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Charlene Ierna Part 2 | Your Employees are Your Best Marketing Asset

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 why culture, training, and creative thinking are foundational materials for building a resilient home services business.

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. My name is Josh Smith. I am your host and vice president of marketing for home services over here at scorpion. Joining me today for the second episode is Charlene Iona, owner of Ayana heating, cooling, and plumbing servicing the greater Tampa bay area in Florida. Welcome back to the show. Charlene. We're excited to have you.

Charlene Ierna (00:28):

It's good to be back

Josh Smith (00:30):

Now if you didn't listen to part one where we dive into a lot of the growth that Irana heating, plumbing and cooling has experienced, and we dive into a lot about being a woman in the trades. You definitely want to jump back into that part one with Charlene. So go back and give that a listen. But Charlene, for those who are listening right now, didn't get a chance to listen to episode one. Why don't you give them a bit of the backstory behind you growing up in the trades to where you're at now?

Charlene Ierna (00:55):

So I'm the owner operator of iron is heating and cooling and plumbing. And we are a residential change out company in Luce, Florida. And that is basically north Tampa and we serve as five counties. And right now we have 90 employees and we're growing pretty quickly and always looking for something new to add on to our services. But, um, we are really doing well. We we've embraced a lot of different changes. We've gone through a lot of different challenges and, uh, we're just excited to be here and talk about it.

Josh Smith (01:24):

I love that. Awesome. Well, you obviously don't go from two employees to 90 employees without doing something, right? So something that's become really apparent. I know in our first conversation and talking with you and researching more on your side is that you really care about the people that you serve and the people that you work with. Tell me a bit about this. What's your mindset with it?

Charlene Ierna (01:43):

So we actually believe in a work family culture early on. I realized that I spend a lot more time at the office and I spend anywhere else. And especially in the early days when I was pretty much, you know, married to the company and live there full time, it was very obvious to me that, you know, I'm spending more time with these employees than I spend with any of my friends, even with my family, that's changed a little bit from my dynamic now, but at the time it was obvious that your average of always spends more time in the workplace than anywhere else they spend in their lives. So this is our family. And so that's something that we've just adapted and it works really well for us. I think it's very important to make sure that your team knows that you support them, that you have their back, no matter what you know, with that, you also have to have the other dimension, which is, you know, the discipline part that was not just your family. You can get away with everything. It's, you know, your family and we want to be here for you. We want to train, you want to teach you, we want to help you grow. We want to provide you with some purpose. We want to provide you with growth and advancement, and we're all just here to win and support each other.

Josh Smith (02:50):

I'm curious. Culture-wise are there certain things that you used to do perhaps, but now as you've grown, it, it hasn't been as realistic to do them.

Charlene Ierna (02:59):

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I mean, I think the first eight years of this company, I had the phones, all of the phones came to my cell phone after hours for eight years. So every Saturday, every Sunday, every weekend I had those phones myself and then, you know, right around year nine, we started sharing that responsibility with others. That would be unrealistic at this point. I, I, I feel like I said, we hire those that are, that are really good at those sorts of things. Or maybe that's not my best strength, but when you're a startup company, you do what you have to do. And that's one of the things.

Josh Smith (03:32):

Were there any like culture, like incentive things as well that you did maybe to maintain that family dynamic that maybe that's evolved or changed over time?

Charlene Ierna (03:41):

So we get a lot of things for our team, as far as, you know, working on the culture and that, you know, we've done, um, company cruises, we've taken employees and their guests on a company cruise. I hit their goals. They go on the cruise, we've done six of those. And that's really neat. I remember the first couple of ones that we took employees on. Several of them had never even left the state of Florida to be able to take them to Cozumel Mexico, or The Bahamas was just very rewarding. And it was a really good team building experience. Like I said, we've done six of those. So those work well, we've rented yachts and taken our employees out on parties for that. We've done lake days where we go boating and tubing and wakeboarding and things like that. We do a lot of parties right now.

Charlene Ierna (04:24):

We're kind of, you know, not able to do all of those fun team building activities, but they are crucial. I mean, if you don't do those, you're missing out. That's for sure. I mean, we do a minute to win. It gains a lot of things like that. And we do, you know, they throw a pot, they get to throw pies in the interspaces often. So we do a lot of things like that that keep us all rooted and all of us humble. And, um, it just works really well because this is not the easiest of jobs. So I think breaking it up and, and kind of, uh, just being real with each other and being healing with other is, is super important.

Josh Smith (05:00):

You know, word has it that you tell your texts are really kind of pay attention to the details. I know that can be a pretty common thing for someone to tell their employees, but it means something potentially a little different to you. What do you mean by that? Tell me a bit about it.

Charlene Ierna (05:12):

No, I think in this industry had attention to detail acquaints to thoroughness and accuracy, really. Um, but for the techs on the field, I mean, I'm big on rolling up the trashcan. If it's sitting, not like her bringing that up for the customer, since she, if you just pulled in a trash cans, sit on the curb, we expect you to bring it in for the customer, you know, for those customers who still get a newspaper and the driveway bring that up, that you see really common, you know, 17 years ago, not so much today, but just do the little things that, you know, just make a little different in central part from the next guy where your shoe covers. Now, obviously it's wear your mask, but if you go to the front door and knock on their door and greet you and the homeowner, you know, oh, this is, you know, blase then just mentioned Blaise's name a couple of times while you're there. Just like that.

Josh Smith (06:01):

Yeah. Oh, I love that. What does white glove treatment mean to you when it comes to this industry

Charlene Ierna (06:07):

In terms of our customers at some of those things that I just mentioned, it's, it's going the extra mile. You know, I think that white glove treatment today is similar to kind of what we would consider old school treatment. So back in the day, when you would call your AC company, you had his home phone number, you'd call them up and he'd come over next door and fix the AC. They do those little extra things. They know you by name, they know a little bit about your history, you know, just giving them a little extra something that perhaps they did not receive from a prior contractor, even if it's in another trade, you know, just setting us apart and just really making sure that that we're going that extra mile for every customer.

Josh Smith (06:48):

Yeah. And what about employees? Tell me a bit about how you structure bringing an employee on and taking care of them with that family dynamic you talked about.

Charlene Ierna (06:58):

Yeah. So employees is a whole nother talk show, really, but it's important to know, um, you know, to be successful in the workforce that you have to be successful here at the office, in the workplace. And there's a lot that goes into that. So we do a lot of training, a lot of constant coaching. You know, we work to teach them, train them, show them, and you have to show them touching them often. And not physically, obviously, but just making sure you have those touch points, communication, and overly communicate with them. All of the normal things, like the recognition that the recognizes is huge. We have, you know, daily, monthly, quarterly kudos, we call kudos awards and they are rewarded for all of the different kudos, which could be Google reviews, or it could be just a customer emailing us something rewards for that. And just having a rewards program in place is important as well. But, you know, there's a lot that goes into employees. And I think that, um, the more you focus on your team, the better off we're going to be. And it's important, I think, to create a strong team because they become your best ambassadors out there. Yeah.

Josh Smith (08:03):

Um, and they take care of your customers and that cycle replicates itself. Right. Which is powerful. You know, there's also obviously a big challenge in the trades today across the country. And that's, as you continue to grow, finding really, really good people and good techs who want to do the job, what are some of the steps that you've engaged with to really help not only get and attract good employees, but ultimately retain those good employees.

Charlene Ierna (08:30):

So that's, that's a difficult one. I think that's across the board, been tough for a lot of contractors, but we, you know, we do all of the normal advertising for employees and things like that. We find that really word of mouth from our current employment basket is really the best referrals for us. We like to promote within, we like to train them from the installer help or for example, level all the way up. And we have a lot of teams that have grown internally. So that works well for us. You know, I think that a lot of companies are going to trade schools, which is great. That's one way, but you're not going to get them all there. So you have to be very creative. And I, like I said, I, it goes back to your people, which I know I've probably have said the word people a hundred times in the last hour, but that's where it goes back to. And like I said, we get a lot of really strong applicants from our current employment.

Josh Smith (09:21):

Well, what do you do for like onboarding when you onboard a new employee? What's the process look like?

Charlene Ierna (09:26):

So the onboarding process is different and just really depends on the department. The level of the skillset needed, whether it's a customer service rep or whether it's an installer, for example, or whether it's a service tech or a sales tech. So it's a little bit different depending on the level of employee that we're bringing on, but it's pretty lengthy not gonna lie. Like we we've learned over the years, it's never too much of an onboarding process. There's a lot of things to teach every single employee from top to bottom. And a lot of that is definitely a skillset and say for a customer service rep, for example, there's a lot of industry lingo they need to learn and they don't necessarily need to know exactly how every AC system works or how different plumbing applications are set up and so forth. But understanding the lingo, understanding urgency and things like that are important.

Charlene Ierna (10:12):

So that onboarding process is quite different than it is for even a manager or perhaps, you know, someone who's technical out in the field, but it's definitely a long process. And it's something that we tweak daily. I can tell you that today, part of our onboarding process I have to do in COVID and eight months ago, that was not part of our onboarding process. So it changes a lot, you know, it does. And I think it's important to stay current with that process in and to take back, you know, we have a human resources department into, to always analyze, you know, what worked, what didn't work, what seems to be effective, because especially when you start a new company has a lot to learn. You're learning that you're learning the cultural, you're learning the industry. Sometimes I ended a lot to learn. So it's a lot to communicate to one person at one time. So having different touch points throughout their 30, 60, 90 days is also important. Yeah.

Josh Smith (11:06):

You know, it seems really easy, I think, especially in today's climate for businesses to be more concerned with cutting costs, right. And their business, especially as many of them are feeling the impacts of the pandemic and any crisis, really. It could be whatever the crisis is. Think back to the 2008 housing crisis that we experienced, you know, a lot of businesses were in the same kind of boat yet. You've actively kind of focused on treating those around you. Well, was that ever a concern about cost cutting when it came to your employees during

Charlene Ierna (11:36):

COVID or

Josh Smith (11:38):

During, during this year? No

Charlene Ierna (11:41):

Cost is always top of mind. You know, one of the things that I had mentioned earlier that I role involved was, you know, always evaluating, operating efficiency, always take a look at the solvency ratio. So that's always top of mind for me, but I did not want to cut costs. I instead, what we did was negotiated some costs. And I think that's, you know, something you should do at any point in time. But for example, in the advertising marketing segment, you know, I would not suggest touching or changing anything that has to do with online advertising. But for example, if you're advertising in a restaurant and the restaurant is closed, let's talk about negotiating that contract because the restaurant is now closed. So those are some things that I think that this could, and, and what I did in terms of cost cutting was just kind of being creative and taking a look at, you know, what are some areas that are not effective right now because schools are closed.

Charlene Ierna (12:37):

We sponsor a lot of schools, restaurants are closed. So we did those things, but, you know, we didn't do anything in terms of, you know, cutting back our employment or cutting back our roster. So I, you know, I think that trying to stay consistent and again, signaling safety to your team is important. And I think if you pull back too much, you have a tendency to scare them a little bit. Oh goodness. What's going to happen. Are we going to come to work tomorrow? And they're closed. So I think it's important to stay calm, stay the course and just keep moving forward.

Josh Smith (13:09):

Yeah. You mentioned something interesting and being a digital marketing company, naturally, I got a dive on it. You mentioned you would recommend not cutting costs, marketing wise, especially when it comes to the digital side. I'm just kind of curious, what's your thought process behind that in particular, why would you not cut in those areas?

Charlene Ierna (13:30):

Consumers still need air and they still need plumbing. Whether there's a virus in whether we're in this climate or not, they still absolutely need that. And now they're at home, you know, at some parts of this situation, they were at home 24 7, and it couldn't even travel. So their appliances and their plumbing fixtures and sinks and dishwashers and everything needs to related are being taxed more than ever. So they're going to need you, so you need to reach where they can find you, and they're going to find you online at that point. They're at home, not at restaurants. So let's say you're advertising on a restaurant in the lobby work. You know, the billboards are still effective, but they're not driving around as much. They're at home. A lot of people were born teens. So they're at home. The only real advertisement that you can get at home is your digital. So I think that it was very important to stay alive and definitely top of mind during that time through digital marketing.

Josh Smith (14:24):

Yeah. I just love how you're thinking about it too. Cause you're putting yourself, okay, where are the customers? Where are they hanging out? What are they doing? What's their behavior like, you know, there's a interesting thought. I had a couple of weeks ago to kind of put it pretty succinctly. And it's, you know, these, these external factors change the digital habits that somebody has. That's why when COVID hit within the first month you saw Facebook usage surge north of 50%. So I love that. You're thinking that way. It's just, it resonated really well. And kind of flipping back to the employee retention rates and whatnot, and focusing on the confidence and staying the course like you were saying, obviously you've been through some stuff over the years as the businesses continue to grow. How have you found that focus of staying the course and focusing on your employees and developing them and engaging them with the business. How has that focus affected the business over time?

Charlene Ierna (15:19):

It's important. It's tough. That's one of the tougher challenges. I think any business owner has, whether it's within this industry or not, but it's back to the culture that you create. We try to create that family culture. And I think that's important to retention. You know, we also create a culture of passionate, you know, teachers show you more and lead by example and show your team, your passion and let them feel that. And hopefully it breeds passion from top to bottom through your entire staff. And think if you can get your employees to become passionate about what they do, you're going to do better with the retention, you're going to have as much tuber. So I think creating that passion is important. Again, it's not the UN think growing up that, you know, the air conditioning industry for example, is a super fun, exciting, passionate, you know, industry that you want to be part of, but it really is. And I think you have to show that to them, you have to lead by example and, and teach them the ways that it is exciting when they get to go out there every day in terms of the tech quite a bit. And they get to be heroes to these consumers that are, you know, needing their services. So there's a lot to be passionate about. And I think I can be a very passionate person with what I do. And I think just laying that trickle down is super helpful in terms of retaining your current staff.

Josh Smith (16:33):

Definitely. Well, Charlene, this has been awesome, really helpful. I know there's going to be a lot of nuggets that business owners are going to get out of this. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk about employees and customer care and ultimately how to grow the business. I really appreciate the time

Charlene Ierna (16:49):

That your time as well. Thanks for

Josh Smith (16:50):

Having me. Yeah, my pleasure. Where can listeners go to find out more about you?

Charlene Ierna (16:55):

So I'm on pretty much all the social media sites, you know, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, it's just Charlene and I Erna.

Josh Smith (17:03):

Perfect. And where can they find more about Ayana heating, plumbing and cooling?

Charlene Ierna (17:08):

I would recommend our west site and that's I earned air.com.

Josh Smith (17:12):

I earn an air.com. Perfect. Well, Charlene, thanks again. Really appreciate having you on the

Charlene Ierna (17:16):

Show. Welcome. Thank you.

Josh Smith (17:18):

And for everybody else, who's listening. If you found this episode super valuable, do me a favor open up that podcasting app and make sure you are subscribed to the sharpest tool so you can continue to get more of the awesome content that we're pumping out here from all of us here, the service tool and all of scorpion. We'll talk to you then. Thanks.

Speaker 3 (17:46):

[inaudible].

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