The Faithful Comeback
Many business owners experience difficult times – periods when sales are low and cash flow is a dribble. But when a business is on the brink of closing, it takes hard work to keep the doors open. And a little bit of faith.
Bill Campbell, 56, has been in the HVAC business for 33 years. While Campbell describes himself as a “worker,” in 1993 he took on the title of owner and founded West Deptford, NJ-based Campbell’s Comfort System.
The 17-year-old business has seen its normal peaks and valleys, like any other HVAC company. But in 2008, as the recession worsened, Campbell’s business almost closed. Campbell recalls seeing the oncoming recession in early 2007.
The Clouds On The Horizon
“We found 2007 to be an incredibly tough year,” he says. “We had weak sales, and our service sales were horrible. We started to feel the economy sinking. But in 2008, as the economy really started to tank, by the summer our cash flow was dropping, and jobs kept decreasing. We almost closed.”
In the early summer of 2008, Campbell’s gross margin was 40 percent, which is the bare minimum to keep a business open, according to Campbell. “At that level, if you are watching your overhead, you can be profitable,” he says. “But if you drop below 40 percent, it’s all downhill.”
Campbell said his anxiety and fears kept grinding at him. “I used to stay up at night and worry about paying the company’s bills and my vendors,” Campbell says. This ride on the worry train was about Campbell’s concern for providing for his family, his employees and their families.
But Campbell’s fate was not doomed.
The Kindness Of a Friend
A colleague of his, Bill Jones, owner of Hudson Valley, NY-based Jones Service Co. also knew what it was like to have sleepless nights, worrying about the business. But in 2008, in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in history, Jones achieved record-breaking sales.
Jones called Campbell and shared his secret: It was this consultant, Joe Crisara who had a website to help service contractors ContractorSelling.com. “I don’t care if you have to rob a bank,” Jones told him. “You need to come hear this guy [Crisara] speak.”
Campbell was naturally hesitant. After all, he had been to dozens of trainings and sales seminars. What would be different this time? As Campbell puts it, “I’ve been to so many training courses, and they are all so full of fluff. It’s canned presentations. And sometimes it works for the person who created it. But no one else.”
An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse
Insistent that Campbell try Crisara’s “Total Immersion Seminar,” Jones offered to actually pay for the course if Campbell didn’t see the value. “I was hurting at the time,” Campbell says. “I was struggling putting money together to go hear Joe. And so I went on faith from my friend’s recommendation.”
In August 2008, Campbell and one of his technicians went up to Hudson Valley, where Jones offered his service room for their “Total Immersion Seminar.” After the six-day seminar and five week coaching experience, Campbell knew his life was going to change.
“Bill Jones offered to pay for the class if I didn’t see any value in what Joe Crisara had to offer,” says Campbell. “But guess what? He never had to pay me a cent.”
Campbell immediately knew that Crisara’s method was extraordinary for a simple reason: It cut through the clutter and focused on the problems that technicians actually faced in the field. The following week, he sent three more technicians to the training.
Taking Total Immersion For a Test Run
Since three of his technicians were away, Campbell was short-handed and tried on a hat he hadn’t worn in a long time: service.
“When I got back, I generated about $7,000 in revenue in one day,” says Campbell. “After the first day, I knew Joe’s method worked.”
The industry veteran says the biggest problem with HVAC sales is that technicians are taught to hold information back and to make the decision for the customer. He adds that technicians are honest people and that the old-school ideologies put them at a disadvantage.
But Crisara’s method is the exact opposite.
“Joe is so down to-earth,” says Campbell. “And he tells you to be yourself, no matter what industry you are in. Joe’s able to communicate that to technicians and allow them to be honest with their customers. His method allows the techs to be perfectly honest and puts the decision making squarely n the customer’s shoulders, where it belongs. ”
“Before, when I went into a home and learned something about that customer, I used to make a decision for that buyer,” says Campbell. “I would decide, this person will probably want system ‘XYZ.’ I no longer do that. I go in now and say to the customer, ‘Here’s what I see, here are your options.’ Then I give him four or five options, ranging from one that is just a basic fix to a choice that is completely out of sight in terms of value and cost.”
Reaching For The Stars
Most recently, Campbell took a call and went into a small bungalow. The owners wanted to purchase whatever heating/cooling unit was the most efficient. Following Crisara’s method, Campbell offered a $33,000 package as a far-fetched option. And the customer bought it.
“Before Joe, I would never present a $33,000 system,” says Campbell. “I would have made the decision for the customer that it was out of their price range. Joe has freed me to do that, and I love it. I have no guilt involved because I skimped somewhere. “
Accountability Is Not Easy
Campbell has implemented Crisara’s methods as the go-to for his technicians. But for him, he has seen one dark side to Crisara’s method.
“The dark side is it forces a technician to become accountable,” says Campbell. “If they’re not working hard, the numbers tell the truth. I lost two guys because they don’t like the accountability. Let them go be mediocre somewhere else. Joe forces you to become what you are capable of. If you are mediocre and don’t follow the process, you will be mediocre. I’m not accepting that from any of my employees.”
Campbell has high expectations from his employees and says he doesn’t have time to micromanage his staff of 11. Nor is he afraid to reward his employees and has done so by creating an incentive program with revenue sharing.
Employees Can Live The Dream Too
For many of Campbell’s employees, Crisara’s method has been a dream come true. One senior technician practices Crisara’s method every day. And as Campbell explains, he is making money he never dreamed of. Campbell’s son, Brad, also attended the “Total Immersion Seminar” and follows its precepts every day.
Oddly enough, Campbell says money isn’t his motivation. But he recognizes a fundamental truth: You can’t do much without it. He enjoys the financial reward, but seeing his employees grow has been the best for him. “If I finish out my career, the fact that my employees can now afford to do what they want to do makes all the difference,” he says.
He credits their success to Joe Crisara.
It’s Not About Money, It’s About The Results
“Money doesn’t drive people to do what Joe does,” says Campbell. “He genuinely wants to see people succeed. And in the meantime, he grows. Joe has an extremely valuable service. He’s not cheap. And that’s fine because what he delivers is well worth it.” In fact, Campbell plans to send his employees for a refresher class with Crisara this year.
Campbell Comfort Systems has come a long way since nearly closing in 2008. After a leap of faith and hard work to implement Crisara’s methods, Campbell says business is now strong.
“We’re running somewhere around 52 percent to 54 percent gross margin now,” he says. “It goes straight to the bottom line. In 2008, I didn’t have a penny. Only a year and a half later, our bills are paid, and we have money in the bank. I used to stay awake at night worrying about my business. Now I sleep nights.”
For the self-described worker, Bill Campbell says his faith, hard work and following the Joe Crisara method has paid off.