HVAC, Plumbing, Management, Business Tips, Success Story

Focus on the individual drives growth for everyone at Cooper’s Plumbing and Air

Pat McManamon
May 17th, 2024
7 Min Read

In business, there are many paths to the preferred outcome. For one plumbing and HVAC business in Georgia, overall success flows from individual success.

And that individual success is driven by a focus on hiring the right people and refining processes to make those people successful.

“We've spent a lot of time aligning all the individual goals to the company goals so that the thing pulls itself,” said Tony Cooper, Owner and General Manager of Cooper’s Plumbing and Air in Bainbridge, GA, with an office in Tallahassee. “That's taken a lot of time and thoughtfulness to get that running.”

And now that it is?

“Every person in the company is making more money year-over-year,” Cooper said. “All the folks in the office, every person.”

Cooper’s story might not be everyone’s, as businesses are learning that economic conditions for the trades have changed four years after Covid disrupted everyday life. During the pandemic, people were at home more, so they started updating big-ticket items – hot water heaters, HVAC, etc.

A few years later, those accelerated new installs have meant a decrease in big-ticket replacements for some in the trades. And some businesses are struggling to maintain the growth seen during Covid.

Cooper’s was headed in that direction in 2022, when revenue dropped from $4 million to $3 million annually. An effort to tighten processes and enable the team through ideas brought from corporate America helped turn the ship. From 2022 to ’23, revenue jumped 81%—and Cooper said the hope is $12 million in ’24—with no drop in profit margin.

“The business has been around awhile, and I've been working on myself as a leader for years,” Cooper said. “And then finally, I got fully engaged and got two other tenured professionals. These guys were mature leadership/manager people.

“You combine that with the fact that we had this platform built, ServiceTitan (the cloud-based software for the trades) in place, and then we had these strategies for the management and individual training. We were connected to Nexstar.

“All those things pulling together at the same time is what led to this.

“Besides that, we're blessed.”

‘A good synergy’

The two hires Cooper referred to are John Godwin, who brought a corporate focus from Terminix, and Daren Free, who did the same on the sales side when he was hired from Charles Schwab.

“I feel like we had a lot of stuff in place because I'm bent toward admin rather than toward sales, even though I've done it all,” Cooper said. “Then when I got these two other managers, one who's a good sales manager and the other guy has no inhibitions. He’ll say, ‘Why not buy another truck? We'll figure it out.’

“With those two personalities plus mine, it created a good synergy of being able to grow quickly and not blow apart.”

Or, as he said, Cooper’s became “an overnight success that took 20 years.”

“I was busy trying to teach a bunch of turkeys to fly for a lot of years,” he said. “I had all this stuff in my head and I had learned it myself, but I could never drive it down. These new guys are helping me drive it down.”

Driving down on hiring the right people also made an impact, because better people lead to improved production.

“I go with this thinking that how you do anything is how you do everything,” Cooper said. “So if you come in and you look sloppy, probably things about you and the way you do your work and the way you approach life are going to be sloppy.”

To generate a collegial approach, Cooper’s allows all employees to share in the business’s success via a compensation plan built on revenue.

“We got better at the execution of every part of the business, the higher closing rate, bigger average ticket, people that can do work faster with less errors, those types of things,” Cooper said. “Just better execution all the way through.”

Cooper’s conducts annual surveys to measure employee engagement. Over time the results have grown from a 60 rating up to 91. Cooper uses Manager Tools as well as the “Getting Things Done” approach from author David Allen, a productivity guru whose books include “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”  Cooper’s also is adding Traction, an Entrepreneurial Operating System that helps the business drill down on the way people are treated and hired.

“You've got this strategy for how the business runs, strategy for how you manage inside the business, and the strategy for how each person runs their own personal part of the business,” Cooper said. “And I think those are some of the things that are allowing us to get really high engagement and good scores for people’s feelings while we're driving profit.”

Cooper’s is based in a town of about 14,300 some 40 miles north of Tallahassee. Named after William Bainbridge, the commander of the U.S.S. Constitution, Bainbridge developed as a lumber-town river port.

Jerry Cooper started the plumbing and HVAC business in 1997, and Tony started with his father after he finished college at Valdosta State in 2002. An initial plan to work for a few years part-time has been extended to permanent, as Tony was given half the business in 2015, then later purchased the other half.

Cooper’s added ServiceTitan in 2020, and Tony made a point to dive into learning all he could about what the software brought.

“I feel like that now we're at a point that we probably wouldn't leave ServiceTitan because we got so much into it,” Tony said. “We're having fun. We're motivated. ServiceTitan makes it easy to see the metrics and we've spent a lot of time trying to get them just really tweaked in.”

Cooper’s also relies on the organization Nexstar Network, especially its Daily Huddle feature.

“We have these dashboards and everybody can see really quickly what the information was from yesterday,”  Cooper said. “And we're very consistent with that huddle. With that data, you can hopefully notice trends in real time and try to start adjusting for them.”

The #1 newsletter for the trades.

Ignoring outside noise

Cooper emphasizes that success means focusing on what is working to make it better as opposed to trying to fix what’s broken. He also advocates ignoring outside noise, and not pulling back if the economy is stumbling.

“I'm a Christian and I believe that God has a hand in it, and these leaders that came along were the kind of leaders I needed at the time,” he said. “And as far as someone who wouldn't be a Christian who's looking, ‘Well, I need something I can take to the bank,’ the answer is don't watch the news.

“None of us three watch the news. None of us know about this soft economy. None of us know about this pullback. We do know about inflation. We're getting price increases so we do know that, but we don't watch the news. We never talk about the news.

“All we see is success and more success, and we have just no idea what's possible so we just keep going.”

Where will Cooper’s be going to? For now it is focused on Decatur County in Georgia, and all the counties that touch it. That adds up to about 200,000 potential customers. Adding an office in Tallahassee meant another 200,000. As he looks, he sees growth potential farther north toward Atlanta or south and east toward Orlando or Jacksonville. Cooper’s could even add more trades.

“We're wrestling with that right now because we've already outstripped what we thought the day Darren came in,” Tony said. “The first day of the interview, he's like, ‘We can grow this thing to $40 million in 10 years.’ We were thinking 20% a year, and we went from $4 million to $8 million so we've already broken that 20%.

“So now we're thinking 20% a year from this year. We really don't know what's possible.”

Related posts