Justin Tarr started his duct-cleaning business in late 2007, and that timing proved to be auspicious.
A major recession hit the following year, and as markets tanked and jobs were lost, Tarr was forced to work full-time in one field while pursuing his dream in the other.
Twelve years later, Tarr and his company, Daffy Ducts, are established and thriving. He has taken the best that ServiceTitan has to offer and grown to top $800,000 in annual revenue. He has gone from one truck and a single crew to a regionalized approach to sales, resulting in an average ticket of $850 in the 12,000 homes he has serviced.
“We really just started rocking with three trucks, three territories, and (attic) insulation is currently half a week,” Tarr said. “If this continues at the pace it is, we'll probably get close to $1 million (in business this year)—$800,000, $900,000 maybe. And then we go from there.
“Next year is easily over a million for us.”
Listen to Tarr talk about Daffy Ducts (extra points for the cartoon reference) and the end result is not a surprise. He has an energy and upbeat vibe that comes through each word.
He grew up in Pittsburgh and was quick to say “Go Steelers” when he explained his background. But when he talks about where he has taken Daffy Ducts, he sounds like a quarterback who threw the game-winning touchdown pass at Heinz Field.
At one point in the interview, Tarr had to pause, then said: “I get excited about this stuff. I kind of smiled and forgot what the original question was.” When the 61-minute talk concluded, he said it “went really fast. … I enjoyed it.”
Tarr describes himself as a hugely analytical person. He speaks of task-level metrics, billable efficiencies and integration relationships. His mission statement is based on trust and honesty.
“We were all about reputation before reputation was even a thing,” he said.
Facing the music and diving in
Tarr’s journey into entrepreneurship started after he had spent 10 years in New York City, where he pondered a music career while working in self-storage. He moved to Atlanta, then started investigating to find a business that would allow a start-up few barriers to entry and low entry costs.
He found a company that provided training for air-duct cleaning.
“And I dove in,” he said. “I did my first job absolutely free for somebody, because I wanted to figure out how it was done, so that I can understand what it’s going to look like. Not at somebody else’s expense, but at our own expense.”
The recession in 2008 meant that he had to support himself by returning to work in self-storage, while concurrently doing what he could to keep his own business going.
"(I was) continuing to keep Daffy Ducts alive, but I wasn’t breathing life into Daffy Ducts, if that makes any sense,” he said.
In 2016 he decided it was time to turn full time to his baby. Daffy Ducts had one van and one crew, and Tarr had a desire to grow.
To do that, he knew his company needed a new, more robust and comprehensive CRM system.
How would Daffy Ducts grow the fleet? How would it get technicians to drive sales? How would the company motivate employees? How would it get data and metrics so Tarr could understand exactly what was going on?
The first software he chose to run his business promised all that but didn’t deliver.
“We went into (the previous CRM system) thinking we were getting all the same features,” Tarr said. “We were getting ready to really be able to understand our KPIs, go in and look at our sales performance from our technicians, start to understand those functions ... all of those things that you need to really manage and grow a business from one to whatever.
“And nothing that we thought we were getting actually happened.”
The experience with that company did not last long. Tarr felt its approach was simply not specific to his needs, or his company.
“There's a lot of things that we were doing that were so inefficient,” Tarr said.
That led him to ServiceTitan, which he said allowed him to succeed on his own terms.
“ServiceTitan helped us to understand that we could be doing so much better,” Tarr said. “ServiceTitan really wrapped their arms around Daffy Ducts and gave us a nice onboarding hug, if I can give you an analogy of how it made us feel.”
Tarr admitted there was some sticker shock at first, but quickly added that “the return on investment for the overall service has been phenomenal.” The software helped Daffy Ducts grow, and especially helped him refine average price per job.
ServiceTitan really wrapped their arms around Daffy Ducts and gave us a nice onboarding hug. The return on investment for the overall service has been phenomenal.”
“I say that not from the standpoint of just being a company that wants to go out and just charge the customer as much as we can charge them,” he said. “But it awakened us to how much we were undercharging, undervaluing ourselves and our service, and really just losing money, to be honest with you.”
Knowing what you need to know to serve customers
“When you start to look at the overall customer experience, these things, to me, are just critical,” he said.
Tarr also was able to use ServiceTitan to develop what he called a task-level metric that allows him to measure the value of each job—to measure time on the job and the quality of work.
“We don't bill by the hour, but if we're looking at it from that perspective and we say that one system should take three hours on average, and they're at 100 percent, they're spot on,” he said. “If they're under 100 percent, they're taking longer than normal. And then the further down they go, we may have a performance problem. If they're too high, if they're at 200 percent, we may have a quality problem.
“So it's just a good indicator for us.”
More indicators huddled on ServiceTitan dashboard
He credited the sales dashboard for helping with upselling, and stressed the importance of ServiceTitan’s “huddle.”
“That gives us a whole bunch of metrics in one snapshot,” he said. “It tells us how many sales, how many opportunities, average price per job, average price per job without estimates, this week versus last week, on pace to reach numbers, from an annual perspective, if we keep doing what we're doing. So it's pretty detailed and comprehensive.”
The company has even developed a cognitive personality test to identify character traits of employees who are good fits when it comes to hiring.
“Last year, we had a pretty good year in terms of low turnover, the lowest that it's ever been,” he said. “This year, we're beating that while we're growing at the same time. So that's a win-win.”
As Tarr sits in his office and shares the story of his company, he looks to his bulletin board for touchstone inspirations. Each could apply to his original days with the business, when he was able to somehow keep it afloat in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in decades.
While others were losing jobs and businesses, Tarr kept his dream—and his company—alive, so that it could eventually thrive.
“I have the serenity prayer here,” he said, “and then my favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’"
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