This is a follow up story for Patriot Chimney. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! My name is Mitchell and I started Patriot Chimney. We’re based in Roanoke, VA, but do business all over Southwestern Virginia. We provide our customers with chimney and dryer vent maintenance and repair services. That means we do anything from chimney inspections and sweeps all the way up to a full chimney build. Our customers are anyone in the area that has a chimney or a dryer vent that needs to be serviced.
The last time you interviewed me, we were making $21,000 per month. We kept chipping away, keeping at our goal to provide awesome, transparent, and trustworthy chimney and dryer vent services. I’m happy to report that we’ve actually more than doubled our revenue in the last year. We’re making $45,394 per month! The profit number I reported last time was after we took out the owner’s salaries. This year, keeping the same way of reporting net profit (post owner’s draw), we’re averaging about 38% net profit.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The last time that we spoke, I was moonlighting with Patriot Chimney. I had a job selling software and at night I would work on Patriot Chimney doing the marketing. In February 2020, I was able to quit my job at the software company to focus on Patriot Chimney. Right after I quit, COVID really started to take off and our business did suffer for about a month. Then, thankfully, we bounced back stronger than ever.
It’s extremely hard to get going. But if you keep pushing and working towards your goal, chipping away every single day, you’ll see the movement.
Since I’ve joined full time there are a few strategies that we’ve updated that have helped grow our company. We have an active SEO strategy and we publish sales funnels with drip campaigns. But our sales process and our strategic partnerships are the two strategies that I’m most excited about.
Our sales process used to be practically non-existent. We would get a call from the customer to do an inspection. All jobs start with an inspection so we can get an idea of what we’re working with. After the inspection, we’d fill out the condition report, and share all the findings with the customer with a proposal. We had a 40% close rate and a $333.15 average order value, which was pretty good.
Currently, the inspection set-up process is the same. But during the inspection, we talk to the customers as we discover an issue. What this does is primes the customer for a proposal. They don’t have the sticker shock that they used to since they are almost always expecting a proposal from us. Now our close rate is 56.8% and we have an average order value of $508.29.
We also set up a strategic partnership with local roofing companies. When a customer has a chimney leak, it usually presents itself as a roof leak. They’ll have a water spot on their ceiling near their chimney. The customers will call a roofer and when they get out there, the roofers will tell them that it’s actually a chimney leak. Maybe they have an issue with their flashing or their mortar.
Either way, no matter what the actual issue is, we get a call from a prospect expecting us to repair it. And the fact that we were referred by another company, that provides us with the social proof required to win their business a lot easier.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned in the past year is that communication is everything. I shared on Twitter that communication is everything. Whether it’s with your partners, your employees, or especially with your clients, you need to have effective communication.
I know it sounds silly that it’s taken me this long to understand that communication is key to growth. I knew that it was important. But now I think that it’s the most important thing that you can do in business.
Think about it: if you can effectively communicate the benefits of your services to your customers then they’ll buy what you’re selling. Communication is a two-way street that requires you to listen to your customers. When you listen to your customers, you’ll be able to actually understand what your customers see as the benefits of your services.
This isn’t a speculative activity. It’s not something that requires guesswork. In fact, it’s not something that you should attempt to guess at. You need to ask your customers what it is they liked about your services; what it is that convinced them to hire you. Once you have that information, you’ll know exactly what it is that makes your customers tick.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The first thing that we are trying to do is to hire more technicians. There’s a lot that goes into this. We’re creating and formatting easy-to-understand SOPs across the board for all the services that we offer. We’ve also started to categorize our jobs into three different categories: inspections, light repairs, and heavy repairs.
Inspections are exactly as it sounds. Just your regular inspections. These have a special focus because every job that we do requires an inspection first. And everyone with a chimney should have an annual inspection. Heavy repairs are repairs that will take a special amount of knowledge to perform, such as liner installations, rebuilding the chimney, etc. Light repairs are things that we can have a technician trained and on the road by themselves in 2 weeks. This is installing a chimney cap or repairing the mortar. Fairly simple stuff. Even though Light Repairs are simple, they make up 68% of the jobs post-inspection. So they’re very important.
Once we have more people on board and we’re able to start worrying about more projects, we’ll start building an inventory system for materials. Within the light repair category, there is a list of items that are used a lot. For example, there are only six sizes for chimney caps. What I want to do is buy all six sizes (quantity dependent upon how frequently we use the caps) and keep them on hand in our shop. This will do at least two things:
- We’ll be able to speed up our time-to-service. Right now, sticking with the cap example, when a customer schedules service, we need to buy a custom size for their cap. This may take a few weeks to get. We need to coordinate a deposit, deal with the manufacturer, and hope the post office can bring the cap in time. Our time-to-service goal is for two weeks. If we have it on hand, we’d be able to achieve that.
- We’ll save money from economies of scale. We buy enough stuff in volume right now that our manufacturer actually gave us a 20% discount plus free shipping on all of our purchases. That’s what we get for buying so much. But we could get an even bigger discount when we buy large volumes all at once.
In the next 5 years, we’ll either be expanding into HVAC or we’ll expand chimney services into Asheville, NC (maybe both!). We have been flirting with the idea of creating a branch in Asheville. Clearly, we’re a few years off of that, but that’s one place we’d like to be. HVAC would be a simple transition because even though some things are very different, the physics and science behind HVAC and chimney services are the same. HVAC has more electrical work to be done, but that’s not something we can’t get done.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I read a lot. Or at least I try to. Here is my favorite from this year:
Good to Great by Jim Collins - talks about how good companies can transition into becoming a great company. It’s heavily research-based and pragmatic. He mentions large, public companies. But the lessons learned will open your eyes to what it will take to make your company great.
E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber - E-Myth is a classic for business. The myth is that just because you know how to do the work sold by a chimney company doesn’t mean that you know how to run the business of a chimney company. Basically, this book will help get your business to work for you, not the other way around.
Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson - The version I read was a little outdated but it was still packed full of little marketing nuggets. Basically, guerilla marketing is a fairly low-cost endeavor. But when done right can create massive profits for your business. One example of guerilla marketing that we’ve employed is the use of postcards for the neighbors of our customers. We send a postcard drip campaign to five neighbors for every job post-inspection using a tool called SendJim. We’re still working on it and I don’t have the complete data set.
Profit First by Mike MIchalowicz - The normal accounting formula is revenue - expenses = profit. What the author says we should do is rework that to make it revenue - profit = expenses. What this means is that we should use a percentage to determine how much profit to keep. Then whatever is left should be our expenses. It’s a hard concept to achieve. But it’s interesting and worth a read.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Keep at it. I worked a full-time job for 2 years while running the Patriot Chimney. It was hard. I wanted to quit. But I wanted to succeed more. To take a page out of Good to Great, you should consider the concept of the flywheel. A flywheel is really hard to get going. You’ll need to push and exert a lot of energy to get this thing to spin. The first turn is extremely difficult, but you see some movement. The second spin is just as hard. The tenth spin is hard, but you can see that it’s getting easier. By the hundredth rotation, the flywheel is spinning and it’s not as hard anymore.
Running a business is exactly like that. It’s extremely hard to get going. But if you keep pushing and working towards your goal, chipping away every single day, you’ll see the movement. You won’t have much to look at after the first few months, but give it a year and look back at where you started. You’ll be surprised how far you came.
The second one is to talk to your customers. There’s no way that you can know what they are thinking and feeling about your services and marketing without talking to them. It’s more than just sending a survey to them, too. While that’s important, the best feedback you’ll get is from getting on the phone and calling them and talking to them. Better yet, set up a Zoom call to make it even more personal. Then ask them about what they liked about the services, what made them choose you, what could’ve been better, etc. Then take their language and market it to your prospective customers. If a customer is happy ask them why. If they aren’t happy ask them why.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am hiring a couple of chimney technicians in the Roanoke, VA area as well as a remote digital marketing intern. I’d love to have a college student that’s looking to get into digital marketing to intern with me. It’s unpaid, but I want to give experience actually working on a marketing campaign, help the intern earn valuable certifications, and build a portfolio that any agency would be proud of for an entry-level position. Plus, we’ll give a $500 per semester book stipend. And flexible hours and obviously work from anywhere benefits.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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