David Smith grew up knowing he was going to join the family plumbing business — even though he admits he wasn’t a good plumber. Now 59 years old, Smith is representing the third family generation to oversee the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Minneapolis Saint Paul Plumbing, Heating & Air (MSP), which his grandfather started in 1918.
“I joined the company in 1978,” Smith said. “My father and uncle insisted I learn the actual plumbing side of the business. I worked out in the field as an apprentice, then a journeyman — I went to school for four years for the license to become a journeyman, and then I got my masters license, which allowed me to become an owner.”
The HVAC side of the business is relatively new compared to the lifespan of the company, beginning about nine years ago when Smith decided to branch out.
“We were really late in the game on the HVAC side, but it was there to be had,” he said. “We had enough technicians who had an expertise on the service side. We already had a portion of that business on the service side, so, we thought, ‘why not extend it to the install side?’ It just seemed like a synergistic kind of move, and that’s what we did.”
MSP currently employs 46 workers and credits its good standing to Andy Ryan, who was hired as general manager about a year and a half ago, said Smith.
“We’ve had growth in the 40 percent range in 2014,” he said. “Profits and sales are up since Ryan came on board. It’s a remarkable growth, and it’s because of his leadership.”
The company recently added 20 employees and saw its monthly customer base grow by more than 100 percent. Today, MSP serves more than 1,000 monthly customers in the Twin Cities area.
A New Line of Thinking
According to Ryan, one of the first things he did at MSP was revise some of the business’s operations. He looked into business practices and realized the company wasn’t fully utilizing its software.
“We had the software company come and spend a week with us. The paper invoices were causing a disaster because there was always a delay getting somebody to come in from the field to drop off their paperwork. So, I said, ‘okay, let’s utilize our software, get rid of these paper invoices, and go paperless.’ We now use tablets.”
Ryan also took a close look at the types of services the company was providing to customers. “It was different for every technician. That would be like you going to a McDonalds in one town and a McDonalds in another town and getting two completely different Big Macs. And, no matter what country or state you go to get a Big Mac, it’s the same Big Mac. It’s no different in the service business. If you get service provided by one tech, you should get the same service provided by another.”
Ryan tailored the customer experience all the way down to how the technician walked into a home and talked to a customer to how the technician was dressed. Being clean and presentable is an important consideration.
“Our primary customer is a 35- to 55-year-old female,” Ryan explained. “We had to make sure we were approachable. In the past, our techs looked like car mechanics, and car mechanics, are often viewed as intimidating to females.”
He even changed the terminology from service technician to service expert. “The industry, as a whole, is changing to a group of individuals coming out of trade school. They look younger, and the last thing I want a customer to think is that they don’t have the experience of a service technician. So, now we call them service experts, that way homeowners don’t judge their age, demeanor, or look.”
And, because of the massive amount of changes Ryan implemented over a short period of time, many employees fled the company, deciding the change was too much to handle. MSP has only five original team members left of the company’s 30 employees when Ryan was hired.
“I knew we were onto something, because if you start changing things and people aren’t kind of shook up and addressing their employment, then we aren’t being aggressive enough.”
A Changing Culture
Brian Anderson was one of 20 new employees Ryan hired at MSP. He’s worked as a senior HVAC service expert for more than a year.
“A fellow coworker of mine went over to MSP and explained the benefits and what the opportunities were,” said Anderson, who boasts more than 15 years of HVAC experience. “And, after my initial meeting with Ryan, I didn’t think twice.
“The service we offer at MSP is above and beyond anything else I’ve encountered,” he said. “Just the base of what we do is better than any other company I’ve worked for. We give every client options and let him or her choose their own paths.
“The company invests a lot of money in us to train and be better all around,” Anderson continued. “MSP utilizes a particular system for day-to-day operations, but it kind of carries over to our everyday life. I know it sounds kind of corny, but, ultimately, I feel like I’m not even working when I’m at work. Not too many people can wake up and say they love what they do. Honestly, I feel bad for people who don’t feel like I do because I absolutely love what I do.”
Ryan also implemented an employee referral program. “We needed to pay someone to recruit talented workers, but our employees were doing the job for us, so we decided to reward them.”
The company is very focused on training and uses its membership with the Nexstar Network as a resource to help reinforce its vision and implement training in the field.
MSP also has a leadership team that reads books together and reports back every week.
“We’ve found that employees and service experts wanted to read the book the leadership team is reading, as well. And, our service experts spend most of their time in service vehicles, which have the hands-free technology. So, we’re hooking them up with audiobooks and podcasts.”
Shaping the Future
There have been many changes in MSP’s 97-year history, but those implemented most recently have had a very positive affect on the company’s bottom line.
“Just the software advances alone have allowed us to be far more efficient,” Smith said. “It’s somewhat remarkable. It makes the customer experience as seamless as possible, from the moment our customer service representative answers the phone to the final clean up. When I started, there were no computers at all. Software has really enabled us to be so efficient and very aware on a timely basis of exactly what’s happening, almost minute-to-minute. It really helps us run the business.”
MSP technicians are using iPads and customers can pay through mobile devices. “We’re trying to be extremely technologically savvy because it makes for a much simpler experience for the customer,” Smith explained. “Everything’s done on tablets and phones. Customers sign the screen, and we’re off. It makes the process more efficient for both the customer and our company.”
Ryan’s goal is to double MSP’s revenue by 2020.
“I’d love to be a household name in the Twin Cities. There’s no household plumbing and heating name here. There are a lot of markets and companies that dominate those markets, depending on their zip codes. I want to be a company that’s recognizable to all.”
“We’re training to basically strive for perfection in all aspects of the company,” Smith said. “We don’t want just satisfied customers, we want perfection. Building a relationship with trust — that’s our goal. Our ultimate concern is for the customer, and, by focusing on that, our long-term goals will be achieved.”
Publication date: 4/27/2015