All Industries, Webinar Recap

‘Ordinary schmo’ builds a great company with culture of growth, and says you can, too

Pat McManamon
May 10th, 2021
8 Min Read

“I’m just an ordinary schmo.”

Those were some of the first words used by Mark Stepowoy in his ServiceTitan Growth Series webinar.

Then he looked at his daughter Rachel, sitting to his right.

“And you're the daughter of an ordinary schmo.”

Listening to the Stepowoys, presumably, were a bunch of other "ordinary" contractors eager to get tips on creating a culture of growth at their business.

Mark Stepowoy manages 30 franchise agreements in a dozen businesses in six states, and approaches $40 million in sales. His work with Roto-Rooter started with a single franchise in Canton, Ohio, and propelled him to where he can be the Yoda schmo and offer advice on growing the company to other owners in the trades.

Rachel Stepowoy was the Enterprise Administrator for one of those franchises, in Medina, Ohio, and, with her father’s blessing, joined ServiceTitan as ProProduct Specialist in September of 2020.

The Stepowoys were the seventh presenters in ServiceTitan’s eight-part, free masterclass for the trades. Their presentation on “How to Build a Culture of Growth'' detailed ideas from their experience of growing a single investment in a single Roto-Rooter franchise to a few more to where they are today. An ordinary schmo offering perspective from, shall we say, extraordinary performance.

“I wasn’t the homecoming king,” Mark said. “I wasn’t the quarterback of the football team. I don’t have a plumbing background. I never worked as a drain cleaner. I don’t even know how to operate a screwdriver very well.”

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Stepowoy’s initial work experience was in parking management. He worked at one business for 20 years before he was fired in 1992. He was hired by corporate Roto-Rooter in 1994, and promoted to regional manager in 1999.

“Fifteen minutes later I was fired,” he said. “That’s a whole different webinar.”

He fueled his feelings into competing with Roto-Rooter and bought a small plumbing company in Cleveland.

“And I immediately soiled my pants,” he said.

That grew out of the realization that he really didn’t know what he was doing.

“If I’m supposed to come on here and tell you how great I am, I’m probably not going to do that,” he said. “Knowing I was going to do this, I really reflected on my career and I see my failures more than I see my successes. The failures were all very important. I wasn’t ready in 1999.”

As a result he sold the business to American Residential Services (ARS). In 2007, he and his sister bought their first Roto-Rooter franchise, in Canton, Ohio.

“The point was not to create an enterprise,” he said. “It was to give my sister a job that might pay more than what she would otherwise make. She ran it, and I never went there. I had to stay true to ARS.”

But he was fired from ARS in 2009.

“That’s what I do,” he said of being, shall we say, let go. “I’m very good at it. It’s my hobby.”

The next day he bought a Roto-Rooter franchise in Springfield, Ill., primarily so his son could have a job. A few months later he added the Champaign, Ill., franchise.

“Everything after that was an absolute blur,” he said. “That’s when it got real. I had to learn everything, and I came to grips with what I didn’t know. It sort of ignited me.”

He’s now pushing that $40 million number in sales.

‘I don’t know if that’s a big number, a small number;  I don’t know if that’s impressive,” he said. “It’s just a number. It just adds up to that, I guess.”

Numbers like that don’t happen by accident, even though Stepowoy shrugs off his influence. His approach is rooted in common sense and being open-minded, in communicating with and supporting the people who work for him, and in not taking himself so seriously that he doesn’t have fun.

He put his suggestions in two broad categories, then offered numerous best practices for each: Getting the right people in the right position, and motivating a team to hit goals.

The full and detailed narration of how to plan for growth can be seen on the webinar, the seventh of eight in the Growth Series. 

Here are a few highlights:

Embrace reflection and introspection. It’s something he learned from his practice of visiting each of his franchises weekly. “I drove 55,000 miles a year for 10, 12 years,” he said. “People ask, ‘How do you do it? My God, that is so far.’ It is the most mentally helpful thing in my life. It’s enabled me to calm down and it’s enabled me to think deeply.”

Recognize the ways to measure growth, and the pluses and minuses. He stresses year-over-year growth, but that could be in job count, revenue, cash flow, expansion or additional service lines. Ask: How much risk do you want to take? How hard do you want to work? How much change can you accept and tolerate?

“I did not exactly love (change and acquisition),” Rachel said. “But we got through it successfully and we grew from it in the end. But at the first mention of it I would flinch a little. Because it was unknown, it was scary, it was additional work. Mostly the unknown. 

“And additional work,” Mark deadpanned.

“Yes,” she said and chuckled.

Mark then explained as a 60-year-old empty nester taking on more work meant something different than it did to Rachel, who is engaged. He concedes he tries to create a culture where his team pushes him.

“And I’m grateful for it,” he said.

Service is the gateway to success. To illustrate the point, Mark showed a photo of an ornate gate protecting an inner courtyard and garden, then asked Rachel to identify it.

“It’s the way of the gate,” she said. Yes … she laughed.

“Service is what gets you past that gateway to everything beautiful that is being protected,” Mark said. “It’s service that gets you in that door. But once you get on the other side I think conversion is the best path once the gate is open.”

Sharing is caring. Stepowoy understands owners may not wish to share the bottom line with employees, but sharing the growth margin may invigorate those who want to reach the target.

“I think sharing is extraordinarily valuable,” he said.

It’s vital to communicate growth, plan growth and mention growth as often as possible. Doing so makes growth part of the company’s DNA.

“If I were walking in the building right now and a guy is cutting the grass, I would talk to him about growth,” he said.

Awards based on incremental growth incentivize the team. Stepowoy gives out “Golden Shovels,” which are a few inches long and hang on a small plaque. He said without fail when he visited a franchise, employees would want to be sure he had the shovels with him when he walked in the door.

“It’s amazing how motivating that has gotten,” he said.

Setting tangible and reachable goals for growth empowers employees.

“No matter how big you get, people like this,” Mark said. “They’re engaged. There’s a sense of duty. There’s a sense of something more.”

Study your organizational chart. “Is it designed for yesterday, today or tomorrow where you want to go?” he said. “If you want to be a growing organization, you have to have an org chart that supports that.”

The person at the top has the most responsibility. “You’ll always be probably the chief ambition officer. If you want growth you have to let it be known,” he said.

He advises: Your personal growth matters.

“You can’t grow your enterprise if you don’t grow yourself,” he said. “I look back and I can see why I got fired and why I struggled. When it started for me I had this little itty-bitty tiny world view.”

He now recognizes how important it is to “broaden your world view.” 

He urges travel, to meet different people, be active, join groups, get out. Doing so will shatter artificial constraints and narratives.

“Delegate to others and make yourself the least important person every day,” he said.

A family example of making himself the least important person: When Rachel was offered the job at ServiceTitan, she was nervous about her dad’s reaction. It was nothing but positive. She had grown to a new job, and he was happy for her. “How can a dad not want something better?” he said.

In the aggregate, Stepowoy appreciates where he is, but admits he didn’t map his life this way.

“I call myself a reluctant entrepreneur,” he said. “I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I just kept getting fired.”

Then he hit the next screen on his PowerPoint, which added this line: I haven’t been fired in 12 years!

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive home and commercial services business software solution built specifically to help companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000+ contractors across the country.

Ready to learn more about what ServiceTitan can do for your business?  Contact our team to schedule a demo today.

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