I recently returned from my first, but hopefully not my last, trip to The Big Easy. I was there attending Service Roundtable’s annual International Roundtable event. Having been in the industry almost four years now, I was surprised to realize enough people know me well enough now to recognize me by sight. I received quite the slew of hellos and hugs. In the past, when I have attended industry events, I’ve always been the one introducing myself and handing out my business card. It was nice to receive such a warm welcome. However, I feel that I can never have too many contacts in the industry, especially because I need to reach out on a regular basis for comments on a multitude of both business management and technical articles. So for those of you who were there, you may or may not have seen me walking around with none other than David Heimer, senior vice president of Service Nation, collecting business cards from attendees (at least from those who brought them).
In my time as business management editor, I’ve heard repeatedly from successful contracting business owners all over the country that the best thing they did was join an industry organization, get involved, and attend events. This was the case for Jim Batson, CEO of H.C. Blake Co. in Huntsville, Alabama, who, coincidentally, was named Service Roundtable’s 2017 Contractor of the Year. Batson joined the organization in 2010, after purchasing his 134-year-old family business from his uncle, right as the recession hit. The company was 90 percent new construction at the time, and Batson wanted to expand his portfolio, so he went looking for an organization to educate him on the service side of the business.
“The first event I attended was also in New Orleans, and I met Ron Smith and Matt Michel and drilled them on best practices,” Batson said. “After that first meeting, I got on a plane and visited the top companies in the country.”
After learning from industry leaders, H.C. Blake has evolved to 50 percent commercial construction and 50 percent retail service. The company has also grown from 35 employees in 2010 to approximately 115 employees today.
“I’m on a conference call every week, and I still attend one to two events a year — I also attend the EMA conference for marketing and some ABC [Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.] events,” Batson said. “Attending events is the easiest way to scale your business by gaining knowledge. You can jump on somebody’s coattail really quick at a meeting and learn what they are doing, then go back home and implement it.”
Dave Kyle, president of Lorton, Virginia-based Trademasters Service Corp., is a well-known member and past chairman of ACCA, and he belongs to an ACCA Management Information Exchange (MIX) Group. Trademasters was recently named ACCA’s 2018 Commercial Contractor of the Year, while Kyle was selected as the SBA Small Business Person of the Year for the state of Virginia.
Kyle is a vocal proponent of ACCA membership and participation in a MIX Group because, as he said, “It isn’t the technical side that puts businesses in our industry out of business; it’s the business part of business that puts businesses in our industry out of business.”
Kyle got his start as a tradesman. He pointed out that many businesses that fail have tremendously skilled owners who get into trouble on the business side. Organizations like ACCA offer training, seminars, and support for these types of issues. In fact, MIX Group members not only share ideas and best practices but also function as noncompeting peers to provide honest counsel.
Bret Foxson, owner, Comfort Tech, Millersville, Maryland, has only been part of a MIX Group for two years, but the experience has already benefited his company.
“My group spent some time at my shop in the fall,” he said. “They pointed out some potential issues that were easier to see from an outsider’s perspective. They suggested a number of improvements that we could make. We also always have other members of the group to bounce ideas off of. I enjoy having like-minded, ambitious friends that can help me and share in my success while I help them and share in their success.”
So if you haven’t already, consider joining an industry contracting organization and learn to grow your company. If you’re already a member — great — you’re halfway there! Now, think about what you can do to be more active in that organization. Attend more meetings and conferences, or consider joining a peer group. These events and groups offer unlimited networking opportunities for contracting owners to learn from the best minds in the industry. Now’s the time to take advantage of it and get involved.