PODCAST: Safe Electric Doubles Sales in 12 Months after Committing to Implementing the SGI Model
Matt Wehrle Put Aside His Home Remodeling Side Business to Dedicate Himself Completely to His Electrical Company in April of 2019. He’s Restlessly Implemented New Systems & Processes and Has Seen Resounding, Immediate Success.
Matt Wehrle has been hustling since starting his electrical company, Safe Electric, in 1994. The Columbus, Ohio-based contractor defined himself as the typical “Chuck-in-the-truck” working 80 hours a week for little more than 40 hours of pay for many years.
Looking to generate more income, Matt funneled some of his palpable, non-stop energy into a real estate side hustle, buying and flipping homes. As you will read, he suffered some setbacks along the way—the Great Recession in 2008 knocked him down.
But Matt would not allow it to knock him out. He picked himself up by the bootstraps and slapped on his tools once more, trying to find the magic to making profits in the electrical industry. His search ultimately led him to Success Group International, an organization he faintly recalled hearing about 10 years prior. This time he went to a Profit Day and invested in his future.
Before pouring himself into this new SGI system, Matt worked desperately to finish flipping a few real estate projects he started with his sister. Finally, in April of 2019, he committed to his company. Matt’s success has skyrocketed. Safe Electric’s sales the 12 months after beginning the implementation process have increased 100%. He gives the credit to SGI and the stellar team he’s built. But Matt had more than a little to do with it, too.
Read on for Matt Wehrle’s story, directly from his own lips, about the incredible overhaul he’s performed to his surging Safe Electric. You can also listen to Matt’s story on our The Successful Contractor Podcast, The Successful Contractor Podcast, a show for residential contractors about residential contractors. We chronicle business journeys, share insights, and celebrate successes in this wonderful industry of ours.
How did you get into the electrical trade?
I went to college and I didn’t really like it. I didn’t really like high school—I mean, I loved high school; I just didn’t like the studying part of it. [Laughter] When I went to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I liked working with my hands, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. One day I went out to breakfast with my grandpa. My grandfather was a union electrical contractor for years, but he was retired at this time. And he said, “Why don’t you try to get into the electrical union?” I didn’t know anything about it, and then he told me about it. And so after that, I went down and applied. It took a long time to get in. Six months later, I started. I went through a four-year apprenticeship program with them. After that, I topped out as a journeyman. And there wasn’t much work in Columbus, so I had to travel to Pittsburgh. I thought, “I don’t want to travel, I want to stay here.” So I studied and got my electrical license and just opened up my business. I started in ’94 with my electrical business.
How did business progress overtime? I know you joined SGI in 2017. You also had your hands in a few other ventures, as well, correct?
Yeah, I started out probably like everyone else, just working. I was stuck in a truck working. And then I hired a few people. I never had any processes or anything in place. I worked 60 to 80 hours a week, every week. trying to make ends meet really. I probably made better than if I was working 40 hours for somebody else, but working 80 by yourself is not great. [Laughter] You’re not supposed to just make that kind of money. [Laughter] I mean, it’s not worth it.
Back then I actually found a couple houses to flip after [I had the electrical business] for eight years or so, about 2002. I bought a couple houses and started flipping them with a friend of mine. And I was running my electrical business on the side. At one time I had 17 employees, and that was the year I think I made $30,000 so that was a great year. [Laughter] But anyway, I flipped a couple houses; then I bought a bunch of apartments, and I was working on those. I was sort of doing electrical work on the side for people. And my brother was working for me at the time. I was going out helping him and running my apartments, so that was kind of my gig. I owned my apartments for about eight years and then 2008 happened.
By 2012 those apartments were all pretty much gone. I got back into doing electrical work full-time by 2013. I hired a couple people and I was just out doing jobs, but I could never make any money. And I remembered years ago that I had had a letter from some company saying, “Come down to Atlanta and we’ll show you how you don’t have to work for contractors anymore.” And I kept thinking, “Gosh, if I could ever find that guy that sent me that letter, I would sign up with them in a heartbeat.” And then I got your come to Profit Day letter. I’m said to myself, “This seems like the same company. This seems like the same stuff they were talking about, I want to go.” So, unlike probably a lot of people, I knew I was joining SGI at Profit Day before I went to Profit Day. I knew I needed something different.
What was Executive Perspective like for you?
I went to Profit Day and I felt like, okay, this is going to be a good thing. But it was a couple months before I got to my EP. I missed the first one, it was down in Florida, and I couldn’t make it. Then, I ended up going to the first EP that SGI had in Dallas. And it’s kind of hard to explain. It was surreal for me because like it was like everything I had hoped and then more.
I could see as long as you do what they tell you to do, you’re going to be successful at this. There was no doubt in my mind. And I knew, it was life-altering for me; it really was. I knew that I wanted to do it [going into it], but then I believed in it when I went there.
But then, like I was telling you earlier, if I could give anyone any advice, go to EP and then do what they tell you to do right away. Don’t come up with excuses not to jump into it right away. If you want to make your business work, you’ve got to put it first.
You were still flipping houses at that time, correct?
Yeah, when SGI found me, my sister was helping me, and we had just bought basically five houses. So, I had to get those houses ready and put them on the market. In hindsight, I would’ve just sold all five houses and started working on my business.
By April of 2019, you were ready to implement the system and commit to changing the business?
That’s correct, yeah. April of 2019, I had hired Jessica, and she’s the full-time office manager for me. And I brought her in here to work with me because I had just started working my business basically full-time. Before that, I had never even spent a whole day in the office, for years. I was always out doing my houses or working on the jobs with the guys. So then I decided I had to do it full-time and I hired Jessica. And she’s like, “What do I do?” And I said, “I don’t know, but there’s all these videos online.” [Laughter] You’re laughing about it, but this is exactly what happened. She learned what we were doing by watching videos and reading stuff on the SGI HUB. She learned her whole job on the Hub. It’s funny, but she knows more about this stuff than I do. [Laughter] I have a vision and know where I want to go, and Jessica gets us there.
Did she initially start out taking over the phones for you?
Yeah, that’s what I hired her to do was the phones, but then I quickly realized that she was much more than just someone who was going to do my phones for me.
That was a big first step—realizing you needed someone to help you capture every opportunity?
Yeah. Well, the phones were definitely the very first part, like that changed everything. Answering the phones the right way and booking the calls, that’s where it all started, and it went from there.
At that point, did you address your pricing?
So, yeah, I tried to start implementing the book I would say in January. And I wasn’t having much success with it, but I think that’s because we weren’t answering the phones right and booking the calls the right way yet. Really everything started once we started answering the phones. As soon as we started answering the phones correctly, even though I thought the prices were too high at EP, I quickly realized that we could go up even further in prices. It’s stupid to say, but I’ve been too busy to implement a new book to go and make more money. [Laughter.] But the money is there, and we should be in a higher book, 100 percent. That’s on my list of things to get done in the next month.
How about a dispatch fee? Was that new to Safe Electric?
Yeah, well, we never did the dispatch fee and that’s the push-back that we got on the phones initially, real or imagined. When people started paying $69, that changed everything. We realized those were the people we wanted as our customers.
If you’re charging more, you need to provide more value. Did you implement uniforms at that point?
Previously, I never had any uniforms for my guys or anything. So, we got in uniforms at the beginning of ’19. I knew that I wanted to brand right, so when I went to my first Expo, I had some ideas on how I wanted my trucks to look. I went to a little seminar with Jimmie Dale, and afterwards, I met with him, and I said, “Hey, can you take a look at this truck that I’ve got?” And he looked at it, and he said, “It’s an awesome idea, I like it, but why aren’t you using a brighter color?” And I said, “Well, I want my trucks to look vintage and retro.” And he said, “Yellow’s a retro color.” He said, “Milestone’s yellow. I’d have yellow if Milestone didn’t have it already.” That’s what he told me. [Laughter] So ever since then, I changed my color to yellow and wrapped my first truck. People tell us, “Oh, we see your trucks everywhere.” They felt like I had multiple trucks, but now I have five, and honestly, my trucks get me just as much work as any ads I do.
What did you do about training?
In 2018 I took two of the guys and I went to Service Essentials in Birmingham, to Kerry Adkins’s place. And I’d met Kerry at Expo and he told me about that he had Service Essentials coming up, so I went to that. Then the day that Service Essentials ended, the next day they had a regional event at Kerry’s. It was basically an open house. It gave me a whole inside look at everything that Kerry was doing with his company. And he had every single leader in his organization, from the people that were leading the electricians to all the office workers there. They gave a talk and explained their particular job, how they tracked their numbers, and so on. It was eye-opening. It sort of gives you a little road map of where you want to be some day.
You mentioned numbers. Have you adopted the ESI KPIs, and do you use the Daily Management Essentials Report?
I should be, but I don’t. But I know where we are, just from looking at what everyone is selling that day. I know what everyone’s done on every single job. As soon as they close out, I find out what happened. So I know that DMERs are very important to our business, but the way I’m running mine, as small as it is, I know where I’m at, exactly where we’re at on every job. It’s not that hard to keep track of five trucks.
So, you’re keeping a close eye on your gross margin on every job?
Yeah, well, exactly. And to be honest with you, we actually are making more money than I thought we’d be making on most of my calls. Service Essentials has been really good for us.
And we do a board, a daily board, so the guys can see where their numbers are. And there’s a competition going on between the guys, like they see it, and they want to be better than the other guys.
What are their incentives? Do you dangle a financial carrot, or are they purely driven by the competition?
Well, there’s competition, but I have lots of different things. We have a wheel with, I think, there’s like 13 or 14 different items on it that you can win. And there’s cash up to $50, there are all kinds of gift cards on it. In February, we had a “Share the Love” contest for Valentine’s Day. We told the guys, “Tell everyone you’re in a contest and try to get some reviews. So every time you got a review, a five-star review online, we put your name in a hat and someone was going to win a 55-inch big screen TV.”
The guys loved that contest. [Laughter] It really got our reviews up. And getting our reviews up really helped. As soon as your reviews go up, all the sudden your phone starts ringing. [Laughter]
Have reviews provided the bulk of your new clients? Or are you utilizing other types of marketing?
Google Lead Services has been pretty good for me; it’s $15 every time you get a phone call with that. With Google Lead Services you have to mark all your calls, whether or not they’re booked; the sooner you do that, the higher up you stay on Google’s platform on their Lead Services program. So we mark the calls as soon as they come in pretty much. We mark them whether or not they were booked or not. And if it was a viable call, Google will not refund your money. So I’ve just been marking them as booked because Google includes that in your number. [Laughter] Then Google makes it look like you have more booked calls in that area. If you look us up on Google Lead Services, depending on what zip code you’re in, we can have up to 210 booked calls in your area through Google. That looks huge for people that are looking for electricians. They think, “Oh, 210 other people have already used them.”
To change subjects, how has COVID-19 changed how you communicate with your team. How are you training these days?
So we just talk to everyone. Recently, they just had Service Essentials online, and I don’t know how they did it for me, but they did—they changed the time to a timeframe that worked for my company. I had three guys in the office last week and they did Service Essentials online. The guys loved it. So, it just took up from nine o’clock in the morning until 11. Then they went out and ran either one or two calls, depending on how they did on their first call. And so far, they have had a very positive experience with it.
Is your entire team doing inspections and providing options on every call?
Yes. And I mean that’s the tough stuff right there. We just came up with a checklist because I mean it’s a constant battle. We start talking about reviews and then all of the sudden you start getting reviews. And then you move on and you start talking about surge protection, and pretty soon your guys are all selling surge protectors. And then you start talking about arc fault breakers, and pretty soon your guys are selling those. And you look back and you’re like, “Hey, we forgot about reviews again!” [Laughter] So we’re coming up with a checklist. If our guys can get this down, they’ve proven over time that each of those individual items that we talk about gets sold. We have the checklist that SGI has, but I want to personalize it with Safe Electric’s little logo on it. Then, I’ll want the guys to go through it every time. I think it will be a game changer, that checklist idea.
Have you implemented a club membership program?
Yeah, we just started it this year. And that’s another thing, when we started it, the first week that we started I think we sold five or six of them that week. And then now we’re not talking about it, and we’ve probably sold five or six more since [Laughter]. But we could be selling them. I’m sure we could get a couple a day every day if we hammer it home. But that COVID stuff, it’s made it a lot harder to do the huddles and go over everything.
And to be honest with you, we’ve been so, so busy with work. COVID came along and my phones started ringing off the hooks, so much so that my Pay-per-click is down to like no money.
Are homeowners looking at the stay-at-home order to get work done?
I think people look at it like an opportunity to get things done, and I think they’ve been in their houses and they’re stressing out their systems. Also, maybe they’re noticing stuff that they didn’t notice before too. So we’ve been on tons and tons of calls that are perfect, my favorite calls where an outlet is not working, or half the circuit’s not working, or whatever. Those are the best calls that we ever run across.
How else has COVID-19 changed your business?
I mean it didn’t really mean much for us, to be honest with you. Because of SGI, I’m not taking credit for any of this stuff, by the way [Laughter] that I’m doing all this because I’m listening to SGI or Sonya or members on tag meetings or my Profit Platoon. I’m just doing what they’re doing. So COVID really didn’t change anything for us, except right before COVID hit, we had a home and garden show in Columbus. Surprisingly, my guys just came out and wanted to work it, so they came out nights and weekends. It was a long two weekends and a whole week in-between. And we had a little spin the wheel thing that people could win little prizes. I think I probably bought about $1,000 worth of merchandise to give away. And we’ve gotten so many calls from people that had met us down there.
Even people that met us down there have called in and said, “Oh, I’ve seen your vans since I met you down there. Now I see your vans everywhere.” It’s interesting. I think I heard it at EP that it takes seven times before someone will notice your company or message.
What were you giving away at your booth?
We were giving away a whole home surge protection to somebody, which we ended up giving away. And if you left your name, put your name in the hat for that, then we spun the wheel and you could win these little cups that we got, we had some pens, and we had some flashlights. The little cup was in the shape of a light bulb, and it said Safe Electric on it. And the flashlights had our name on it. I mean they were only like $2 a cup or $2 a flashlight or something.
You have all these names, and it sounds like you haven’t even had an opportunity to call them yet?
We have not, no, because we got booked with lots of work after that. So we did that, right about that time, I also did a radio ad because I do work with this company called IMS Barter, and basically it’s an exchange thing where you do work for people, and they pay you 50 percent in money and the other 50 percent is bartered money that goes into a fund. So we were looking at what we could do with those funds, so we bought gift certificates to restaurants and stuff. We put those up on the wheel for the guys when they do that. And also, I bought some radio ads.
From those radio ads, a lot of people, a lot of my friends were calling me and a lot of old clients called me and said, “Hey, I heard you on the radio and that’s great, I’m glad you guys are doing so great and, hey, when I heard you, I was thinking about needing some more work done.” I think the radio and home and garden show really helped.
I think I saw on Facebook, you did some type of Easter parade with someone dressed as the Easter Bunny?
Yes! The neighborhood that I grew up in, probably the neighborhood I do the most amount of work because I’ve been here my whole life, is a little area called Clintonville; it’s in the city of Columbus proper, just on the north side. Anyway, because no one could get out to see the Easter Bunny, we brought the Easter Bunny to them. We did an Easter Bunny parade. And I put a van in front, which is like a moving billboard, and then I put the Easter Bunny in the back of my pickup truck and then a van behind it. We went through the whole neighborhood. We let them know on Facebook and everything, on their little Facebook community, that we were coming, and people were waiting for us and waving because no one could get out. All the kids couldn’t get out. And we must’ve gotten at least 100 calls from that. [Laughter]
People call just to say, “Oh, thank you so much. I need some work done.” And while I was driving around that day everyone was saying, “You guys are the best. I can’t believe you’re doing this for our community. And we’re calling you when we need an electrician.” I asked everyone to post videos on our Facebook page and so people did. They posted pictures and videos. And I even made it into a little contest. One guy won a whole house surge for having a nice little video.
Who bit the bullet and wore the Easter Bunny suit?
So my girlfriend, Heidi, got to wear the suit and she’s perfect for that. She’s very much an outgoing person. And I don’t even know how she did it, but we literally drove, it took us five hours to drive through the whole neighborhood, and we even missed a few streets, and she waved the whole day long. [Laughter] I don’t know how she did it, both hands, she looked so excited when the kids were around. It was a great day.
You’ve added a lot of guys quickly. Where are you finding electricians? Are they seasoned or do you have apprentices too?
So, I found some people through Indeed actually. And then I’ve just lucked out. I had my top sales guy—I call him my unicorn, Tom, [Laughter]—he just showed up one day at my office. Jessica was here, and I had to leave in the morning to go run somewhere for an hour, and while I was gone, he was here. She called me and she said, “Listen, your guy just showed up here.” And I’m like, “What guy?” And she said, “The guy that we’re going to hire.” [Laughter] And I’m like, “He showed up there?” And she said, “Yeah, and you need to call him.” So, I didn’t hesitate. I knew if Jessica thought he was good, he was probably good. And I hired him right away. And he had been doing [a similar SGI model previously]. He just moved to Columbus, and he’d been doing this in Virginia for another company. And he actually worked for two different companies selling almost exactly the way we do it. Once we got him onboard last summer, he’s just taken off with it. It’s hard to hold him back. And he motivates everybody else, and he helps everybody else. My son Zach rode along with him. They worked together for probably three months and then he said, “Hey, Zach’s ready to move on and run his own van.” So now Zach is my number two in sales. And I attribute that directly, well for one, he’s young, he doesn’t know any better, he doesn’t have all that stupid junk in his head that older people have. And two, I attribute it because he learned from Tom.
So, all your new people are riding with Tom at first?
Yes, that’s what I’ve been doing. Everyone new is riding with Tom.
How long will you ask them to ride with Tom?
It depends. One of my new hires has years of experience being an electrician. And another one doesn’t really have any experience. So the one without any experience on electricity is going to be longer, of course, so it just depends on when they’re each ready. They’ve got a lot to learn. [Laughter] But the one without any experience will probably end up, like right now, he’s working on rewires and stuff. I need him to get plenty of electrical experience first.
It sounds like you’re hiring for attitude first, and you’ll teach the aptitude if necessary?
Yeah, right, exactly. I just had two guys that I would have hired in a heartbeat; they walked in the door Friday. I interviewed them. I would’ve hired either one, except both of them had a felony. And I couldn’t do it. I can’t hire a guy with a felony; they can’t pass a background check. I was very disappointed when I found that out, so now we’ve added that to the list of questions to ask before they come in for an in-face interview.
You’re adding people and staying busy when so many other companies are worried. What are your goals for the rest of the year?
My goal is, I have five trucks now, my goal is to have eight by the end of 2020. And I don’t see any reason why we can’t. Like I said, I have my Pay-per-click completely turned down to a dollar or whatever, so I can keep up with the work I already have. If I need to, I can turn that up.
If I find the right guy, if I’m going to hire them. Then, I’ll definitely turn up Pay-per-click and I’m going to make it work.
You also signed up for PlacementSEO recently, didn’t you?
I did. I signed up with PlacementSEO, and they’re working on getting some stuff done. And I think it’s going to be a game changer for my website. My best-case scenario I was on page two on Google searches; everything else I wasn’t even showing up until page three, four, whatever.
What advice would you have for other members, given everything you’ve done in the last 12 months?
I really just think that you have to go through Hub and pay attention to what SGI says that you should be doing and just start implementing. I mean just start implementing. If you’re not implementing, if you don’t have something going on every week that you’re trying to implement, then you’re not moving forward.
I should have asked you sooner. Are you in a Profit Platoon that is also a Tag Group?
No, the tag group is different than the Profit Platoon. I have a Profit Platoon with Amps & Volts Electric in Valparaiso, Indiana, with Kurt and Brenda, and Bill Streb with Streb Electric up in Cleveland. So right now, we just have a three member Profit Platoon. We’re hoping to get some more people into it. And then the tag group was pretty good for me, listening to what other members are doing. They had some good ideas.
You’ve definitely done a great job of networking with other members. How much is that a part of the SGI membership?
I think that’s a huge part of it. My next step I’m thinking of doing is every other month travel somewhere and see another SGI member’s place. That’s my goal for the rest of this year is probably go to three or four places, and hopefully the SGI members will be welcoming to me. [Laughter] I assume they will be. [Laughter]
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