Stacy Fore admits she got into the trades reluctantly.
But Fore, who co-owns HVAC Solutions LLC in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, Okla., with husband Mike, isn’t reluctant about much else.
HVAC Solutions is growing quickly, with success fueled by aggressive adoption of ServiceTitan’s cloud-based software for the trades (and the world’s highest Titan Score), plus a smokin’ new commercial opportunity.
The couple have three grown children and are raising three grandchildren for a daughter who is very sick.
Fore, 46, also spends time as an addiction recovery coach, and often hires technicians and office staff from the pool of people who need a second chance.
“Crazy, right?” Fore asks.
Not as crazy, maybe, as how she found herself in the HVAC business.
When Mike got out of the Coast Guard, he became an apprentice in the HVAC industry In Southern California, where she was from and he had been stationed.
Her job at the time was developing off-campus student housing. When her position took them to Oklahoma, they fell in love with the area. But Mike, working for HVAC companies he didn’t consider the most ethical, didn’t love his situation.
When he was laid off on his birthday in 2009, the couple saw it as an opportunity, she says.
“He got laid off, but he was eligible for his contractors test,” Fore says. “And I said, ‘Really, people love you. You're really good. You're a good guy. You're a great tech. Let's just try. Why not?”
Her husband passed on his first try, scoring 98 percent.
“And he came back and he said, ‘Let's start a business,’” she says. “And I said, ‘Oh, you mean we?’”
She stayed with her career for another year or so, and says now she “probably didn't trust the process as much as I should have in the beginning.” But soon enough, they joined forces.
“I'm going to be really honest,” she says. “I knew zero about HVAC, other than I enjoyed my air conditioned home.”
A traditional husband-wife division of duties, at first
They divided the duties the way many husband-and-wife teams do. Mike was all about the technical side, including training technicians. Stacy was on the office side. “We used to split this right down the middle,” she says.
But now, in their 13th year of business, each has learned more about the other’s duties, including Stacy hitting the field.
“I just decided I didn't want to answer a phone and help a customer if I didn't really know what I was talking about,” she says. “And the only way to do that is to get out in the field and just get your hands dirty and figure it out.”
“I can go out at almost journeyman level by myself,” she says. “I wouldn't say I'd be very confident on your inside unit, but I'm super confident on your outside unit.”
And Mike understands more about KPIs and how the business side works, knowledge born of necessity.
“We really needed to dig more into what we didn’t know,” Fore says, “because of course at the end of the day what you don’t know is what you don’t know, right?”
The cross-training helped both partners.
“If you want to learn the business, you've got to kind of intertwine those things,” she says. “That's kind of where we landed.”
They also landed with a new service business software. HVAC Solutions moved to ServiceTitan two years ago, after three or four years with a competitor.
“With (the old software), we just didn’t have enough dynamic information in reporting, job costing, service agreement management and total overall understanding of KPIs,” Fore says.
ServiceTitan offered all that and more.
“Talking to other contractors and tradespeople about what they liked or didn’t like about different companies, we noticed that there was a trend,” Fore says. “And the trend was ServiceTitan.”
Talking to other contractors and tradespeople about what they liked or didn’t like about different companies, we noticed that there was a trend. And the trend was ServiceTitan."
From old-school to modern business software
Being a husband-and-wife team in the trades is not without challenges, Fore acknowledges. Keeping work and home separate has been a work in progress.
“It's really hard to do that,” she says. “Honestly, we're going into our 13th year of business now and I think we're just now finally mastering that. I don't know that we've done that real well before. That just comes with learning how to separate those, while going from a small company to a large company.”
There have been growing pains—right from the time Stacy joined Mike after he had been in business for about a year.
“I remember the first day, I asked him, ‘Well, how have you been doing this?’” she says. "And he handed me an appointment book. My grandma was a hairdresser, and she had an appointment book. She penciled people in.
“Mike handed that to me and I gasped, because I was like, ‘Oh, we're really old school.’ And he says, ‘I mean, I don't know anything else.’
“That started my journey of software hunts.”
Stacy Fore—and HVAC Solutions—needed a better way than an appointment book, but finding the right solution took some time. And previous companies weren’t responsive to her requests for improvements.
“There wasn't one that really met my needs,” she says. “I just kept pushing for that.”
ServiceTitan had the answer—not only in the software, but in the community that comes with it.
A built-in consulting service
But it also comes with a built-in consulting service in the form of other customers, Fore says.
“As we developed with ServiceTitan, especially, we started meeting all of these other contractors that rock it in their markets,” she says. “We're so deeply blessed to have them invest in us, even if it's just online or via Facebook. And they're really just willing to say, ‘Hey, we can show you.’
“(Through ServiceTitan), we have created relationships and connections both in business and personal life that we wouldn’t trade for anything.”
The combination sped the company’s growth, allowed Mike to more easily follow KPIs, and enabled a system and processes that leverage their brand, with less effort on their part.
“Effort had already been put in by us by using our CRM,” Fore says, “and what we were lacking (with other softwares) was what the CRM was giving back to us in order to make better ownership and leadership decisions.”
ServiceTitan provided that.
“That is why I love my ServiceTitan so much,” Fore says.
And the software has created steady growth. With 15 employees, Fore thinks of the company as mid-sized.
HVAC Solutions has six technicians in addition to Mike, and did $1.2 million in business in 2019, up $300,000 from the previous year. Stacy Fore says she expects to grow by $800,000 in 2020, the company’s second year with ServiceTitan.
“Some might say, ‘Well, after 12 years, that's not a lot,’’’ Fore says. “And I might agree with some other companies. But it took me about a year, actually, in the industry to kind of understand this: I have no competition but myself.
“If I can develop my own culture and my own values, if I'm always just measuring it against that, I've won. That's all I care about. The growth will come. The money will come. The sustainable growth, more importantly, will come.”
ServiceTitan will help. But so will medical marijuana. HVAC Solutions used to be almost 90 percent residential, but commercial has grown to about 30 percent of the business because of the burgeoning Oklahoma industry.
The passage of a medical marijuana bill, in “the buckle of the Bible Belt,” brought lots of HVAC opportunities. Including one in the same building complex that houses HVAC Solutions.
The landlord asked if the Fores would object. They didn’t.
“And then he says, ‘Great. I'll send them over for all the HVAC work.’” Stacy Fore says. “So I go over and I would say it's about 2,000 square feet. It's not huge. We're doing the load calculations and it's not just normal load calculations. We're talking lights.
“It's outrageous the amounts of BTU heat you put in there. So now we're talking where we used to do a five-ton or maybe even a seven-ton, to kind of give it some extra dehumidification. Now we're putting 15 and 20 times of air in there.”
And drawing in nearly $500,000 from the industry, just via word of mouth, for HVAC Solutions.
Between ServiceTitan and servicing marijuana growers, the business, as they say, is smokin’.
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