Welcome to podcast episode number 2 of the Mobile Alabama Business podcast. My name is Marcus Neto. I own Blue Fish Design Studio, a digital marketing and web design company based in downtown Mobile. I'm the host of the Mobile Alabama Business podcast where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started.
I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today. In today's show I sit down with Steve Carey. Steve owns and manages the CertaPro franchise for Mobile and Baldwin Counties. Steve and I have known each other for a while through our involvement in the Chamber. Among his many volunteer positions; he sits on the board for both the Eastern Shore Chamber and Mobile Chamber of Commerce.
In this interview we discuss what experiences Steve brought to entrepreneurship from his previous life as a fighter pilot. We talked about how he has molded the franchise to fit what his teams needs and how he is focusing on customer service to set himself apart in an industry that does not usually focus on customer service. So let's dive right in with Steve Carey of CertaPro
Marcus: Welcome to the podcast, Steve.
Steve: Great to be here. Thank you for taking the time to share this podcast with me.
Marcus: I know it's not something that people experience everyday so I appreciate you taking the time to meet with us. Now I will admit that you and I don't know each other terribly well, my wife and I had some work done by you and your team a couple of years ago and I was extremely impressed with your professionalism. And I know as part of my research for doing this session with you, I went back and did some reading up on you. You have quite the impressive past in the Air Force, and I know we were talking a little bit earlier and you were mentioning that that's a generational thing that your father was also in the Air Force and was a fighter pilot.
Tell us a little bit about how you ended up here in lower Alabama. And I'm assuming because you said your parents lived in the gulf coast in Florida that you're not actually from this area. So tell us a little bit about that.
Steve: Correct, I'm not from here, my wife is, Charlotte, she's born and raised in Mobile area and has a long family history here. We met while I was in the Air Force. I was a commander over at Eglin Air Force base. Flying F15's and living a good life as a single fighter pilot and then I got captured by this charming little belle from Mobile, Alabama.
Took her away and we traveled the world. We have 3 kids, we've been all over the US, Italy, Germany. My youngest son was born in Germany, ironically the same hospital that my brother was born in 1959. So I dragged Charlotte around the world with all my assignments and some great tours and our last assignment was up in Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery.
And it came time for me to retire 30 years Air Force colonel. I had some pretty good opportunities corporate wise, but nothing that really inspired me. I've always had a business itch. I started a young software business when I was a captain in the Air Force, and learned how easy it is to lose money in a small business. But it was a great experience and so as I retired and stepped over the edge from the Air Force, I looked at opportunities to start a business both brick and mortar and then went into the options on franchising and found out that there were some very good fits for me.
In this case the painting business, which doesn't sound like something that a normal fighter pilot would transition into, but as I tell people the painting company CertaPro it's not about painting, painting is what we do, it's about running a good business, listening to customers, delivering extraordinary experiences and that takes a lot more than just paint.
Marcus: Absolutely, yeah, there's a lot of different faucets to that business in customer service to dealing with new contractors to scheduling, project management, so on and so forth. And would you say that the Air Force was instrumental in teaching you those skills as making you successful in this business?
Steve: Very much so, I went to the Air Force academy, so that was a place early on in my life where I was given a hundred pounds of stuff to do and a 60 pound bag to carry it in. So I learned at that time you have to prioritize, you have to be pretty organized with tasks and tasks management, and from that point as I grew up in the Air Force, as I gain rank, as it gave me more leadership positions I begun to develop even better skills of people management, task management, and strategizing. Those are great skills to have in any business whether you're starting a small business and growing it or whether you step into corporate America. Those tools that I learned in the military have been very helpful in running this business.
Marcus: Very good, now you mentioned that you did a bunch of research before landing into CertaPro. So I'm curious what it was about this particular business, what was it that drew you to CertaPro versus?
Steve: That's a great question and I actually speak at business groups, and I talk to many new perspective franchisees across the country about that experience in my perception as I said, "Okay, I'm willing to sign up to buy this franchise." What convinced me as I was doing my due diligence, looking at other companies and other options is the way CertaPro as a franchisor handles me as a franchisee.
And I saw CertaPro, as the largest painting company in North America, I saw how they were more interested in making sure I was a good fit to run a business, to be successful, and to deliver the brand. They flew both my wife and I up to Pennsylvania which is their headquarters, they have a day with us where we meet a lot of very successful franchise owners, we understand the basics of starting a business, and then they interview both of us to see if it is the right fit.
What I learned up there is corporately they have the same culture as the Air Force that I grew up in. By that I mean they have great leadership, they have smart, educated leaders and vice presidents, and even at the operational level, folks that are really trying to ensure that we are successful.
And that convinced me that they were to give me the tools, the training, and top down oversight to make sure that I didn't stumble like most businesses, especially small businesses fail because they don't have any structure, they don't have the discipline to build business plans. And CertaPro ensures, especially as you start, that you have a good framework as new a budding businessman.
Marcus: And tell me again how long you've been doing this?
Steve: I bought the franchise in 2008, the start of recession, not a great business decision.
Marcus: Especially because you deal a lot with real estate.
Steve: Exactly, and obviously it impacted CertaPro as a franchise nationally. However, when I started it and I was recognized early on, my first year we were nominated as a rookie franchise of the year, I won as the top franchise in 2nd year of development. And what I did in my first few years and it's still the model I use now is I believe in very lean operations. I believe in as tight a control as I can manage, depending on how many jobs I'm doing, how many crews I have, and that hands on involvement is critical to being successful.
And I would say that's critical not just in a painting company, it's critical in any small business, whether you're building homes, whether you're selling cars, whether you're cooking burgers down at the Sonic. It's how you handle your people, how your handle your customers, and the conflicts that occur. Because the reality is in business there are going to be conflicts, some of them are small and minimal, some of them are bigger than that and it involves listening and making sure you're able to find a solution to the problem.
Marcus: Right, I will admit we are speaking to a lot of people, but you are the first person that we've spoken to that has gone into a franchise. And forgive me if I'm wrong but my impression of purchasing into a franchise is that they pretty much give you a playbook by which you go out and execute to some extent, but that there's some leeway for you to also make decisions that need to be made to fit the business to you, right?
Steve: What they offer me as a start-up business is the notion that you have to have a basic framework. There are certain standards that they want us to uphold, such as they want us to have a written contract, they want us to have a 2 year warranty. All those things are dictated in my franchise agreement.
The reality is once I signed, and they say you're now on your own. I'm on my own. I make decisions about my business and they can't say yes or no unless I'm hurting the brand or unless I'm doing something in contrast to whatever agreed to do. The advantage there is I can shape my business the way I want to, and I've done that here locally.
I have stepped out of the mold that they recommend many times and very early on. I make decisions such as, in about 3rd year I heavily invested in TV and radio. And I made that investment at the risk, because there's a high cost and that impacts a small business, but I made that based on my assessment of my demographics of my area.
How I manage my crews? I do something very unique here compared to most CertaPro franchises. All my painters at this time are sub-contractors. But they live and breathe the CertaPro way. And the way I ensure that is we meet every week with my supervisors, all the crews, their painters and workers. I uniform them, I provide them with uniforms to wear, they understand the contracts, and my contracts are not your standard, "Here's the basic price to paint X." My contracts are 3 and 4 pages long.
Detailed line items that go into whether it's an interior or exterior exactly what we're going to do, how many coats, what kind of paint, the levels of prep, and I'm very specific about that because I want to be sure that my homeowners know exactly what they've agreed to, and that we don't get into the, "Well, I thought you were going to do this. Or you said this." It's in writing, and I do that for the benefit of the homeowners as much as I do it for the benefit of my painters so it's easier for them to know what to do and not to do.
But they do, again to starting the business is they gave me a basic structure and template. What's neat about CertaPro is your first rookie year they're keeping close tabs, the umbilical cord still kind of attached, because that's a very high risk time for any small business, and there are plenty of folks that struggle during that phase, and they have a mentor / coach that sort of helps you.
You get with a group of 4 or 5 of your similar businesses, in this case your rookie year, they're all rookies. And you're talking about, well, this didn't work, and I had problems here, and you go through the learning curve there because there's a very stiff learning curve in the beginning.
The 2nd year they kind of snip the umbilical cord but they still keep you within eyeball distance and that's you're development year where again you're with folks in their 2nd year, you're talking about business plans, you're talking about marketing strategies, and warranty issues and application problems.
Marcus: So it's almost like a mastermind group within the company that you can go back to and share information and know that there's no competitive reason for them not to be honest with you.
Steve: Right, and that is a phenomenal aspect of this franchise, franchisor organization, and I've been involved in those think groups ever since I started. Then after your 2nd year you're pretty much on your own. Now you still have a coach that if something odd comes up. And what's neat about this business is that every year I've grown in some cases 50%, a 100% a year in terms of volume.
As I reach each plateau in the business framework I encounter new problems that I've never seen before. Some I made have a good sense of how to handle, others I may not know. So I pick up a phone, I can call Knoxville, I can call San Francisco, Chicago, Raleigh, Tampa, and ask them. Maybe folks that had been in the business for 10 years or 15 years, and as they've grown and problems they've encountered, they've been down that path, they may give me some ideas. And I do that.
This weekend I'm looking at doing some hiring and changing the strategy of the growth of my employees, and so I called four of the premier franchises at the bigger end to say, "You've been down this path, what are some things and pitfalls that I need to watch out for?"
Marcus: Right, I don't know what order these podcasts are going to appear in, so if these hasn't been released yet then forgive me, whomever is listening to this. We spoke with Kevin Mohler and he and his family are starting the Autism center here in Daphne. And it's interesting because he's saying the same thing that you're saying, which is a focus on people has always been, you know, I love Kevin because he's absolutely just insane. He's 27 years old and this kid has done more than most people twice his age.
Steve: Right, that's great.
Marcus: And so he's just, you know, he's phenomenal in that respect. But I thought it was just really kind of poignant how he was saying, you know, in your focus on bringing those contractors in. Because a lot of people that work in that industry aren't necessarily looking at a whole lot of experience dealing with customer service issues or things of that nature.
So if they're going to go out and represent you or the CertaPro brand, but ultimately you as the owner of the brand locally then it is extremely important to put that focus on their development and not just treating them as, "Well, you're just contractors. I don't really care."
Steve: And that's a very interesting point and I saw it play out in these meetings that I started about 3 or 4 years ago. When I first brought them in, there was extreme resistance to the painters sharing information because they look around the table and saw a competition.
Within 6 months when I finished those meetings after 30, 45 minutes I would walk out coming to my office, every single one of those 8, 10, 15 painters and supervisors were talking, sharing information. If one bit of equipment had failed or broke down they were sharing.
Marcus: So they had their own little mastermind group.
Steve: Yes, exactly. And that's what I wanted because I want to change the culture of contractors. The culture of contractors is one is mistrust, homeowners are usually disappointed by contractors, part of that is the homeowner’s problem cause they don't do due diligence to really know what they're buying. Part of it is because we don't have a system out there to train and standardize what our contractors provide. It's a pickup game.
What I'm doing is I'm taking a pickup game and guys that had been around for a long time that maybe pretty good at what they're doing; the reality is there is so much more that they can do and better at. And these meetings and being part of CertaPro raises their bar, raises their game.
Marcus: So the question that I would have for you then is those meetings that you're having, are those something that you have put together on your own? Or is that something that CertaPro has said this is ... So where are you getting that?
Steve: Well, a part of that, you know, as an example, my military time we would go, we would do an exercise for a week, you know, there would be a great, I mean, sometimes a year of planning before an exercise and you bring in millions of dollars of equipment, you do the exercise, and there's an after action.
Well, in a way those production meetings are sort of after actions. We'll come in, I'll philosophize, I have a certain, I have 3 goals which is about attitude and the things that I expect of all my painters. But then we talk about things that they all think that they know but the reality is there's such big gaps in their knowledge.
And so those after actions, those production meetings are critical to their growth and development. And this is one of those things that you can't just tell somebody, “Show up on time. Be neat.” I mean, that’s easy to dictate, the way you ensure...
Marcus: I had clothes on. I thought it was pretty neat versus, “No, you need to where a belt so your butt’s not hanging and no smell. Let’s put some deodorant on before.” Yeah, I know, getting very specific.
Steve: And so you say that, you reinforce it. But I’ll tell you the way your reinforce it, you show them some feedback from a homeowner that talks in glowing terms about what a crew did. I share with them feedback that’s not so pretty sometimes. And I go visit them on job sites and like any quality control event, I’ll go to a job and I’ll find things that aren't exactly the way I wanted.
But you've got to keep doing that to #1 to raise their level of reinforce and standards and remind that this is something that homeowners, we invade your home for a week, right? And we’re part of the interior of your house for a period of time with kids and dogs and all that. So neatness, politeness, kindness, listening, it’s huge. I mean, most of us are not good listeners. I mean, in general humans aren't good listeners.
And my painters think that they know what a homeowner says, but they tend to maybe talk and what I’m trying to teach them is just listen, don’t make a decision, sometimes step back and we circle the wagon and figure out, you know, maybe there’s a different answer than what we thought.
Marcus: You mentioned 3 goals; I don’t know that you said what the 3 goals were. Are those something that you can share?
Steve: Sure, CertaPro certainty is kind of what we are as a brand. And one of the things we do, one of our mottos or logos is painting is personal. It is a personal experience, especially for homeowners. Now I do both residential and commercial, but the 3 things I usually talk about at all of our meetings are the certainty, reliability, and attitude.
The certainty that they know that they’re going to get a certain product, they’re going to get the CertaPro brand. The reliability means that if I say I’m going to show up tomorrow morning at 8:30, I’m not there at 8:35. And I’m pretty strict on them because I do it when I go do my estimates or when I go to an appointment. If have an appointment scheduled and I’m late, traffic, I got caught behind, I have the courtesy to call 30 minutes ahead of time to say, “Ms. Smith. I’m en route, but I’m going to be about 10 minutes late. Thank you very much.” Homeowners love that, they respect that. I want my painters to do the same.
And we've always got reasons where schedules aren't perfect, but you have to have the courtesy and the awareness that this is the homeowner’s time. Don’t take their time away and frustrate them because you’re late. Appearance is huge and when I first started the business I said, “No tattoos, no earrings.” I've since had to adjust my approach to that a little bit, but I want them subtle, covered, I don’t expect them to be distracting in terms of their appearance.
Marcus: It shouldn't be something that strikes fear.
Steve: Right, exactly.
Marcus: When somebody comes to the door.
Steve: And you know, they now know I've gone from shorts to long pants and I encourage them to get in better shape. And this is a huge, I have a no smoking policy, I have a no vaping policy too which they would push that limit like any young kid like, “Well, it’s not smoking, it’s vaping.” I said, “No, no smoking period on property.”
So it doesn't mean you walk to the street, you don’t go out to your van or your car and smoke. You leave the property completely. What that has taught most of them is that how inefficient and wasteful their efforts of smoking are in terms of their job efficiency. And that equates to dollars in their pocket which they don’t get that.
Marcus: If you can complete more jobs in a period of time.
Steve: I had 2 females that were just phenomenal painters and they both smoked. I mean, they weren't excessive or anything, but I made them stop on the job. And now they at these meetings, they were proponents for it because they realize that having a cigarette and a paint brush in your hand is a distraction. You just can’t do things as smartly and as efficiently.
Marcus: And if you have to stop and even go out to your van or you’re off property like you’re mentioning, sometimes that’s 10, 15 minutes every hour or so, so yeah, I can see how that would definitely eat into an average day. You’re going to lose an hour of time.
Steve: And I do, that’s an interesting point too, because I want my crews to be successful, to be efficient, and to be prosperous as crews for CertaPro. I mean, I look at all sorts of small things inside the management of their businesses, I monitor their hours, I monitor their paint consumption. I look at the number of receipts on a job. And if it’s a 3 day job and they've been to the store 13 times for 8.99 to get some tape, for $15 to get a scraper and another brush, it tells me that that person has been off site and not producing. And that means that they’re not being efficient in making more money for themselves.
Marcus: Wow, that’s really impressive. What have you been focusing on lately to build the business? Is there an area in the business that you’re putting a lot of effort or focus, you mentioned advertising?
Steve: My business, the way the model, the way I've structured it is I kind of came out the shoot heavy with direct mail, heavy with yellow pages, I shifted and lightened my mail exposure and now I moved to TV and radio and I do testimonials, I paint DJ’s homes for free and they experience, Steve Carey showin up, they experience my crew supervisor showing up, my salesman.
And it’s the reality of what we deliver, not just them reading a note. And so their testimonials, and it’s fun to listen to them because they’re really describing what happened on a job. So the marketing part, the branding part for the first 3 or 4 years, I changed and adjusted.
Now with word of mouth, previous customers, and my internet growth, I began to shift more towards internet, and SEO, SEM, all those sort of things because I’m seeing a huge uptake there. I would anticipate within the next few years, that phones and apps, and all that will even be more significant in terms of those that want painting jobs. So I’m going to pay a lot more attention to that.
Likewise with my crews, the things I focus on and it’s been a huge, it’s always been important to the business, but now it’s more important as I get bigger is the communication. If have a problem on a job site, or if a crew has finished early and left for whatever reasons for the day, I need to know that. Not the next day when the homeowner calls and ask why did your crew leave at 3:00.
And they may have a great reason, but so we are eventually, and this is where the brand of CertaPro has the largest paint company in America is we’re about ready, probably within 2 years to shift to a cloud management system for the supervisors. So that supervisors can go, “we finished Ms. Jone’s left side of her house today, ran into some wood rot problems on the front deck porch, and wants to meet with you tomorrow or Thursday”. Click it goes up, I read it, my office manager reads it, my sales guy reads it, and maybe somebody else on the team reads it. But we’re all aware versus the kind of manual grind of communication that we go through now.
Marcus: Well, and you mentioned earlier and I won’t go into the numbers, but you mentioned that you do quite a bit of business here in the local area and that you've been quite successful, but that is made up of jobs that are quite small. And so anytime you have that amount of, I guess turns whatever you want to call it that if you have just like if it’s just a day delay that it cuts down on that productivity and kind of then your schedule is off for the next week and it leads into that. I mean it affects everything, it affects everything from customer service, “well you told me that you were going to start this week, but now you’re saying it’s next week” and so on and so forth.
Steve: Well, I pay a lot of attention to all my homeowners in particular previous customers because I have, and I've painted homes 3, 4, 5 times, from 2 bedrooms to an entire house, to their guest house, to their beach house. But all it takes is one disappointing experience to then taint that. And so you got to be on your A game whether I’m painting a door, or bathroom, or whether I’m painting a 5,000 square foot exterior. And my painters have to understand that. Sometimes painters by their nature may look and go, “It’s a small job.” The experience, the impact of that experience is the same.
Marcus: Yeah, repeat businesses is a heck of a lot easier to sell than new business, cause their cost of acquisition for a new customer, I don’t know what yours is, but in our industry it’s just, it’s high, it’s really high.
Steve: Well, and I do track that. I mean, when I pay for my mail, my TV, I have vans that are all wrapped, I put out signs. We ask everybody how they decided to call us. And it may not be precisely accurate as to what triggered them to call me, but if they say signs, I know signs are having an impact. And I track that. So at the end of a year I can tell you I got 75 leads from yellow pages, I got 300 leads from the internet, I got 400 leads from previous customers.
And I base my business plan which I begin in the fall every year and we review our business plan as a group of owners, 4, 5 of us, and based on the size of my business and the success of my business, I’m partnered with some very, very dynamic owners. In my group in fact tomorrow I spent most of this weekend putting together kind of a summary where we are after the first quarter.
Tomorrow, I'll meet over phone we’ll do a teleconference with a successful female franchise in Dallas, Texas, the owner of a franchise in a Chicago who used to play for the Chicago Bears, and he is a great guy. And another one in Maine who pretty much owns all the painting of CertaPro in Northern Maine and a little bit in the Boston area.
So the 3 of those businesses, all extremely successful and very, very dynamic, we’re going to sit there and look at each other and beat each other up a little bit, which is good.
Marcus: And there’s growth that will happen out of that. This question, I used to put a time frame on this but I don’t want to do that with you because I think with your experience that you may have something to share, but as a business owner what’s the one most important thing that you've learned and I used to say over the last 3 to 6 months, but I mean, you've had an extensive career in the Air Force and so on. So I just opened that up to you.
Steve: Well, and again I don’t need a whole lot of time on that because the core of what I learned in the Air Force is integrity first. So I could and I bundled that here. If you look at the back of truck where my face sits on it, CertaPro brings certainty and integrity into your home. So I would say whatever your business is, whatever you do in life, if you center it around integrity and you base business decisions on being honest, on being straightforward, you’re going to find the path to success. And it may not be steep, it maybe not be smooth, it maybe a little bumpy, but if integrity is at the core, you’ll do well.
Tied with that though is you've got to be willing to face the tough calls. And by that I mean, when there are complaints or there are issues as is in the case of a contracting world, most tend to run away, most tend to just not deal with them and ignore them. There’s not a homeowner or a problem that I have that I won’t try to solve. And a lot of times it’s me personally getting involved. I have to teach my painters that sometimes bad news is the right news.
Marcus: Well, and it may be a chance for you to blow somebody’s socks off too.
Steve: Right and we get up on homes where a lot of times, and this ties to the integrity piece, if you see something that’s wrong, tell the homeowner, fix it. Or let the homeowner make a decision about what needs to be done. In the case of a lot of my crews we will find lots of work that was either poorly done or improperly done that the homeowner knows nothing about because it’s out of sight and out of mind, and I tell my crews, supervisors, your job is to show that and tell them.
Now they may need to talk to me, we may need to kind of rethink where we’re going with the project, but tied to the integrity piece is be the bearer of bad news, find a way to solve the problems, and that ties to my focus for the month of April is about communication.
I could honestly say probably every month I hammer my folks about communicating. Because if I know the facts or at least what I think are close to the facts and the situation, I can usually guide everybody to a pretty good decision, to a pretty good resolution.
What happens is, painters will say X, my crew, supervisor will say something, my salesman will say something, my office manager and a homeowner, that’s 4 different data points.
They are never perfectly aligned and so you grab them, you squeeze them together and at some point you go, “Okay, it looks like this is probably what really is the case.” And when you do that and when you document what you’re doing and this is the anal part of the way I run this business, I have my crews keep a daily log.
Very seldom do I ever have to go to it. But when I have that daily log as a backup and there’s questions about what happened, a crew that maybe forgot what they did 10 days ago remembers what was said by the homeowner and I then go back and we talked about it and the homeowner goes, “Oh, yeah, I remember that now.” So it’s that again the integrity piece tied to the communication piece and through that it’s so much easier to resolve problems, so much easier.
Marcus: Wow, very cool. Next I want to ask you about some resources or books that you found helpful, often times we’ll talk to somebody and there may have been a book, maybe the E-myth or Book Yourself Solid or something along those lines that they've read recently that’s been helpful or influential, so are there any books or any resources that you've found?
Steve: Well, I’m a byproduct of the quality of movement. Wasn't necessarily a believer in the true TQM and all that, but all those books that came out of that era I've read or had training in some sorts during the 90’s and 2000. What I focus on more now is about the inspirational leadership, because running a business is, yes, management is critical, handling the paperwork, handling the tasks and priorities and strategies, all that.
But what’s more important in my view is how do I move and change people? How do I take a group of men, painters that have been, maybe not been trained as well as I would like, but they've been doing it for so long, they think that they’re good, and they have a long way to go to be to my standards. How do I move them down that path? How do I take a new salesman who maybe has been very good in a certain industry and bring him into this and teach him the hands-on tools that are required to be a good CertaPro salesman.
Although he is a salesman, I’m a salesman when I’m talking to my homeowners. Early on I actually felt that I was more of an educator than a salesman.
Marcus: Absolutely, consulting or educator versus...
Steve: When you approach it that way, when you go into a house not there to sell, and I've walked away from jobs. I've said, “This is not for you. I would not recommend doing this.” And I could have probably easily have convinced them otherwise, but I will give them the bad news, which is, “You know, you need to replace your whole house. You got Masonite siding that’s failed, and a paint job and minor carpentry is not going to fix it.”
So those are the kind of decisions you got to pass onto to a homeowner and they may not want to hear it upfront, but hopefully if they really listen, this circles back to being a good listener, they’re going to take your consultation and use it wisely for their benefit.
Marcus: Enough about the business, I often times find that with people that exhibit great leadership, that there are also some other things to learn from them regarding their hobbies or their interest outside of this, so you mentioned earlier that you scuba and obviously you’ve flown for a long time, now are you still actively flying?
Steve: No, I’m not flying because in my view flying it’s not a hobby, especially in that kind of business, and that’s one of the things that, you know, there’s a lot of folks that buy airplane because they can afford it, they think it’s something glamorous to have, and they don’t have the skill set or the proficiency.
And I know that running this business, it’s a full time job. I mean, its 8 days a week, at night I’m talking to homeowners, on weekends I get calls and questions and I’m available all the time.
So just like my handicap for golf, it has suffered, as has my ability to keep flying F16’s or F15’s, but I've consciously made a decision that I’m growing a good business. I’m not going to worry about my handicap too much and I’m definitely not going to fly F16’s or jets out there.
On a personal note what I do in terms of my personal life is I like to have fun and when we go out and have our business meetings with my other franchise partners is we will, and I’m one of the few that dictates it, out of 3 days we’re together, 1 day is non-business fun. As the one I was telling you in the Keys, we went ahead a 5 dive day in the Keys, we've been four wheeling in the mountains in Tennessee. We've been shooting in Dallas at a shooting range there. So we mix it up a little bit and on my personal side with my family, we like to travel, my father in law, a group of us went down to Mexico last year and we went diving with whale sharks. I just got back last week from a day at the Masters.
Marcus: And I find interesting too, you mentioned that when you get together with other franchise owners that you dictate that some portion of that be spent doing something fun. But it’s also there’s so much to get learned in that downtime, there’s so much to be gleaned from somebody’s personality and how they handle situations outside of the rigidness, I used that term loosely, of work. But also even in your own personal time getting away that I always find that there’s growth that happens outside of that. When I step away from the busy-ness of it all and get to a point where I can kind of free my mind of the day to day that I can also spend time casting vision for where I want the business to be 3 months, 6 months, a year, 2 years from now.
Steve: What you have to do when you leave and I go and do these offsite is I’m actually taking time away from a business to really think about the business. You've got to put yourself and that’s where I want to grow CertaPro to a point where I cannot let the business run me in terms of a full time occupation, that I’m actually running the business as a manager, as a consultant, as a strategist.
And that’s how businesses grow. If you’re always down in the weeds say in this case painting walls, you’re not stepping back, realizing that there’s 10 buildings over here that need to be sprayed. And that comes from not being heads down all the time.
Marcus: This final question is something that I've been asking people, what does an average day look like for you? So is there anything in your life that is a consistency that is kind of foundational, so you get up a certain time, you may read, or go workout, or spend time with family, or what does that look like for you?
Steve: It’s a long day, but what’s fun about my days and this is where I love my 30 year career in the Air Force is everyday I’d wake up and I might have one flight, but that flight could be everything from I did wonderful to I nearly killed myself, literally. And all of that doesn't happen in CertaPro. I don’t wake up to nearly killing myself. I wake up to a set day that’s very full with appointments and I’m a big believer in build a schedule, build a plan, and then that’s only a starting point.
So my day is vary dramatically, and sometimes they’re involved in putting out fire, sometimes they’re involved in negotiating, sometimes they’re involved in contractual reviews, sometimes they’re involved in sitting down with my salesman for 2 hours, or going over business processes.
I have lots of people that come in here, marketers, folks that wanted to give me tools and things that will make my business better, I have to filter them. And sometimes I do that personally, sometimes I don’t. Over the last few years I've gotten extremely involved in the community, both on the Eastern Shore Chamber, in the Mobile Chamber, as a veteran I’m head of the military affairs committee. That has taken a great deal on my time.
And I dovetail all of that with a business. That’s the plus of being your own business owner, because now if I want to go watch my son or have lunch with my son at school, I can work my schedule for that. If I decide that I want to go host an event over at the Chamber and speak to X organization, I can do that. It just means that I then have to reorient my schedule.
Marcus: Plan, yeah, that’s very cool. Tell us where people can find you, phone numbers, website address, anything that you might want to share.
Steve: The easiest way is probably my website and it’s a great website mobile.certapro.com. It really is a neat interactive website where you can see surveys and comments. You can look at a bunch of pictures of homes. If you have a question you can probably find an answer to it on that website. You can find a phone number, you can send an email. It’s a good starting point and it will either vector you here directly to my office where you can talk to Richard, my office manager. We've got a toll-free number too where they can at least take your information and we will schedule a no charge, free estimate.
And the thing about my estimates which are different than most other estimates is, I don’t come in there measure and then leave, I come in there with a laser gun, I measure completely, I sit down at your kitchen table, and I will work up the estimate, I’ll give you a firm bid, I’ll carry my laptop and printer, I’ll print it out and we’ll talk about it.
And then you’ll be able to talk to your significant other, your spouse or whoever. You can make a decision on the spot, or you can call me a week later and go forward at that point.
Marcus: Very cool. Well, I want to thank you again for 2 things, one for coming on the podcast and also for your service. I really appreciate that. So to wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you’d like to share?
Steve: The one thing I would share with everybody out there is, the notion of small business, I have gained an incredible appreciation for what it means to be a small businessman. It is the backbone of this country, there’s no doubt in my mind, and when we do things that restrict us as small businessman, that handcuff us, or just increase the bureaucratic paperwork on us, when you’re 1, 2, 3, 4 man shop, that’s taken a great deal of production time out of somebody’s schedule.
And so we need to be aware that we have to make it easy to be an entrepreneur, make it easy for somebody that has a good idea to put it in place, and then not make it cumbersome with a bunch of rules. And rules are good, you want guidance, but we tend to over dominate the paperwork in our lives.
Marcus: We can probably spend another hour discussing that and agree on that. But I fully, absolutely, fully understand what you are saying and agree with you 100% cause I think the percentage of effort of what you’re saying takes up in a business owner’s time is a percentage that they don’t get back because it’s non-billable and often times it is money that they actually have to push out of the business instead of putting into somebody else’s pocket as an employee or into their own as somebody who’s working hard.
I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur, and it was great talking you.
Steve: Good, well, thanks. I had a fun time, looking forward to hearing it on the podcast.