From Technician to $6.5M Business Owner
Jason Ellington knows air conditioning. He’s worked in the skilled trade for nearly 30 years, and knows how to fix most anything related to keeping his customers’ homes cool and comfortable. Learning to run his own HVAC business, on the other hand, required trial and error with different software solutions to find the most efficient workflow product.
“It’s a problem many HVAC contractors experience as they transition from service technician to business owner,” says Ellington, President of Ellington Air Conditioning & Heat in Brevard County, Florida.
“Every HVAC contractor out there was a technician at some point in time, with little to no schooling as to how to run a business,” says Ellington, who decided to operate his own air conditioning business instead of going to college. “You learn fast, but you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Ellington speaks from experience. The Brevard County native began learning the air conditioning trade at age 15, and started running his own business by age 19. Forced to start over with a new company in 2008 when the recession hit, Ellington Air Conditioning & Heat now operates with five service technicians in Brevard County and two service technicians in the Keys—earning $6.5 million in annual sales.
To keep his technicians on track and his A/C company running smoothly, Ellington tried creating his own robust proposal and estimating system in Excel. The custom-built system worked fine for a few years, he says, but soon reached its capacity and required too much money and time to develop and maintain it.
A Modern Field Service Software for a Modern World
In 2012, the company decided to go paperless and purchased a mobile software solution to assist with scheduling appointments, tracking service calls, completing quotes, invoicing customers, and ordering equipment. The software allowed his techs to become more savvy in the field, Ellington says, but he compares his experience with the software to “riding the back of a dinosaur.”
“It’s kind of slow, it’s kind of clunky and it’s very predictable,” Ellington explains. “It still gets the job done, but it requires a bunch of add-ons to make it work the way you need it to. It’s not very resilient and it can’t adapt. It just kind of is what it is.”
When a new company bought the software platform he’d been using, Ellington started the onboarding process with the new parent company, but soon realized it wasn’t a good fit. “We learned very quickly that it was not going to save us. We were not going to pick up any efficiencies by using it,” he says.
Ellington signed on with ServiceTitan’s field service software in 2019, and says the comprehensive HVAC software solution is “light years ahead” of anything currently on the market today.
“Moving over to ServiceTitan is like going from a dinosaur to a Ferrari. It’s a really great product,” Ellington says. “One of the redeeming qualities of ServiceTitan is they’re great hand-holders. They hold everyone’s hand through the process, so it’s not so scary. It’s not like you’re actually jumping off a dinosaur’s back, getting into a Ferrari, and not knowing how to drive it.”
As a new ServiceTitan user who’s tried other software solutions, we asked Ellington to describe his transition from “dinosaur to ferrari,” and explain what he sees as the advantages or disadvantages of using ServiceTitan over other field service software.
Q: Why did you abandon the onboarding process with the new parent company of your old software and switch over to ServiceTitan?
A: The parent company’s software wasn’t developed by the same people who designed the system I was using at the time, and the two weren’t very friendly with each other. The big tell-tale sign for me was they failed to accurately pull all of our historical data over to the new system. ServiceTitan did a far better job extracting our work history, and the ServiceTitan team is much easier to work with.
Q: What was the onboarding process like with ServiceTitan?
A: The best thing about ServiceTitan, hands down, is that the software includes a cost-plus option to pay for an on-site support person. The other companies do this too, but ServiceTitan handles it differently. Other companies charge something like $3,000 a day for training, which is like asking for the entire ServiceTitan fee once a day.
For most people, ServiceTitan seems very expensive. We actually developed some of our own proposal software, so I know how much it costs to develop software. ServiceTitan is actually super cheap once you know how much it costs to develop software. In my opinion, the other companies are sabotaging themselves. Why make your training expenses so high? It would behoove your software company to make your training expenses low or offer deals … that’s going to pay you back dividends as a software company because the user actually knows how to use it and is not calling you 5,000 times a day to ask how to do something very simple and elementary.
Q: When investing in software for your company, what kind of research do you do?
A: We just put pictures of software logos on a dartboard and throw a dart. Wherever the dart hits, that’s the one we go with. No, I’m kidding!
It probably takes a series of research sessions over a one-year or two-year period to actually make a decision as to what to use. I also might ask a contractor or two what they’re using. I don’t really believe too much in asking a whole bunch of contractors, because they’re kind of a flawed group and getting their opinion isn’t very helpful sometimes.
Q: What would you say to other contractors who think ServiceTitan software is too expensive?
A: That is one of ServiceTitan’s biggest challenges, because a lot of contractors don’t understand how much software costs. I spent more than $200,000 developing and maintaining my own Excel system (before buying any software), and I finally realized ServiceTitan pays for itself, essentially.
Instead of explaining what goes into the cost of software, the better thing to do is show the contractor how ServiceTitan can save them money, make them more money, and help manage their business better. Show the pros and cons of different software options and let them make the decision. Here’s what it can do, here’s what it can’t do, and here’s where we shine.
Q: What would you say to other contractors who think they don’t have time to set up the ServiceTitan software?
A: I would ask them, “What is your expectation of growth? What are your goals in the next five years?” If it makes sense for your goals … suck it up and add it now. If it makes more sense to add it two or three years from now, then do it then. Your biggest benefit is the history will be there, no matter when you decide to do it.
Q: What's the biggest thing you need help with at Ellington?
A: Reporting and integration of services. I would say ServiceTitan’s reporting element is one of its strongest attributes. And the more we can integrate, the better. Integration makes it more accurate and easier to access, which encourages everybody to use it. ServiceTitan did a really good job at both of those.
Q: Which ServiceTitan features do you like the most?
A: You can finance service repairs right from within the platform, with no need to fill out a bunch of paperwork. That’s awesome. Estimate templates work really well for service repairs. We also love the ability to create forms inside ServiceTitan, which trigger other actions in the platform. We made a form for “parts needed” for each specific job and it automatically puts a tag on the job, so everyone knows the parts are ordered for that job. Stuff like that is beautiful. The communication that you’re allowed to do within ServiceTitan is awesome. The reports are amazing.
Q: Did your technicians and office staff easily adapt to the ServiceTitan software?
A: All of our technicians love ServiceTitan, which was a shock. I thought they would all balk and complain, kick their anthill everywhere, and throw a temper tantrum. That wasn’t the case. The techs adapted to it pretty quickly, but there are still some things we are learning. The workflow on the mobile side is very intuitive. There’s a lot to it and you can dig deeper if you want — but for the most part, it’s pretty intuitive as to how to connect the dots.
For the office staff, it wasn’t quite as intuitive because there are a lot of drill-downs and a lot of different places where you can do the same thing. They were used to our old, antiquated software program and always searching for workarounds to make things work. As soon as something didn’t work in ServiceTitan or they didn’t know how to do it, they were looking for a workaround. I’m like, “Stop! There are 100,000 users on this program. I’m pretty sure anything we can think of has already been thought about and probably discussed like 2,500 times. All we have to do is ask the question. Stop looking for a workaround. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.” Once they embraced that and utilized the ServiceTitan chat feature, life was good again.
Q: How can ServiceTitan better market its product to HVAC companies? What improvements would you like to see?
A: To market ServiceTitan better, make the advantages of using the software simple for HVAC companies to understand. Partner with trade groups and distributors to present the ServiceTitan software to large groups of HVAC contractors at one time, so they learn from one another. Contractors tend to tune out when you start asking questions like, “How do you measure your KPIs?” and they’re like, “What the hell is a KPI?” Give them some information they can use in their own business, but also add those thought-provoking questions that make them come to you and say, "Hey, what can your software do for us?" Time is a contractor’s biggest challenge, so don’t waste it.
ServiceTitan is a comprehensive HVAC business software solution built specifically to help service 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.