Discussing a successful Plumbing Company
Mark Ambrose: Today, we’re interviewing Lance Ball, the owner-operator of Aspen Mountain Plumbing in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Lance is a Master Plumber with over 18 years in the trade. He learned plumbing in Las Vegas, Nevada, but in 2007 he returned to Wyoming, where he was born and raised. He obtained his Master Plumbers license in Wyoming while working for two other companies and then started his own company, Aspen Mountain Plumbing, in 2013.
Nearly a decade later, he owns a highly-rated plumbing services company with five trucks servicing two towns in SW Wyoming, Rock Springs, and Green River. They’re the fastest growing and largest plumbing services company in the entire County of Sweetwater.
He’s a brilliant business owner with great systems in place, and he has plenty of helpful advice for plumbers and service companies.
He was a lot of fun to speak with and listen to, so I think you’ll enjoy and get a lot out of this one. Without further delay, let’s dive into our talk with Lance Ball of Aspen Mountain Plumbing.
All right, welcome to the podcast, Lance.
Lance Ball: Thank you.
Mark Ambrose: I appreciate you coming on the show today. All right, let’s dive right in. Tell us what you’re doing now. Where are you doing it? Who do you do it for, and how?
Lance Ball: Well, I’m the owner and founder of Aspen mountain plumbing and Rock Springs, Wyoming. And we’ve been in business since 2013. We’re a small town of about 45,000 people with the adjoining town about 15 miles away, Green River. And we have five operating trucks. We recently became the largest plumbing service company here in the Sweetwater County area.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. Congrats.
Lance Ball: Thank you.
Mark Ambrose: I’m sorry. Your second town is how far away?
Lance Ball: It’s 15 miles away. It’s called Green river Wyoming.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, okay. So it’s close.
Lance Ball: The rivals in high school. You know how it goes.
Mark Ambrose: There you go! Now you take their money and help them with their plumbing.
Lance Ball: That’s right. Exactly.
Mark Ambrose: So, do you have core services or just all service plumbing?
Lance Ball: We do everything. We do service plumbing for regular homes. We don’t do any mobile homes. And the reason we do that is they’re not our customers. Not trying to be mean, but we just know who our customer is, and that’s who we focus on. And we specialize more. In this area, we’re the only ones that do water softeners and filtration systems. And we’re the only ones that are factory certified with Navien water heaters, tankless water heaters.
Mark Ambrose: Oh yeah. I’m familiar with the brand.
Lance Ball: Yeah. They’re one of the better brands out there: Navien and Rinnai kind of bounce back and forth as the best in the nation. We specialize in those. We recently started doing trenchless drain work, coding, and next year we’re going to be purchasing the new flow system, which does liners. Then we should be wrapping everything on that circuit. Nobody else is doing it. We’re trying to stay ahead of the game.
Mark Ambrose: That’s big business. We were talking with some clients about how they’re missing out in the real estate industry because the realtors can be a little negligent. I don’t want to be harsh on them, but they need to have a plumbing inspection during the real estate purchasing process, not just a regular home inspection, but having that sewer line checked is the most important.
Lance Ball: Absolutely.
Mark Ambrose: It’s not good stuff.
Lance Ball: No, we see that a lot in our industry. We will have a call from a homeowner. They’ll say, “I just bought the house, and I already have sewer issues.” The problem is that inspectors don’t carry a sewer camera with them. 90% of them just look at the pipes inside the house, and that’s it. There is so much hidden danger there.
Mark Ambrose: And high-ticket danger. Insurance does not cover that danger. You couldn’t ask for a worse recipe. You have hard water then up there, Lance?
Lance Ball: We have extremely hard water here, Mark. Those familiar with water hardness testing will know that it’s measured by grains. We’ve got between 8 and 12 grains. That’s our city water, not well water. So when we start getting into the wells, I’ve seen upwards of 120 grains. You have to contact the water softening companies and have them pre-built for you when you get that.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. So do you do a lot of messaging like that? Telling residents that the hard water is destroying all of their appliances?
Lance Ball: Yeah. It’s a huge part of our marketing. We address what it does to your system as a whole, not just the fixtures but the water pipes themselves and your meter that the city provides. All of that is being affected by it.
Mark Ambrose: I didn’t even think about the main meter, but certainly your water heater, dishwasher, and any appliances that water’s going through. It’s slowly eating away their lifespan. So that’s a great business, nice margins. And when you’re done, they have beautiful drinking water. Do you give them an RO at the sink also, or?
Lance Ball: Yeah. So what we’ll do is we’ll test the water and see where their grainage is at. We’ll usually offer them what we call a halo five system if they’re eight and below. I don’t know if you’ve heard of those. They’re out of California. It’s a scale management system with four filters built into it. And that will provide better drinking water. If we are over eight, we’re going to offer a water softener with an RO system.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha. At first, if it’s low, it’s a multifaceted approach that softens and filters for them.
Lance Ball: Yeah. And our system is we give three options to every customer–good, better, and best–no matter what. And so, if we’re in that lower option, then they could do scale management. They could do a carbon filter or do the halo five, which is all of it. If they’re in that higher bracket, then we’ll give them options on softening systems. There are softeners out there that have a whole home filter built into them. You could do that with an RO system. It’s a little bit more, but that’s your better option.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. And for the plumbers out there who are not into water filtration, would you suggest they take a look at that?
Lance Ball: They are really missing out. I don’t know where and when, Mark, but plumbers at some point decided that filtration had nothing to do with plumbing, which is completely the opposite. It has everything to do with plumbing, but so many plumbers missed that opportunity. There’s a huge, huge opportunity to take with filtration and softening.
Mark Ambrose: I agree. And helping the client further, helping the homeowner further, is a way to expand your services, expand your margins, and hold on to customers. I’m sure there’s a giant loyalty leap. When you leave the house after putting water softening filtrations in place, they love you a lot more than if you just fixed their leaky pipe, I’m going to guess.
Lance Ball: I saw the difference. I mean, you got a glass shower door, and then you go and use it. If you don’t have spots to wash off the next time you clean it, people will notice that. Or when they pull their dishes out of the dishwasher, and there are no spots on their glasses, it’s instant satisfaction.
And you could test the system in front of the customer. We use Hach test kits with a drip system. The color changes right before their eye, so you’re showing them that this is not just guesswork; this is an accurate test telling you how hard the water is.
And then, after they see the results of it, they understand the full spectrum of the service. So yeah, loyalty is built on it big time. You can offer maintenance systems to where you’re coming in, regularly test it, and make sure it’s still working. Obviously, water is never consistent. It changes all the time.
We especially see it in well systems where you have a Spring runoff with a large amount of minerals in it. But in the Fall, they don’t have any of those minerals left. It dries up. So it’s an opportunity to get back in the house every year. And if you set up a maintenance program where you come in and check their salt and their hardness drainage just to stay on top of it, t’s an opportunity for you to get back in that house and make more sales down the road.
Mark Ambrose: I love that. So you’ve created an annual service agreement? You’ll say, “I’ll charge a fee monthly or once a year to come and do the following procedures”?
Lance Ball: Yeah. We call it our Gold Leaf plan. Our logo is a gold leaf. That’s the Aspen leaf.
Mark Ambrose: I like it.
Lance Ball: Thank you. So with the Gold Leaf membership plan, for 60.99 a month charged to a credit card, we give them one inspection a year. We check their softeners and their filters. We do an overall hardness test on the valves to ensure they’re working and able to move. And then we give them front-of-the-line privileges. There’s a lot of things that can go into it.
Mark Ambrose: A VIP Club where they are sort of paying you to stay connected to them. That is really beautiful. So, if some other plumbing problem comes up, they’re calling Aspen.
Lance Ball: They’re paying you to be committed. Yeah. And you have revenue.
Mark Ambrose: Yes, you just pointed out another beautiful thing. When you accumulate enough of these people, you’ve got an excellent, dependable baseline little revenue there, especially in seasonal swings in the business.
Lance Ball: 500 bucks every month that really all you’re doing is one job a year on. Yeah, it’s a no-brainer.
Mark Ambrose: And X percent of those jobs work into other jobs.
Lance Ball: Exactly.
Mark Ambrose: Do you do like a plumbing inspection annual also?
Lance Ball: Yes, that’s part of the program. For a regular tank water heater, we’ll do an annual flush. We’ll check their gas valve while we’re there. We’ll check the valves on it, check their dielectric unions to make sure they’re not plugging up. But yeah, I mean, we do a whole home inspection once a year for them. And how do you remember when the customer’s time for their inspection? We use ServiceTitan as our dispatching system, and it has a system built into it to generate reminders for those reoccurring.
Mark Ambrose: That’s beautiful and so important. We see so many service companies that don’t use a solid customer relationship management software, a CRM. So can you speak to that a little, like on a scale of one to 10, 10 being “this really helped my company,” how would you rate ServiceTitan or any CRM as part of your business?
Lance Ball: Any CRM is vital. I mean, you don’t want to have a pen and paper in today’s world. Everything’s turned into new technology. I would say that it’s a 10 for me, 100%. We started out with just a small one called Joyce. It was just an invoicing program. And then we went to another one called Sky Boss, a dispatching program with the invoicing. And then we ended up with ServiceTitan. It’s the better platform on the market. It has got so much built into it. You can even integrate your phones. Everything’s built right in there. When a person calls, if they’re a returning customer, their information is right there. Your dispatcher has it. She clicks on it. She schedules it. Everything’s built into it. The price books are in there too. So, the guys are doing their invoicing straight from that software. And from a business point of view, I can go to one spot and check it all.
Mark Ambrose: Exactly. Does it integrate with your accounting, your email marketing system?
Lance Ball: It goes right in there. It even sends text messages to customers.
Mark Ambrose: There’s a great software program out there called Speed to Lead, which also integrates. So, take a look at that. I have no association with them, but let’s say you get a lead from your website. It automatically spits out a text, email, and voicemail message to them stating, “our team will be right in touch with you.” Do you use Home Advisor or Angie’s or one of those to get leads at all?
Lance Ball: Well, 90% of our leads come from the internet or some type of advertisement, like radio or something like that. They hear it. And we tried to flood our market with brand awareness. We represent our local high school sports. We do our rodeos. Wyoming is huge for rodeos. So that’s a big thing. That’s like football here for a lot of them. And so, we sponsor a lot of the local sports events. We do a lot of radio advertising. And Google. I mean, that’s how you found me, Mark. It was off Google, right?
Mark Ambrose: Yep, exactly.
Lance Ball: That’s a big leader for us, and I stay on top of all that stuff. We’re changing our website regularly. That way, Google recognizes that we are constantly active on it.
Mark Ambrose: Right. Exactly.
Lance Ball: That’s a big deal. So, trying to get your brand awareness out there is huge. And these software platforms can go into helping that. Like I was saying with ServiceTitan, as soon as we get the job and my guy dispatches to that job, they get a text message, and they can follow it on their phone where he’s at. And that’s all part of that software, but that makes that brand look bigger than it actually is.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. It shows the consumer you’re efficient, and now they have more confidence in doing business with you instead of the sketchy “I don’t know when I can get there” kind of thing. They can watch the truck on its way to them if they want.
Lance Ball: And it keeps your guys more honest too because instead of stopping at the gas station before they dispatch or dispatching and then going to the gas station and getting smoke or whatever, they know that as soon as they hit that dispatch button, the customer’s watching them. So, they must be progressing to that home. It keeps them honest.
Mark Ambrose: No grabbing a coffee and lounging at the park and stuff.
Lance Ball: Yes, exactly.
Mark Ambrose: I did see your website is really well done. We brought you in because you have almost a couple hundred reviews on Google, which is the most important place to get reviews. It’s where nine out of 10 people search. We see other service companies with Yelp, Home Advisor, or Angie’s, all important places to review. But nine out of 10 are looking on Google. You did a fantastic job of doing that. I also saw that you’re using your Google Maps listing. I remember seeing posts and pictures and that you’re replying to reviews.
Lance Ball: Every review. That’s important.
Mark Ambrose: It really is. I tell business owners, “if somebody walked up to you in person and said, ‘Hey, Lance, man, your team did an awesome job at my house the other day. I can’t thank you enough. You stopped the leak.'” And if you just turned around and didn’t say anything to them or just walked away, that would be incredibly rude. But many business owners do that with reviews. They just never reply. That person took 10 minutes out of their time to log in and make a review.
Lance Ball: Yeah, I think many business owners forget that that is a form of communication, and if you’re trying to keep your customer loyal to you, you need to be communicating with your customer. You’re reaching out to that customer, but you’re also reaching out to those other nine people. Of the nine out of 10 people who use Google, you’re also reaching out to them. You’re showing them that this guy cares enough about this one customer to reach back out to them.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, it’s a small thing. And yet it’s very, very powerful. So, as you say, there are two audiences. You’re talking to the customer who took the time to review, and you’re talking to the endless stream of prospects who see that you’re communicating. And now, Google uses the words in the reviews and your replies to match up with search phrases.
So for business owners out there, it is essential to try and get your customers to write what service they use when they write a review. “Thank you for the water heater repair,” for example. Now when somebody searches “water heater repair in Rock Springs,” there are 10 of your reviews with “water heater repair.” And if it’s in your replies as well, that can be very powerful.
Lance Ball: Keywords are huge on the internet market; they really are. And you can get them in so many different ways. If you do an advertisement on a radio station and they’ve got a website, have them link it to your website. I had a call from Cheyenne. It’s on the opposite side of the state we’re in. All they did was type in “plumbers in Wyoming.” We’re in Rock Springs, and here they’re in the biggest city. But we’re getting pulled up on the reviews because we have all these backlinks to different places.
Mark Ambrose: Nice! You touched on sponsoring ball teams and high school teams and things like that. Maybe some local nonprofits. These are great for many reasons, of course, helping the kids out, helping nonprofits out, and branding, as you said. Getting your name out there, that’s very valuable. A lot of business owners don’t understand the power of those links. A lot of those places will have websites. “Hey, thank you for your sponsorship,” with a link back to your website. And those links, because they’re local, are absolutely priceless. They’re worth paying. Everybody should join their local Chamber of Commerce and get that link. And then, whatever sponsorships you like locally that fit your philosophy, fit your molds, whatever you think is fun, jump on that.
Those links are incredibly valuable. And as you just pointed out, your ranking is so high that someone hundreds of miles away just searching the whole state will see you come up. That’s the value of local links. And then if you have industry links, like being in directories. Maybe the Plumbers Association of Wyoming, state associations. You can Google “plumbing + directory.” You put those in parentheses and find plumbing directories and get in those. Most of them are free. And now you have links from industry-related sources and local sources, and man, that will power up your site.
Lance Ball: It’s like going to the gym and then drinking your protein shake. That protein shake is just exactly that—it’s backlinking, putting yourself out there in different places. The plumbing industry and whatever it is that you’re involved in and put your name into it. It is sponsoring local stuff that’s building you up. That’s you lifting the weights and drinking the protein shake.
Mark Ambrose: That’s a great analogy. You’re powering up. You’re building the muscles. You’re doing a job, so now you need to get into the internet world. We’re living in a digital world. Whether we like it or not, depending on your age. I’m an old guy. I love it.
I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for everybody. Now you can compete with the “big guys.” If they’re in your neighborhood, you can just be bigger, better, and stronger than them on the internet. Local companies have an advantage over the “big guys” on a local level.
Lance Ball: You hit it right there, Mark. When we started the business eight years ago, there was a company in town that had been around for 65 years. They’re on their third generation of owners, and we’ve beaten them as the “big guy” because of using our marketing, internet, and the stuff they’re not doing. We got the trucks with the full wraps. We’ve got the shop on the busiest street in town with the big rap on the window. It’s all about giving that look that you’re big—and then creating that big market using the internet source.
Mark Ambrose: Exactly. Honestly, 30 or 40 years ago, being a local company meant it would be tough to compete with that guy in my early days. He would be burying you. He’s in the phone book, and he’s got the whole page in the phone book. He was tough to compete with, but not anymore. It levels the playing field. And you don’t have to be rich to do it. You’d just have to be smart. It didn’t cost you a fortune to sponsor the local ball team. It costs very little to make posts on Google My Business and put photos in there. It doesn’t cost anything to reply to reviews. These are all great things.
Lance Ball: Simple stuff.
Mark Ambrose: Awesome. Very impressive. You’re all over it. I love to see it. Congrats. That’s why you’re expanding. That’s why you got 200+ five-star reviews. And the backbone of it, of course, is doing great work with a smile and cleaning up afterward. That’s job number one.
Lance Ball: Yeah. I mean, it starts at the very beginning. Your image on the internet’s number one, right? That’s what attracts people—and then answering the phone. That’s a huge one in our area. 90% of the companies didn’t answer the phone. Get on that phone and give them customer service from the beginning, and you win that customer on that phone call. So, having that team set up in the office to answer the phone and dispatch properly is crucial. And of course, that software is going to help them, right? Because they know that this is a repeat customer because it pops up on their service site. “Hey, thanks for calling us, Mr. Jones, for this again. We appreciate your business.” Already you’ve got that relationship and that loyalty to that customer. You remember them even with 500 customers in a database. You remember that one customer, and that means a lot to them.
And then you’re providing that clean service. You’d pull up in a nice clean truck. You’ve got a nice clean, organized system. Everything’s nice and clean on the iPad. So, when you present the options, it’s right there in front of them. Nice clean pictures or videos. It’s all clean from start to finish. And then, at the very end, the guys go, “Hey, you know what? If you really appreciated our service today, leave us a five-star review.”
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. And it’s easily done at that point. You impressed them from point A to point B.
Lance Ball: It’s easily done, and there are ways of making it happen. Like, I give my guys a $25 gift certificate to Home Depot if they get a five-star review with their name mentioned in it.
Mark Ambrose: That’s great.
Lance Ball: So, what am I pushing for? Well, I’m pushing for reviews, number one, but number two, personalized reviews. Because now the customer’s getting that guy they read about in the review, they feel special because they got Tanner, who was mentioned six times. Or Chris, or whoever it was that was out there in the field. They’re getting that guy that they read about.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. They love that. They’re already excited. They don’t even know the guy yet, but they’re excited. “I’m getting Chris. He’s on the way. I saw his three reviews. Everybody loves Chris.”
Lance Ball: Yeah. Five-star reviews of Chris!
Mark Ambrose: Mark Ambrose: Exactly. That’s awesome. So how long have you been in the plumbing trade, would you say?
Lance Ball: So I’ve been in the plumbing trade for 18 years. I started in the last part in 2002, the first part of 2003, and I actually went through an accelerated program and got my journeyman’s license pretty fast. And then, after that, I went to the next level as a master. I had my own business in Vegas for about two or three years, and then I went through a divorce, and that’s what drove me back home from Wyoming is where I’m originally from. I worked for some plumbing companies here, and I just thought, “these guys don’t know how to service the customer. They don’t know how to treat that customer with respect.” It was a broke-fix mentality up here.
Mark Ambrose: It’s everywhere.
Lance Ball: It is. What I mean by that, though—is for the listeners that aren’t plumbers or whatever, I’m sure you got multiple trades involved—but for those who don’t know what a broke-fix mentality is, it’s: you go in, you fix the problem, and you walk out. Instead of going in and saying, “well, there are several different options. We can fix the problem, replace the problem, or upgrade you and give you something better that will last a lot longer. And then you don’t see me for another ten years.”
Who doesn’t want that? And so that’s the broke-fix mentality, just coming in and just fixing it and not giving them any options or choices. You’re hurting yourself in the long run by doing that. There’s so much more opportunity in that home that you’re passing up, and you’re also not allowing the customer to have a say in their own home.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, exactly.
Lance Ball: And that’s huge when it comes to sales. Now, my guys don’t sell, and I don’t believe in sales coaching. My coaching is if you have the mentality that you’re going to help this person, then why wouldn’t you want to offer them the best stuff for their house?
Mark Ambrose: Absolutely, that’s the only training necessary. How do we serve this customer the best way that fits their desires and needs? And a good, better, best. A lot of tradespeople are incredibly great at their trade. And then they go out and say, “I’m going to do this on my own. I’m going to open my own business because I’m great at this.” What they don’t realize is that you’re no longer in the plumbing business. You are now in the customer business and the marketing business before you’re in the plumbing business, you’re already great at plumbing, and that’s great. But now it’s about serving the customer.
Just like you said. If you go there and you’re friendly, clean, and all about them, the business will flow to you anyway. Those who are on a tight budget, they’re going to pick the good. And the ones who got a little more, they might pick the better. And the ones who were all in, they’re going to pick the best. But they’re always going to pick what’s right for them, as long as you’re educating them.
Lance Ball: That’s key is education.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, that’s the key. So, your team needs to know everything they can about everything and then share it intelligently. And I agree with no sales training, but customer training.
Lance Ball: Yup. Take care of that customer and offer them everything that you can. I have a guy, and he’s fantastic at service. He sells like a champ, and the reason is that if he sees Mrs. Jones out in the car with groceries, he’ll go out and help her carry those groceries in. Mr. Jones sees that. And he’s like, “this guy doesn’t care about the plumbing as much as he cares about us.” And there’s a sale right there.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, exactly. Or cleaning up afterward. Like, you wouldn’t leave that your own home like that, right? So, treat everybody like you would treat your mom or your dad and your own home, and your business will flourish.
Lance Ball: Doing the cleanup before you even do the work. So, like putting booties on. Putting plastic down, putting something down to protect your stuff, making sure you’re not putting your tools on their nice granite countertop. Put it on a pad on the floor. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s the little things like that that people pick up on.
Mark Ambrose: Speaking of talent, is how hard is it? It’s kind of hard nationwide now. So, are you having difficulties finding great talent?
Lance Ball: You know, I’ve always had difficulties finding talent in Wyoming. There’s no licensing requirement statewide. They leave it up to the municipalities to enforce it. And some of these municipalities, like the ones we’re in, Rock Springs and Green River, their requirements are not there. Any Joe Blow that picks up a pipe wrench can be a plumber.
Mark Ambrose: I see, so you don’t know who’s really skilled or not.
Lance Ball: Yeah. I mean, I get applications, and they say, “oh yeah, I’ve got six years of plumbing experience.” Well, okay. What plumbing experience do you have? A lot of guys are oil-filled right around here. They say, “Well, I’ve worked with pipe, and I’ve worked with pipe wrenches.” No, no, there is a difference. Finding good help is a challenge for everybody.
I’ve found that bringing guys fresh off the street who have a little bit of mechanical experience, who know their tools, know their basics, and are humble enough to be taught are the best employees I can get for myself. Because then I can bring him in, teach him our system, teach him the right way to do plumbing, and then send him out to the home to take care of the customer the right way. That’s huge for us, but that takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and many systems.
Mark Ambrose: I agree. I’m finding that myself. If I hire somebody who has SEO experience, search engine optimism experience, they have a different view of what SEO is all about. And now I have to retrain them out of their current thinking. That’s a little more difficult than, as you say, giving me somebody who’s all in and learnable, teachable, and motivated. And then you must have checklists, you have to have your SOP—your standard procedures—in place, but that’s how you succeed in scale. You have to work yourself to get those systems. At what point did you start developing your SOP and stuff?
Lance Ball: I kind of started it in the beginning. It was just me in the truck.
Mark Ambrose: Good for you.
Lance Ball: And the reason I did that is I knew all the stuff that I needed to have in square place to get me to where I wanted to be. I started there. We started with technology. It was an iPad, invoicing on the iPad, basic stuff. But I had steps that I took on everything, like how I started the morning, worked with my customers, and did something during the day. And I started it from that get-go.
And then the next guy I brought on was in the truck with me for the first month. And he saw how I did it. And he saw that this was the system, and I created the culture from the get-go. And I think that’s what we have to call it, Mark. It’s a culture. That’s what you’re developing, right? It’s a culture. And it’s the right system, following the SOPs, but you have to do it one step at a time. You can’t just go gung-ho on it. And also, building that price book, first of all, knowing what you need to charge.
Mark Ambrose: That’s number one.
Lance Ball: That’s a priority, and you can’t just pull a number out of your butt, and it worked, right? Let’s be honest.
Mark Ambrose: And don’t call the competitors to base your prices on them.
Lance Ball: No, your price has got to be your price, and you have got to know that that’s your honest price to give to the customer. And that’s based on what you have as overhead and what your needs are. I like to think of it as where you want to be in 10 years, not today. Price is based on where you want to grow to. Is a hundred-dollar paycheck from that customer going to get you a hundred thousand dollars truck? Absolutely not, but maybe a $300 or $400 paycheck from that customer will get you that a hundred-thousand-dollar truck down the road, right?
So, you really need to sit down and do the figures. Figure out your overhead, what you have to break even with, and what you need to charge to make a percentage grow. And then, on top of the growth, what you want to make as far as revenue and continue building your bank. Because let’s be honest. Good equipment, good trucks, good systems, they’re not cheap. It takes money, and you have to pay for that. And who’s going to buy that for you? Your customer.
Mark Ambrose: Right? Exactly. Yeah. You must price in your salary, all your benefits, all your fixed costs, your building, your warehouse, your trucks, your insurance, and more.
Lance Ball: Licensing, everything.
Mark Ambrose: Your licensing, your profit. Many guys may figure out the cost of rolling a truck, but they’re not really putting in all those costs. Here’s a great book, How Much Should I Charge? by Ellen Rohr, who ran a $40 million plumbing franchise. Our listeners should sit down with their bookkeepers or accountants and figure out that cost. And if you’re not willing to do that, I had a CPA on the podcast a while back, and she said, “well, if you’re not willing to do that, then just double your prices, and you can lose 40% of your business. You’ll still be ahead, but you’re probably pricing wrong right now.”
Lance Ball: The best advice I could give to somebody starting brand new is to get a business coach. Because like you said, in the beginning, you’re a plumber, right? You’re an electrician, or you’re an HVAC guy. You’re not a businessman, and you’ve never been taught how to do the business. We haven’t gotten to school; most of us went to trade school. We didn’t go to college for business, and it’s a different ball game altogether. Any business owner will tell you straight-up that business is not plumbing. It is not the trade.
And you can learn how to be that person. And you can have a coach. And so, get a business coach. Don’t be prideful. Know that I’m still learning, Mark. I mean, I’ve been in business eight years. I’m still learning, and I’ll continue to learn things because that’s how a good businessman is. He continues to learn and grow. Don’t be prideful and say, “well, I know how to do the plumbing. I know it’s this much for a truck.” Get a business coach to say, “Hey, I’m not sure how to run my business. Can you teach me how to develop my marketing strategy? Help me develop my strategy for growth. How do I figure out my hours?” Talk to an accountant and say, “Hey, what do I need to know about my taxes?” If you don’t know about your taxes, that first year is going to kick your butt.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, it’s going to kill you.
Lance Ball: Because you don’t know how to put away for it, or you don’t know how to pay into it. And so that’s a very, very crucial step. I wish years ago I would have brought on a business coach and had them teach me these things. Because once I learned all these things, my knowledge skyrocketed once I got that business coach and learned all those things.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, exactly. Like one year with a business coach on a monthly retainer, and you’ll come at it there. That’s like going to trade school for business. You already know your trade, but now you’ve jumped off the cliff. I think it’s the LinkedIn guy, the CEO. He said something like, “entrepreneurship, starting a business, is like jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down.”
So, we’re just going to deal with it as we’re going. And that’s cool. Nothing wrong with that. That’s falls through the wall. I love it. But as you say, go higher where you don’t know. There’s always more to learn. So that’s excellent advice.
Lance Ball: And not every coach is going to have all the answers. I mean, you could have multiple coaches. I would recommend finding a coach based on your trade because they know your trade 100% already, so they’ll be able to explain your business to you in terms that you understand.
Mark Ambrose: I totally agree. Even like a ServiceTitan consultant who’s worked with plumbers or solar or whatever you’re in. Because that is such an important part, that CRM of your business, you got to get that dialed in, and your CSR has got to get that dialed in too. You got to get that booking rate going. It’s not a small undertaking, right? Your price book is a nightmare all by itself. Learning new software is always a nightmare. But on the other end is a simpler, more efficient business and a happier you, would you not agree?
Lance Ball: Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s a podcast out there by someone named Rory, I can’t remember his last name, but he talked about the concept of thinking like a business person and thinking ahead and creating more time for yourself. And let’s be honest, everybody gets into business for themselves, has more time for themselves, and makes more money. We’ve got to make money. That’s what we’re in the business for, to begin with. And that’s why we take risks, but he says that you have to change your mentality and look at ways to creating more time. Building that price book is going to take you hours, and there’s no question about that. It’s going to take you hours. But in the long run, my guy’s not calling me in the field asking me how much this is. When he’s out in the field, he’s now saving your time. And you can multiply that. You can add 5, 6, 7, 8 employees who are given the same price book, and you’ve got yourself in the field. They’re not going to be you, but you’ve got yourself in the field as far as your price book goes. And that takes time. It takes time to build it.
Mark Ambrose: It takes time to build it, and you have to work with your accounting team too because you got to get that price right. That’s the foundation of your building, so to speak. If you build that foundation poorly, your building’s coming down, man. You’re on shaky ground. So, the pricing and the systems are absolutely everything.
Lance Ball: You have all the opportunity to grow, but if you don’t put the time in, you’re not going to grow.
Mark Ambrose: Exactly. And if your price is wrong, you can spend all you want on advertising and marketing. I don’t care if you put a million dollars a month into that. If your pricing is wrong, you’re in big trouble if you’re not putting a dollar in and getting at least $2 out.
Lance Ball: Don’t the guy down the street because his price is not yours. It has to be your price. All of us that start a business probably started that way at some point. We called around asking, “What are you charging? What are you charging?” And you meet in the middle, so you’re not the lowest, but you’re not the highest. But that’s wrong.
Mark Ambrose: Totally wrong.
Lance Ball: That’s the wrong mentality because you’re not building yourself. You’re not building your business. The mentality is, “I need to charge what I need to charge. I don’t give a crap what my competitor’s charging.” His overhead is going to be completely different. He might be chucking a truck and running everything out of a storage unit. But you’re going to be running everything out of a professional shop with a professional fleet. That’s how you have to think, and it’s a mentality change.
Mark Ambrose: It is.
Lance Ball: It really is. You got to change your mind and go from, “well, I could do this just like this guy.” Because, yeah, you can, but your business isn’t his, it’s yours, and you need to make it based on what your business is going to be spending. Do you want to spend a million on advertising? You have to be able to make that million to spend it. And you’ve got to do that by making sure your pricing is right.
Mark Ambrose: 100%. It’s the most important thing. I’m glad we harped on it kind of hard here because it is the most important thing. And we want everybody out there to succeed. And if you could learn your trade, you can learn the business. If you think back to the first days of your trade, everything was weird. The names of the parts were weird, the names of the tools were weird. Everything was a little scary. We’re a little anxious whenever we’re learning something new. So just look at it the same way and outsource, right? You should have a great accountant, CPA, a great bookkeeper. Those people should be helping you drastically.
And like you said, bring in a business coach, bring in a ServiceTitan consultant, get those systems together, get your SOP going, let your employees help you with your SOP. Ask them, “How can we make this a better process? That’s how I do it currently, Lance, but if you can make it better, I’m all in, man. And there’s a reward on the other side you.”
Lance Ball: Hey, you know what? I do my pricing for my employees differently. They’re paid differently than most people are. I do a tier system. In my price book, everything’s built on a certain time for that task instead of doing a commission. Commission gives that guy a percentage of that fee, so you’re just pushing for sales. You’re not pushing for the service.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. It’s a little dangerous.
Lance Ball: It’s a little dangerous. In my mind, I want to reward the guy for putting in more effort, but at the same time, I want Mrs. Jones to be taken care of. Yet, I want to be able to make a profit as a business. So how do you make all three of those equal? That’s a never-ending question for a business owner. How do I make all three of these equal? I want good service for my customer. I want my employees to be happy so they stay here, and I want to make a profit so we can grow.
I do what I call “piece rates.” So basically, my guys sell the task hours. Mrs. Jones pays for those hours, and the guys are making their paycheck based on what they sell on those hours. So, I do it like: here’s the rate. This is your value rate. If you sell up to this number of hours, that is my breakeven for my truck. That’s my bottom rate. This is my breakeven hours. I figured out how many hours it takes in a day to pay for my truck and everything on it and my guy. So that’s my breakeven, that’s my start. You sell this many hours, get this much on your paycheck, and get 40 hours no matter what. And then, if you do this many, you get this much.
Now, there will be slow times when those guys don’t have work coming in, and they’re sitting and doing nothing. They’re getting paid 40 hours. But I made up for when we were slammed, and they put in extra hours at work to make more money. It all equals out in the long run. So, the business is happy because it’s making a profit. The customers are satisfied because they’re getting the full hours in their home, and then the employees are happy because they’re contributing towards their paycheck.
Mark Ambrose: So the good, better, best plays into that for you also?
Lance Ball: Yeah, it does. The best is going to give them more hours. So, they’re trying to get Mr. Jones to take the better option for their home, which we want Mrs. Jones to have the best in her home. So, why wouldn’t we want her to have the best option? And then with that help-mentality, that’s where that’s at, the best for her. The good, better, best is based on those hours. This is the small number of hours for good, whereas the best is the higher amount of hours sold. And that’s how we do it. That came from guys telling me, “Hey, I want to make more on my paycheck. How can we do that?” And so, I started looking at different ways and talking to different businesses and asking, “How do you do your commission? How do you do that?”
That came from an employee. You were saying to ask your employees to help you build your systems. That’s a system we have in play, and it all came from employees bringing feedback to me.
Mark Ambrose: Well, that’s the mark of a great business owner. Another good message for our listeners is to listen. You did ask, and an employee answered, and you didn’t just shrug it off. You didn’t say, “God, jeez, you want more money?” You thought, “Maybe there’s a way we can both win at this game.” And you went on a discovery journey to find out how to take care of all three people again, in a better way for all three.
Lance Ball: And that’s just part of the business. I mean, if you’re not evolving, you’re dying. You look at the most successful companies out there, like Walmart. Walmart’s changing their strategies all the freaking time.
Mark Ambrose: All the time.
Lance Ball: Five years ago, they had rollback prices, and now they’ve got something different. But what they’re doing is they’re evolving their strategy. Now I just heard on the radio that Walmart would be putting tons of money into their employees’ education. Well, why? They want to excel at the level of their employees. So that money will come back to them because they will excel at their employees’ level of thought processes. They’re evolving. And that’s what great businesses do.
Mark Ambrose: Better skills. You have to constantly look for ways to get better in every facet of your business, then scale the heck out of it. So, we’ve touched on a few things there. What would you say your favorite part of being a business owner is?
Lance Ball: My favorite part is just being able just to help out my community. That’s why we have become the largest growing company in Southwest Wyoming because we focus on our community. We focus on taking care of that customer. And at the end of the day, I mean, that’s why I went into plumbing. I was helping the customer. I was assisting that homeowner in solving a problem that they couldn’t help. And at the end of the day, that’s my favorite part of being a business owner, seeing how much we’re helping the community. The more trucks I get, the more people I can help in this community.
Mark Ambrose: The companies we see with the best ratings and reviews, and you’re one of them. That’s always their response. I’m in it for my people, for my employees, my community, my cousins.
Lance Ball: Yeah. I mean, you’re providing jobs for the employees, so you’re giving back to the community that way. And then you’re also providing a service that nobody can match. So, you’re giving back to the community that way. To me, that’s where my heart was initially. I wanted to give my customer the best service, and that’s been my heart through the whole process. I want to give my employees the best paycheck. And I want my business to be the best because that will provide again for my community.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. Oh yeah. Without a doubt. Even like you said earlier, you were looking at adding new services. You were asking yourself, “how do I further help my community? There’s nobody in town who’s doing cured-in-place sewer liners. Let’s learn that. That’s a big job that saves people a ton of money, especially if they’ve got a lot of hardscape and stuff in their yard. We don’t have to trash all this. We can go under.” Always be looking for a way to serve that customer better.
Lance Ball: How can we provide a better quality service for this individual?
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That’s beautiful. You already said you wish you had the training. You had hired a business manager in the beginning. Anything else you wish you knew when you first started?
Lance Ball: Don’t focus on the money. I think at the very beginning, and I got in the service for the right reason. I got into service to help the customer. And then I started thinking about the money. And I started focusing on the money. If you’re focusing on the service, the money is going to come. If you’re focusing on how I can take care of my customer, that money will come.
Often, I think business owners get so wrapped up in the money that they don’t look at what we can bless other people’s lives with. Take that money and put it back into your business, put it back into your equipment, put it back into your employees, put it back into training, put it back into our community, help Cowboys against Cancer, or something like that.
Put it back into that. Because what’s that going to do? It will promote you as a business that you care about, and it will bring more money.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, totally.
Lance Ball: So, don’t focus on the money. Focus on the service.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, and it’s hard in the beginning. So, we’ll acknowledge that most people are starting their business on a shoestring. They don’t have a giant trust fund or something.
Lance Ball: $500 in my pocket. And I got to make it last.
Mark Ambrose: Jumped off the cliff, man, with very little in the pocket. So, we get it.
Lance Ball: We’ve all been there. One step above homeless, that’s what I call it.
Mark Ambrose: Exactly. But that is the answer. So as long as you know you’re in the customer business, you’re already graded to trade. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have jumped off the cliff. So just take care of that customer and give them that good, better, best. So earlier—what was it called? The broke-fix?
Lance Ball: The broke-fix, yeah.
Mark Ambrose: Don’t be a broke-fix guy or girl, be a customer person. Good, better, best, always good, better, best, because you’ll be shocked. And don’t judge the homeowner by any outward appearances. You have no idea who they are.
Lance Ball: You don’t know where they’re going to put their money. I mean, I see it every day. These guys live in a trailer house, and they have an $80,000 truck sitting outside. Their priorities aren’t in the house; their priorities are their truck. So, we don’t know, we might step up to a house that looks like crap on the outside, but they want everything to be the best on the inside. You just don’t know, so don’t judge that cover.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, and that’s where a good, better, best lets you off the hook there. You’re appealing to whoever they might be, and you don’t know who they are.
Lance Ball: And if there’s a complaint down the road, it’s really easy to resolve. “Well, ma’am, you picked the lowest option here. That was why we gave you the other options. There were better options to fix your problem. Now we’ll still come back out. And we’ll still take care of you, but you got to realize that that was your option. So, you’re going to have to pay again for this service because we did give you the options, and you turned it down. It’s hard to argue with their decision, right?
Mark Ambrose: Exactly. “You wanted us to replace some parts instead of the unit, and now the unit’s failing again.”
Lance Ball: Yeah! And “we warned you ahead of time,” in a polite way.
Mark Ambrose: “So now you might need to look at the better or the best option. Here’s a good, better, best again. Let’s choose wisely.” Sometimes, buying the cheapest thing at Walmart is the most expensive thing because you got to buy 20 of them over the next three years when you could’ve spent five times as much on the one that’s going to last 12 years.
Lance Ball: I tell my guys this all the time that if a customer has got one toilet in their house that’s having issues, there’s a good chance the other three toilets they have in their house at the same age are also having issues. I tell them to say, “Hey, you know what? While I’m here, let me check those toilets. See what age they are, and maybe I can give you a discount on doing multiple toilets.” Now, you just created the best package for the customer. And off of what? One call.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. Let’s prevent leaks. Do you get into leak detection and water damage, and stuff like that?
Lance Ball: Yeah, we’re the only ones that had the leak detection here. We have the sound machines. We do a lot of it with businesses, mostly. Most of our houses here in Wyoming are basement houses, so everything runs into the foundation, and it’s in the basement.
Mark Ambrose: I see. It’s easier to fix. Here in California, we have very few basements. It’s all slabs, plumbing in the slabs. There’s a lot of slab leaks. And it becomes an insurance thing if you have continuous floors, tile, or wood. As the plumber, you want the insurance company involved because they will more than likely pay for you to reroute the plumbing rather than what they call a “breach and access”—just tearing up their floor.
Lance Ball: Or trenching like they do in Texas. They do a lot of trenching underneath. It’s crazy. I wouldn’t do that, but they do. They build trenches with the plumbing and do it underneath in Texas.
Mark Ambrose: On a slab foundation, do you mean?
Lance Ball: On a slab foundation. Yeah, they’ll come in, and they’ll trench underneath the slab. They do all the repairs underneath the slab. I wouldn’t do that. I’m from a coal-mining family, but I’m not a coal miner. Do you know what I mean? So, I wouldn’t trust that.
Mark Ambrose: That’s wild, to go underneath instead of rerouting up and over.
Lance Ball: And in our climate, Mark, we have a high freeze climate. When I was in Nevada, I didn’t face that as much. We were like you, and most houses were slabs. But up here in Wyoming, we’ll freeze. So, when you reroute it, you got to think, “how am I going to reroute this, so it doesn’t freeze?”
Mark Ambrose: So, is the attic a problem for a reroute?
Lance Ball: We don’t do any water lines through an attic because it will freeze here. Yeah.
Mark Ambrose: So, when you reroute up and over, are you going through walls, then?
Lance Ball: Yes, wall systems, interior walls.
Mark Ambrose: I see. Okay. So, let’s see. What advice would you have, Lance? Let’s say I’m a plumber. I’m just starting. I’m saying, “Mark’s great. I’m an awesome plumber. I’m going to do this myself. My boss, Joe, is a pain in the neck. I’m going to go make my fortune doing my own business.” What advice do you have?
Lance Ball: Always focus on your WHY.
Mark Ambrose: Nice.
Lance Ball: Because I guarantee there’s going to be days that kick your butt, and you wish you never went into this business. You’ll be willing to give up at that moment because it’s so hard. If you remember that WHY—why you’re doing this, it will see you through. It could be, “I want a Ferrari.” Hey, it could be, “I just want the best business in Southwest Wyoming.”
Or maybe, “I want this for my family. I want that nice house. I want a lifestyle for my children that they could take over.” Remember your why, and that’s what you’re going to have to revert to when those days get hard.
Mark Ambrose: I agree entirely there. And then there will be those hard days. So, remember your why, which is your personal goal in addition to, “I’m serving that customer, I want to grow exponentially. How many customers, how many lives I can touch in my own lifetime?” What about great resources? What would you say has helped you along the way? What would you suggest to another plumber starting out?
Lance Ball: Read books. E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber, for example.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, that’s a great one.
Lance Ball: Maxout Your Life by Ed Mylett, and The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. There are so many good books out there. Don’t forget that you’re constantly a student as a business owner. You’re continually learning new things. You have to. As we were saying earlier, the internet has progressed so much in the last ten years, and it will progress even more in another ten years. People are reading their text messages on their watches now, Mark. It’s like the phone shoe from Get Smart. That was stuff that was only dreamed of back then, but it’s the reality now. And in 10 years, it’s going to be completely different.
So, keep that in mind that as you’re growing and you’re moving in your business, that you’re going to have to adapt. You’re going to have to learn continually. And the only way to do that is to realize that you don’t know everything. And that every day, we’re going to have to learn something new and adapt to that new technology. I mean, plumbing in the last five years has changed so much. We went from having no idea when there was a flood in your house to having smart valves that will shut the valve off with your phone. Adapt, learn those new technologies, learn those new things in your trade. Promote those to your customers. Because what they’re going to see is a company that’s not afraid of technology. They’ll see a company that wants to move with technology and build because of the technology. Use that technology to your benefit.
We’re talking about softeners. Softeners have progressed in so many ways in the last ten years. We now have a clock head that sends a signal through the resin, which is what’s doing the softening. And it’s testing that resin to see how much life it has.
Mark Ambrose: How much time is left?
Lance Ball: Yeah, it’s testing to find out, “how much time do I have left before I have to clean myself?” It’s doing that every night at two in the morning because it’s a smart head. That technology wasn’t there 15 years ago. So don’t be afraid to learn and grow continually. Be learning continually, be reading, learn from these business experts. I mean, there are so many business coaches out there who have written books. I was telling you a bit about the Million Dollar Plumber and being on his show. I used him as a business coach. The man’s a genius when it comes to plumbing.
Mark Ambrose: Did you hire him as a business coach?
Lance Ball: I did. I did hire him as my business coach.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, great. Excellent. What’s his name? Let’s give him a shout-out.
Lance Ball: Richard Bahney. If you want to learn more about plumbing and you’re in the plumbing trade, reach out to him. He’s got a Success Academy. It teaches you how to build your pricing, build your price book, go through all the marketing steps, and things like that. Those things help. And he’ll give you bits of advice that he’s learned through his 20+ years of being in the plumbing field and having his own business. Don’t be afraid to learn. That would be my biggest piece of advice to anybody starting a business. Now get a coach, but don’t be scared to learn.
Mark Ambrose: That’s gigantic. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber is a very famous book. The first podcast I did was a solo podcast, and I called it “Why Your Ego Might be Killing Your Business.” And I talked about this book in that podcast. So yeah, we all believe that nobody can do it as well as we can. And the worst of us are micromanaging everybody on our team. I would debate whether they do it as well as you. There are certain jobs that you’re going to do better than others, but other people will do things better, like accounting, bookkeeping, and marketing.
In the E-Myth, Gerber tells us he walked into A Four Seasons hotel, and it’s a class service. Is the owner of the hotel here? No, he’s not. He’s got 382 hotels all around the world or whatever. So, it’s about systems and culture, which you’ve mentioned earlier, being there through your consistent systems and your employees. Learn how to get systems and your culture going, and then you’ll be able to scale to your heart’s content.
Another great thing you said was how things are always changing. Technology’s changing, marketing’s changing, the digital world’s changing. There’s another little book called Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. There are two mice, Sniff and Scurry. They always go to the same spot in the maze, and the cheese is always there. And one day, it’s not. It’s a play on these little characters, and it examines who’s willing to go look for where the cheese has moved and who is like, “oh, it’s not there again today,” and goes back to lie on the couch.
The point is that your “cheese” is always moving. And man, it’s your job to find where it moved to. And now you’re in the digital marketing world too, if you’re any kind of business owner, so you need to outsource that. But even if you do, you still need to know what the heck you’re talking about and what they’re talking about. That’s tremendous advice. Thank you for that.
You mentioned Richard Bahney, the Million Dollar Plumber. I would also add the home service millionaire from A1 Garage Doors, Tommy Mello, who has a great podcast. He has great guests with valuable knowledge. He’s got like a $500 million garage door business. He tells you about going out and buying the neighboring plumbing companies and bringing in your E-Myth processes and ServiceTitan, and then you’re up and running, man, in just a few months. It’s good stuff.
You gave some resources earlier. Are there any other people you would like to give credit to for your success?
Lance Ball: So many people have touched me at some point. One thing I do, Mark, is a network with other plumbing business owners within the United States. That is a huge strength because things are going on in Boston that Wyoming hasn’t seen yet. We were talking about changing and adapting, right? Well, if I can be ahead of that curve and I can jump on it before it’s even known in Wyoming? You’ve got the niche.
Mark Ambrose: I love that. So, what through Facebook groups and stuff, or how are you doing that?
Lance Ball: You can find actually devoted groups to the trades on Facebook. There are service seminars that they do, where you can network and mingle with others from the trades and go to trade shows.
Mark Ambrose: Go to your trade show. Join your state and maybe national plumbers’ association, solar, or whatever business you’re in.
Lance Ball: Chambers of commerce is great for networking. There are other networking platforms out there that you can go into to network with other tradespeople. Even if they’re electricians, you get to learn a bit of how they’re doing their business, and you can apply it to your business and make it adapt for you.
Mark Ambrose: 100%.
Lance Ball: Networking is huge. I mean, that’s a big resource.
Mark Ambrose: Is that what opened your door for water softeners filtration?
Lance Ball: The trenchless technology, yes, that has been through networking. I had never done any of that. That was something that I was interested in, so I networked with many people who were doing it, and I did demos with different companies. We do coding, and we use the Pincode system. Getting training from them individually was a big part of adding that service. Reach out to the manufacturers. Often, the manufacturers of different companies will have training that they’ll set you up with to teach you about their product. Reach out to those manufacturers. That’s networking. Talk to your warehouse people, too, the people who are purchasing the product for you. Talk to them and say, “Hey, do you know how I can get in touch with Viega?”
For instance, ProPress. That’s a big thing right now. We’re the only ones in Southwest Wyoming who’s doing it. We’re on top of it. We’re doing all of it, even MegaPress. And it’s because we reached out to Viega and had the training on it. But that came from me going, “Hey, Joe at the warehouse, do you know how I can get in touch with these guys? Do you have a phone number for your manufacturer?” He told me who his supplier was, and I reached out to the supplier and asked, “Hey, how do I get in touch with this company?” Do the homework.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. Go through your manufacturers, go through your supply houses.
Lance Ball: They’re willing to help you, and they want you to buy their product. So why aren’t they going to help you?
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, absolutely. And no better training than coming from the manufacturer. “This is how you install or fix OUR product.”
Lance Ball: Yeah. We were talking earlier about me being a Navien rep here. And that’s what I did. I reached out to the representative, and I said, “Hey, I want some training.” He said, “Go down to our school in California, do a three-day course, and we’ll put you as our NSS, our Navien Service Specialist. Well, now I’m on their website, so it builds my business.
Mark Ambrose: And there’s another link too.
Lance Ball: There’s another link. So now that’s building your business, and you’re building your knowledge at the same time where you can get better service your customers. So, reach out to these people, network. To get help from people, you have to be willing to extend yourself out.
Mark Ambrose: And you impress your customers with that, right? Like when you’re pulling a new liner through, and you just saved that client ten grand in not digging up a sewer line, maybe another 20 or 30 grand from not having to demolish their patio or something.
Lance Ball: If you’re going in the street, maybe even more because you have engineering costs.
Mark Ambrose: Right. So, these are the kinds of things that will get you the customer’s loyalty forever. They will never leave Aspen Mountain Plumbing ever again. They are yours. You would have to stumble very badly to lose that client. We spend so much as businesses to acquire customers, and then it’s so frequently we leave them behind in the dust. Stay in communication with the customer. Use an email marketing newsletter, or as you said, a service agreement, right? A VIP club?
Lance Ball: One thing we do is, for every customer, we send a thank-you postcard to them the following week. And it has a list of other services that we offer on that postcard. It’s something that they can hold onto. It’s the thank-you. First of all, they’re getting thanked for their business. Nobody’s doing that anymore. And that’s that personal touch that’s going to draw that customer back to you for loyalty.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, and it’s not just an email, which some companies do, but it’s an old-world card. A thank-you.
Lance Ball: Yep, make it personal. The addresses and names are handwritten on ours.
Mark Ambrose: Make it personal. Put the personal touch to it.
Lance Ball: And that’s something you can have your CSR do while she’s quiet on the phones.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, instead of surfing Facebook, you can write out some thank-you cards.
Lance Ball: You don’t have to do it. Delegate it. But it’s still personal.
Mark Ambrose: I used to have an e-commerce company many years ago, Lance. And when I started it, I figured I would be busiest during the night and the weekends when people are off work. I was 100% wrong. I was busiest when people went to work, which means they were surfing the internet and shopping while at work. They have a lot of time.
Lance Ball: And what’re 15 minutes of sitting down and writing 20 or 30 postcards? It doesn’t take much if you’re having preprinted, and you just go in and sign everything and fill out the addresses. It doesn’t take much at all.
Mark Ambrose: Plus, the CSR now knows that she’s contributing. She can think, “I’m adding this nice personal touch, and we’re going to get reviews as a result. We’re going to get new business as a result.” It’s all these little things.
Lance Ball: And you got quiet time in the trades. You usually have periods where you’re busy and periods when it’s slower. If it’s slower, go through your list of people. Look at who’s water heater you looked at and left a recommendation on. Look at your inspection sheets.
If you require inspection sheets on every job, you know what they’ve got as problems and what they don’t. Say, “Hey, we got some downtime.” It’s okay to tell people you have downtime. “Hey, we got downtime. Would it be okay if we came back and looked at that water heater and made sure that it’s still running good for you? I noticed that on your inspection sheet, there were some issues. Let us come back and take care of that for you.” You will have a surprising amount of people who will go, “you know what? I’ve got the money for it now. Let’s do it.”
Mark Ambrose: It’s time for an annual inspection. And again, like an email newsletter that doesn’t just sell but also points out great things about Rock Springs. “Here are our favorite restaurants in Rock Springs. Here are our best water damage companies.” Maybe something related to you. You can get cross-links, right?
Lance Ball: We do lives on Facebook. We’ll do little things like, “is it okay to flush baby wipes down your toilet?” And we do demonstrations with jars between toilet paper and baby wipes. So, you’re educating the customer, but what’s that doing? That’s promoting you as the expert in that field. And all your followers see that. They might like it, and they might share it on their page, and suddenly you’ve got a whole group of new people that you didn’t have before. It’s just little things like that.
Mark Ambrose: And those things are showing that you’re trying to help the consumer.
Lance Ball: Personal touch.
Mark Ambrose: You’re trying to help them avoid having to call you with money-saving tips and advice. And again, things about the town, which help link you locally in Google’s eyes. All of these little things are so important.
Lance Ball: Community events, anything like that. And you can get that from your chamber of commerce. They usually already know it.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, that is job number one for all our listeners for many reasons. Join your chamber of commerce. If you haven’t already, start networking, get that valuable link from your local city. If you have multiple locations, join the chamber in every single one of them. And you should have a location page on your website for each city that you service. And if it’s very competitive, you’ll even need separate service pages. And then any city blog posts with favorite restaurants and things like that.
You did mention a few books already, but is there another book or two that you want to recommend?
Lance Ball: I have so many I’ve read over the years, Mark. I just finished Maxout Your Life. Another good one is Robert T. Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. I have so many of them.
Mark Ambrose: That’s good. E-Myth is a really big one.
Lance Ball: Especially if you’re in the trades. That’s a good one for the trades.
Mark Ambrose: The podcasts too, quite honestly. And by the way, so for those who are not big readers out there, we have this new technology called “books on tape.” Audiobooks have been around a little while. If you got drive time, plug it in and start learning. So, now, if you were in my shoes, what would you ask yourself that I did not?
Lance Ball: I don’t know. That’s a tough one. We talked about so much, Mark.
Mark Ambrose: You’re a great guest, man. You really poured it out there. So, thank you.
Lance Ball: I have a shop dog, and that’s another thing. Bring your pet to work. It’s amazing how much interaction you get from customers and people that love their pets. I was just on a local radio show this morning. We have a picture of me and my dog on our website, and the host was like, “You have got to tell me about the dog. I saw the picture of the dog, and all I cared about was the dog.” Be personable, show yourself as a human, not just as a business owner.
I think every business is going to be a little different. Every business, whether it’s a trade or any business in general, it’s all going to be a little different. You got to find what’s going to be best for you and your market. And that comes from you researching it. And you are doing the work to find it. We’re talking about finding niches. That’s a huge thing. If you can find something that nobody else is doing, jump on it. I know a company that started out doing service plumbing, and now all they’re doing is softening because nobody else was doing it. And it’s an easy money-maker. It’s something that you can specialize in that a lot of people don’t do. We’re doing trenchless drain work here because nobody’s doing it.
There’s a lot of things that we’ve tried to incorporate that nobody else does. And I research it. I have Cleaner Magazine and different plumbing magazines that come to the shop. I’m reading them, and my guys are reading them. We’re on Facebook; we’re on the internet, so we’re checking things out. Stay in touch with your trade. Stay in touch with your community. Know exactly what’s out there. Do you want to focus on your competitors? No, but understand what your competitors have and what they offer.
That’s going to give you that leg up. Maybe this guy’s focusing more on HVAC, and that’s your opportunity to jump ahead of him. Or perhaps this guy’s focusing more on plumbing, and you need to focus more on the drain cleaning of the plumbing because he’s not focusing on it. Look at those different things. Weigh yourself. It’s not important to measure yourself to your competitors, but make sure that you’re different. Think outside the box because that difference is going to stand out to your customer.
Mark Ambrose: Totally. Or maybe one of them has brought in something you’re doing. Perhaps one of your competitors, if they’re smart, will go, “Wow, Aspen Mountains is doing something new over there, and that certainly helps the customer.” And these are nice high-margin jobs. I think that was podcast number two for me, “What are the High Margin Stuff?” That’s what you really want to try to promote the heck out of. Those water softeners are a beautiful example of that. I’m not a plumber, but is there anything more easily installed than a water softener?
Lance Ball: A water softener can be two to three hours in a home. It’s not that hard to work, but they’re a high-dollar item. So, revenue’s good, right? I guess every company works differently.
The way I work it is less jobs, more income.
Mark Ambrose: Right. Exactly.
Lance Ball: That’s why I don’t do mobile homes because a lot of times, the mobile homes aren’t in that category for that higher markup. I can’t put a softener in a mobile home. There’s no place to put it. I can’t put a tankless in a mobile home. I can’t do a sewer for a mobile home. They’re renting the property half the time. That’s why I stay away from that. That’s not my customer. My customer is the ones that have got this amount or that amount, and those are the ones I want to focus on because they’re going to bring me a higher revenue in the long run and make me grow faster.
Mark Ambrose: Yes, 100%. Pick your jobs, pick your customer, pick your neighborhoods, and stop doing the jobs you no longer want to do.
Lance Ball: The best way I did that was by instituting a service fee.
Mark Ambrose: There you go.
Lance Ball: A lot of people will do free inspections. We got a $49 diagnostic fee. If they’re not willing to pay the $49, they’re not going to be willing to pay the $700 or $800. You cut them outright at the very beginning.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That’s how you get rid of the zero revenue service calls.
Lance Ball: Do I want to help that customer? Yes, but that customer is not going to be able to afford my help.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. If they’re not going to pay the $49 or whatever it is to roll the truck, you won’t make revenue.
Lance Ball: Chuck in the truck down the street who’s barely making ends meet? He can have that $49.
Mark Ambrose: There’s a market for everybody. You’re exactly right. That is the market for Chuck in the truck. He’s starting. That’s his business.
Lance Ball: That’s his business. That’s not mine.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, exactly. Drain cleaning that leads to hydro jetting or a new sewer line or these high margin jobs, that’s where you want to go. Beautiful stuff, Lance. I can’t thank you enough. Where can our listeners find you online, Lance?
Lance Ball: Our website is www.aspenmtnplumbing.com, and then we’re also on Facebook at Aspen Mountain Plumbing. If you just Google Rock Springs, Wyoming plumbers, you’re going to have us come up on top. We’re Google guaranteed. We keep ourselves high on that status. The reviews help. You can check us out there. If you’re in the area, look us up. We’re at 1219 Elk Street. That’s our shop. Come by for a visit, and I’ll show you around the shop. I have no problem trying to help other people.
Mark Ambrose: Big thanks to our listeners for sharing their time with us again. Thank you, Lance, for sharing your time and expertise. If you like what you heard on the show, please rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast, so you get notified of future episodes. Feel free to share this episode on your social channels. We’ll see you in the next episode. Good luck out there, and create a great day.