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Charlene Ierna | How to Thrive in the Trades: Value Relationships

Charlene Ierna is the owner of Ierna’s Heating, Cooling and Plumbing in the Greater Tampa Bay, FL area and a certified alligator trapper. She shares how she balances her role as a leader and visionary in her home services business, and why valuing relationships is key when facing challenges.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the sharpest tool where we take the sting out of marketing with everything that we're bringing to the table here. I'm Josh Smith, the host and vice-president of marketing for the home services division over here at scorpion. And joining me today, I'm really fired up to have this guest on the show. You might recognize her from the woman in the trades webinar. We did a couple of weeks ago, and this is Charlene Ayana. She's the owner of Ayana heating, cooling, and plumbing servicing the greater Tampa bay area in Florida. She's also a certified alligator trapper. And that actually kind of makes me really excited to figure out how you get certified as an alligator trapper. You certified an alligator trapping and she just participated, like I said, in the woman in the trades webinar. So Charlene, welcome to the sharpest tool.

Charlene Ierna (00:51):

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Josh Smith (00:52):

Yeah, it's so good. So alligator trapping, is that a big thing out in the Tampa bay area?

Charlene Ierna (00:57):

It is a big thing of Florida. They're pretty rampant right now is season. So they're pretty much everywhere and just a fun little, uh,

Josh Smith (01:09):

Little side house lawyer. Now, what do you do on the side? I trap alligators. I'm an alligator trapper. That's awesome. So today we're actually, we're here to discuss what it's like to be a woman in the trades and it's especially the, as a, like an owner operator and how to run a successful home service business. And probably a little bit about what it's like to trap alligators, but we'll start off with a little bit about your background, your context. I want to give people some context to who Charlene irony is. You have a pretty impressive career so far. So give me in the listeners a little bit of context, how you got into the trades and to where you're at now.

Charlene Ierna (01:44):

So I got into the trades because I got this about 17 years ago today, we with a partner who was doing air condition work, and I was kind of watching this from afar and notice quickly that this was a huge opportunity, especially where I live at the time. There was not any AC companies out here. Uh, maybe just one or two tiny little like mama pop old-school companies. And I just kind of watched this from the side and thought, you know, there's really a huge market for this. And we would have to call into Tampa to get AC service. And I remember growing up thinking that was just bizarre, but no one in your backyard or are you getting your town? So that's really where that concept came in and, uh, joined the different chamber of Commerce's joined our rotary and just went with that idea.

Josh Smith (02:34):

Wow. So how many years have you been in the trade in total 17 and for your company that you're managing right now, how big is it and how long did it take to get to that size?

Charlene Ierna (02:45):

Well, we have 90 employees and right now we're doing air Christian and plumbing. Okay. And 17 years, we grew very quickly from two people to what felt like 90 overnight, but it really happened very quickly. It was, you know, two to 15 to 20 from 21 to 40, 40 to 60, 60 to 80, 80 to where we're at now. So it did happen, you know, relatively quick in retrospect, but it was a lot of hard work and at the time it didn't feel so quick, but in, you know, like I said, looking back, it's pretty cool.

Josh Smith (03:18):

Yeah. As an owner operator, I know oftentimes you can wear multiple hats. You're taking on several different roles for where your role is at today. What's your typical week look like?

Charlene Ierna (03:27):

So my role today is more of a visionary role. I like to play more of the innovative role. My role is generally, and typically to keep the overall health of the company at bay, to watch that, to look at our profitability, to manage our operating efficiency. I also have a strong leadership role and I also have the honor of being our brand ambassador. So there's some of the things that I do on a regular basis

Josh Smith (03:56):

Brand ambassador. So tell me a little bit about that. What does that consist of, and in your company?

Charlene Ierna (04:01):

So we are a pretty big advocate of supporting our community. We live here, we work here, we play here, we buy here. So for a long time, I spent countless days, nights, mornings out in the community, like I said, different chamber events, community events. And we still do that to this day, but you know, I'm a big advocate of this company. So I, I am out there, uh, as the faith a lot of times, just for example, and just really on the sidelines, cheering for the team,

Josh Smith (04:32):

You know, that's such an interesting thing, cause I know a lot of business owner operators, some of them like to still be really in the mix of the day to day from a technician standpoint. Um, and then others like yourself, they like to be kind of on the forefront of where the face of the company. Do you find that it's more valuable to have one versus the other, like as a business owner operator, how important is it to be the face versus potentially appointing somebody else in that role?

Charlene Ierna (05:01):

Well, I have a marketing department, so we also have an event staff. So we do have others that are the face of the company as well, that are out there at the grassroots level. And this is of course prior to COVID, but we are in the community quite a bit. But I also like to, just because I enjoy being the, the face of the company, I enjoy what we do. I love what I do. And I think that I'm better suited for that. Like I said, I like to be a visionary for the company. Yeah. So I think that as any wise leader would do is my time is better spent managing and employing employees that can do things that maybe I'm not necessarily great at, or maybe things that I don't necessarily enjoy doing. So I've put people in place that have built that team so that I can do the things that I'm really good at or things that I enjoy doing and then cheering for that management team to do the roles that they're tasked with doing. So I think it works well. I think that, you know, a lot of companies do that as well. I think it's become more of a newer concept in our industry. And I think it's pretty clever because this is an industry that's definitely growing, it's changing, it's evolving and it's not always been the most sexiest industry in the world. We're selling air conditioning where we're doing plumbing work, but I think a lot of things are changing and I think that's one of them.

Josh Smith (06:15):

Yeah. So you've seen a lot of growth, very short period of time. And you really seem to be kind of thriving along with that and the breadth of experience that you have. It's so unique as well. How would you say your challenges have evolved over time as you've continued to grow?

Charlene Ierna (06:33):

And I think the challenge is the common denominator is people specifically speaking to our industry, our people, our vendors, our distributors, they could be our colleagues, our competitors. It could be our employees, customers. So I think it's very normal for people to change. So our challenges are going to change because they all involve people. You know, there's really no rhyme or reason on how to handle people, especially when you have a different variety like we do as contractors. Like I said, that can be, you know, your competition. It could be people that you employ, people that you are tasked to work with your partnerships, your relationships. So I think what's changed a lot is, is our landscaping around that and the tools that those same people have that maybe they didn't have when I first got into this industry. And one of those things that I think of is social development and social media.

Charlene Ierna (07:23):

I think that's been a tool that's both a positive and negative for our industry. Of course, you know, consumers can go online and have their way with reputation, but they can also really be some of your biggest ambassadors out there. So I think the social development part of this industry has changed a lot since, you know, day one. And I also think one of the things that's changed, a great deal is I feel like our industry is so much more fast paced than it used to. And that's a challenge. I think we're also in a world where all of the people that challenge us are very much demanding, instant gratification and all that they do, whether it's an employee, whether it's a customer who needs their air fix today, you know, they've got a product plumbing wise that they want to day. And you know, that can be a little bit of a challenge, but if we didn't have challenges, we wouldn't have jobs. So we enjoy those challenges and it's what makes it all go around.

Josh Smith (08:18):

Yeah. Speaking of challenges, I'm kind of curious, obviously you were just on the woman in the trades webinar, talked a lot about being a woman in the trades. I want to bring that kind of full circle to the podcast here in a historically male dominated industry. What has your experience been like as a female leader in the trades?

Charlene Ierna (08:39):

So I get this question a lot. I am part of like a mixed group with my distributor. It's called Bryant women in HVAC. And I think right now there's about 300 of us women in there and it's growing and we talk about this a lot. And um, you know, for me, my role as a visionary, as a brand ambassador, as a leader, even on day one, when my role was, you know, invoicing and dispatching and answering the phones, my role is one, that's not gender based. A leader can be a male or a female. So I don't run into any obstacles with it. In fact, a lot of times when I'm asked that question, which is often I really stumble with it because I don't see it as a barrier. Yeah. I've never experienced any issues with it that I'm aware of. So if there are barriers, it's just not landed in my lap. Like I said, the role of an ambassador or the role of a leader, the role of an owner doesn't require you to be male or female. So I've not ever really had any sort of obstacles with that at all.

Josh Smith (09:40):

That's great. Yeah. And there's so many benefits to having women in the trades. You know, I have another female owned organization that I've interviewed and, and spoken with as well. And they love to talk about how sometimes female technicians are the preferred technicians to go into a home and they just have a way to make homeowners feel more comfortable, which I think is something that isn't publicized enough, I would say to incorporate and engage more women to get into the trades as a craft and as a career path.

Charlene Ierna (10:11):

Really. I agree with that.

Josh Smith (10:12):

Is that something that you encouraged to when you're doing a lot of your recruiting to really encourage a female technician base, or is that a bit more challenging to do in your experience?

Charlene Ierna (10:25):

And just because it's somewhat of a newer concept, you know, I embrace a completely, like I said, I'm part of that mixed fruit, then female technicians in that group. There's a lot of female owners in that group that are very technical. A lot of them do better installs than a lot of the guys that I tell a lot of them have come a long way. And I think that that's exciting. I would like to have more females on the technical side of the business and, you know, we're always working to find ways to obtain them. You know, there's not a day that goes by that someone from that mixed group or someone from another mixed group that I'm part of some of the best practices groups that I'm part of are sending me pictures of their new female service tech or their new female installers. So it's happening and it's becoming far more common, at least from where I sit

Josh Smith (11:11):

Now, you really seem to be thriving too. And, you know, despite the current climate and conditions with COVID-19, not all businesses are thriving that way. Do you have any thoughts or insights for running your company or a company during a time of crisis like this?

Charlene Ierna (11:28):

You know, I think it's like everything in life that comes your way, that's unexpected. Um, you can't control the challenges that are happening. Try really hard to control the way you respond to those challenges. And I think that's been super important over communicate with your team, collaborate with your team at all levels. I think it's been important to signal safety out there, you know, give them signals of safety within your organization. And one way that we've done that it's not done a single layoff since we've not pulled back in any way, shape or form. And that signaled safety to our current staff. We hired a lot of employees since COVID. So again, that signals safety to your team and you know, one of the best things you can do through a crisis when it comes to your workplace is protect your people, protect your human resources.

Charlene Ierna (12:17):

Those are the people that you need. And during a time of crisis, it's just super, super important that you over-communicate with them. Talk to them, be transparent and just be their work family word that we all consider ourselves at work family. And, and we, we try to support them with all the situations that they have because during this climate got employees that have daycare issues and some of them have spouses that have been laid off and there's a lot of things taking place. So, you know, just be that support system for them. And probably most importantly, just stay calm through it all.

Josh Smith (12:50):

Yeah. From a practical perspective, once COVID-19 hit back in March and we first got wind of a lot of the changes society wise and culture wise throughout the country, or taking place as a leader, what were some of the first actions that you did to help move the team through it?

Charlene Ierna (13:09):

So for us, you know, we were having to from the backend, just really evaluate all of the laws and the ordinances that were happening a couple of times a day. So we really had to, you know, self-educate on that quickly. And then again, making sure that we communicated that to the team from top to bottom, the entire process was when you look back on it is with a huge communication process that had to take place because no one had a manual on this. No one's given, you know, what COVID is going to happen, and this is how you should deal with it, or it wasn't like I could call a colleague and say, you know, a COVID hit you three years ago. What did you do? No, it's just never happened before. So really had to learn very quickly that communication was going to get us through this. And that's what we did. And then we just worked with our team. It was a lot of one-offs that we had to keep in mind posting a lot of memos and notifications and making sure that the safety standards were, were very, um, transparent and that the expectations of our safety standards were transparent. So all of those things that I'm pretty sure most of anyone listening did, those were all very important parts of the process.

Josh Smith (14:18):

Awesome. Well, Charlene, this has been awesome. You have such a wealth of experience. Um, do you have any final thoughts for anybody listening right now who is running home service business? It might be running up against some of these challenges given the current climate,

Charlene Ierna (14:32):

You know, I think just have tenacity, you know, have a plan, but the don't marry it no into pivot. It can be a tricky situation and, and have a plan, but be flexible. How about how you get there? Um, a lot of things change daily and you know, you have to embrace that. Like I said, if we didn't have changes, if we didn't have challenges, none of us would have jobs. So just learn to embrace that. And I would say that, you know, one thing that I think is important for everyone to, to really think about is to value this industry and become involved in it and really contribute to it. I think that's really important.

Josh Smith (15:07):

Yeah. That's awesome. Great advice, Charlene, and you know what? You have so much advice and we talked a lot about, obviously some of the path that the growth that iron, uh, uh, you know, the company's gone through and going from two to 90 employees, it doesn't happen overnight. You really have to cultivate a, you know, an atmosphere and a culture that cares for the employees cares for customers that helps the business grow and actually love to dive into a part two with you. So if you're game, we'll stick around and listeners stick around to for next week where we'll dive into part two. So we'll dive into that next. All right. Charlene sounds great. All right. Thank you everybody for listening and wherever you might be listening at, definitely hit the like button and give that subscribe button, the little tap so you can continue to get more of this awesome content, getting pumped out to you by the sharpest tool from everybody here at scorpion until then we'll see you next time.

Speaker 3 (16:06):

[inaudible].

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