Nick & Chris Sylvester, Owners of this Tewksbury, Massachusetts-Based Business, Credit Their Team’s Dedication to Delivering Exceptional Service, along with Finally Adopting the SGI Model, to Their Incredible Success
This story is an approximate transcription of a “The Successful Contractor” podcast interview with Nick Sylvester. You can listen to this interview HERE. “The Successful Contractor” podcast, powered by Success Group International, is a show for residential contractors about residential contractors. It chronicles business journeys, shares insights, and celebrates successes in this wonderful industry of the trades and tradespeople.
Chris and Nick Sylvester followed in their father’s footsteps. It seemed like the natural path, maybe it seemed to be the only one. Chris first joined his father—then Nick returned to the business, helping his mother with the books. It just grew from there.
“At some point, I decided to partner with my brother. I said, ‘Why don’t we try and turn this into something? And we took it from us to where we’re at today. We incorporated in 2005, but it really was the last five years that we really have taken off and ran with it.”
Ran indeed. Chris, Nick, and the Sylvester Electric team have watched the company grow to $4 million in sales at a strong profitability. Its residential division has been doubling in size each year for the last four years. “It has been a total team effort all the way around,” Nick made it a point to emphasize. “It’s not just Chris and me at all. It’s our great team from dispatching with Erica on the phone all the way to the guys in the field. They all deserve the credit.”
This business transcendence did not come without a great deal of growth pains along the way. “Business was always up and down. Prior to learning and working with SGI, it was always trying to figure out the next job, and long-term planning was always hard to do. Culture-wise, it was a mess,” Nick admitted.
“We didn’t have any direction, and we lacked culture. I think those were the biggest reasons [we joined]. We were trying to figure out how to manage team members—but back then, we didn’t call them team members. They were employees. And we’d always be yelling at them to do this, and they wouldn’t do it. You’re just pulling your hair out because you’re always putting out fires. SGI taught us how to build culture. Our people are team members—they’re family members. That change has really helped us grow.”
After joining, you didn’t dig into the SGI system right away. You had some struggles, correct?
Yes, because we had a commercial side, we struggled how to incorporate what we were learning with service into it. It was hard in the beginning. It actually took us a few years. We’d take a guy from our commercial, throw him in a truck, and say, “Go!” Then, he’d fail. It wouldn’t work. And we were frustrated, “Why isn’t this working?” The SGI model all ties together. So, you’ve got to be doing it all to see it function and come together, especially the training. Over the last year, we’ve learned with training that you can’t just tell them to do something. Training means to tell them why we’re asking them to do something. That’s what really gets you to connect with your employees.
Sonya (Fryar, our SGI coach) was the number-one person that got us through everything. We were throwing our hands up in the air. We were like, “What do we do?” She stepped in and said, “Here’s your plan. This is what you need to do.” And then, she would check in on us. And she held us accountable. It’s funny, we actually say in the office a lot, “Sonya said.” [Nick burst into laughter.] If I’m talking to someone in the office, and they’re not sure why we’re doing something, I just say, “Well, Sonya said.” [Nick laughed again.] We don’t fight it anymore. She told us what to do, and if we don’t do it, we know why it didn’t work.
What were two or three things that Sonya asked you to do in that initial plan?
We were using the book, but we weren’t doing the system. We weren’t doing the proper steps of a service call. http://mirziamov.ru All of that was missing. So, when we were giving a price, we had not given proper value to support the price. Now, we talk all the time about following all the steps.
Back then were you doing safety inspections and offering options on every call?
No, we weren’t doing a good job at all with that. That was part of Sonya’s original plan. She said, “You need to be doing these on every call.” Then, I wouldn’t do it, and she’d ask me why. And I’d say, “Well, the tech didn’t want to do it.” She gave me a plan on how to handle the objections from the techs. We went through this whole training program. She was training me on how to train them. When I sat down with the team and explained why we were asking them to do these things, it started to click. That’s when we took off—when we explained the why behind everything instead of just telling them to do it.
Were you answering your phone properly back then?
In the beginning, we definitely were not. We went through a few CSRs in the beginning. But we’re always training now. We just went to a training with Sonya on outbound calling. But back then, it took a lot of work to get our phones right. Sonya had all sorts of tips, like smiling, having a mirror at your desk. It all works.
Was implementing a service fee something new for you?
Yes, and it was awful. [Nick burst into laughter.] It was because we didn’t believe in it. We would waive it all the time. Now, the conversation isn’t about waiving it—it’s whether we’re charging enough. When do we go up? Again, the service fee is part of the whole system. Once you understand it and why it’s there, it all ties together. You’re no longer wasting your technicians’ time going out to price-shoppers’ homes.
Did you implement a club membership plan?
Yes, but we tweaked ours a bit. It’s like Netflix™—we don’t tie people into a contract. If we’re not doing our job to keep you, go ahead and cancel. But yeah, we love our members. We’ve set up a direct phone number for our members to call. We were using those memberships when we got slow to go out and do our yearly inspections. Having a membership is a great addition. It’s a great revenue stream. And members do more work with you than nonmembers.
Do you do a full inspection on every call or will your techs do an abridged version in some circumstances?
I’ll go back to Sonya says. [Nick laughed.] I’m probably going to say that a lot. We were doing a quick, 10-point simple inspection. It was more visual. Then, about a year ago, we were trying to take the company to another level. Now we cover 80 items on every home we go to. A lot of times people will want you to do what they called you out for—and maybe one other thing because they’re intrigued. But when you go back the next year, that’s when the tech can remind them of these other items that were found on the previous call.
Do you build your club membership into every option or just a couple?
It’s in every one of our options.
When presenting the price, do your techs always show the financed price first?
Yeah, financing is huge for us. It’s all about how you present it. So, we show the member price and the financing price. We say, “We can take care of this project for you today for as low as $25. Stuff like that.
Jumping back to training, what were you initially doing for it?
At first, we just gave everyone the book and said, “Read it, and do you guys have any questions?” Everyone just sort of nodded. Then, they went out, and we would get frustrated why they weren’t successful. Then, we realized that we needed to start training once a week. We’d meet, go over problems, and sometimes those meetings would go long. That’s when we realized that this needs to be more than one day. We went to twice a week. We talk technical and we talked sales and handling objections. Then, it turned into three days a week. Then, when we really got rolling, we were bringing in more technicians, it turned into training every morning.
By getting everyone together every morning, I bet it has impacted the culture of your company.
Oh, one hundred percent. Over the years, we would pull back on training because we’d get so busy. We would say, “We don’t need to train—send the guys out.” That’s when we’d see performance slip, the numbers slip. If you do a DiSC™ assessment on your team, you’ll see those that need that comradery. When you actually track your KPIs, you can see how training affects your numbers.
Do you meet regularly with each of your techs one-on-one to coach them? That’s becoming a more common trend.
John, our service manager, meets with everyone directly once a month to go over the bigger-picture items, how they did the previous month, where we’re heading this month, ask them about personal goals or career goals. I’m actually trying to implement that kind of a program with our commercial side, as well because they’re team members, too. I want to build that same culture on that side. So, what I’m going to be actually implementing in the next couple weeks is a 15-minute, one-on-one every six to eight weeks with everybody. I feel a little disconnected, and I want to touch base with all of our team members and ask, “How’s everything going? How’s John been? How can we help you with your goals?” I want to have that touchpoint. It’s a lot to take on, but I think it will be a great addition. I’m hoping to have it in place by the of the year going into 2021.
Following up on this performance-management conversation, does John review each ticket that comes in?
Yes, that’s another “Sonya says” moment, looking at your tickets every single day. We keep a close eye on our KPIs. WE have a bunch of spreadsheets and software, but without looking at those tickets, you have no idea what your guys are doing in the field. So, John looks at every ticket, and I was doing it before him. It helps you see trends, too. Like, is someone always having a bad Monday? Then you work with your team members.
You’ve been growing considerably for a while now, how have you been finding technicians?
SGI has instilled upon me the need to recruit for one third of my time. I probably spend more time on it than that. Over the last couple of months, I’ve implemented a system to help me track and find candidates. We definitely went to another level when we decided to bring on apprentices. But when we evaluate people, we look for a personality that will be a good fit for our culture. Are they a positive person? That’s more important to us than them knowing the technical. We’ll teach that.
How are you finding apprentices and people in general?
Everywhere. The apprentices, we go to the schools. We post on Craigslist™ every week. You really have to nurture people. I have a whole file of people that I’m following up with. For example, I had this great conversation with a girl while getting coffee one morning. I told her about our company, and she ended up telling me about her friend who was trying to get into the field. I told her to have him give me a call. And this young guy knows electrical, his attitude was amazing, provides great customer service, can hold a great conversation. I ended up hiring him. But I wasn’t able to bring him on right away—I nurtured that relationship, kept in touch with him for like eight or nine months, until we needed someone.
Changing topics, how beneficial has it been to be in a Profit Platoon?
It’s definitely been great. In the trades, I always thought you couldn’t talk to anyone about how to do things. It’s a stigma. SGI opened my eyes that it doesn’t have to be that way. With our Profit Platoon, I have backup, a team. Even though these guys are in my same market. We bounce ideas off each other. We talk every other week or so. We get together to talk about bigger items. We keep each other accountable, too. It’s so nice to have that honesty. It’s helped us take the business to the next level.
In wrapping up, what advice would you have to new or struggling SGI members?
A couple things. One would be, reach out to your coaches if you need help, right? Two, reach out to other members. I get so much information from other members and on the Facebook™ group, talking to them. Like this afternoon, I’m actually doing a Zoom™ meeting with a couple of people to talk about the way we do things, just to get other ideas.
The other thing I would say is look at your tickets. Your tickets are going to be your gateway into what your next steps are. It’s going to lead into your training, your marketing, what people are buying. So, look at your slips and figure out what your next steps are. If you don’t know what that is, ask somebody.