Patrick Somers didn’t join General Air Conditioning & Plumbing with a plan to one day become president and CEO of the company. But that’s what happened.
He also didn’t expect to switch the Palm Springs, Calif.-based company from an outdated software system to ServiceTitan’s cloud-based solution in the middle of the summer busy season.
But that happened, too. And it was, for Somers, an unexpectedly smooth transition.
General Air Conditioning & Plumbing has 45 employees (including 30 techs) and does between $10 to $14 million in annual sales. When Somers was hired as a tech back in 2009, the company was using a lagging software platform.
When he took over as president and CEO in 2018, he knew it was past time to move to a new software company, but he was hesitant.
“There were two things holding us up from converting,” Somers says. “One was I’d heard some stories about the conversion process and how difficult it is. I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
The other issue was using QuickBooks, which would be a big adjustment for the accounting department.
“So, when I sat down with everybody at ServiceTitan, I was direct with them,” Somers says. “I told them what we’d heard.”
He credits ServiceTitan staff for being up front about all concerns.
“ServiceTitan said, ‘Yep, that’s true,’ or ‘Yep, that’s an issue,’” Somers says. “But they also said, ‘Yep, we fixed that—here’s how we fixed it. Here's what we’re doing.’ They were always transparent. They never skirted the issue, which was really important to me.”
Getting into the trades
Somers’ pre-trades history included 10 years in the dry cleaning business. He loved business, but he hated dry cleaning.
Following the Great Recession, as the economy sputtered, Somers thought it’d be a good idea to learn something new. As the economy worsened, he sold the dry cleaning business and took service school classes.
With no end to the recession in sight, he answered a Craigslist ad for a $10-an-hour job as a maintenance technician at The General. The owner told Somers there were opportunities to make money at the company.
“What he didn't know at the time is I had walked into General Air Conditioning & Plumbing to get five years of experience so I could get my contractor’s license,” Somers says. “My plan was to go start my own business, never knowing that I was going to have an opportunity to buy the business.”
Today, with his co-owner focusing on sales, Somers concentrates on crunching the numbers. The pair share responsibility for making all decisions. And they both deemed that it was time to make a move to ServiceTitan.
The impetus to upgrade
The General had been using the same business software ever since those $10-an-hour days. The previous owner had no desire to switch platforms, but Somers was casually looking around.
He heard a lot about ServiceTitan at a Lennox event and eventually watched a demo. Somers got more serious after attending a ServiceTitan Pantheon conference.
“Moving to a new software is a big thing,” he says. “It’s not something you take lightly—especially in our first year taking over the business.”
Still, Somers says, it was obvious a change was necessary.
“(The old platform) is not a bad software,” he says. “But they just weren’t investing in the software at the rate that needed to be to keep up and to provide some of the things that we thought we should have in this day and age.”
The General needed to improve operational efficiencies.
“It’s just like Jim Collins says in Good to Great,” Somers says. “You don’t take on technology just because it's a shiny new toy, but because it can really catapult you in the right direction.”
Even though the old software company got new owners, Somers wasn’t comfortable about their ability to shift with the times.
He decided to pull the trigger. Immediately. In the middle of the busy summer season.
“I said, ‘Let's just do it,” Somers says. “Let’s not wait. And let’s do it in the shortest amount of time possible.”
The implementation process was simply amazing, impressive. It’s really dialed in. The steps are there. The check-ins are there. Whatever the issues were in the past, I can tell you we did not experience them. I was very, very impressed.”
Onboarding with relative ease
Somers raves about the relationship he and his company built with their ServiceTitan implementation manager.
“The implementation process was simply amazing, impressive,” he says. “It’s really dialed in. The steps are there. The check-ins are there. Whatever the issues were in the past, I can tell you we did not experience them. I was very, very impressed.”
After going live earlier this year, Somers knows the work isn’t over.
“Just because you go live doesn't mean you're complete,” he says. “There are still other steps in the process. You still have to fine tune things, and make decisions, and you really can only do that when you’re live.”
That part is going well, too, he says.
“The technicians, the office, everybody has been very open and accepting,” he says. “Every now and then you find a little thing that’s different, and you have to walk everybody through it, and explain ‘The Why.’ That’s very important.”
Somers makes a keen observation when he notes that changing software requires relearning methods and creating new habits.
“And so, obviously, a big part of having success is making sure everybody has the right attitude,” he says. “The other part of success is having a software that it’s intuitive and easy to learn.”
He adds: “Not just easy to learn in the sense of it makes sense, and is easy to figure out. You need information to be readily available—in very digestible formats—if you don't understand something.”
Somers says making sure employees understand “The Why” is crucial.
“They have to understand The Why as it applies to the company and to them personally, on their level,” he says. “They need to know how it’s going to make their life different, and improve it.”
Somers spent time helping the team understand that the changes were making things more efficient and smoother, tracking was better, and that better information at their fingertips would make their jobs easier.
Also crucial to a successful conversion: leadership buy-in.
“We all thought this was the right time to do this,” Somers says. “That was half the battle there, because the leadership has to go out to their team and convince them. If they have any doubts, they're going to convey those doubts, right?”
Last, but crucially, Somers says you need to pick an internal implementation manager.
“We freed up one person to be 100 percent committed to the conversion,” he says. “If he needed overtime, he got overtime. His other responsibilities went to somebody else.”
With more software fronts to conquer, there is a need for ongoing training. “Our internal person is doing all the reinforcement of the training with the team,” Somers says.
In the end, despite any misgivings, the plan was designed for success.
And that’s what happened.
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