Success: A Story of People, Processes and Differentiation
By: Mike Wickam, Mr. Rooter Plumbing of the Twin Cities
I previously encountered a plumbing franchise that wasn't operating as well as it could have, so I took the opportunity and bought it to help it turn around. Now, that is Mr. Rooter Plumbing of the Twin Cities. I learned very early that turnarounds were possible only if the company had two crucial assets: 1) A differentiated product that could provide value and doesn't compete on price alone, and 2) a commitment to change and a basic system in place to please customers. No build, turnaround, or few companies will succeed without these two items as a baseline.
How did we turn it around and make it a successful franchise? People, Processes, and Differentiation
- Hire and develop great people. We hire on attitude and experience, in that order. Attitude must be that of a start-up employee; unwavering, flexible, and positive. We hire great communicators, but are unconcerned with hiring specific personalities. Once hired, our only job is to develop these people for their next position with continuous coaching and feedback. It all starts and ends with hiring and developing great people.
- Work ethic / Learning. Leading aggressive change is not for the faint of heart. I try to lead by example, creating urgency with managers, employees, and vendors to work long and intently. I supplement this by constantly learning and evaluating new ideas and theories in business and outside of business.
- Evangelism. I am the Chief Evangelist for my company, our employees, and the market. Even on days that I feel less than motivated, I must never waver in front of employees, vendors, and customers. I seek to always 'preach' the message of our mission, why we will win, and what is in it for the audience - over, and over, and over again.
- Great businesses figure out the best way to do something and then do it the same way over and over again. Using the Mr. Rooter System as a base-line, we updated our service delivery process, dispatch, customer follow-up, underground and jetting sales and delivery systems. Through trial and error and the help of some great people, we quickly started delivering service that exceeded our clients' expectations.
- Compensation Plans. No one should ever be confused about how they are paid. We simplified the commission / compensation plan and wrote it down. Each year, we update it for all company positions, and spend considerable time reviewing it with employees. There is rarely a dispute because it's all written down. We also aligned bonuses and contests with company goals so that techs and dispatchers were focusing on sales and service activities that helped us grow and improve; all together! We also developed a Profit Sharing program and a 401k to help employees feel involved in our bottom line and to look toward their futures.
- Tracking, Tracking, Tracking.We purchased recordable phone numbers and put them in every paid advertising we do. We then listen to every call, log it, and track it through billing to a closed, successful job. This allows us to see our Return On Investment for every paid advertising medium, weeding out the bad ones, negotiating better for renewals and knowing that when we spend a dollar in advertising, we will make money on it.
- Marketing. Even if you have something nobody else has, does it really matter if no one knows about it? We increased our business in the first 12 months by simply using our marketing dollars more effectively. In fact, we spent LESS on marketing than the previous owner in those first 12 months. We developed a series of jumbo post card campaigns for our customers that showed why we think we're different and offered minor discounts. Virtually every card that went out reminded our customers of these three items:
- 24 hours X 7 days X 365 days - same price / no overtime
- Price by the job, not by the hour
- No trip charges, free written quote before we do the job
- Commercial.We increased commercial business in the last three years by asking our existing commercial customers what was important to them (speed of response, nights & weekend availability, and cost - in that order) and then tried to deliver that. We eventually hired a commercial sales manager to assist these accounts..
- Nights & Weekends. We quickly realized that this is an extremely underserved time in our market. Few, if any, plumbing companies answer their phone let alone staff to handle this lucrative time period. We extended our scheduled hours and beefed up capacity on the weekends to handle the demand. All of our marketing prominently shows that this is a differentiator. We are the provider of choice on nights & weekends!
All in all, it's been a wild ride developing a business that is growing. The job starts over every morning of the year as we strive to please customers, embrace new ideas, and help our employee partners reach their full potential and take the next step of achieving their dreams.