you ride a bike?”

“Bicycle or motorcycle?”

“A hog. Great, big hog.”

“Let’s go.”

Chris led Tommy outside. Where his Harley had been, there were now two of them. Chris told Tommy to take the second. He jumped on, noting the model painted on the side. It read, “comet.”

Chris fired up his bike and told Tommy to follow him. As they streaked down the road, it almost seemed like Chris’ bike was running… with legs. Then, the bike lifted. Tommy’s eyes grew large. Chris was going airborne and he was following. The bike felt different. Tommy nearly fell off when he looked down. He wasn’t holding handlebars, but horns on a massive deer.

Chris spiraled down to an Alpine village on his deer. Tommy’s mount followed. When they landed, they were surrounded by little people with pointed ears. Elves?

“Santa! Santa!” they chorused. “Is this him? Is this the new Santa?”

“Well,” said Chris. “That’s to be determined. Give him room. I’m going to give him a tour.”

This isn’t happening, Tommy thought. Elves? Flying reindeer? Big reindeer.

Chris looked at him and pulled off his bandana. Freed from the confines of the scarf, with his white Duck Dynasty beard, Chris did look like Santa. He turned to Tommy and said, “It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

Tommy just gaped and nodded.

“Come on,” said Chris. “Obviously, I’m not the first Santa. He lived in the 3rd century and got his start in Turkey. Santas are granted long lives and typically serve more than a century, but eventually, even the longest lived must step aside. I’m the 17th. Chris reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a business card, which he handed to Tommy.

Kris Kringle XVII

Santa Clause

St. (unofficial) Nicholas

“When you accept the job, you would become the 18th. Technically, you will be our first Santa from the heating and air conditioning industry. I myself, was a plumber. The Santa before me distributed coal to people to burn to keep warm, as did the Santa before him. I think that’s where the idea of coal in the stocking came from.”

“Now wait just a second…”

“I know, I know. You haven’t accepted the job. But you will. I know these things. You know, ‘I know when you’ve been sleeping; I know when you’re awake,’ and all of that. Every century or so, it’s up to the current Santa to find an apprentice who, if things go as they should, will take over the family business. Follow me. Let’s start in the workshop.”

“You’re… you’re asking me to believe in Santa Claus? In a fairy tale?” sputtered Tommy.

“Believe what you see before you.”

When Tommy looked again at Chris or Kris or whoever he was, the leather biker jacket had turned into a red, fur lined coat. The motorcycle boots were simple black, leather boots. He turned and walked through the door of a storefront on the main street of the village. Tommy looked around and saw dozens, no, hundreds of elves looking back at him. He scrambled after Kris.

The door opened onto a landing that overlooked a massive toy factory. The ceiling was 50 feet high and the floor was 50 feet deep, despite the store being one story tall. Elves, elves were everywhere. There were elves working on boxes over conveyor belts that reminded Tommy of the luggage scanners at an airport. Only, here, brand new toys popped out, complete with their commercial packaging. It was all too much.

“Why me?” he finally asked, looking at Kris.

Kris smiled benignly. “You meet the requirements. I know you have a good heart. Remember, I KNOW these things. Yet, that’s not enough. You have a servant’s heart. You understand how to serve others. You have the natural intuition to see into people’s needs and desires that can be molded and developed with a little Christmas magic. You can lead and manage the barely manageable. Believe me, this will also take some development and magic. It’s a stretch to call a colony of elves barely manageable.”

The old man continued, “You also thrive on pressure. If you couldn’t handle the seasonality of the heating and air conditioning business, you certainly couldn’t handle Christmas. But you can. Now, I already knew all of these things, but I still needed to ask you. I like to check things twice.”

Head already swimming, Tommy asked, “If you’re real, I mean really real, how is all of this possible?”

“Ah. Well, there is quite a bit of magic around. This is Christmas magic, which is some of the strongest. Christmas is a holy time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is our greatest gift. We also remember how the Wise Men gave the baby Jesus gifts. The birth of Christ was a magical time for the whole world and the magic continues to this day.”

“And how do elves factor?”

“The elves you see here, well they are converts from the ancient gods to the true God. This is how they serve.”

“Wait just a minute. Are you saying these are ‘Christian elves?’ They believe in Jesus?”

“Why is that hard to believe? Even demons believe in Jesus.”

Tommy scratched his head. He hadn’t really thought of that.

Still, it was a lot to consider. A lot to take in. If Kris told him this, he would have written him off as a nutcase, but he showed him. Tommy turned in a circle. He thought of Lynn. “What about my wife? I’m married.”

Kris laughed. “Of course you are. It’s a requirement. You met my wife, Mary. She’s the 17th Mary Christmas. Lynn will be the 18th.”

“I… I’ve got to talk with her.”

“Of course you do. But she won’t believe in this any more than you would without visiting. Take her out to dinner tonight at the Inn.”

* * *

Tommy returned with Kris to the Inn that evening. When he emerged from the tunnel in his truck, he was shocked to discover that almost no time had elapsed even though he was gone for hours. He didn’t know if he wanted to take over from Kris or not, but he had to admit the idea was intriguing.

When Tommy took Lynn to the Inn, she seemed to immediately bond with Mary, like he had with Kris. Instead of Harleys, Kris suggested a sleigh ride with him and Mary. And what a ride it was, at least for Lynn.

As they stood in Santa’s village, watching the elves running back and forth under a gentle snowfall, Tommy asked Lynn, “What do you think?”

“I loved the little school with all of the elvish children. I think we could be happy here. Did Mary tell you that one of the reasons we were picked was we’re childless and both orphans?”

“No. I didn’t even think about that.”

“It’s sad in a way. No one would really miss us, but if we come up here, well… Everyone would count on us every Christmas, especially on you. You know what bothers me the most?”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t want to change my name,” Lynn said. “On the other hand, you’ve always liked helping people and I’ve always loved children and while you never say anything, I know we’re both disappointed we can’t have kids, but this way, all of the world’s children would be ours in a way.”

When the couple walked back to Santa’s cottage, he opened the door to welcome them. “Well?”

“We’re in,” said Tommy.

“I knew you’d be. I know things. You will too.”

* * *

Service contractors bring a little Christmas magic on every service call…

·      They serve people in their homes.

·      They have the hearts of servants.

·      They must identify what people need and want.

·      They must manage the barely manageable.

·      They must work well under pressure.

·      They must be comfortable with a seasonal business.

Merry Christmas everyone.

___________________________________________

If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel. 

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

Fear

Jackson woke with a start. He looked around his bedroom, disoriented in the darkness, but gripped by irrational fear. He could see the soft glowing lights of his alarm clock. It was just after 2:00 a.m. His wife stirred as he quietly slipped out of bed. There was no sleeping now.

His sense of foreboding beat on him. He couldn’t put a finger on the source. He went down a checklist in his mind. He made payroll Friday, though not by much. Still, it was progressing. He even paid himself.

The thought about payroll shifted immediately to his 941s. These were the IRS forms for payroll taxes. His heart skipped a beat, then started racing. He thought his bookkeeper paid these but did she? He had heard from other electrical contractors that this was one of the places where embezzlement took place and the IRS not only didn’t care if you weren’t the thief, you as the company owner were expected to personally make the government whole.

Crap. He couldn’t remember signing the check.

He raced upstairs to his home computer and checked Quickbooks. Whew, there was the entry. He leaned back reassured, then sat bolt upright with a start. What if Sally forged the entry, he thought with panic. I need to check the bank account.

Jackson tried to remember the password to his business account. The bank made him change it every three months and he couldn’t remember what it was. What if Sally changed it, he thought? What if she drained the account?

After he calmed for a second, he remembered the password. Jackson logged in and checked the check registry. There it was. Thank goodness. He felt better before feeling guilty and a sense of shame for his uncalled-for suspicions about Sally. The woman had never given him any reason to doubt her.

Crisis averted, Jackson still couldn’t figure out why he was uneasy. He tried reading but found it hard to concentrate. It was now Sunday morning, so Jackson thought he should turn to the Bible. He thumbed open his Bible at random and saw that he selected the 23rd Psalm, one of the most well-known in the Good Book. He didn’t need to read it. He knew it by heart.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” he recalled from the King James Version. With a chuckle, he also recalled the version his unit used in the service before the possibility of engaging the enemy. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for I am the baddest mother fu…, uh, baddest mother in the valley.”

Why, he wondered, could he tamp down his fear when facing people who wanted to kill him, but not when facing the daily challenges of running a small business?

He opened his phone and started reading the latest news. Big mistake. There was bad news on every front. It seemed like the world was about to fall apart. The economy was teetering. Prices were up. Crime was out of control. The border was out of control. War was looming, including people openly talking about nuclear war. Seriously? The news just made him feel worse.

He finally gave up and tried to go back to sleep, but just stared at the ceiling until his wife’s alarm went off, signaling it was time to rouse the kids and get ready for church.

***

Jackson was distracted in his adult Sunday School class. He couldn’t quite engage. David Solomon, another small business owner in his class, picked up on Jackson’s distraction. “Something the matter?” he asked simply.

Jackson shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m not cut out for business.”

“I thought things were improving?”

“Oh, they are. The problem is the more things improve, the more I worry. The more I’m afraid of blowing it. It’s killing me. I guess I’m not like you. I don’t know how you do it,” said Jackson.

David looked at Jackson for a second. He turned to his wife Barb. “Hey Barb, you mind if I pull Jackson from the service to help me with a prayer request?”

Jackson’s wife looked halfway relieved that he was being asked to get involved with a prayer request. “Of course, David.”

David turned to his wife, “Okay with you, Hun?”

“Sure, and why don’t we all go for lunch afterward?”

***

Sitting in a corner of the church coffee bar, Jackson asked David if he felt guilty lying about a prayer request.

“I didn’t lie,” David said. “I prayed that I’d be able to help you just before I said that. This is part of my prayer request. So tell me, what’s up?”

Jackson sighed. “It seems like the more successful I become – and I’m not that successful, just keeping my head above water – well, it seems like I’ve got more to lose. I mean, I could lose it all! I could lose everything I’ve worked on for years, everything I’ve sacrificed for.”

David chuckled. “You don’t think every small business owner’s been where you are at one point in time or another? Come on. You’re not the first person to struggle under the burden of risk.”

“Oh sure, like you’ve had problems.”

“Brother, I’ve had more than my share of worries. For example, I had someone embezzle at least a hundred grand over a couple of years. This was someone I trusted. She created a false vendor account and paid her husband’s fake business’ fake invoices every month for two years.”

“What? How did you catch her?”

“She got a bad case of the flu and I wouldn’t let her snotty, infectious nose into the office. Made her go home. Otherwise, we might never have discovered her scheme. Stuff like this happens more than anyone wants to admit. We don’t talk about it because we’re all embarrassed to admit we’ve been such dupes.”

“But you made up for it?”

“Not easily. We also discovered we were behind with a key supplier. In fact, they cut me off and I lost our main line of products. I had to switch brands. Man, I was terrified no one would buy what I considered a lesser brand of products from us.”

“What happened,” asked Jackson.

“No one noticed. The only brand that mattered to our customers was our brand. I’d worked myself into a frenzy for nothing. Most of our worries as small business owners never come to fruition, unless we do something to help them along. Business ownership carries a burden and that burden never truly goes away no matter how successful you become.”

“I don’t know,” blurted Jackson. “There’s so much risk. So much responsibility. I mean, I’ve got eight families that depend on my company financially. That means they depend on me. I never asked for this.”

“Yes you did,” scolded David. “You asked for this the second you decided you weren’t going to be a single truck operator, which was the right decision, by the way. If you were the company, what would happen if you got in an accident and couldn’t work?”

“I didn’t think like that.”

“Yeah, most small guys don’t. What they don’t consider is the risk to their family. One truck contractors don’t consider how selfish they are. That’s part of the reason you build a company that can run without you. It can provide an income stream for your family if you wake up one day with a heart attack and can’t work for months following a quadruple bypass.”

“Isn’t that what happened to you?”

“Yes. And thank the Lord I put my company in a position to continue to operate while I was in a hospital bed.”

“Okay,” said Jackson. “How did you handle it when you were my size? How did you manage the pressure?”

“Now you’re asking the right question. How do you think I handled it?”

“I don’t know. Faith? Well, maybe my faith isn’t as strong as yours. I read Job and the lesson I get is the guy had to go through a lot of pain.”

“And yet, he kept his faith and emerged from the pain. Aren’t you going through that now? A lot of pain?”

“Yeah,” Jackson practically shouted. “I think of everything that can go wrong. Even when I can’t pinpoint anything, I feel uneasy. It’s killing me. I can’t sleep. One of my guys can get in a wreck and kill someone so the attorneys take everything I own. I think of one of my guys touching the wrong wire at the wrong time and killing himself. I think about the work drying up.”

Jackson continued “I can’t bear the thought of losing everything I’ve worked for. I can’t bear the thought of letting my employees down, letting my family down. It’s too much.”

“No, Jackson. It’s not. If you want to work for a paycheck, go ahead. Walk away. If you were a single truck guy who didn’t want to grow, I’d tell you to do exactly that, but you aren’t. You’re building a business that’s more than a job. Give up at this point and you will always regret it. Yes, it’s risky to own a business, but without the risk, there wouldn’t be the rewards. Most people choose safe paths. Less risk. Less reward. You wanted more. As a result, you risk more. It’s something you have to accept and learn to live with.”

“But the responsibility,” complained Jackson.

“Yes sir. You are responsible for the livelihood of other people. It’s a burden that comes with the territory. Man up.”

“What?”

David took a deep breath. “Do you read science fiction?”

“Are you kidding?”

“Okay, well there’s a writer, Frank Herbert. He wrote the Dune books.”

“Like the movie?”

“Yeah, like the movie.”

“It’s a crappy movie.”

“Okay, but it’s a good book. Anyway, Herbert used this line, ‘Fear is the mind-killer.’ What do you think he meant?”

Jackson thought for a second. “When you’re afraid, you don’t think. Your mind stops working.”

“Exactly. Now, have you heard of Zig Ziglar?”

“The motivational guy. Sure.”

“Ziglar said fear stands for false expectations appearing real. In other words, most of the things we worry about won’t happen. There are all kinds of research studies supporting this.”

“Okay, David. I might even be able to accept that. It doesn’t do anything for me waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack.”

“So let’s work it out. What’s the worst thing that can happen to your business?”

“Easy. Bankruptcy.”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“What would happen? What would your employees do?”

“They’d find new jobs, I guess.”

“And how long would that take them in today’s labor market?”

“I don’t know. A nanosecond.”

“Boom!” David practically shouted. “Everyone would get jobs. So they’d be okay. What about your family? What would you do?”

“I’d get a job somewhere or I’d start over.”

“Let me ask you something. If you were approached by a licensed electrician who had run his own business and failed, would you hire him?”

“Absolutely!”

“Why?”

“Because he’d understand the economics of running a business better than most guys and know how hard it is so he’d be less likely to leave… Okay, I see what you’ve done there.”

David smiled. “Yeah, you would be a more attractive employee. You might be embarrassed about the business failure, but an employer would see your experience as an asset. The point is that the worst thing you can imagine would be survivable, right? Right?”

“I suppose.”

“No, you don’t suppose. You just said so. And if you can handle the worst case, you can handle anything else. It might not be fun, but you can handle it. So, why worry?”

“Okay, I get that.”

“There’s a more important point. Have you heard about Earl Nightingale?”

“No.”

“He was the first person to create a gold record based on the spoken word. It was called, ‘The Strangest Secret” and the strangest secret is you become what you think about. Denis Waitley, a psychologist who worked with Olympians and the space program. He said we all have a robot subconscious that we program and that it can’t tell the difference between what we want and don’t want. It just zeroes in on what we’re focused on. If you focus on what you want, your self-conscious goes to work to help you. If you focus on failure, it works the same way. Right now, my friend, you are focusing on failure. Stop it.”

“Stop it?”

“Stop it. Change your focus. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Write down what you want. Visualize it. Focus on it.”

“That easy, huh?”

“No, it’s not easy. Listen Jackson, I’ve been there. So have other people. They’ve been in worse places than you. Once, at an industry conference I attended, I talked with a guy who took over his father’s air conditioning company. As he took the keys from his father, his dad said to put it in bankruptcy.”

“That sucks.”

“Not as bad as the crash Stan oversaw. He saw this company, this family legacy, go from operations in three cities and over a hundred trucks to two.”

“Whoa. How did he manage that?”

“Perspective. His daughter had cancer as a child. For more than a decade he was in and out of hospitals with his child. He told me the business wasn’t hard. Watching his daughter go through cancer was hard. Watching a child die in the hospital elevator while he was on it was hard. He said I had no idea what was hard. He did and it wasn’t business. A dead business can be rebuilt. A dead child is gone. Stan’s message hit me hard. His message was to get some perspective. There were times when I needed it. You need it now.”

Jackson felt small hearing about David’s friend, Stan. He thought about his own daughter. Yeah, what he was worried about was nothing compared to what Stan faced.

“There’s another technique I use to deal with fear. You want to hear it,” asked David.

“Of course.”

“Schedule a time to worry.”

“Huh?”

“Plan a couple of 15-minute segments where you are going to worry yourself sick. Put them on your calendar. Don’t let anyone interrupt you while you think about everything that can go wrong.  Don’t hold back. Worry, worry, worry. Then, when you start to worry or get afraid tell yourself that it’s not time for that. You have to wait until the scheduled time.”

“Fifteen minutes isn’t enough.”

“You think? I’ve found that I can’t fill 15 minutes without recycling the same worry. I can’t do it. But if I don’t guard myself, I can fill an entire day with the same five minutes of worry. Just try it.”

“Okay, what else?”

“Release the sense that you’re in control. Turn it over to God. You can only do what you can do. Quit trying to shoulder it all yourself. Frankly, I’d tell you the same thing if you were a Buddist or any other religion. Turn it over to a higher power. Stop trying to control everything yourself.”

***

Jackson followed David Solomon’s advice. It turned out Solomon was pretty wise. Go figure. As he focused on what he wanted in life and business, Jackson got control of his fear. Magically, it seemed to bring success his way. It wasn’t easy, but things were moving in the right direction. He started sleeping through the night. When he could recall the dreams he had during that brief period between sleep and waking, they were no longer terror-ridden, but success-focused. The more he focused on success and the less he focused on fear, the more he received the former and the less he worried about the latter.

In his journal, the day after having coffee with David Solomon, Jackson wrote:

1.    I asked for the risk and responsibility that accompanies business ownership.

2.    Fear is the mind-killer.

3.    Fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. Most fears never materialize.

4.    I can live with the worst case, so everything else is easier.

5.    Focus on what I want. Think about what I want.

6.    Keep perspective.

7.    Turn it over to God.

8.    Schedule time to worry.

___________________________________________

If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel. 

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

The Start of Plumbing Season

The plumbers of Lombardi Plumbing crowded into the training room. It was early. Most of the public was still asleep or just starting to rise for the day. This was life for the plumbers. They were at the shop by 7:00 a.m. to attend a service meeting and get their trucks restocked.

Danny Jameson sat down next to Buddy Baker. Buddy was one of the old hands and Danny was one of the newbies, assigned to work with Buddy.

Vinnie Lombardi walked in holding a pipe wrench, which he set on a table. Buddy groaned a little. “Here we go again.”

“What?” asked Danny.

“He does the same thing every year,” said Buddy.

Vinnie interrupted Buddy, saying, “Buddy, why don’t you get us started.”

“Yes sir,” said Buddy. “Everyone let’s face the flag. Join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The room rose to their feet in unison. Everyone put their right hand over their heart and joined Buddy, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

“Thank you Buddy,” said Vinnie. He liked to start every service meeting with the Pledge. Vinnie was patriotic and like many in the service trades, a military veteran. He liked to remind his team that they were fortunate to live in the United States.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Vinnie had everyone recite the company’s mission statement together. They said in unison, “At Lombardi Plumbing we put our team first so they can put the customers first and protect the health and sanitation of our community.”

After they finished, Vinnie held up the pipe wrench. “Gentlemen, and Lady,” he said with a nod to Jen Franks, the company’s female plumber, “this is a pipe wrench.” Most of the plumbers in the room joined in, finishing the sentence.

“Alright,” laughed Vinnie, “You’ve heard it before. Well, you’re going to hear it again because our business is built on good fundamentals.”

“So, is this a technical class?” whispered Danny to Buddy.

“Nah, just wait.”

“All of you are good mechanics, even though experience levels differ. If you weren’t you wouldn’t be here. The problem is every service call involves broken plumbing and a broken customer. If you don’t take care of the customer, you’ve only made half of a repair.”

Vinnie continued, “What this means is we need to make the people feel comfortable when we arrive, assured they called the right plumber and delighted when we depart. This starts with our appearance. You guys know we belong to the Service Nation Alliance. Every other year, they survey the customers of Alliance members, including ours. That’s a lot of customers. Anyone guess what the most frequently mentioned concern about plumbers for our customers and the continent as a whole is?”

“Showing up late,” shouted Danny.

“That’s a good one and it sure is important, but it’s not the most frequently mentioned, especially by our customers. Does anyone know why showing up late is less of an issue for us than the country as a whole?”

“We’re fast drivers,” said one of the plumbers.

“Better not be,” cautioned Vinnie. “Remember, if you speed I get an alert from GPS. The reason we show up on time isn’t due to your efforts. It’s due to our dispatchers. Take the time to thank them from time to time because, without their skill, you would show up late more often. And what’s it like when you show up late?”

Buddy jumped in. “The customer is irritated and cranky.”

“And we all know how much Buddy likes cranky customers,” said Vinnie, eliciting laughter all around. “But back to the most frequent concern. Any ideas?”

Vinnie looked around the room. “It’s poor grooming.”

“Grooming?” asked one of the plumbers.

“Grooming. Tell me, what is the stereotype for a plumber?”

“Three hundred pounds, shirt untucked, greasy hair under a dirty cap, and a buttcrack,” offered Jen, the company’s female plumber.

“Exactly. Customers are letting you into their homes. Their home!  When you show up neat, clean, and professional, you are sending the customer a sign of respect. It’s respect for the customer and it’s self-respect for yourself.”

“Some of our customers need a little self-respect,” said one of the plumbers.

“Remember the lady who wouldn’t throw anything away?” asked another with a shudder.

Vinnie took control back. “That’s true, but even if a customer lacks self-respect the customer deserves our respect. These are the people who keep the lights on here and who allow us to feed our families. So, every morning, I want you to shower, shave, except for you Jen, tuck in your shirts, and show pride in your appearance. Every person here represents the entire customer when you are out there.”

“When you show up looking sharp, the stereotype goes out the window and the customer says to herself, ‘Wow, these Lombardi guys are different.’ So, what else matters?”

“Parking,” said Buddy. “Park at the end of the drive so the truck doesn’t obstruct traffic, but get permission from the customer to leave the truck there and move if asked.”

“Yes sir,” said Vinnie. “And when you park at the end of the drive, perpendicular to traffic, you maximize the exposure of our beautiful vehicle wraps to more people.”

Vinnie looked at Danny. “What do we do next?”

“Um,” said Danny, shifting in his chair. “Uh, breath spray?”

“Nailed it,” said Vinnie to a beaming Danny. “We want to look sharp and we want to emit no odors whatsoever.”

“Aw come on,” said Jen when the plumber next to her loudly passed gas, causing everybody else to crack up. “Don’t tell me you’ve been saving that up.”

“Who? Me?” the guilty party replied innocently.

“Okay, smart guy,” said Vinnie, “Or, should I say fart guy? What’s important in how we interact with the customer?”

The plumber rolled his eyes but knew the company processes down cold. He said, “We want to respect anyone with a concern about the virus by keeping our distance and asking if the customers want us to mask up, even though dispatch had already told us. We want to make eye contact, smile, and nod to acknowledge the things the customer tells us and repeat them back to make sure we got it right.”

“And,” added Vinnie, “We always want to thank the customer for the opportunity to be of service. Remember, the customer pays for everything around here. The customer pays your paycheck and mine. She pays for your trucks, tools, insurance, and training. The more ways we can serve the customer, the more the customer pays us. How can we do that?”

Danny’s arm shot up. He said, “We ask questions and present options. We never decide for a customer. We let customers choose to repair a problem, replace a product, or upgrade.”

Vinnie held up an invoice. “What do we call this?”

“Paperwork,” was the shouted answer.

“Do we ask the customer to sign the paperwork?”

“No,” said one of the plumbers. “We ask them for their approval or authorization.”

“Excellent,” said Vinnie. “We want to use soft language and avoid terms like paperwork, signatures, and signing. And, we always want to conclude every call by asking if there is any other way we can be of service, thanking them for their business, reminding them of the importance of referrals, and finally, as a personal favor, because your boss measures you on this, ask them to scan the QR code to provide a review.”

Vinnie wrote on the board…

SOFT SKILL FUNDAMENTALS

1.    Neat and Clean

2.    Odor Free

3.    Park at the End of the Driveway With Permission

4.    Respect Customer Health Concerns

5.    Make Eye Contact

6.    Smile

7.    Actively Listen

8.    Confirm Understanding

9.    Ask Questions

10. Present Options

11. Never Decide For the Customer

12. Use Soft Language

13. Thank the Customer

14. Ask for a Review

“Now,” said Vinnie. “Let’s get outta here and go serve some customers!”

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

The Decision

Jim was feeling the pressure. He was getting it from his friends. He was getting from his parents. He was getting from his teachers. Everyone wanted to know where he wanted to go to school. His problem was he didn’t want to go anywhere. He had to decide what he was going to do.

Jim was a decent student. He did well on his SAT’s and he always figured he would go to college like everyone else. But lately, he was having second thoughts.

First, Jim overheard his sister and brother-in-law talking. He’d gone over to their apartment to swim in the pool. After he was done and toweling off, he went to their apartment to say goodbye. They didn’t hear him enter. He paused when he heard them in a pretty intense discussion in the kitchen.

“Kim, we just can’t afford it,” said Frank, his brother-in-law. “We can’t even afford a decent place to live.”

“But the government keeps pausing the loan repayment and there’s talk of the loan forgiveness.”

“Nothing’s been forgiven yet,” said Frank. “I don’t think we can hope for that. I mean, we do owe the money.”

“It’s just so unfair. I mean, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We’ll never be able to pay our college loans back.”

“Now Kim. Don’t say never. It’s just going to take time.”

“Take time? We’re going to spend a decade or more paying back loans from four years of college. At this rate, we won’t be able to afford to start a family until we’re in our thirties.”

Jim heard his sister softly crying and quietly slipped out without interrupting the couple. What he heard was a shock. He knew college was expensive, but wow. And he knew his parents would help as much as they could, but they didn’t have that much money and Jim had two younger brothers.

If he went to college, he would have to take out his own set of loans. One of Jim’s better traits was his frugality. He didn’t want to go into debt, especially not big-time debt.

While the conversation he overheard from his sister was giving him second thoughts, one of his best friends gave him more to think about. Dale had already applied to Tech and been accepted. He wanted Jim to attend with him.

“C’mon Jim,” urged Dale the other day. “Get off your butt and get your application in. It’ll be great. We can room together and pledge my big brother’s fraternity.”

“I don’t know, man. I don’t even know what I want to major in.”

“It doesn’t matter. The classes are all bull anyway unless you want to major in engineering,” said Dale before making a retching sound. “My brother says the profs let you know what they want to hear and you just repeat it back for the grade.”

“What do you mean?”

“Except for the engineering professors and a few of the business professors, all they want is for you to give them some politically correct, woke crap on tests and you’ll ace everything. It’s just like Mrs. Warren’s government class. Argue and she beats you down. Agree and she passes you.”

“So what’s the point of going to college?” asked Jim.

“Par-tays,” replied Dale enthusiastically. “Mixers with sororities. Four freaking years of sowing our oats. It’ll be awesome.”

Jim just shook his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t like fun. He did. But shouldn’t he learn something? All he felt like he learned from Mrs. Warren was he hated politics. If that was the norm in college, why should he go into debt for four years of political indoctrination? Did he have to go into debt to meet girls? Well, maybe that was a dumb question. Did he have to go into a decade’s worth of debt?

His problem was he didn’t know what he wanted to do if he didn’t go to school. He had considered the military. When he talked with Mr. Simpson who lived next door, that died.

“Look Jim,” Mr. Simpson explains. “I’m the last guy to tell someone not to go into the military. It made me who I am. I mean, I flew fu-, uh, freaking jets off aircraft carriers. Do you want to know one of the scariest things in the world?”

“Yeah, I know,” said Jim. “It’s landing on an aircraft carrier at night in a storm.”

“Hmm. Guess I’ve told you about that.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “And I get it. But I don’t have to fly jets. I might go into the Marines.”

“Do you know why the navy allows the marines on ships?” asked Mr. Simpson.

“Yeah, I know, so the sailors will have someone to dance with,” said Jim.

“Guess I’ve told you that one too.”

“Maybe once or twice,” said Jim. “But I still think the marines are bad-ass.”

“Let’s hope they still are,” said Mr. Simpson. “I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track with what’s going on in the service, but, and I say this with a little unease…”

“What?” demanded Jim.

“I’m worried about our fighting forces. The military seems more worried about politics than our ability to make war. I saw a navy training video recently where the entirety of the video was about the proper use of pronouns. Training should be about defeating the enemy, not fu-, uh, freaking pronouns.”

More politics, thought Jim. It was everywhere. “Okay, Mr. Simpson. I get you. I just have to figure something out.”

Jim went home. At dinner, his parents asked him about his college applications. “I don’t know if I want to go to college,” he answered.

“What?” asked his dad. “You are going to go to college.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s how you get ahead in this life.”

“You mean the way Kim and Frank are buried under their loans?” asked Jim.

“Hey,” said his father.

“I don’t want to be an engineer and I don’t want to tell professors what they want to hear simply to get grades.”

“Peace,” interjected Jim’s mom.

Needing to get in the last word, his dad added, “If you don’t go to college, you can’t expect to hang around here without paying your way. You need to get a job.”

“Fine,” said Jim.

“Fine,” said his dad.

After dinner, Jim started scrolling through the job ads on his phone. The first looked promising, but then he realized it was selling overpriced cutlery. That sucked.

The next after that was setting appointments for door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales. That sucked more.

Then, he saw one that seemed appealing. It stated, “Are you mechanically inclined? Are you a people person? Are you also money motivated? We’ll pay you $17 per hour for a training wage. Attend our academy, get paid to learn, earn more down the road, plus benefits. We offer careers in an essential industry that protects the health of the nation. Call King Plumbing at 555-1221 for more information.”

Jim was familiar with John King, the Plumbing King. His ads were everywhere. But plumbing? He didn’t want to be a plumber. How do you get girls when you’re a plumber? He kept scrolling. But one after another, he either didn’t qualify or the jobs sucked.

At school the next day, he kept thinking about the Plumbing King ad. It wouldn’t hurt to find out a little more. After school, he called the number. “It’s a great day at King Plumbing where we treat our customers like royalty. How can I serve you?” answered a cheerful person.

“Uh, hi,” said Jim. “I’m calling about the ad for the academy.”

“Oh terrific,” replied Miss Enthusiastic. “Let me connect you with our recruiter.”

Jim heard the phone ringing. “This is Stephanie,” answered a woman. “How can I serve you?”

“Hey Steph, I’ve got an inquiry about the academy on the line. I’ll hang up and you can take him.”

“Uh, hi,” said Jim. “My name is Jim Marshall and I’m sort of interested in the academy, but I’m still in school.”

“No worries,” said Stephanie. “We have another class starting mid-June. Will you be out by then?”

“I’d better be.”

“Okay, so you are aware, we require a personality test and mechanical aptitude test before we accept you into the academy. Should you pass those, we will conduct background checks and administer a drug test. There won’t be a problem will there?”

“Uh, no ma’am. But, well, it’s just that…”

“Yes.”

“Well, I don’t know if I want to be a plumber. I don’t know if that’s right for me.”

“I see,” said Stephanie. “Can I put you on hold for a second?”

“Sure,” said Jim. He wondered if he should just hang up. Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.

“Mr. Marshall,” said Stephanie returning to the line. “Would you be able to drop by our office later this afternoon? Mr. King would like to meet you and talk with you about the plumbing profession to assess if it indeed is right for you.”

“Mr. King? Like the guy on the ads? John King the Plumbing King?”

Stephanie laughed a little. “One and the same. Would 4:00 or 4:30 be better for you?”

“I guess 4:00.”

“Okay, are you calling from your mobile?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll text you the address.”

Just like that Jim found himself with an appointment to meet a guy who was somewhat of a local celebrity.

***

When the time came, Jim entered King Plumbing’s offices. There was a large reception area. “You must be Mr. Marshall,” said a peppy woman who sounded like the person Jim talked with on the phone. “Take a seat and I’ll ring Stephanie.”

Stephanie arrived and handed Jim a stack of forms. “This is a personality profile. Just answer it as honestly as you can. We use these to help ensure that we are putting people in the right seats. In other words, we know the type of personality types who do well in the different positions we offer. We won’t try to put you into a job you won’t like or succeed at. The next test is the mechanical aptitude test. This helps us assess whether you have the innate ability to do the work. Next, is our application, which you will need to complete. Finally, here are brochures on the academy and on the company.”

“Wow,” said Jim. He was a little overwhelmed. His stereotype of plumbers was that they were little more than knuckle draggers, but so far King Plumbing seemed like a professional, sophisticated organization.

“You can complete this and bring it by at your convenience. Just don’t wait too long, because June will be here before you know it and we generally fill all of our academy slots,” said Stephanie with a smile. “Now, let’s go meet Mr. King.”

Stephanie led Jim to a large, glassed-in office. He recognized John King from the ads. The man was large and somewhat heavyset with a jovial expression. He was pacing back and forth energetically while talking on the phone. He waved them into the office as he finished his call.

King immediately walked over to Jim, thrust out his right arm to shake Jim’s, and grabbed his forearm with his left for a two-handed shake. “You must be Jim. Come on in and take a seat. I’ve got it from here Steph,” he said dismissing his recruiter.

“Uh, yes sir,” said Jim.

Jim found that it was impossible not to like the man instantly. King smiled broadly and dove right in. “Do you know why you want to be a plumber?”

“Uh, why?”

“Because every mother wants her daughter to marry a doctor or a plumber.”

“What?”

“Think about it. Mothers want the best for their daughters. Both doctors and plumbers are useful. And both make good money. Well, both can make good money. A lot of plumbers don’t realize how important they are to the world, but I do. And, all of the plumbers at King Plumbing do.”

“What’s good money?”

“I’m glad you asked.” King nodded at the big window fronting his office. One of his plumbers was walking by. He was wearing khaki pants and a King Plumbing polo. “Take Jerod there. He’s 25 years old and he’s on track to break $100 thousand this year.”

Jim’s jaw nearly hit the floor. Was it really true? He had no idea that plumbing could be so lucrative.

King launched into the importance of plumbing to society and how there would always be a need for plumbers. He talked about the freedom and independence that comes from operating a service truck. He talked about the career opportunities that exist. Then, he talked about the academy and everything he would learn. Before Jim realized it, an hour had come and gone.

“There’s only one catch,” said King. “If we take you through the King Plumbing Academy, you agree to work for us for two years. We’re going to invest quite a bit of money teaching you the plumbing profession. If you quit before the two years are up, you’ll owe us for a portion of the training. If we decide you won’t cut it, no harm and no foul. You keep what you learned and won’t owe us a thing.”

“How many people wash out?” asked Jim.

“Oh, probably 30% of the class won’t make it to the end. And that’s okay. It just means that this wasn’t the right profession for them. It’s better to end the relationship sooner than later. So, what do you think?”

“I think I’ve got a lot to think about.”

“Well, let me give you something else to think about. Once you learn a trade, you can always fall back on the trade. You might decide you want to go to college down the road. Plumbing can help you pay for it. It’s how I paid for school. The old man wasn’t going to help.”

“You went to college?”

“Yes. I have a degree in finance. You see, I didn’t start King Plumbing. Dad did. I thought I wanted to get as far away from the trade as possible. I thought a finance degree was the ticket to a nice desk job in an air-conditioned office.”

“And?” asked Jim, fascinated with this turn in the conversation.

“And I made more money working for Dad as a plumber,” laughed King. “I didn’t like being broke, so I picked up my tools and asked Dad for a job. Over time, I bought the company from him and slowly began applying what I learned in school and what I learned from attending conferences and from an alliance of plumbing contractors. King Plumbing took off. Now my biggest challenge is growing my team, which is why I’m talking with you.”

***

Jim went home and reviewed all of the material Stephanie had given him. King Plumbing Academy sounded like an interesting opportunity. They would teach him how to troubleshoot and repair plumbing problems, how to interact with customers, and even how to manage his personal finances. It seemed to Jim that he would get more practical knowledge from KPA than from college. Plus, he wouldn’t have to deal with politics. He took the tests and filled out the application.

***

Two years later, his buddy Dale was home for Christmas. Jim drove over to see him on Saturday. “Duuude,” said Dale when Jim pulled up in front of his parent’s house. “Nice ride.”

Jim looked at his new F-150 King Ranch Edition truck, smiled, and shrugged. “I like it.”

“So what’s it like,” asked Dale, “plunging people’s toilets.”

“It’s not what you think. What I do is really important. Today, for example, I went to look at a water heater that kept turning off. It turned out that some idiot had blocked the vent. I’m pretty sure that I saved a life or two today.”

“What? How?”

“Well, the vent is supposed to remove carbon monoxide,” answered Jim. When he could see Dale still wasn’t getting it, he added, “You know, the clear, odorless gas that’s a byproduct of gas combustion and can kill you quickly?”

“I guess.”

“So what are you up to?”

“I just finished my finals, staying up all night studying stuff I’ll never use. I have to take calculus next semester,” Dale said as he rolled his eyes. “Can’t wait.”

“We have to use a fair amount of math in plumbing, though a lot of guys just use rules of thumb. Everything we use is practical. Since I’m mostly in service, I don’t do as much as the new construction plumbers and the commercial guys.”

Dale looked at him like he was an alien. “Hey, let’s go grab some beer. Tech is playing in a bowl game. Let’s kick back with a couple of brewskis and watch it.”

“Why don’t we go to my place,” asked Jim. “Your parent’s TV is kind of small. I’ve got a 72-inch with surround sound.”

Dale just stared at Jim. “What?” Jim asked. “I make pretty good money.”

Over Dale’s Christmas break, Jim spent less and less time with Dale. They were living in different worlds. It seemed to Jim that college was like a halfway house towards adulthood and Dale wasn’t growing up. Meanwhile, Jim had become a much more serious person.

As he thought about it, Jim realized that he had shouldered a lot of responsibility. He drove a company truck worth tens of thousands of dollars with around $8 thousand of inventory. While he reported in after every call, he was largely working on his own unless he ran into something he needed help with.

After graduating from King Plumbing Academy, Jim moved out of his parent’s house and was on his own. While he was spending money, he was also saving it. Yes, he was given a lot of responsibility and was acting responsible, but he was also independent and enjoyed a sense of freedom his friend Dale couldn’t comprehend.

Jim thought about the decision he made. His friend was in college, amassing a pile of debt, and it seemed, learning little practical knowledge. Jim had started a career, one that he found he really enjoyed and was learning a lot about his trade and life. Not only was he largely debt free, but he also had money in the bank. If he wanted, he could always go to college down the road. For now, the decision to join the plumbing profession seemed like the right one to Jim.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

A Can of Success

Tommy was having a bad day. It started at breakfast. The Ikea chair he assembled the night before collapsed when he sat on it. It went down from there. What he didn’t know was that fate was about to intervene.

When he got to work, his boss called him into his office. “Son,” he said, “I’m sorry, but corporate asked me to make a headcount reduction. You’re the last person hired, so, unfortunately, you’re also the first to be laid off.”

Just like that, Tommy was jobless. Could this day get any worse, he thought? Then, his phone rang.

Tommy smiled when he looked at the caller ID. It was his girlfriend. “Hi babe,” he answered.

“Tommy,” she said. “We’ve got to talk.”

Uh oh. He pulled over and turned off the car. “Why? What’s up?”

“We need to talk in person.”

“What’s wrong with now?”

She sighed. “If you insist. I got offered a job today. I’m going to take it.”

“Hey, that’s great.”

“The job is based in New York. I’m moving in two weeks.”

“New York. I can’t move to New York.”

“I know Tommy. I don’t expect you to follow me to New York and, I really want this job. So, I guess this is goodbye.”

“Is that it?”

“I’m sorry Tommy. I told you this was a possibility. Look, I’m getting a call from my new boss. I have to go.”

She hung up and Tommy just sat there. If he was honest, he knew it wasn’t the greatest relationship or that she probably wasn’t the right person for him, but she was someone he felt he could attract. I can’t believe this, he thought to himself. Fired from a crummy job and dumped by a crummy girlfriend on the same crummy day. What else could go wrong and make the crummy day even crummier?

When Tommy started his car, he heard a clicking sound and nothing. Freaking great. Just freaking great!

Tommy got out and kicked the tire. Hard. “Ow,” he screamed. “Crap that hurt.”

Tommy could feel his heart racing. He needed to calm down and cool off. It was hot and humid outside, so he stepped into the store next to where he parked. Stenciled on the front door was, “The Fate Store.”

As he walked in, a bell chimed. “Welcome to The Fate Store,” proclaimed a short, bald, Asian man. “Have you come to choose a new fate for yourself?”

“Huh,” said Tommy. “What are you selling?”

“I sell fate. Fate brought you here so you must need to change your fate. Come, come. You see the cans of fate. Find your fate.”

Tommy looked around and saw stacks and stacks of small cans. Each was neatly labeled. Tommy grabbed one at random. “A Life of Misery,” read Tommy. “Who would want a life of misery?”

“You would be surprised,” said the proprietor. “Many people choose misery. Why? I don’t know. People decide they want failed marriages. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Tommy examined more cans. He discarded “A Life Spent Living in the Past,” “A Life Obsessed With What Could Have Been,” and “A Life of Mistake After Mistake.”

“Uh, sorry,” Tommy remarked to the proprietor, “But these suck.”

“Ah,” said the proprietor, “Many fates ‘suck’ as you say, but they are very, very popular. People love to select them.”

“YAW!” screamed Tommy, dropping the can titled, “A Life of Misfortune.” “I’ve had enough of this.”

“Then keep looking,” encouraged the proprietor. “Keep looking. Your fate is here. You merely need to choose it.”

“Hey, look at this one,” said Tommy. It was labeled “A Successful Life.” “This is more like it. How much does this cost?”

“Ah. What is the price of success, of a successful life? It is something that you pay for over time. A lot of success costs more than a little success.”

“I don’t know,” said Tommy. “I don’t have much money now.”

“No money down. You can sign,” said the proprietor. “Here, here. Sign this.” He pulled a piece of paper from a drawer.

Tommy read it. The headline was “Bill of Sale.” It read simply, “I, the undersigned, do hereby commit to paying the price of a successful life in accordance with the success I achieve.”

“It still doesn’t say how much. I don’t like committing to an open-ended charge.”

“Ah,” said the proprietor. “That is because the payment is entirely up to you. You decide how much to pay, when to pay, where to pay, and how to pay. Just sign.”

“Okay, how do I pay? Do I come here?”

“The universe will collect. Fate will collect,” said the proprietor.

Oh, what the heck thought Tommy. He signed.

“Congratulations,” said the proprietor. “You have started your journey.”

“Yeah, now if I could only start my car.”

“What does the can say?” asked the proprietor.

Tommy looked. “It says shake whenever you need to more success. Open when you no longer need more success.”

“So, shake,” said the proprietor.

Tommy felt foolish, but he shook the can anyway. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he could hear something rattling around in the can.

“Let’s look at your car and see if you can successfully start it,” suggested the proprietor.

Tommy walked out with the proprietor and popped the hood. He tried to start the car, but after the click, click, click, he stopped. The proprietor reached into his back pocket and removed a huge wrench. Tommy wondered where he was hiding it, how he was hiding it. The proprietor suddenly reached out and hammered the wrench against the starter. “Try it now,” he suggested.

The car turned right over. “Hey thanks,” said Tommy. He jumped out to close the hood, but the proprietor was nowhere to be seen. He wondered where he went and tried the door to the store. It was locked.

Whatever, Tommy thought. Now I just need a job where I can be successful. He thought for a moment. Why not? Again, feeling a little foolish, he shook the can of success and pulled out into traffic. Immediately in front of him was a high cube van with a large sign on the back stating, “Now hiring. No experience necessary. Will train.”

Tommy thought this must be some kind of a sign. He followed the truck when it made a couple of turns and pulled into a fenced yard. The building next to the yard had an identical sign on it. The company name was SmithCo. Tommy got out, walked in, applied for a job, was interviewed on the spot by Dan Smith the owner, and was hired. Even better, SmithCo paid more than the warehouse job he just lost. Tommy had never been so successful when looking for a job.

Over the next week, Tommy was offered basic training by SmithCo’s service manager while given a variety of tasks around the company’s shop, such as cleaning, counting inventory, and so on. He was given books to take home and study to speed along his progress. Every morning the service manager would question him on what he learned the day before.

When he was satisfied with his basic knowledge, the service manager assigned Tommy to work as an apprentice for Stanley, one of the senior technicians. “Pay attention,” urged the service manager, “because you can learn a lot from Stanley.”

On the morning he was to start riding with Stanley, Tommy took out his successful life can and shook it like crazy. He really wanted to succeed with SmithCo. When he met Stanley, Tommy took to him immediately. Stanley was in his 50s and seemed grateful for someone to help with the physical work.

“Kid, this is a good company and a great industry,” Stanley informed Tommy on their first day. “Once you learn the trade, you’ll never lack work. Even if you do something else, you can always fall back on the trade. Plus, there are no limits on how successful you can become. If you want to start your own company someday, you can probably do it.”

“Excuse me for asking, but how come you haven’t started your own company?”

Stanley laughed. “Kid I did. I did okay for a few years, but I just wasn’t willing to pay the price to be a successful business owner. I didn’t like marketing. I hated the government paperwork. I just like fixing stuff. One day Danny Smith asked me if I wouldn’t rather sell to him and go to work for him. He said I’d make more money and have fewer headaches. And he was right. I’m happy doing what I like, which is fixing stuff.”

Hmm, thought Tommy. Pay the price. Well, I’m willing to pay the price. Maybe I can run my own company one day.

As the weeks passed and Tommy was learning the trade from Stanley, he was feeling more confident about everything else in his life, especially when he shook the successful life can. He shook it before rebuilding the Ikea chair and it held together. He even shook it when the blonde moved into his apartment complex.

Tommy was hardly a ladies’ man. Asking the blonde out was outkicking his coverage, but after shaking the can of success, he felt emboldened to try. His usual lame approach was to look at his shoes and say something like, “You wouldn’t want to go out with me, would you?”

Instead, when he ran into the blonde at the apartment complex’ mailboxes he asked, “Hey, you’re new here, right?”

“I am,” she said.

He extended his hand. “Tommy.”

She grasped his. “Beth.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Beth. Where are you from?”

“New York,” Beth answered, nearly causing Tommy to choke, thinking about his former girlfriend.

“New York? Wow. It’s got to be an adjustment moving here.”

Beth laughed. “Yeah, it is. There are more good changes than bad changes.”

“What are good changes?”

“I really like the outdoors, the fresh air. Despite living in the city, I’ve never been much of a city girl.”

Tommy jumped in. “So why don’t I show you one of the greatest trails in the area. Don’t worry, it’s well traveled, and the waterfall at the end is amazing.”

Beth pondered and seemed to feel Tommy was safe. “Sounds terrific,” she said.

Go for it, Tommy thought to himself. “How about Saturday? We could hike the trail and have a picnic lunch at the waterfall.”

“Deal,” said Beth, “but I get to pack the lunch.’

When Tommy got back to his apartment, he literally kissed the successful life can. “You,” he said to the can, “are amazing.”

***

Fast forward 30 years and Tommy was cutting his grass and looking at his mobile phone after every pass, watching his bank account. He had just sold his business for a 10X multiple on $3 million of EBITDA and was waiting for the money to hit. He refreshed the web page showing his bank balance. The number changed, increasing by $30 million.

“Yes!” he screamed to no one. He rushed into the house and held out his phone. “Beth, look at this!”

“I can’t even wrap my head around this,” she said, “but I knew you would be a success from the first moment we met.”

Beth hugged and kissed her husband. When they broke, Tommy went to his home office. He opened a drawer and pulled out the successful life can. He read the label, “Open when you no longer need success.”

Tommy reflected. He’d had a great life. It all started when he walked into The Fate Store, which he could never find later. He’d tried to find it many times but never seemed to locate the street. Whenever he asked people about it, no one had ever heard of The Fate Store and its funny little proprietor.

At SmithCo he put in the effort as an apprentice and earned his own truck. While he never started his own company, he did advance to service manager. Later, he bought SmithCo from Dan Smith, who had become one of his mentors, along with Stanley.

Over the last few years, it was Tommy’s turn to serve as a mentor to others. Some were employees. Others were contractors he met in business alliance meetings. One was even a local competitor. So much had been given to him, that Tommy felt called to give back to others. It seemed that whenever he gave, he received just as much, if not more back.

Under Tommy’s leadership, SmithCo grew and grew more profitable. He rarely shook the successful life can anymore, yet success still seemed to follow him.

Not only was his professional life blessed, but his personal life also exceeded any expectations he might have had as a youth. He was married to the woman of his dreams and had awesome kids, which he credited to Beth more than his efforts. While he managed to attend the school plays and afternoon sporting events, Beth played a greater part in raising their kids than he could. It was part of the price he paid for growing a successful company.

Tommy rotated the can and read the back. “Shake whenever you need to have more success. Open when you no longer need more success.”

He rocked back in his chair and thought about the success he’d enjoyed. It was time. He walked into the kitchen, grabbed a can opener out of the drawer, and proceeded to open the can of success.

Inside, there were several numbered pieces of cardboard with writing on them. He read the first one. It stated, “Success does not come from a can.”

On the second was written, “Success comes from hard work, the belief you can succeed, and the willingness to take risks and venture forth. If this can helped you to a successful life, it was only because it helped you gain the confidence you need to believe you could succeed, to take the risks necessary to succeed and to venture forth. The hard work was all yours. All you needed was confidence.”

Tommy leaned back and smiled. Yeah, he thought. Before he walked into The Fate Store he lacked confidence in himself. Because of that he didn’t think he could succeed and wasn’t willing to risk the effort success required. The successful life-can was nothing more than a trick to get him to believe in himself. Yet, it was a trick that changed the trajectory of this life.

On the final piece of cardboard, Tommy read, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The successful life is one well-lived.”

Indeed, he thought.

___________________________________________

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at mmichel@servicenation.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.