Owning a plumbing business in the remote areas of Wyoming offers plenty of potential, but also plenty of challenges.
The state has wonderful opportunities for those interested in the outdoors. Its wide-open spaces are some of the country’s most beautiful.
For a small-business owner, though, those spaces add to the challenge of being based in a small town surrounded by other smaller communities.
Rock Springs is a town in the southwest corner of the state, with a population of about 23,000. Butch Cassidy (who in a different role was played by Paul Newman in a classic Western) worked in Rock Springs as a butcher. The town became home to 56 nationalities as immigrants sought jobs in the Union Pacific mines, which brought up coal to drive the railroads.
That puts Rock Springs in a hub of other smaller coal-mine towns in or near Sweetwater County. This spot was home to the oldest and largest of the Union Pacific Co. mines, with migrant workers sometimes living in small caves in the rock formations.
“If you look around Rock Springs, you can see the rocks and you can see the encampments in them,” said Lance Ball, Founder and CEO of Aspen Mountain Plumbing.
In a business environment like that, service and attention to detail matter. Aspen’s service area extends 100 or more miles West, North and East. Some of these drives on two-lane roads might take an hour or two. In a town the size of Rock Springs, customers may know the owner and workers from the plumbing company.
Aspen simply cannot afford to get it wrong, so attention to detail becomes vital.
“We wanted to bring to our community the type of plumbing that Rock Springs and Sweetwater County deserves,” Ball said. “And I knew I could do it.”
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Ball grew up in Kemmerer, a mining town about 90 miles west of Rock Springs. His father worked in the mines and dealt with the difficulty of the job and with strikes. When his son became a young adult, he offered pointed advice: I don’t care what you do, but get out of this town because you’ll end up in the mines.
Ball went to Las Vegas, where he took several different jobs, including with a credit card company. On Sept. 11, 2001, he woke up to learn of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
“The company’s headquarters was in the Twin Towers,” Ball said. “When the Towers went down, our company went down. All the board members were killed.”
The business shuttered in December of ’01. When Ball told a friend about his situation, the friend offered to hire him to learn plumbing. He went on to earn his master’s license at a Las Vegas business he started. A divorce settlement meant he lost the business, so Ball decided to go to the place he calls home.
“I missed my hunting, I missed my vision, I missed my family, I missed my mountains and the woods, so I came back home,” he said.
And his vision for the business he founded 10 years ago was to provide something special.
“My Dad’s mentality never left me,” he said. “That hard-work, nose-down, push-into-the-wheel mentality has never left me.”
He set out to create a near-organic connection between the business and the local community. Aspen is named after Aspen Mountain, about 15 minutes out of Rock Springs, where Ball and his sons enjoy hot dogs roasted over a campfire. Company colors are brown and gold, same as the University of Wyoming, which chose them to recognize the Brown-Eyed Susan flowers that are native to the state. Its quality work, though, was its touchstone.
“We wanted to provide this service to our community, the people that we love and care about and are our neighbors,” he said. “But we wanted to provide something that nobody else could provide, and that was to give back to the customer.”
Giving back means providing quality work. It also means empowering the customer by presenting as much information as possible about the problem, the need, the fix and the solution.
“We wanted to give that control back to the homeowner, who can say, ‘I have control of my home,’” he said. “Then build that relationship with them. We hold our techs to the highest level. We want a good-quality job. We want the customer to be given everything up front.
“We want them to have the options and to make a choice, and then we'll stand behind them in their choice and do the best job we can with that choice.”
Ball does this with four technicians, who deal with distance, different towns and wintry weather that can change a plan in a hurry.
“We work hard to find the best for our customers, the best product, the best services, the best equipment, whatever we can provide our customer and make it better for them,” Ball said. “That's what we work hard to do. We're trying to be a mover in the innovation and not just a responder of the innovation.”
To make it all work, Aspen turns to ServiceTitan, the cloud-based software for the trades that Ball calls “the heartbeat of our business.”
“Without ServiceTitan,” he said, “we don’t function.”
He cited many ways the software helps, one big one is by tracking parts in and parts out. In a business where some of the towns served are more than 100 miles away, a truck has to head to the job ready for any contingency. ServiceTitan’s tracking provides that information.
Another key benefit is the communication that ServiceTitan facilitates between Aspen and its customers. The good-better-best proposal, the text message about the location of technicians, the bios of the technicians, pictures and descriptions of jobs … all facilitate the kind of relationship Aspen tries to build.
“It brings a peace of mind,” Ball said. “ServiceTitan has made us look like a million-dollar company. It makes us look like a nationwide brand. And the biggest part of it is probably just the communication levels with the customer.”
To the point that other contractors have asked Ball how he does it.
“Everything comes from ServiceTitan,” he said.
Customers love pictures of a job that show work needed and completed. Through the software, Ball gains marketing insights, and sees where money is spent and how successful a specific campaign has been. He can see data on technicians’ work, and through that learn if more training is needed to help a tech in a particular area. He can see call volume and booking percentage, whether dispatch is doing its job.
“And I can do all that and get a big picture of where my business stands all in one spot,” he said. “I can go to that dashboard. I can go in and look at whatever report. I can pull my hours. I can see what my technicians are doing. I can do a track list. I can listen to phone calls. I can listen to see if my CSR responded in the right way. Maybe there's training opportunities for my CSR.
“We're taking care of our techs through the software. We're taking care of our customers through the software. We've got a system right.”
ServiceTitan also allows Ball to enjoy the parts of life that drew him back to Wyoming – being outside with his family, rafting, motorcycling.
“It used to be if I went away that I’d come back to a hornet’s nest,” he said. “I used to get a ton of stings from these hornets because I was gone for a week.
“Now I can go to a place that has Wi-Fi. I can pull up ServiceTitan and I can see exactly what went on that day, that week, the last two days, whatever it is. I can see where the business is. I can see what needs to be done. I can check in with the office if I need to, or I can just let it be because it's running fine.
“Now I can actually just relax and enjoy my time with my family.”
All reinforce two key decisions Ball made: First to return to Rock Springs, a place he loves, and second the decision to add ServiceTitan.
“ServiceTitan’s been one of the best investments we ever made,” Ball said. “It continues to be an investment for us, but it continues to grow. It's growing with us now. Instead of us outgrowing it, it's growing with us.”
Aspen Mountain Plumbing –