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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 7 months ago

Entrepreneur reshapes business for second time

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Bruno Total Home Performance, with a new niche, aims to capitalize on unseen opportunities.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The transformation of Naples-based Bruno Total Home Performance reached a new pace in 2018.

That’s both pace, in rapid growth in clients and revenue after a self-imposed slowdown and PACE — the Property Assessed Clean Energy program.

The self-imposed pause stems from a wakeup call the company went through in 2016 and 2017. The company had come off three years of explosive growth, from startup in 2012 to $15 million in sales, nearly 200 employees and some 7,000 customers across Southwest Florida by 2015.

But the company’s processes and systems collapsed under the brisk pace, and customer service suffered. So founder Louis Bruno pulled back, let annual revenue hover around $18 million and spent at least 18 months fixing customer’s issues. It was a humbling experience for Bruno, who founded the business from his dining room table when he was 22 years old. “I took some long looks in the mirror,” Bruno, now 30, told the Business Observer in early 2018. “I realized I had a lot to learn.”

The other PACE, meanwhile, is a program that provides 100% no money down financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy and hurricane protection improvements for a home, business or multifamily building. PACE financing, repaid as a special assessment on the property’s regular tax bill, is approved by Florida officials but is not government funded. Instead, Ygrene Energy Fund Inc. a for-profit entity that works with banks and investors to provide residential and commercial clean energy financing, provides the funds. Ygrene’s PACE program is available in California, St. Louis and 24 Florida counties, including Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee and Pasco.

While Bruno Total Home works as far north as Sarasota, for Bruno, the PACE program in Collier and Lee is enough to keep his company rolling. The programs were rolled out locally in 2017, soon after Hurricane Irma, and the firm has since capitalized on it with an advertising and marketing campaign, including TV, print and radio.

Bruno has also since hired six people for the firm’s PACE division, including a commercial banker to run it. In addition to the hires, the firm, in October, promoted two people to key roles in the company: Tammy Schreier was named general manager and Luisa Del Castillo was elevated to master controller. 

The PACE blitz paid off: Bruno, in a late November interview, projected the company would finish 2018 with $30 to $32 million in revenue. That would be at least 62% over 2017, when it posted $18.47 million. Total Home, Bruno adds, beat budget every month during 2018, including by $1 million in October and at least $500,000 in November. “(PACE) has been huge for us,” Bruno says. “It’s been two-thirds of our business. We understand these programs deeper than any other contractor in the area.”  

The idea to build something big out of PACE came from seeing customers respond positively to testing the firm did after Irma, when, Bruno says, “people really loved it.” Bruno and others at the firm soon lobbied local officials in Collier and Lee counties to pass ordinances that support the PACE program, a requirement since it deals with tax assessments.

Bigger picture, PACE represents Bruno’s desire to find something innovative in a crowded field, and not just be another HVAC business. “We probably spent five years coming up with a niche,” says Bruno. “Two out of 10 of them didn’t work.”

Another big picture issue the company faces going into 2019 is to avoid any repeats of a slack in service as the company rides the PACE growth wave. “We’ve really hit our stride,” Bruno says, “but we don’t want to be distracted next year by growth goals.”

Instead, Bruno says he intends to keep the focus on customer service, both in training and hiring. The company has some 180 employees now, and expects to hire around 50 more in 2019. Bruno, back to his humbling experience of a few years ago, says a core challenge he faces next year is to delegate with specific and transparent expectations as the company gets bigger.

“Being a 100-truck company now, not a 30-truck company, requires a whole different form of leadership,” Bruno says. “You get what you tolerate.”

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