If International Service Leadership (ISL) ever sought a “poster contractor,” Leland Smith should be ISL president Bill Efird’s first choice. Since joining then-called Contractors Success Group (CSG) in March of 1992, the owner of Service Champions Heating and Air Conditioning in Yorba Linda, CA, can’t say enough about CSG-turned-ISL and how the organization has helped him.

“It’s been great to me,” he says.

Smith’s business world looked bleak in early 1992. Then owner of Allied Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning, Smith had suffered 18 consecutive months of losses. And this was a company that had been in business since 1979.

“I was making pretty good money up until the loss area,” says Smith. “When it started breaking, I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know why I wasn’t making any money. I didn’t know why we weren’t getting any calls.”

Through word of mouth, Smith learned about CSG. Within two months of joining, Smith had turned his ship around, and he has not looked back since. In fact, when he eventually sold Allied to ARS five years later, it was a $3.6 million company.

Listening to what was being said at the organization’s conferences changed Smith forever.


“Implementation is the biggest problem that people have,” says Smith in his matter-of-fact tone. “I really believe at this point there is not a whole lot of new ideas. It’s just people failing to take the ideas being taught to them and failing to implement them.”

That was not Smith’s problem. He not only listened, he followed through.

“Every three months we’d come back to another convention and I’d be like a sponge,” he says. “I’d ask, ‘What do I do next?’”

Thanks to the educational conventions and the art of networking, Smith says he picked up plenty of strong advice and guidance. He was not afraid to ask for help, either.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot who come who do not tell what they were doing,” he says. “The thing is, they are losing money, but they don’t listen for the answers. I’ll listen and I’ll run back and make it happen as best as I can. I think that’s one of the key successes I’ve had. It’s listening and networking.”

At one point, CSG held what it termed “boot camps” for contractors. Over a period of a few days, attendees were given intensive business training, touching on marketing, service, employee relations, et al. Instead of sitting pat, Smith actively sought out the respective leaders after each day of camp.

“I found out I was not learning much from the four [contractors] I was paired up with, so I made sure to meet the guys I could learn from,” he says. “I wanted to know why this guy was the leader in marketing. Or, why this guy was the leader in service.”

In addition to knowledge being exchanged, friendships started. To this day, Smith meets up with his former camp attendees every three months or so, even if they are not in the business anymore.

“We still have a friendship,” he says. “Networking was the most critical part for me [in bouncing back].”


Even after selling Allied, Smith stayed with ARS in various capacities until Service Master purchased ARS in July of 1999. At that point, he walked away from the industry — but only for approximately nine months.

“It [retirement] didn’t work at all,” he says with a smile.

By March 1, 2000, Smith was at it again with his new start-up company, Service Champions. He started out with two installers, one sales person, and three service techs. As he put it, “We just started using everything that CSG had taught us — the principles, the philosophy. We started using the same marketing.”

After all, why mess with success? Believe it or not, Service Champions bloomed into a $3.5 million company in its first year of full operation. As a result, it earned ISL’s Contractor of the Year award (for contractors earning over $3 million in revenue) for 2002.

“All of my people were trained in CSG in one way, shape, or form,” says Smith, who now has eight service techs and six installers. “We deliver a phenomenal service. We’re kind of like the Nordstrom’s of air conditioning.”

Looking around at the contractors who were running about at the most recent ISL convention held in Orlando, all Smith could add was, “If these guys just listen to what is being said here, they will do good. The biggest failure is that they don’t implement these suggestions being taught.”

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax); markskaer@achrnews.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/06/2002