At the Outset of a New Business, Expect the Unexpected


Jay Pawlowski
Lead Content Specialist
September 17, 2019
minutes to read

Planning to start a new business? Count on feeling like you’ve taken a trip to Bizarro World. 

Just ask Jerry Puleo, President of Tropical Heating & Cooling in Western New York. When he made the leap into business ownership, his biggest challenges came from completely unexpected sources.

“Everything was the opposite of what I thought it was going to be,” Puleo says. 

He can chuckle about it now that he’s grown Tropical Heating & Cooling into a successful enterprise with 11 employees, nine trucks and a strong reputation in a tight-knit community — but with everything on the line and his name on the door for the first time, it didn’t feel like a laughing matter.

What were his biggest surprises?

The Skilled Trades Gap Is All Too Real

“If I had to pick something that I thought was going to be the easiest thing in the world, and it turned out to be the hardest thing in the world, it would be help,” Puleo says. “That was the big shocker to me.”

Puleo had put out an ad seeking employees, but quickly found that being a brand new enterprise made for a very tough sell on experienced candidates. It ultimately took active recruiting to get the help he needed as Tropical Heating & Cooling got off the ground.

Now, Puleo says, “I hire almost everybody out of school. We train in-house. I don’t even look for people who know what they’re doing anymore, because you know what? You’re not going to find them, and they’re not going to do it your way."

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Not Everyone’s In Your Corner

Once he announced he was leaving his former company to start his own venture, Puleo got the cold shoulder from more directions than he expected — including the vendors with which any business needs to have a good relationship. 

“You know, everyone was my friend when I worked there, then when I went on my own, no one would talk to me,” Puleo says. “Never thought that would happen to me. So when I went on my own, I couldn’t get equipment, and then I was getting blacklisted by the place I used to work at. It was a mess in the beginning.”

It Doesn’t Matter How Experienced You Think You Are

Puleo experienced these and other major surprises despite being better-positioned than most technicians to strike out on their own. He’d started as a duct cleaner, then moved up to maintenance technician, service tech and service manager. He had good relationships, experienced multiple promotions, managed a team of 15, was his company’s sole user of the SuccessWare® 21 field service management software, and obtained plenty of exposure to life behind the scenes at a thriving company.

With that in mind, what would he say to techs who think about going out on their own?

“The advice that I would give is to really, really, really sit down and think about it,” Puleo says. “Most people I talk to don’t have the experience that it takes to do this and to make it work.”

So ... what does it take to make a new home services company work? Find out in upcoming posts as we continue to explore the journey from home services tech to business owner.

4. Add-On or Upsell Count and Amount

Here, we’re looking at repairs sold beyond the original reason for the call. Every time you enter a customer’s home your techs have the chance to sell value added work, beyond the repair itself. If you’re training your techs to sell add-on products, don’t you want to know who's doing it well, and who may need a training refresher?

5. Agreement Opportunities/Sales

Maintenance agreements are the key to a consistent client base and essential for keeping your team busy during the shoulder seasons. Every time your technician is in the home of a non-member there is an opportunity to sell. Are they delivering? You need to know.

6. Future Opportunities

Are your technicians talking to customers with forced air heat about the improved comfort that comes with a humidifier? How about the benefits of water softeners or whole-house surge protection? If the customer is interested, but not now, you need to be able to follow up on those opportunities.

How much money do you think gets left on the table just by failing to make a follow-up call to reintroduce an offered product or service? Tracking these opportunities can be the secret to putting more of that money in your pocket. These opportunities are the gold dust that’s hiding in your business. With a little work, there’s a lot of money just waiting to be panned for and earned.

7. Replacement Opportunities/Sales

Repairing a capacitor on a 17-year-old condenser, or the pilot on a 12-year old hot water tank? These are opportunities for replacement, and your techs should be offering that as an option along with the repair itself. You can determine what you consider a replacement opportunity in your business. But regardless of the conditions you establish, you want to know which of your techs is making the most of them. 

And if they didn’t sell? See the previous item. You should be setting this as an opportunity for a follow up.

Have any recommendations for additional information you’ve found to be essential? How do you make sure your team shares these details after each visit? We’d love to know — drop us a line here.

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