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The Sharpest Tool™

The Impact of Women in Trade and Innovation on Your Business

Cheryl McRae
Josh Smith
Susan Frew, owner and operator of Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air; TED talk speaker; and author has been working with small businesses since the beginning of her career. From her sales role at AT&;T to starting a company under the business coaching franchise Action Coach, she has a wealth of experience in what it takes to help small businesses thrive. When she met her husband, a plumber, they merged their talents and founded Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air based in Denver, CO.

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. And I'm really excited. I'm always excited in the booth, but especially when we have awesome people like Susan fru, who is the one of the owner and operators of sunshine, plumbing, heating, and air based out of Denver, Colorado. She's got a bit of a background as a business coach, a mentor for a lot of home service professionals. And so it's really exciting to have someone like her in the booth. So Susan

Susan Frew (00:29):

Welcome. Hey, thank you so much for having me, Josh. It's a pleasure.

Josh Smith (00:32):

Awesome. Well, let's dive right into it. Why don't you give people a little bit of a backstory in terms of how you got into the trades and how you got into the business coaching aspect?

Susan Frew (00:41):

I think I started working with small business many years ago in New York city. I was a salesperson initially for at and T wireless. And then I got transferred to Denver and ultimately I was promoted to general manager slash vice president on an international assignment in the Caribbean. And I managed all of the small businesses. We help launch all of the 3g markets across the United States. When I came back to the U S I decided not to move to Seattle or Atlanta, where I had opportunity, but to start my own business. So I bought a business coaching franchise called action coach and became a business coach for many years. Ironically, throughout that time, I coached 17 different trades out of the hundred and 50 clients that I coached. So I knew a ton about home service companies. And then my I met and married, my husband, who was a plumber. So we joke that we merged. And then we were actually living up in the mountains of Colorado, Breckenridge, Colorado. And when we got married, we moved down to the Denver area and we went into service because we just felt that it was more recession proof. And we did not want to take the risk of having outstanding receivables. If another economy dip came to play, which of course is inevitable. So people still owe my husband money from the last recession. So we are not going there right now. We have zero receivables and we like it.

Josh Smith (02:07):

Yeah. I think that's a pretty smart way to go things. Um, so talk about a little bit what it's like being a female owner operator in the trades. I know it's something that we don't typically see. What's what's that experience been like for you?

Susan Frew (02:21):

Everyone asked me that question, like, I'm going to have this answer. That's like, oh my gosh, I had to claw my way to the top. I had to prove myself. I have to say that. I think when you have confidence and you really know what you're doing sure, the way you carry yourself, the way you speak, how you articulate certain things. I think that people instantly, when you know what you're doing, people leave you alone. Right? I don't have too much resistance. I think there has been some technicians over the years that maybe worked for us. That thought it was kind of crazy working for a woman. But, um, outside of that, I don't really see there's too much resistance. In fact, it actually goes other way because 80% of our clients are women because women spend the most amount of money in the home in the United States. So they love doing business with a woman owned company.

Josh Smith (03:09):

Absolutely. Do you have a lot of women technicians as well that you employ?

Susan Frew (03:13):

I would love to have women technicians. I currently do not. We have a scholarship. We have been trying, I did a Ted talk last year talking about why are there no women in the trades because we have this huge workforce shortage coming our way. And why can't we fill that gap with women? No, no. One's even talking about it. These girls don't even know that it's out there.

Josh Smith (03:34):

Yeah. Let's talk about that shortage for a minute. Cause I think that comes up a lot for a lot of our clients that we deal with. What, uh, what's, what's your perspective on the shortage? Why is there a shortage and from your perspective, where do you see the solution line?

Susan Frew (03:48):

Well, for the last 20 years, parents in the United States said, call is called, was called, is college for their kids right there. Like if they didn't go to college, especially if they're like no kid of mine is going to be working blue collar job, you're going to college. And so we got really, really far away from a trade school education, including in schools. When I was growing up, you could go to trade school in the afternoon and learn so many different things. So within the next three to five years, we are going to be a million people, short of trades. People that's trades all the way across, right? So that encompasses a lot of different trades. And the main reason is the baby boomers who currently are in our largest demographic of trade workers, skilled trade workers in the United States are aging out. They're going to retire.

Susan Frew (04:32):

No one is coming back in. That's the problem. So we need to find a way to educate our youth and maybe waiting till high school is too late. Like we need to be talking to kids about the opportunities in the trades, somewhere around seventh grade, eighth grade, what they're starting to form those ideas and parents really need to get real. Maybe your kid, isn't the one who needs to go to college. Maybe they're better with their hands. Or how about this idea that you start a career where you don't have college debt that you're hauling around with you like a big bag of baggage years, right? Because you can pretty much get a trade education in any trade for almost for free. You can get apprenticeship, you can get scholarship, you can get a company sponsored fees that are paid for you. So maybe you can go to college later. I mean, who knows? So that's, that's where we're headed and we really need to fix this. This is like becoming an emergency.

Josh Smith (05:27):

Absolutely. Uh, you know, I think a part of it might be attributed to just the boom of technology that we've seen over the past 20 years. Everybody wants to be in the technology field and we're finding ways to, uh, you know, increase productivity in a sense with techno technological advances in different industries. And so it seems to me that a lot of people typically are, seem to be going that route, especially with the college stuff. Do you find that to be true as well?

Susan Frew (05:51):

Well, yes, but what people need to understand is that the trades also have a lot of technology, right? So we're a hundred percent paperless. If you do not know how to operate an iPad, any type of computer system, you wouldn't last. I mean, we've had guys who've come in and called it the iPad thingy. They usually don't last in our company very long, the iPad biggie, like, you know, um, but you know, there's smart homes and there's, um, different ways to iron up electronics and there's wifi for everything. Something that we have done is we have something called video plumber where we, which is trademarked by us and patented by us. We can do estimates via video at your house. Yeah. Right. And we have the setup in our office to look at your problem and give you the solution right there and give you an estimate. So technology is evolving in the trades as well. And that's another thing that's not being communicated to. The young that going into the trades is not about Brian and Mike. It's about being super smart and having great customer service.

Josh Smith (06:53):

Absolutely. And you know, you've, you've been able to do something over the past couple of years since the procession, even in terms of growing your business, you don't seem to have necessarily, uh, some of the same challenges that some other home service professionals have seen, uh, with the tax you've been able to grow your business, get texts on board and things like that. What's been one of your secrets, I guess, or what's how have you gone about that?

Susan Frew (07:15):

Well, I don't think we've done a great job of that. I don't think that we do any job better or worse than anyone else. We have one weirdly the best places to work. So you would think that you run an ad that you've won the best places to work. And we had a $5,000 sign on bonus, go on for months. No one applied. Oh wow. So I think something that we're doing now, it's a little bit different. We're being really, really careful with the people who we hire in the office, because I think that that creates friction when the office and the field are sort of like almost at war with each other and that can't happen anymore. We can't have that. And I know that people listening, understand what I'm talking about. Right? So the, the technicians called the office, they're griping. The office is frustrated.

Susan Frew (08:03):

They're trying to do their job, their customer's hollering at them. And so like, there's just this tension. Um, but we do have some really awesome people in the office that, that doesn't happen with. So we are really trying to create a culture where our office integrates with the field and really has compassionate knowledge of what their job is. Like. Another thing that we are doing in scorpion is helping us with this. You know, we've also looked at our demographic area. We are in a city that has a ton of traffic, just like California and other parts of the United States, right? It's, it's so frustrating that our guys get aggravated and they hate it. Right? So we are trying to move our traffic, our internet traffic, and our leads more up north where there's less traffic. And I think that's going to create a better environment for our guys.

Susan Frew (08:51):

Something really big that we started doing too, is we're really focusing everyone in the company company is focusing on gratitude and data shows that when you sit there and complain, complain, complain, complain, complain, and say vent, right. Everyone uses that word. They were just venting. If you don't replace that vent with something positive, then that venting turns into a cancer. And that turns into a problem which infects your entire team. So what all of my managers do now is if a technician comes and wants to vent what they say is, okay, well, I understand that one. Do you have a solution for what you're complaining about? And two, what are the two great things that happened to you today? So we are now really trying to put a positive whenever there's a negative and we are not allowing dumping of negative things because it just creates this really bad Juju. And I think it's working so

Josh Smith (09:47):

Attitude, attitude. That's awesome. We employ a lot of that too here at scorpion. So I love hearing that, that you guys are doing that.

Susan Frew (09:56):

I made the guys write down the things they were grateful for and keep it in their truck. So I told them every morning, they need to look at that gratitude list and be focused on that. And not the fact that they're stuck in traffic or their coffee spilled on the floor. Like whatever happens, just start their day off in a bad place. Yeah.

Josh Smith (10:13):

Awesome. What, uh, let's talk a little bit about some of the challenges you've faced over the years and how you've overcome them. Um, w what would you say are some of the critical points of you've as you've grown the business that you've come up against? Um, and what did you do to overcome those challenges?

Susan Frew (10:28):

Well, you know, we always have the workforce challenge. I mean, that's not anything new and, you know, we've done sign up bonuses. We have become better employers, I believe because, you know, you get what you put out, right. That goes with any kind of relationship dating friendship work, right. If you are like at the bottom, or you don't have much to offer, you're not going to attract the right type of people. So I think that we've done a really good job of putting ourselves in a place where people want to work with us and be part of our family. Um, another thing we did, we grew really, really, really fast. And I probably wouldn't do that again. A lot of it was like ego, like, wow, we're growing, growing, growing, let's buy another truck, let's buy more material, let's hire another guy, you know, by the end of the day, or like exhausted. And we, we probably would have slowed it down. Um, and that for sure, because we went super fast, it cost us a lot of money. We made mistakes because our operations weren't keeping up with the sales. And I probably would have ratcheted down some marketing, slowed the sales down and slowed our growth, like to go from one truck to like 10 trucks in two years, or whatever we did in the beginning was like, man, I'm tired and stressed. And, uh, I don't want to be that person.

Josh Smith (11:47):

Uh, so let's, let's talk a little bit about, um, new home service professionals. Um, how do they go setting themselves apart in the industry today?

Susan Frew (11:56):

Well, you know, I call it the puffer fish effect, and that is what Centene has. We are the puffer fish effect. And that is the title of my new book and what puffer fish effect is, is sort of the next step from being the purple cow. Right? So purple cow for a lot of people don't know if you're driving down the road in the country and you see this herd of cattle and there's a purple one. And you're like, oh my gosh, look at that cow. And they, and you know, people are very intrigued and they want to know more about the purple cow. So in our business, we entered a market with 950 competitors. And so we came to the table with a really high touch, super duper customer service strategy, white glove, all the way. Thank you. Notes, brownies, gift baskets. We'll put you in a hotel if we can't fix your stuff.

Susan Frew (12:42):

We'll, um, we have dog biscuits for your dog on the truck all the time. So all of these over the top things. And then we started winning a whole bunch of awards, and that's where the puffer fish effect comes in because everyone thinks that we are this ginormous company. They think we're like George Brazil with like 150 trash. We're not, I don't even know how many trucks, George Brazil, if you're listening, I'm sorry. You're really big. Or an apple would, or a plumber. And we think they're giant. We're not, we still only have 12 trucks, right? At 13, if you count our comfort advisor. So people just think we're ginormous, but that reputation of everyone thinking that we're huge, that's the puffer fish, because the puffer fish appears to its enemies. So I don't want to say I have enemies, but I do have competition to our competition and to the world at large, we look a really big, but we're not just like a puffer fish. Does. I love that. So, uh, that's what I say. You have to find your uniqueness and the way you test yourself for that. If someone else can say it, it's not unique. So if you say open 24 hours, okay. Big deal. If your neighbor can say it unlicensed, I'm insured. I have 30 years of experience. Okay. I'm sorry. But big deal.

Josh Smith (13:54):

Family owned and operated

Susan Frew (13:56):

Big, big whoop. Right? That means nothing because everybody else is saying it. So what is your unique?

Josh Smith (14:02):

Yeah, no. And you know, the, for those who are listening to the purple cow is it was a phrase coined by Seth Goden. So it was kind of a marketing guru. So definitely check that out. Exactly. As Susan said, it's, it's one of those, you know what, it's something that's so shockingly different that someone will go and talk about it. So I love that the puffer fish effect. All right. So I'm going to transition a little bit to innovation because knowing your business for some time, I've really seen some innovative ideas come from the operation. You mentioned the video plumber idea concept. That's something that I, out of all the businesses I've personally worked with and that our team works with. Like, I haven't seen something like pioneered like that. So I thought it was really interesting. Um, how do you stay nimble and quick with the innovation, um, with all the pressing matters that are really vying for your time?

Susan Frew (14:49):

You know, someone told me this a really long time ago when I started in this industry, they said, don't follow the industry, follow the trend in business. Right. And here here's something that we have never said. These words have never been uttered in sunshine. That's the way we've always done it, because I think that it's business killer numero UNO is that's the way we've always done it, or we've been doing it like that for years. So we didn't carry any of that baggage to the table. Um, and I really want that uniqueness. Like I'm always trying to find something that's unique and video plumber. I think video plumber has ideas for the future, uh, for some of our new and younger workers. First of all, I think video plumber can be facilitated with disabled workers, maybe a retired vets. So you're sitting at a table and you're looking at a screen with a problem and you're solving it over the phone, but you don't have to actually physically do the work.

Susan Frew (15:45):

So if you're not able, this could become like a big call center scenario. So that is something that is on the horizon. And I think that that will appeal to a younger generation, um, that that's something that we will be doing. And it's also, we're in a microwave society, right? People want stuff right now. So that's why I think the video estimate is going to be a thing of the future. And to take that even further, I think you can, uh, dispatch a drone and not a technician. And so you, I could send a drone to your house. It will go and fly around your project and give even a better view to the person on the other side. So we can give you a more accurate estimate. I love that. So that's, I think phase two, a video plumber, but, um, you know, I'm just always looking at what's going on in business and that's where we want to be. We don't care that it's plumbing. That's the big thing. Yeah. I think, I think that's the crux of the biscuit with us. I don't care if it's plumbing or I'm selling shoes, even though shoes would be really nice.

Josh Smith (16:45):

Do you think that it's a mentality aspect that a lot of business owners are just kind of capping themselves in terms of the possibilities? They're not asking, uh, enough what F's, uh, scenarios are more handicapping themselves to, um, that mindset thought where it's, you know, this has, this is how we have always done it, and that's how it's going to continue to be. They're not evolving with the times as it were.

Susan Frew (17:04):

Well, I think they're looking at other plumbing companies. Sure. Bad place to look, right. You have to be looking at other companies, period. Like what is the guy down the street? Who does this business doing? That's different and unique and awesome. And don't be looking at all the other plumbing companies. It's great to have peer mentors. And I have a lot of them so that I can talk about our unique challenges and problems and things like that. However, I think that it was serve you best to be looking at other industries as well and reading business magazines or what are people doing?

Josh Smith (17:38):

Awesome. What, what, uh, what steps have you taken to really continuously improve the customer experience for your clients?

Susan Frew (17:45):

I think the most important thing that we do is review capture. I can really see what's going on in the field. We also do happy calls with every single customer to make sure that people are happy and that we can keep continuously being improving our service.

Josh Smith (18:03):

Yeah, absolutely. Where do you find inspiration for that? Um, and like, what have you learned from your clients over the years?

Susan Frew (18:08):

People hate it when you're late

Josh Smith (18:11):

Or the six hour window that you give them.

Susan Frew (18:13):

Exactly. Yeah. Um, they don't like that. Um, no one in our business calls on their best day. So whether you're a plumber, HVAC, electrician, any trade carpenter, usually like something is broken that they didn't expect and don't have the money for it. Yeah. They're like have people coming in from out of town tomorrow and in this thing fixed today, there is they're freezing. They're hot, there's poop on the floor. Like all these things, no one calls because they're happy and you have to diffuse that right away. So we answered the phone. How can we make you smile today? Which I know a lot of companies do, but you have to find a way to take that stress out of the conversation in the beginning or else. So people just keep getting more and more escalated. Sure.

Josh Smith (18:59):

Susan, this has been awesome. I just want to close with one thing. If you had one piece of advice that you could give plumbers with their marketing in today's landscape, what would it be

Susan Frew (19:07):

With marketing? Here's the deal. You have to track it. If you can't track it, you can't measure it. You can't approve it. So you have to either have tracking numbers for everything or manually be tracking through your, or through your software. Like we do where every campaign is coming from and where every lead is coming from and knowing your average cost per lead, your average closing ratio per technician, on that particular lead, what the average dollar per sale is. And then just run your business off the numbers and take the guessing out of it. You know what I mean? People say, oh, well I think yellow pages is working. No, I bet you, if you track that, it's not. So I think that's key. And I know scorpion has been phenomenal with helping us to track where all of our leads are coming from so that we can make a better plan.

Josh Smith (19:55):

Well, this has been awesome. Susan workin, where can everybody listening? Find you learn more about you order your book, all that good stuff.

Susan Frew (20:01):

You can follow them. Uh, well, if you want to know more about sunshine, plumbing, heating air, which you can go to www sunshine P eight, a.com. And to find out more about me speaking engagements, the book it's Susan Roberts, fru.com, that's Susan Roberts, fru.com. And you'll be able to see the puffer fish effect on there. You can sign up for notifications.

Josh Smith (20:24):

Yeah. Well, thank you, Susan so much for your time. It's a pleasure having you in the booth again. Yeah. Awesome. For everybody listening found a lot of value in this definitely hit the subscribe button so you can get more of this awesome content. And from all of us here at the sharpest tool, we'll catch you next time. Thanks.

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