SGI recently launched our own Podcast: The Successful Contractor. It is available to both members and the podcast-listening world through every major player, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and Pandora.
New episodes drop every Friday! You can listen to our podcast with Trent Urban of WireNut Home Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado or check it out in written format below.
- For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you, Trent, could you share who you are and your background with SGI?
Yeah, Trent Urban, WireNut Home Services, aka, The WireNut. It became Home Services after we went into multiple trades. We’ve been with SGI since 2004—actually, when they started ESI, that side of it. And then added AirTime after that, and then recently added PSI. So, we’re in three of the four.
- How many employees do you have now?
- Things have changed quite a bit since 2004.
Yes, they have. It’s been an interesting ride for sure.
- How has your community, Colorado Springs, been impacted by COVID-19?
Denver’s gotten hit hardest. Colorado Springs has its cases. And then it’s interesting to see the different responses to it. Colorado Springs has a decent chunk of people that are saying they just didn’t think it was as big of a deal as everyone was making it out to, but then that changes. That’s been one of those things to chase down. The temperament changes almost on a half-day basis. Just two days ago our governor issued a stay-in-place order and so that applied to the whole state—so we saw what I believe to be maybe the final fear wave that hits unless something more significant comes along that we don’t see.
- Have you had any company meetings to discuss and settle those fears?
So, I’ve been doing company YouTube™ videos, so I’d shoot a video, throw it on YouTube™, and share the link with everybody. We use Microsoft Teams™ very, very heavily, and so there’s been a lot of chat conversation on there—that’s how we stay in touch. We do videos daily. In fact, I think I live in front of the video screen, with meetings and things. That’s been good and bad though. There’s been a lot of cool things we’ve learned from this. And from a remote-management standpoint, I think I’ve gotten that training in hyper speed through all this.
Those videos I’m doing, if left unchecked, the team’s just going to be coerced by whatever CNN™ tells them to feel. They needed some other counterbalance, I felt. Everybody’s looking for some guidance in what to think here. I was myself. Once I figured those pieces out, I felt that I owed it to the team to share pieces of that as well.
- How have you changed how you run service?
Yeah, we’ve told techs to stop shaking hands—I was never a huge fan of that anyway because I figure if we’ve got customers like Howie Mandel, they really don’t want your hand in their hand. When we hand them our business card, you’re touching one half of it, the customer grabs it from the other half—you never have to touch. And it’s a nice way of not being offensive to someone. We have facemasks now. There was a shortage of those, but one of our service managers—she used to run a medical clinic, and she happens to love sewing—she took it upon herself to make a bunch that are reusable.
As far as cleaning supplies, alcohol or disinfectant has been hard to find, so we went with bleach water in sprayers, which it won’t freeze up. We’re in Colorado—it gets a little cooler—this is the time of year it can be beautiful or you can get a weird blizzard that pops in for a day. So, any surfaces we touch we spray and wipe down. My goal is that we continue on and we carry the essential nature of our industry while doing it safely and keeping people employed.
- How has training been impacted at all? Are you emphasizing even more so the value of every appointment?
Training has gone all fully virtual, which that’s another thing I think that’s been a benefit. We’re in that age where you can do that. I just don’t think any of us had quite figured it out. And so, I’m not saying we have, but we’re a lot closer now. And so, we’ve been doing a lot of that. Really what it comes down to for us is we do our regular training, virtually, but then we’re adding in messages from various people. I’ve shared messages that I’ve run across from friends, from the group, from all these different sources, and we get that in front of the team and do a screen share, let them experience it, too. So, they’re getting the message, multiple different messages, most of them mindset, a lot of fear control, back to basics, take every opportunity seriously. In a lot of ways, it’s strengthened our team.
- How about changes to the phones. Are your CCRs explaining these extra precautions you’re taking in the field to keep people booked?
They do, but we’ve still seen cancellations. Of course, we can’t control everybody on that, but we’ve got some different rebuttals for it, reminding them how safe we are. Just yesterday, we ironed out the details on how to do a virtual consultation. It includes two pieces. One of them is if they don’t even want us to the home, how can we help them over the phone or over video? That one is more for the simple fix, which might lead to a bigger thing, which might lead to them letting us into the home. In addition, there’s another thing I never would’ve thought of, but our HVAC service manager said, “Hey, we’re getting this struggle where people will let us in, but they don’t want to be near us. So, we set it up—the final details of this are actually being done today—but each technician has a link to their own video meeting. So, they can be in the basement, or wherever, and the customer can be in their bedroom. I’m sure we’re going to lose a little bit of influence, but it’s better than nothing.
- Are your technicians going to video conference the entire service call?
Once we have something to present, then that’s the point where we’d say, “Okay, here’s the link, when I’m ready I’ll let you know, and then that’s where we’re going to need you to jump on and I’ll share with you what’s going on. I’ll do a show-and-tell. We’ll talk about your options.”
- Are you going to communicate the options verbally, or are you going to send the customer a screenshot of them? How will that work?
Verbally (for now), but time will tell for sure, but again, we’ll be doing it over video. You can show them what we’re looking at. Just like I would if I were next to you. The techs then can use the share button to show them what’s on their tablet. They can see those options right there. They can see what’s available. As far as getting the acceptance, if the video is recorded then we could just take that verbal acceptance of it. Otherwise, we still would have to maybe have them go to the tablet briefly to either sign it or whatever.
- Interesting. You said you’re dealing with some cancellations. How has your call count been?
We’re about 40 percent down, approximately. It depends on how you measure it. But our revenue really isn’t down a whole heck of a lot at all. That’s because everybody’s taking it that much more seriously. I feel this is a time where maybe the complacency, laziness, and taking things for granted has died off a bit—and it’s a chance for the 80/20 rule to kind of kick in.
We did have a few people early on that we laid off because we weren’t sure what the congressional bills would come to, and we just felt guiding them would be too difficult. And the other ones I’ve just made sure that that message was very clear that if they’re working hard for us, I’ll be working hard for them. So, I didn’t have to say the other side of it—they know what I’m getting at.
- Which of your trades seems to be the hardest hit, in terms of call volume?
It’s actually been HVAC that’s been down more. Electrical, we’re booked out I think it’s two, two-and-a-half weeks right now. HVAC, we’re on a next-day basis, which is good in some ways, but we don’t like it in others.
We’ve been doing a lot more outbounding. Just Tuesday we challenged them with getting higher numbers, and the necessity of that, and they tripled their efforts, and they’ve been sticking to that.
- What’s your outbound-phone script sound like? How are you selling maintenance?
Maintenance is one of those necessities that keeps service businesses open in a lot of ways. So, from a strength standpoint, if we’re going to be here for people, we need to continue doing that, or it could lead to shortening up the size of the team. And so, we’re running maintenance for that reason, yes. But that doesn’t answer why it would be important for the customers. That reason would be, you have a lot more people in the home, using the home more, loading it heavier on electrical, heating, cooling, any of those standpoints. You want to make sure it’s all operating properly. There’s no better time than right now when you are home to get it done.
Here’s the other thing: I personally believe that once this is over, we’re going to have so much pent-up demand that you’re not going to be able to get to everybody. And so how many of these systems are going to fail because you didn’t get proactively in front of it? If one of these people wants to stand in line afterward and hope they can get you out in the right season, I guess they can take that chance—but I don’t know that it’s going to happen.
Our TV commercials were re-shifted to address the safety side of maintenance, too. Our outbounding has been driven to that. I don’t know that we’ve really attacked the shortage, future shortage, aspect of it enough. But that’s something that we can add in as needed along the way, letting them know. It’s just like the housing industry—they didn’t build homes for many years, and what do you see now? Inventory shortage and housing’s been through the roof for years because of it.
- Are you only out-bounding club members? Or are you outbouding anyone that’s used you in the past? What’s been your approach?
We started with club members, and then we’re also adding in people that have used us in the past. Also, in September, I bought a customer list—we’ve been contacting them as well.
- You mentioned your marketing strategy. Weren’t you recently on the local news?
Yes, I did a live interview actually a week ago today with the local Fox TV™ station. And we talked about the essential nature of our business—we talked about the getting ahead of maintenance, the reasons for it, and how we’re doing it safely.
Then, as I said, we changed our TV commercial to address those topics. And then social media was never something I was a huge believer in. I just don’t think our industry is that exciting for people. It’s not like a sexy car or something. So, we’ve addressed that from pretty much a different standpoint, which is a real social side. We have another vendor who posts social media for us, and they’ve still been doing kind of the standard stuff, but our own efforts have been more social-based. So, we have an image of a bunch of us holding up a sign saying, “We’ve Got Your Back,” that kind of stuff. To build that trust factor. We’ve got that one on Facebook™. And then just activated our Instagram™ account, been doing stuff on Twitter™ also. It’s kind of teaching me to maybe reconsider social media a bit and do it perhaps the right way.
- Earlier, you mentioned you’ve learned some lessons about communicating virtually. Care to share those?
Yeah, sure. So, a couple years ago I somewhat enslaved my middle son, who’s very, very technology affluent, and I said, “Here’s what I want built out. I don’t want to rely on an onsite server. I don’t want to rely on if the internet gets cut to the building, any of that. I want backup for all this stuff.” So, we went cloud-based a couple years ago. And that was almost like the perfect primer for this because when we went remote everything was there for us, it was very easy.
We weren’t remote a little bit earlier than most people because we had a couple of young ones, the kids of our managers and so forth, that were at risk. In doing so, we’ve just had that open communication. As I said, I’ve been on countless meetings, video meetings, and they’re actually, in a way, more beneficial than doing them onsite if done right. You have to have the right frequency with easy access for everybody. We’ve found it’s not a huge stretch other than if you have to meet up for handing over some kind of whatever. Otherwise, the communication is there because you can see them on screen.
- How much are you talking with other contractors or business leaders about how they’re approaching this situation?
There’s been a lot of that, yeah. We’re sharing ideas, getting feedback, seeing what’s going on in different areas. So, yeah, that’s been good. There are other various friends within the group that I think I owe a call to or maybe vice-versa, but yeah, there’s been quite a bit of that conversation. And then I’m also in Vistage, a local peer group. So, I’ve got everybody from the CEO of a local credit union to the owner of a massive construction company, a software company, and all that, so we’re all looking at this from our different industries. It’s really enlightening.
- You’ve been in business for a long time. You’ve seen a lot of ups and downs over that time. How do you keep a consistent, positive mindset?
I count my blessings, honestly. So, I had a video conference with Vistage last night, and we were asked for one thing we were thankful for. And as weird as it sounds, one of mine was that we went through this. I think there’s a cycle, there’s a season in your life, for everything. And if you’re going to go through one of these, which you are going to, you’re going to go through challenges in your life, I think it’s good that I’m able to do it at an age in my life where I can handle it and maybe make a difference.
The really cool thing is seeing the communities, everyone band together, and be more appreciative of one another. For example, we have a take-out Tuesday around here now. You want to go support your local take-out shops, and so you go get take-out.
To answer your question more directly, I make sure to talk to the right people. I’m careful about where I’m spending my time. I personally don’t spend my time on the news much. I’ve never cared for it, and that’s part of that conscious decision.
- Earlier, you mentioned that you anticipate a spike in demand once this is over. What kind of long-term planning are you doing for it?
We have tripled our media spend, so we’re on TV way more. We’re actually buying it at a much better rate. Here’s one nugget: the car dealerships who usually consume all of the TV commercials, they’re not advertising now. Same thing with furniture stores and any other big businesses that are not essential. So, the TV stations need to sell spots. Supply and demand, there’s a huge supply, not much demand. We’re doing that. The idea comes from Henry Ford during the Great Depression. He wanted to take more market share during that, so we’re doing the same thing.
We’ve also been shoring up who we give money to. You can get a couple of months from various vendors, banks, anything like that. So honestly, just doing what I can to shore up and strengthen the company while also putting in that investment for what’s next.
One of the people that is working in our office every day—he’s one actually with a son that was a preemie—he handles our fleet. He’s currently there getting our vans ready. We need those vans ready by the time we pull out of this—so he’s actively working on that so we’re ready for the next phase.
We also have a new sales process that makes it way easier for us to bring in, what I call, kids into the trades. We have this all aligned in hopes that it’s going to make just a massive difference when we come out of this.