The odds were against Scott Vigue when he launched his own home services business. But he had a secret weapon: an innate ability to enact and embrace change.
Company. One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Industry. Home services Key. Listen to employees to reduce turnover.
Despite leaving school after the 10th grade, Scott Vigue is a quintessential lifelong learner.
Not only does the CEO consistently soak in business advice, he also executes, installing the lessons into his companies.
As owner of Tampa-based One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Vigue is constantly evolving his business to enable it to grow. The 56-year-old is a self-proclaimed seminar junkie — he stopped counting after he attended 70 or 80 different seminars, he says.
Vigue credits these seminars for his success. “If you can learn one thing that you can bring back and put in your business, it's worth it,” he says. That's a lot of one things: Today, the combined annual revenue of Vigue's two businesses is around $24 million.
His companies are part of Sarasota-based Clockwork Home Services, a network of more than 700 franchises in 47 states. Clockwork's units includes Benjamin Franklin — The Punctual Plumber; One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning; and Mister Sparky. The company's sales across the network are around $600 million a year. (Sarasota-area entrepreneur Jim Abrams, considered a pioneer in the franchised home services sector, founded Clockwork and sold the company to Direct Energy in 2010.)
Vigue's combined sales volume with his companies ranks as one of the largest, if not the largest, among franchise owners in Clockwork's network, says President of Franchising Mark Baker.
Vigue is often pointed to as an example of a success, Baker says, because he “used to be one of the guys turning a wrench... Most contractors don't get past $1 million in sales. It's a very rare person to grow a multimillion dollar business.”
Baker says Vigue found success because he effectively uses the tools given to him. Says Baker, “He's good about following the system and process and using the tools that we support.”
Vigue left high school when he was 16 to join his dad in the plumbing business. He had already been working the morning shift with his dad for two years, and he knew it was what he was going to do for the rest of his life. By the time he was 19, he got his general plumbing license. When he was 27, he got his master's license. He started a business from his garage working on new construction plumbing.
Though he felt like he was living the American dream by running his own business, something didn't seem right: He was working 15 hours a day and not making much money.
After reading a plumbing magazine, he learned about Maurice Mayo, a plumber in California who used a flat-rate pricing model and different strategies. “I got on a plane to fly out and see him,” Vigue says. Vigue bought all of Mayo's training materials and read every one.
He also decided to become a services business, instead of focusing on new builds. That was one of the first good moves he made following a seminar, he says.
In the early 1990s, Vigue joined the Contractors Success Group, based in St. Louis and run by Abrams and his business partner John Young. Vigue brought his general manager with him to St. Louis for a seminar to check out the group.
Back then Vigue had just expanded his independent plumbing business to servicing air conditioning. But he didn't have a system figured out. In the first quarter, the business lost $80,000. After attending the seminar, Vigue asked his general manager what he thought. The GM, recalls Vigue, responded with this gem: “'I think we're doing all right the way we are.'”
Vigue's retort: “Did you read our financial statements?” Vigue says he didn't talk the whole trip home and fired his general manger as soon as they got back. Vigue joined the contractors success group, and continued to attend their seminars.
“That really got me going in learning to be a businessman,” Vigue says. “That got me turned around.”
In the mid-'90s, Vigue's business was doing $1.5 million in sales. By 2000, it was at $2.5 million.
The Contractors Success Group sold to different owners in the late '90s, but Abrams and Young started a new group, Plumbers' Success International. Vigue decided to join.
“I believed in Jim Abrams,” Vigue says. He trusted the system so much he bought one of Clockwork's franchises, One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning. And his business continued to grow, reaching around $5 million in annual revenue in 2005.
By 2006, Vigue realized the move to franchise was working with his air conditioning business. So he decided to start a Clockwork's Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise. The expansion only continued, with double-digit growth every year.
Even in 2008 during the recession, Vigue's businesses' sales grew 25% to 27% each year. Because other companies were tight on cash and decided to cut marketing expenses, Vigue decided to increase his marketing efforts to win more business.
Four years ago Vigue faced another challenge. He received a call from his payroll company, ADP, asking him why he was experiencing almost 100% turnover. He was having trouble keeping employees.
Vigue heard about a Dream Manager program through Matthew Kelly. The program encouraged bosses to get involved in employees' lives and become a life coach.
Vigue felt that a lot of his young employees didn't really know “how to do life.” They didn't know how to handle personal finances or conflict in their marriages. And that was impacting his business.
Vigue ended up hiring a friend who became a certified Dream Manager. The Dream Manager leads the employees through a six-month training program, which includes courses on managing money, negotiating loans, coaching how to buy a house or new car, etc. It also includes an optional spiritual component. Out of his 110 employees, today almost half participate in the program.
The success for the program was “turning the culture around,” Vigue says. ADP ended up calling him back and asking what he changed because he hadn't had any turnover in eight months.
Vigue's biggest challenge is finding quality talent in the skilled trades, a common obstacle in his industry.
Last January, Vigue decided he wanted to make his business one of the top places to work in Tampa. He did some studying on millennials to figure out what they wanted. Though his first instinct was that they were lazy, he started to change his mind. Millennials look at their parents and grandparents and see people who took two jobs and had no family life. Their life was all work. Vigue started to think, “maybe millennials are right.”
So he switches some policies. He changed his business to run 8-5 Monday through Friday, and some Saturday hours. He stopped offering services on Sundays. He offered his employees four weeks of paid vacation — and required them to take one week each quarter.
“We're not putting the customer first, we're putting the employee first,” Vigue says. Though his top line took a hit — almost $1.4 million in sales — his bottom line went up because he was no longer burning through employees, he says. “If you put the employee first, the customer wins and then the company wins.”
In the past year, the company hasn't had any turnover. Employees who had previously left the company now want to come back. “It cost a lot of money,” Vigue says, “but for the overall health and longevity of the company, it was something we needed to do.”