Episode #16: Chris Lalomia, The Trusted Toolbox

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About this episode

Chris Lalomia, owner of The Trusted Toolbox in Atlanta, shares his unique journey in business. Chris left a lucrative, successful career to start his handyman business from scratch. Today, he has dozens of employees and his business produces more than $5M in annual revenue. You don’t want to miss this one!

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Audio Transcription

Hello and welcome to another episode of the handyman success podcast. My name is Jason call one of the CO hosts founder of handyman marketing pros with me my partner in crime Alan Lee, founder of the handyman journey business coaching and of course, honestly, handyman services based out of Sacramento. If you’ve been with us before, then, you know, our mission here is to teach and inspire handyman and home improvement contractors. You know, teach them actual business principles and strategies and inspire that you can get over the hurdles, you can start a business you can do whatever you set out to do. And you will be taught and inspired by our guests, Chris. No, no, you know, don’t no expectations there. I’m just kidding. So, anyway, super excited. today. We’re here with Chris out of the Atlanta, Georgia area. Chris, if you don’t mind kind of given us a background on your business lay of the land and kind of kind of, you know, just set the tone of where you’re at right now.

Yeah, no, thanks for having me on guys. So my name is Chris Lala me and my company is called the trusted toolbox. I am a corporate refugee I left the corporate zoo, started my own handyman business back in 2008. If you all remember when that was that was the beginning of the recession. So timing really sucks on my part, but I was able to power through that. Today. After 15 years. I have a handyman and remodeling division here in Atlanta. And just recently opened a new branch in Athens, which is about an hour and a half away from where we are today. I’ve got 32 total employees I’ve got 15 handyman, to go out there and running our trucks and do work there. But the way I started was I you know, I’ve told this story. I actually had this in my book. I sold my Mercedes bought two white vans put myself in one hired another guy put him in that one. And I did everything that we all do. When we first started, I answered the phones, I did the estimates I did the work. I was the helper I was the Chief Marketing Officer, I was the number one CSR, I was doing everything. But I was building my process to get to where we are today to do that. So pretty handy. But right now I let most of my guys do all that work. Because usually when I get involved, either I either pinch my finger or cut my hand, which is what happened last week when I tried to help one guy that was

awesome. Awesome. Um, let’s see, before we kind of I definitely want you to talk more about like your background like history, you know, leaving the corporate world the zoo selling the Mercedes and buying two vans. But if you don’t mind kind of share in like, what are your like revenue goals this year? What’d you do last year, just to put into perspective?

Yeah, so the year before coming out of COVID. So 2020, then 21. It was good for us here in Georgia. And you know, obviously geographically based, we all had different experiences on what was going on. But in Georgia, we opened up relatively quickly and got ourselves back on our feet. So in 21, we had a pretty good year ended up about four and a half million. This year, we’re gonna end up right around five and a half million now that’s handyman and remodeling. So just the handyman numbers this year, we’ll probably do 3.1 and overall revenue that’s running between 11 and 15 techs all year, I was pretty short staffed the first six months of this year because of the just the shortage, everybody’s busy. If you got a solo, solo job, going to go solo handyman business, you don’t need to come work with me. The guys who like working for us are guys who were on their own and got sick of trying to find the jobs, do the jobs, find people to help you do the jobs, collect on the jobs, you know, be responsible and do all the invoicing and accounting that as handyman if you’re running your own deal, you know that that’s what you do after four and five o’clock every day to keep up on it. So our goal is next year are pretty lofty, we’re really looking to grow the remodeling business as well, I think the handyman we’re probably at the right size between 16 and 18. If we can keep that going next year, I’ve also got five guys who go out there and do the sales. So our guys are really having to go out there and do much of the sales I actually have on site estimators. These guys have learned how to upsell while they’re there, we call them add ons. Because again, if you know that the characters are the people, if you if you are your own handyman, you’re probably pretty good at talking with people. But you know that when you bring some guys in, they’re probably not as good at talking with people. They just want to show off that they’re an artist. And they’re craftsmen. They know how to do what they’re doing, but they don’t really want to talk to. So that’s how our guys feel.

So a quick question on that you mentioned like six to 18 or 16 to 18 is seems like a good size for the handyman side like what what makes you like kind of, I guess dial in what is the good size for the handyman division.

It’s been tough to dial that one in I have a full time scheduler. So we do what we call skill based routing. And as I’m talking to other guys who are maybe similar size as us in the nation, we do is we try to identify the skill set so we do it in all the trades that we work in. Now here in Georgia, we do a lot of wood rot repair, that’s term repair and outside houses, facia soffit brick mold, working on decks working on doors and windows exterior, a lot of our wood gets routed out pretty quickly. Because we’re in the southeast we have a lot of southern pine, but we also have that heat and humidity that really We eats it up. So we do a lot of that. But what we do is we try to find the skill sets of the guys, we rank them in eight areas, and we haven’t ranked themselves one to 10 In the beginning, and then we re ranked them as they do jobs. So my scheduler is the constraining factor isn’t that she’s, she is awesome. By the way, she was a basement remodeler with her husband for years. So she can’t You can’t bullshitter so she knows what she’s talking about. But she gets the right guy to the right job in the right day. And that’s the constraint. She does a great job. But it’s a Herculean task, no doubt, because I had to do it as well.

Okay. Good to know.

So she matches the job that needs to be done with the crux skill set.

Correct via the handyman, okay? Yeah, just like that. The mama the handyman that sends them out along their way based on who’s best for what?

Exactly right. And she’s the mama like I grew up with, and that’s the one who has the wooden spoon that’s not afraid to whip across your ass when doing something. So, but the skill sets a big driver. Yep.

So basically, if you had another one of her, you could have a bigger handyman business, basically.

Right? And what I’m going to do, the approach I’m going right now is to actually come up with more satellite offices. Atlanta is such a sprawling Metro market with horrible traffic, you guys, you’re in California might know LA’s traffic is bad. If you know DC, you know, DC is traffic is bad. But Atlanta has its own special breed of really crappy roads and a whole lot of people’s and they’re all still moving here. So it’s good for our business. But it’s hard for logistics.

Make sense? So can you can you walk us through kind of starting up the business? And what that looked like? And did you originally have a vision for getting it to this point? Or did you just have a vision of just view?

I did, I actually had a vision, I built a business plan. I’m highly I’m a big proponent of that, again, I keep referencing my book called from the zoo to the wild, shameless plug.

Now, your podcast and your book, Chris, like, truly like it’s good stuff.

So my business plan I set about doing it. And I actually found the template from score, which is a free template. And I wasn’t looking to make a paper out of this thing. I wasn’t looking to create a 30 page document that nobody would ever look at ever again. I actually used it to go out there and find other people to help me answer the questions I needed. So I had a functional org chart. When I first started the business. Now I filled every single box in that org chart. But today that org chart is been modified. But really I’ve started to fill I started figuring out what I was doing. And the beginning, the very first thing I did in the beginning was I kept it simple. I mean, you know the kiss method, keep it simple, stupid. I had QuickBooks Desktop, I bought a pretty simple client, server based CRM system called serve as CEO, which is actually out there now in web form. But I use the CRM system to kind of be the glue for me, so I could keep track of people as I was running around. But I had a call sheet in my truck. When somebody would call, I’d say, Thank you for calling to trust the toolbox. This is Chris, how can I help you? I was wondering if you can come out there and take a look at something at my house. I said, Well, I just happen to be in your area tomorrow, which didn’t know if I was or not, I just had to get out there and get going. And I was doing everything you did now. Yeah. So we got out there. And about Sister April, the recession really started to take hold in August and September. But I was able to bring on a lady to start answering the phones for me in October, because I had gotten up to four guys running around doing the things. And so we stayed at four or five for about a year. But that really helped me kind of build those processes. Because, you know, it’s hard if you’re a one man shop and you’re trying to even go to two or three. Those guys aren’t going to be you. And if you’re really good at talking to customers and convincing them that that’s the right way to go. And you know how to do this. And those guys didn’t know how to do that stuff. And so I found even with four guys, they just weren’t acting like I was. And I was having a lot of callbacks and redos. And what I found was, it wasn’t always them. It was me. Yeah, it was the way I was estimating. It was me missing some things and not getting the customer to say this is it not getting my guys to get a signature to start in a signature to end. But I was all paper based, and I had a gas card and that gas card sat with me you want to get gas, you had to come get me show up at the office or I’d have to find you somewhere and we’d have to fill up the truck. So I kept it simple. Now today, those processes wouldn’t have scaled to where it was but I laid the simple foundation and then we were able to grow and today I’ve got gas cards and they have Amex cards with purchase controls on him.

Sweet before I know we’re just gonna dive in here but before we get too in the weeds, if you don’t mind Chris sharing like your story of like, you know, you left a successful corporate career. You know if I recall from our conversation, you had the second home nice cars all that good stuff and then and then left it all to start this business. So if you don’t mind share with our viewers just kind of like your personal story and like leaving leaving all that and just kind of what what went into that jump you know, it’s just a huge Jump, especially at the stakes that you are running at,

it was a big jump. And it was a leap. I was I was, I mean, I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, I was, I was a very successful business guy, I was successful in three different companies engineer consulting, and then finally, in banking, doing what I was doing, and I was going up that ladder, but when you get up that certain level, the money is great, and it’s intoxicating. And it’s like the lotus flower right here. If you ever been to the casinos, in Vegas, you’re just in there and you’re running around, you don’t know what time it is anymore. But they keep feeding you drinks, you keep putting money in the slot machines are playing cards, and I was doing it now, you know, things were great. But I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy what I was doing. My wife had a great job at the time as well. So that helped. But that wasn’t the reason I did it. I actually took a year and a half before we even did the leap. So I made the decision to leave in 2006. And I used April 2008, as the leaping off point spring, getting the business guy figured out, you know, it’d be a good time to do it. But it was tough. So I, we ratcheted down our spend, really had to put the reins on the kids and the wife and say, Alright, if we’re gonna do this, I got to start saving the money. And I used a lot of my bonus money and options to start the business. Because one thing that’s really hard is I know a lot of guys out there will tell you the stories. Yeah, I just did it off a credit card, or, you know, I got my first job and I got my second job. And my third job and I was making money by the end of 30 days. Well, that’s not the way I built mine i i actually invested heavily in advertising in the beginning, I bought two trucks, like I mentioned, paid cash for those got them wrapped pay cash for that. So I I put away about 150,000 to start my business and I did not go the franchise route I actually investigated going franchise actually went all the way to discovery day, one of the biggest franchise companies still going and decided not to go with them, and pay the franchise fee, I just kind of take that money that they tell you, you gotta have it and say, Alright, I’m gonna go do this with 150 grand. And I burned through it there, you know, I’m an idiot, I said I was gonna break even go early, go quick, and the recession got a hold of us. Advertising was really changing. Back in Oh, eight. When you think about it, you know, I was told, ya gotta be in the phonebook. Man, you got to have a big ol big page, you got to pay them $5,000 a month. And I was like, I didn’t do it. So one of the smart things that it is I just got myself in the phonebook. And of course, today would even think about that, you know, other than the five phone books, I have gotten up getting a house. So I burned through some advertising, learn some lessons under price, a lot of stuff was overpaying. Labor in the beginning for revenue coming out and really was learning my lesson. And I thought I could breakeven in 16 months. And it took me about 20. But about 26 months, it was a little over two years where I started breaking even started making money. And it started to work, you know, the branding, I got all my guys in our shirts, and they weren’t khaki pants or khaki shorts, we put professional spin on what we do, you got trucks running around gas, I started figuring out my pricing model was way off. And again, we didn’t have all the stuff we had today, like your guys podcast, and those Facebook groups and these things to share. If I would have had all that in the beginning, I would have been, I probably would have doubted some of the numbers I’ve seen in some of these Facebook groups. But I would have known that I was way off on a lot of things.

So real quick, was there any Was there ever a time in these last 15 years when you just felt like giving up completely? Three times? Three times? Can you talk a little bit about those?

Yeah, you know, I was told that you don’t know you’re in business for yourself until you have to make payroll by going to get that one check, get it in the bank and make payroll where everybody gets paid. Except you. I did that I had to scramble on a Thursday night, got the check in there at 428 with the bank closed at 430 made payroll I have not missed payroll in 15 years, very proud of that. But there were a number of times and like I said three specific times where I said maybe the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. This is just getting too hard. I thought this would be a you know, it’s not that I was always in it for the money or I am in it for the money necessarily because that’ll that’ll absolutely defeat everybody. You’re doing it like that, that you don’t you make bad decisions when you’re thinking about how much money you’re gonna make today at 830 in the morning, you got to be thinking about taking care of business but what was happening to me was I just couldn’t get over that hurdle. I wasn’t putting away enough I wasn’t being able to take much out of the business and I couldn’t also put my reserves away that I wanted to for those rainy days because I just come out of the recession and that’s where I just said maybe this isn’t worth it, man. I’m just gonna be out and so that happened once I sat there on the couch. bawling like a baby man. I’m not gonna lie. You know, what have I done to my wife, my family, you know, what did I do? You know, I said I was willing to do this and risk everything but when you’re really doing it and thinking about just giving it up and going back to corporate America and saying well at least I can make you know you know big six figure incomes and go back but I realized I just I learned something about myself. I think as entrepreneurs, you have to be optimistic. You got to be a problem solver. You got to be tenacious. And I have all three of those. And so I just kept plugging. Then it happened again, where I was working for a an ex friend of mine, frankly. And the guy looked at me and said, You know, I said, Well, here we are, we just finished your bathroom. Just, you know what, you did owe me seven grand, but if you just split the difference with me, 3500 that covers my costs, he goes, now I don’t think any of that’s worth it. And I was like, Wow, if I can’t even get this guy to buy in to what was was, honestly, it was a good looking bathroom. He just didn’t like the timeline. And you know, I just didn’t choose my customer correctly there. I chose with a friend and a heart as opposed to not. And right there I went, Hmm. And even he said, Hey, have you ever thought about just putting the closing up? That was, was the last line he ever used to me, by the way, because I’ve never talked to him since. So that was number two. Three was right before COVID. Again, looking at it, you know, I’ve been at it for 1314 years, I was 12 years before it started. Was it really worth it actually got the business value and was valued pretty well thought maybe I get out and maybe get into consulting or do something else and maybe start helping other people doing this business, that one was really more of a soft one that was not near as hard as the first two. So I wasn’t committed to that yet. But COVID hit, things have been going really well. I’ve got some good people in place to help me run the business. So allow me to do stuff like this and chat with you guys in the podcast or on a podcast, took time to write a book. So now I think I’m in a lot better place. But guys, you know, it’s hard, I don’t care if you’re a solo guy, if you got three guys, or in my case, 32. It’s all just different levels of hard.

One thing I’d love to just hear you talk about is, you know what, you mentioned a distinct difference between, you know, going from yourself to like three, four or five guys, the processes would not have held for 32. So if you don’t mind talking about, you know, the different strategies a different way of doing things from one to five to five to 32? Or what did that scaling process look like for you?

Right? That’s a great question. Because as you go through this, you have inflection points, you know, one to five worked well, you know, I would see the guys were getting paper based, right. So I’d have to print out the work orders, they’d have to get them in their hands, go to do the jobs signature to start on the piece of paper signature to end bring the check back stapled to the piece of paper that today, fast forward 15 years, my guys all have iPads, we can take credit cards, we can bring checks, we’re actually gonna start taking them in the field, hopefully the next two months, where we can actually truncate the check or the credit card at time of purchase. So they’re all different points, though, like I’ll give you a good example is when I got to two sales guys. And I was really a sales guy at that point, I had an operations manager before the scheduler and I had two ladies in the office answering the phone. So those three would be in the office. And I would be out there selling along with the other two guys and I would be running six, eight appointments a day I’d be running like a fiend. I’d walk in there and I, I my my Bob that that that I didn’t have to do and I’d run out the door. And then a week later, nothing was done. I’m like, What the hell’s going on? I told you guys what to do. And I, the guy came up to me said, Chris, you came in and you were talking to complete nonsense and gibberish going 100 miles an hour, we had no idea what you were doing. We just figured it was like Chris moment. And they call it Chris crack. When I’m on my Chris crack, and I just came in, I realized at that point, man, dude, it’s time to start slowing down. Because if you want the team to go with you, they got to hear where you’re gonna go, where you want to go. And then you got to take the time, and be more, more thoughtful and more pragmatic about what you’re telling him. So I started to put it all down and emails started, write it down a little bit more, give myself some time to pause and start to think about just one thing at a time for a while. Of course, that went out the window pretty quickly with entrepreneurial ADD. And I still think about 25 things at once. But that was one. So inflection, I learned that I had to start writing these things down. Next one was scheduler, my operations manager said Uncle, I’m done man. I got I got eight guys running. I gotta order materials. I got to help these guys. We got to do training with these guys. I can’t schedule. One of their schedule. I realized man scheduling is hard work. So I quickly hired Deborah who’s my scheduler. And so we scaled up and kept going again. And then it just every point has been a new learning for me as you’re you’re going to continually evolving and to get to the size I am today. I’ve got to get my core nucleus down. I’ve got a good core group of folks in the office salespeople, project managers, office folks, and then what I do is I do a strategic meeting with them every year, and then I do quarterly in some time. his monthly updates depending on the pace of what things are changing. And so, good example this year, right? You think if you’re listening to this, you’re like, Hey, man, this guy’s got it. I don’t, you know, I don’t ever want to be like this guy. But you know, he’s listened to some things. It sounds like he’s got some good money coming in. Well, let me tell you what happened. You’re right, you don’t want to be as big as me. I’ve turned over my sales staff 100% This year, and I had to sit there all summer, go out there and retrain these guys on all the stuff that most of your listeners already know. And that is how to do this, how to do that, because we do a lot of different stuff. That’s what makes the handyman business so cool. Our repeat business right now is 40%, which is great for a company our size, but it’s because we do so much so many different things, you paint somebody’s house, you can do the outside the inside, then you’re done for about five to seven years. So you can’t paint anymore. You’re hoping for referrals. So what I did there is I had to go out there and train all these sales guys. So I was in the truck out there doing estimates training, three new guys. And now the fourth guy with the guy starting the Athens, one from literally May through the first of August. And so that’s hard. When you got what I’ve got going on on the outside, it was hard to pull away and take myself out of those. Everything else I was working on.

That’s good. And maybe you could talk a little bit about that, because I’m interested in your you said Do you have? Is it five onsite estimators right now? Is that the number? So what does that look like? And how do they particularly go out? And do estimates? I mean, are they so the handyman are in no way actually giving their own estimates. It’s only the estimators doing this is that correct?

They do very little of selling, that’s the handyman so my Tech’s we call them technicians, they go out and we talk about add on sales. And before I even talked about this with the guys, I was literally at zero on add on sales when I started this process. Seven years ago, and in one year, I went from zero to 300,000. In sales this year, I’ll probably do a little over 600,000, over five and a half million will become an add on an add on work. So the estimator went out there. He said, Okay, we can we can fix this door and replace that window guy gets out there, tech says, this door is not going to be able to be fixed and needs to be replaced. And here’s the price to replace it. And it gets an add on that way. Or you’re out there doing the work on the door in the window as specified. They’re like, Hey, man, I like what you’re doing. Can you go look at this other stuff I forgot to talk about with your estimator on my deck, you know, my railings are loose, or my stairs are loose, and maybe I got some deck boards, I gotta get replaced or drywall. You know, my kids just took a hockey puck or a basketball to the, to the garage. And can you fix that? And they’re like, Sure. So they they’ve done that, what we really train our onsite techs, and this is an expensive business model to run because you gotta pay these guys are 100% Commission. Okay, all right. We compensate them on their gas in their trucks that the drive out on, but they go out there and they gotta be 100% sales mode. Not, we’re not high pressure sales, which makes it again a little bit harder. But these guys get a, they get a cut. So they get a commission, they get a price list. But it’s a lot of art and science. You know, how long is this going to take somebody? Like we just got a playhouse guy wants to put this up in the back of his house. He’s like, Hey, guys, I got my new estimators like, well, how much so we’ll go out on line see how long the manufacturer says it’s gonna take I said, and guess what, as handyman, we don’t go twice as fast. So do you take those hours? Do you build it up like that. So we try to bid at half and full day rates. But these guys, their average ticket for onsite sales is about 3000. We also do sell out of the office where our ladies in the office our first touch customer Super Service superstars, will book a day rate or a half day rate for a technician to go out there and do the job. And these guys know that this is their audition, this is their time to shine, get out there do things our way the way we do, and get out there and start working. So with our art with our in house sales, they sell anywhere between 60 to 90 jobs a month. Our office was so strong for us.

So if that’s amazing. So if you do a half day and full day rate, so does you said sometimes your customer relations personnel would book that, if I understand you correctly, so would they book out like four hours and just send the technician out there and he basically does as much as he could do in those four hours.

So what we’ve learned is, I shouldn’t say whatever. Here’s one of the things I preach. I can’t exceed the customer’s expectation unless I know what their expectation is. So right exceed an expectation. You have to know there’s we asked for a list and some pictures from our customers and what what I found is, especially today people are pretty savvy. They’ll send a list. They’ll send you the pictures and the ladies in the office. I bring them in for training every other week where we we talked about here’s this job and here’s what it looks like. If you get a picture, if you have a question, you ask our operations manager who does all the ordering and support of the guys out in the field to help you price it. And that’s how we do it. Because it can really go the wrong way. If you’re a solo guy, and you get a call, and you know, Phoenix, like the back of your hand, or you know, the Dallas area, like the back of your hand, but I think you can probably price it without even seeing the house. But a lot of us can’t do that. And especially here in Atlanta, we can go, we can go downtown Atlanta houses built in the 20s and 40s. I know that if I’m doing the work, I grew up in one of those houses, it’s going to take me a little bit longer than the house built in the 2000s. That was sick for him. But so we try to get as many expectations set so we can exceed expectations. That’s good. That’s good.

I know, let’s see hiring and training. I don’t that’s a two big words there. But let’s start with like, how do you hire?

That’s a tough one right now. So I use it recruiter. I actually have used a lady to help me higher this year, because we are at 11. And that was really killing me with the size we are. Now like said we’re up to 16 Trying to get to 18. And they’ll probably put her in the backburner. Here’s how we hire and I came out of corporate America and I was what they call critically behavior interview trained. So I would ask all these really big questions, and I got some really shitty answers. So we bring these guys in now. And it’s more the sales pitch on, here’s our company, this is what’s going on, this is what you can expect to make. This is what you can do. Tell me more about your skills. And then we go ahead and do the ranking right there. And then we say the only way I know how to work with you, because have you come work. So we have them come work with us pay him for a trial basis. And what they do is they work with some of my more senior guys who’ve been with me for six and seven years, those guys rank and rate them, see how they’re going to do. And then we all see if this is a good fit for him a good fit for us. And then we go from there. We have a I think a very strong onboarding process. And what I mean by that is guys now will hop out pretty quickly when they realize this isn’t for them. And we haven’t worked with our guys for a week. And then they come in for what we call culture training with me. And that’s me telling you about our business, we use a mission plaque to explain everybody who we are our five principles, the three things in their company we expect from you, and why why we have a customer first professional attitude and what we do, then they go out, and then they get trained on how to use the iPad. And then we have consistent ongoing training every other Wednesday morning where we’ll always train around customer service, operational processes. And then the last thing would be something technical, whether it be how to apply popcorn, texture to drywall, or how to do a drywall patch quicker, or how to use shark bites, or how to use wire connections and not use wire nuts anymore. Because you want to make sure those connections hold is a guy doesn’t wire all the time. It’s worth it to buy the extra pieces. And again, if you’re good at it, you’re listening to this. Good, I’m glad you are. But all of us aren’t that good at an electrical. I’m a three out of 10. And so that’s one of my I can shock myself pretty much every time I touch them. So that’s what we’re dealing with.

How so every other Wednesday is the training those three kind of points. How long are these trainings?

There’s our we got to keep it short. Yeah, you gotta keep it short. I actually have a thing out there on YouTube about it’s keep an upbeat environment, we feed them in the morning, you know, we’re in the southeast, so chicken biscuits are king. And that’s only from Chick fil A, we used to switch back and forth between doughnuts and chick chicken biscuits and we were broke quickly that that that’s just not going to work. So bring them in, keep it open, keep it light, get him sit him down. Now again, if you’re on your own, and you already got three or four guys, I would tell you training is paramount because they’re not going to work like you are I don’t care if he’s your uncle, I don’t care if it’s your nephew, I don’t care if he’s your he’s your sister’s best kid ever. And you know you love him to death, but he’s not going to do what you’re doing. And if you’re not proactively training, you’re probably fighting more fires and you should be so we really hit on that. But what I found is these guys don’t want to sit there. There’s a reason they didn’t go off to college or don’t sit there behind a desk and jakirah computer and program stuff or work out of spreadsheets, because that’s boring mundane crap these guys want to go out there and be artists and work with their hands so we got to keep them moving and if we don’t do something technical where they’re actually either trying out a skill or picking up something that the other two things just kind of fall flat.

They’ve got to have a chicken biscuit in their hand to be so remotely interested in customer how

to have a chicken biscuit or two and just keep keep the conveyor belt running. Yep,

that’s huge.

So just to recap to so you know, largely using like online recruiting zip recruiter. They are on in this trial period with a senior guy for about a week. Before they even learn about the company,

correct? Yeah, we want to make sure that I used to do the training right off the bat. But we wanted to have the guys have some experience, what makes us a little bit different than a lot of folks is, our customer will get a text message at two hours before their intended appointment time. So most of our times are 830, start at 630, they’re gonna get a text message, and it’s gonna come from our technician through our system, it’s gonna say, Hi, this is Chris, I will call or text 30 minutes ahead of my appointment time. And 30 minutes out of that appointment time, eight o’clock, even if they’re going to show up. If they’re going to show up early, they call or text early, if they’re gonna show up late, they call eight o’clock. Because what we have found, and I find this even more and more customer service is more important today than it ever has been in our business. People let us get away with some things, you know, if I show up, and maybe I smell because I’m sweating well, okay, but this is hard work, Chris, gotta sweat. My shirts a little dirty. Well, Chris is working with a shirt with dirty Wow, I’ll get him on that. Well, he’s two hours late because he had to take his kid to school, well, okay, I’ll deal with that. So they’ll deal with it. But after a while, they really start to start to wonder why I’m paying this professional money. And I would tell you that I proven that if we act professional, than we get to earn a higher fee, we get to make more money and charge more than other companies. Because our customer service is more we call it the Ritz Carlton experience. We call it the trusted toolbox way people pay more to go to the Ritz Carlton than they do to go to Motel Six or Holiday Inn. Why? Because they experience the service, they’re willing to do that. So that’s why I train these guys is that you put shirt on you wear khaki pants, so the kick in jeans that are all ripped up. And you present yourself as a professional, you get rewarded as a professional. And that’s where the training has really started to take hold. And that’s where these guys get add on sales, they get reviews, at the end, we’re actually pay on reviews, they get a good review, I get an extra 25 bucks. They also get tips, because we are in the tipping business. And if you work like a professional come in, show up. You’re bringing your tools, your skills and your knowledge to bear that these guys don’t have these customers. Frankly, I think a lot of times customers think what we’re doing is voodoo. They don’t even know what we’re doing sometimes. You know, oh, drywall. Yeah, I looked that up on YouTube. That’s probably gonna take you all weekend. Wow, oh, my gosh, you’re done in three hours? Why shouldn’t pay 1000 bucks for that? Well, you should because I learned techniques and tips. I know how to do it.

That’s huge. So how do you how do you pay your technicians or your technicians? Do they have some any commission base or whatnot, because your estimators are fully commission

or commission based? Yeah. 100%. Is that correct? So our sales guys are 100% commissions. Our handyman are either hourly, if they’re working as a helper or an apprentice on a job, or they get paid a percentage of the job. It’s a pretty complicated pay process that we have. I use a CRM system called Don ago, which came out of the winning undergrad junk days, the white labeled it years ago. So that’s our web based system. But I also use a reporting system called encore with our iPads where they put in the percentage they put in the gross labor amounts. And then two days, every two weeks, I have a lady doing nothing but payroll processing to get these guys paid, right? It’s pretty complicated. I’m not gonna lie. It’s it’s convoluted. But here’s the thing. If you’re good at what you do, these guys merit base pay can make more instead of saying hey, man, I’m just gonna make 2530 bucks an hour. Some of these guys and these jobs are making sometimes 3540 bucks an hour. But they’re getting knocked out early. So what I found there is it incense them on quality incense and customer service. And as long as I can, one of our phrases is set you up for success, where I didn’t send you out to do a, you know, a five oh, picture window by yourself for 80 bucks and you’re gonna make 20 bucks doing it, then these guys have a chance because these guys seem to make a lot more than that. So it is commissioned based with opportunities for bonuses and three areas.

That’s great. So are these are these technicians? Are they a W two employees are 1099 It’s all w

two employees. So here in Georgia. I tried hard, but I couldn’t pass the CPA test. A lot of guys that go up against to be legit. Here in Georgia. You gotta be a W two employee because there’s a 20 point, I think a 20 point inspection process or whatever I failed it because they were my uniform that driving my trucks. I compensate them for the mileage and I tell them where to be Monday through Friday. subcontractor Yeah, that makes them an employee. Yep.

Yep. Yeah, that’s huge. And I think a lot of people don’t really understand that you know, out there in the world is is the difference between 1099 and W two and it’s important to see what those differences are and make sure that you are abiding by the law when that comes into play because 10 Nine Nine is great because you don’t have to pay like you know, workers comp and all you know, security and all that kind of stuff, but you can really get yourself in some trouble. If you are treating people like an employee and don’t I actually have them as a W two employee. So, yeah,

I’ve had, I think in 14 years, I think I’ve only had three, Department of Labor claims. And I want everyone, which, according to some of my other buddies in the home services world, that’s, it’s pretty hard to do. But it’s because I do have an expensive model w two, there’s no doubt about it, it’s an expensive model, it is, and you got to watch what you’re doing, you got to make sure you’re making your payroll taxes at the right time, the right amounts. But if you 1099, and one of the guys wants to go, because it’s not, it’s not the Fed, that’s coming after you, it’s the state governments that are coming after you to make sure that these employees are taken care of. And that’s where you got to watch it, you can run the risk, it’s up to you, you want to do it, you want to attend them, and you want to pay him cash under the table. But if they want to stick it to you, and go file a claim, and I’ve watched a buddy of mine go through the claim process, I’ve been audited once in my in my world, knocking on wood don’t want that will never happen again, because that was a that was definitely a pathology exam. But But I passed through. And it’s tough, but you can run the risk and hope to these guys just stay where they are. And don’t ever file a worker’s comp claim. Or don’t ever try to sue or go after one of your customers because you didn’t pay in the right way. All the horror stories are out there. There’s a reason it costs me a lot to run this business. There’s no doubt about it. My net is nowhere near what single guy would be doing nowhere near would it be when I had four people, but to run it legit. And to know that I can pass those things. That’s the insurance factor, right?

Yeah. I’ve kind of on the note of compensation. You mentioned senior guys, we had like six or seven years outside of a model that rewards them for quality work. What else do you do to keep people the good folks on board for so long?

That’s a great question. What I found is not everything has to be about money. So I offer paid time off so they get paid holidays. Think about that for a minute.

can be tricky, man. Just take them all right.

We did. And they were I took every holiday. I was like, Oh, we got another holiday. Well, that’s right. That’s another month. Another holiday for Chris. Yeah. So I do pay for holidays, which these guys a lot of them if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. So that’s a pretty nice little benefit. And we talked about that. They get one weeks paid time off after you’ve been with me for two years. And what’s wild is a lot of guys won’t take it. We have to force them to take it. There’s like what can I just get paid? I’m like, No, you gotta you gotta take the time, man. We also just something that’s I think it’s part of my culture, I feel very strongly that our culture is a good one can always be improved on but one of the things we do is we have an office. So I have the guys not only come for training, but once a month or once every other month, we’ll have a happy hour out back where we’re grilling food. Guys just show up after a job on Friday and sit down to have a hamburger I dog a lot of barbecue because we’re in the south. So what we do, so we’ll we’ll feed him that way. This year, we’re gonna go out on a big houseboat on that big lake outside of Atlanta. Last year, we went to a Braves game where they got to bring their families we had 90 people there. And so those are the kinds of things they like, but at Christmas time we were in a contest based on things that help us in our business, but help me as the owner, and they get tickets and the highest ticket earner gets gets to pick first from under the tree. And when they get to go around. It turns out to be like three times around the guy. So you know, we save up our Home Depot credit. So we get because we’re part of Nari so we get a Home Depot refund. We get quarterly and we get gift cards and refunds. So we use that to buy the tools that I hooked up with Milwaukee Milwaukee gives us a good deal on some tools. And we just got played out by some. And so these guys get to stock up on their tools and wild mature and established handyman. What’s the big thing we all go for the packout boxes, way to organize their tools? You think they’d be going for the oscillating tools, the multi tools. So I was asked now man, these guys are going up to the back outs.

They’re hilarious. Yeah, pack outs have gone crazy the last few years for sure. Yep, well, would you mind sharing with us some of your biggest wins that you’ve had over these last 15 years, both business and personally.

So probably the biggest win is that well, I stayed married. That’s a big one. That’s a good one right there that starting your own business and doing what I did was tough and it definitely was a strain. But personally, the kids both my kids are now once in college still and ones out of college. So I got them through to do that. Starting to enjoy more time off starting to have some good vacations. So if you follow me out there on any social media, especially Facebook, you’ll see that I like to have some fun. And I like to get out there and play hard, work hard and do that. professionally. My biggest kind of where I really Be proud of this is that I can walk away for a week. And I did this summer and came back. And literally the first day I was waiting for like tennis shoes, and I had one. And not even that one was that big. So the team I have in place to do that. I really take a lot of pride in the fact that I do have 32 people, and I’m not just taking care of 32. But based on them performing within my culture, doing what they can do. I’m taking care of 32 families. And that’s that’s probably one of the things I really go. Could I pick the business that could have made more money? Probably would have been successful? I don’t know. If you think I’m successful now. Yeah, let me tell you about those first four years, because they sucked. Your I am overnight success, just 1415 years in the making.

Just a really long night, you know, 15 year long night you made Yeah, so that’s great. So what would you say are some of your biggest losses that you’ve experienced over these last 15 years, both business? And personally speaking, I know that we’ve already talked about a few of them or hiccups. I think a better way to put it is, you know, what are some hiccups that you’ve gone through?

Yeah, hiccups, obviously, pretty much all of them are tied to Financials. And those financial issues that popped up were due to people. And so those have been some of my biggest losses is working with as many people as I do. I think Warren Buffett said the best, bigger isn’t better, better is better. I got bigger and better after I went through my last inflection point to where we are today to really start to pick it up. And but some of the losses I had to incur were people related. Either guys going out there and doing the jobs wrong? You know, I had a sales guy quit and then sued me. Oh, wow. Yeah. And lesson learned there. As soon as you get that demand letter, just pay it. Take your eat, check your ego at the door and pay it. I found that out six months later from a another attorney. I was working with one. And he said, I’ve never found a guy in the world who and I’ve been doing this they’ve said for 30 years. Nobody’s ever said I so glad I thought that demand letter. And they always end up paying more. So that was a loss. It hurt. It was a financial hit was a real mental drag for me to fight it. And I was fighting for six months. My mental state was not where it needed to be. And it was starting to show. So that’s probably the probably the biggest loss. Personally, I don’t know, man, I you know, I took the leap. I’ve never I never plan on retiring early anywhere. I’m 52 I’ve never touched any of my retirement from my corporate world days. So it’s all sitting there for me when I get to 62 It’s just, you know, kind of iffy right now. If you’re placing bets. I wouldn’t bet against me not making 62 I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m trying hard to not make it there. I gotta get myself back in shape.

Awesome. Um, one question we didn’t touch on. Team of 32. I know you mentioned just starting Athens I know that that didn’t go so well. On the first day. The just share with the listeners Chris share with us before we started that the day was the first day with AF your new Athens branch and your technician was a no show that.

Yeah, as as we’ve been here, I just got a text message from the manager giving me an update. I haven’t read it yet. But it says Missing in Action Tech has been found. So I can’t wait. Should be good. You know, as we grow this one. I’ve been training this guy for a couple months. We’ve actually gotten some revenue in Athens going through but this was the first time I’ve Alright, now it’s time to really run the trusted toolbox model. We built up some jobs. You got some estimates, full week’s worth of work. Let’s go get it. And sure enough, he said out of the gates, the guy didn’t show. I’m like, Listen, man, not only is that going to happen again, it’s going to happen often. But you know what, we can only get better. Let’s go solve the problem. And he’s over there solving the problem it because I’m getting a couple of text messages from him already. So yeah, you start things and you go, wow, what did I do that

pipeline thing I got detracted from my original thought there was if you could kind of give an overview of like your marketing machine that that that is, you know, sitting under and fueling, you know, 30, a team of 32,

I’d love to talk about that. I’m very proud of the marketing and the efficiency I’ve been running at. Lately, the last two, three years, I’ve been under 4%. Overall, advertising spend a revenue. But what I found is in the beginning, if I would, and I’m using this now in Athens, networking was big, if you’re a professional handyman, and you can take an hour, and then just two more hours, that’s three total hours out of your week, to get people to know you people buy from people they like and you’re good to handyman, networking. That’s big. Number two, you got to have that website. We all know that. But not only should you have a good crawlable searchable website that sends people to you by you know, hey, fill out this form now to get a hold of me. Make it easy for people to work with you. That’s what we do. So we have a chat we have online You can actually book online estimates with us on our website. So we’re actually been able to make that easier to work with. I do some print advertising as well. That’s my most expensive part of all of our spend right now. I’m doing all that advertising for literally 25% of our business. The other 75% comes from repeat customers satisfied customers who have referred us contractors that referred us. So the next thing I would tell you is, you’re out there, and you’re working, you’re a handyman, go talk to some of those bigger remodelers go talk to the plumbing guy, go talk to the HVAC company that thinks they want to start a handyman business, but I watched and try to start it, they’re not as good as you guys are. You guys will get referred on that all the time. One big thing that really juiced me two years ago, so in COVID, I also lost my social media guy, I was paying him very little money, because I wasn’t really invested in it. I wasn’t really thinking that was gonna be a big deal, because I picked place a lot of small bets. Well, he had to go back to his family business, because it was a medical practice and nobody will go into the medical office. So he had to go help his parents run his medical office, he goes to try this other guy. So I bring this other guy and during COVID never meet him. He lives an hour away from me, he starts working, I said, Alright, man, this is what I want. I want to Instagram, the trusted toolbox. I want Facebook, the trust toolbox. I want 1000s and 1000s of people to follow us and check us out because we’re really cool. And after six months, I’m like, Dude, we we’ve added like four people. I mean, what the hell’s the problem here? He’s like, blah, blah, blah, blah. He’s telling me all this gibberish stuff. And I wasn’t even really paying attention. Because I was so mad that I paid this guy for six months. And our first meeting in person was this. He said, Well, let me show you something else. And he didn’t know I was mad. I was listening. And he goes, Well, I want to show you your Google My Business page. I’m like, Alright, he goes, before we got started on it, you’re getting about four to 500 looks or views a month. Today, on my Google My Business page, we’re getting 15,000 views a month, our posts, and our pictures are getting three to 400,000. Lux a month. And my, my webpage is only getting 12 to 1500 a month just like it’s always been getting. And I was like, huh, so hear me and hear me now. Google My Business. You can’t fight Google. You can’t fight city hall. start posting your pictures out on Google My Business, get people to review you out there consistently, not all at once. Get some reviews out there. And you’re gonna see your online presence goes up and starts competing with some of these national guys.

Yeah, I talk about Google My Business, Google business profiles. Google Maps SEO more than anything else, because it’s how people search and find local services and the percentage share of people that are using Google Maps to find local businesses like handyman contractors. It goes up every single year.

Like I said, he’s so he’s my number one. He’s my rock star. I love this guy. At first give it like, man, what the hell? I mean, we still don’t have any Instagram followers. But Instagram and Facebook guys, that’s that’s influencing. That’s relational marketing, that doesn’t make the phone ring. I got now people

are on Facebook and Instagram. They’re just scrolling. They’re just doing this. And they don’t even know what they’re looking for. When people aren’t Google. They’re looking for something. Totally different minds different

intent. Yep. I tried. I tried to bounce them out to Google, to transact with them. And my bounce rate on that thing. I mean, it was like Flubber to use a 1950s reference but and this thing bounce. So I nobody was going to convert. So it’s it’s relational. If you go out there and check me out online, you can see the trusted toolbox, you’ll see my own customer service at free. It’s all just fun, informational, and relational. I, you know, a lot of people tell me they see it, but when they’re ready to transact with us, at least we’re somewhere in the mix. But it’s Google, Google My Business.

Yep. Chris, I know, we got to wrap up here. Before our last question, as far as we’ll have to give some parting advice and wisdom to anyone that’s just getting started or thinking about starting. But before that, if you don’t mind sharing a little bit about you have a podcast, you have a book. This is your time, man. All right.

Well, I know I’ve talked about a number of them already. Because shameless plugs, you can tell I’m still still a marketing and sales guy. But I’ve got I got a podcast called The Small Business Safari and I bring in, I tried to bring in as many people as I can locally, because we like to drink beer and talk to people but it’s all focused on starting a business and scaling your business. And of course, it’s been towards the handyman or the Home Services stuff. So I think it’s it’s definitely one I would add to the repertoire listening. We listen to podcast, this is one I listened to you guys. I I flitter in and out with you guys as well. I find topics that are really interesting to me at my size. And I listened to him so I love that. I’ve also got a book out there called from the zoo to the wide wild Your Guide to entrepreneurial freedom and wealth. It’s a pretty easy read. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it’s still selling copies on Amazon. How about that? Pretty excited about that too, but easy read. I think it’ll really help any size business because it talks about the struggles I had scaling the business and doing that by And you can always find me out there on like I said, social media and customer service dot freak, because I love so much about customer service and get into that I’m actually doing tiktoks Playing around with that seeing what that mediums like, but still haven’t found my way on that one. So we’re still, again transacting business on Google, having fun with the social media,

sweet man. And I can say I’ve listened to a few podcast episodes and cracked open the book. And I love the fun and the casual, real person nature to the content. So anyway, it was just a breath of fresh air. I think it’s pretty entertaining and useful. So the Small Business Safari podcast, and then from the zoo to the wild,

the wild. So what’s what’s the what’s the tie to Zoo Safari stuff?

Yeah. So yeah, just for fun. I don’t I don’t hunt. I don’t go and Safari. I don’t do any of that. But in the book, I hit it right off the bat. I was walking through the zoo here in Atlanta with my kids. And I looked at this gorilla that we had at the time guys names call Willie B’s famous here. And he was in this concrete cage getting fed bananas. And I’m like, Look at you, man, king of the jungle. Yes, I’ve been corrected. I know that that’s supposed to be the lion. But I’m looking I’m like, look it up all powerful. Just sitting in there. Had the TV running feed and bananas. I sort of walked away, which had the stroller I’m like, Oh, shit, that’s me. I’m sitting in my office there feed me all this stuff. Oh, Chris, you’re doing great. Oh, don’t forget to hit these timelines. I had 400 people working for me. And I was like, Oh, my God, what am I doing? I have got to get out of here and go run in the wild and see if I can do it. So I’ve been out, rumbling bumbling and stumbling ever since. So that’s a huge owning your own businesses out there. You’re out there in the wild world. And it’s fun.

That is huge. That’s awesome. And so yeah, what would you have for some advice for people just starting out? Or people wanting to start out in the handyman industry? What kind of advice would you have for him?

Obviously, you have a built in skill set. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll play to your strengths. And you’ll do that. I tell you, I got some great advice. And that was why don’t you go out there and work for a remodeler or handyman company first, and then get your chops and then start your own business and have a guy Nah, man, I’m too smart for that. I’m gonna do this on my own. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad idea. You know, I think if you went and worked with a guy for a while, or a bigger company, just to see how it worked out, that would be good. If you’re like, like me, yourself. Screw this, man. I’m still too smart. Here’s what I will tell you. All entrepreneurs that I have found, are very good with sharing information. As long as you’re interesting and have a lot of fun with them do. They’ll tell you stuff in corporate America? That was not the way we rolled? Man. If I had some information, I’d let you know if I wanted to let you know that I had some information, but usually I wouldn’t. So go out there and ask people who are in the business. Hey, how much do you charge and you know, use these Facebook groups that you guys got going on? I love those things. Because I look in there. I’m like, wow, yep, that’s good. Even if you’re 50% telling us the truth of what you’re saying, I’m close enough. And I’m like, I’ll figure it out. Because that information is key and powerful.

Mm hmm. Definitely. Definitely. Well, that is fantastic. We got to wrap up here. But Chris, it has been an honor having you on the podcast here today. Thank you so much for sharing all your wealth of knowledge in it, we got to have you on for another one. Because I think there’s so much more in your business that we did not unpack a lot of info for a

gorilla, man.

Give me a banana. I like my bananas actually in my Daiquiri. So that’s what smoothies smoothies are just missing one thing, alcohol.

That’s great. And then if you guys are viewing or watching this podcast, we really appreciate you guys watching, we would be nothing without you guys, we need viewers. So thank you guys so much for tuning in. I hope that you guys gained some knowledge or some information off of what we’re talking about today, I want to let you guys know about a few different things that you could do to get plugged in and go to the next level. First thing I would recommend is our we have a few Facebook groups out there we have the handyman journey mastermind group on Facebook. And then we also have the handyman success podcast mastermind group on Facebook. And that’s where we have all of our guests from this podcast, join that Facebook group we’ll get Chris over there. So that if you have any follow up questions, have anything that you were curious about one ask Chris about gorillas, that would be the place to do that. So check out those two Facebook groups and then also you can reach both me and Jason over at handyman journey.com. We have all kinds of things geared to help the handyman industry grow everything from free ebooks to books that you can purchase to courses to coaching. We would love to connect with you further. So just thank you guys so much for tuning in. We really appreciate each and every one of you and we will see you on the next podcast which comes out on the first of every month so we will catch you guys later. Have a great day guys.