Hong Zhu and her husband, Steven (his American name) opened their HVAC business so they could spend more time together.
When Hong tells that truth to peers or entrepreneurs, she usually gets a chuckle.
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“We did not know what we were getting into when starting a business,” she said in a recent interview with ServiceTitan.
Now seven years into ownership of SuperTech Heating and A/C in the Baltimore area, the couple has seen the company grow to two offices and 15 employees. They also are inching toward seeing more of each other, a major reason for starting the business that now focuses on HVAC, water heater repair and replacement, and fireplace repair and maintenance.
Every journey into the trades is unique. This couple’s was lengthy and complicated, and included challenges any first-generation immigrant from China faces.
The two met at a party for people of Chinese descent. Steven was talking HVAC to Hong, and a day or two after the party he called to offer to check her HVAC system.
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She said yes, and “that’s how everything started,” Hong said. “So funny.”
Steven had worked in HVAC in China. He had been initially hired by a Northern Virginia company – but because his experience in China did not qualify him for a license in the United States, he started working as a technician’s aid at $10 per hour, Hong said.
“The tech stayed in the car,” she said. “Steven went in and handled everything.”
Over time, his skills showed, and Steven earned the trust of management. The experience helped him earn his license, and even with a language barrier in his first year he was the company’s top producer, Hong said.
“People bought from him and trusted him, even though they didn’t always understand what he was saying,” she said.
The couple started dating soon after the “service call,” but could only see each other on Sundays because Steven’s company had him working six days a week, 12 hours per day.
“They had so many calls,” said Hong, an associate professor of accounting at a Baltimore university. “And they just wanted him to run more calls because he was one of the top producers.”
The relationship grew, and later that year the couple was married. Steven soon promised Hong that, if she ever got pregnant, he would be home at 6 every night.
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A year later, she was pregnant, but the demands of a workplace that clearly did not want to foster loyalty increased. One night, Steven was on a job at 9:30 and was asked to handle another call right after. He balked. The bosses insisted.
So he quit.
“That was the last straw,” Hong said.
Soon after, the couple founded SuperTech, but they did it without a customer base in the Baltimore area and without knowing how busy the first few years would be.
“That’s the funniest thing,” she said. “The business really took off. What happened then was he was not working less time.”
But he had Hong working on the financials while she continued teaching. As the mother of two young children, Hong proudly says she now has three jobs: SuperTech, associate college professor, and being a mom.
“Once we get the business to a certain size that we don’t have to work every day, then, yes, we are going to have a little bit more time to ourselves,” Hong said. “But we are still trying to get there.”
A 2018 switch to ServiceTitan certainly helped.
“We were pen and paper (prior),” Hong said, which meant she used her accounting skills to come up with a system. Even with her skills, she understood that SuperTech needed something better. She did some research at a Lennox annual meeting – thankfully it was in Washington, D.C., so the couple could drive -- and learned about ServiceTitan.
She talked to several representatives of businesses similar to SuperTech who recommended the cloud-based software for the trades. Then she spent time talking with ServiceTitan reps. It all convinced her that going with ServiceTitan was the right thing.
“I’m the kind of person who wants the best instead of focusing on how much,” she said.
Or, as she said: “I bought a Ferrari.”
A key factor: the ability of ServiceTitan to integrate with what Hong already had set up.
“I know the integration was costly,” she said. “But I decided I wanted it.”
Three years after onboarding, Hong believes it is worth every penny.
“My husband,” Hong said, “is just amazed at what that baby can do.”
The main benefits? Call recording, which has allowed SuperTech to ensure calls are handled properly, and to ensure the right things are communicated. If customers have questions or issues after jobs, Hong uses the call-recording feature to back up the company’s work.
“You just can’t believe how many times they would just go silent” after hearing the call recording, Hong said.
The pictures feature also provided documentation. Hong maximizes dashboard use to follow the budget and see where SuperTech is in terms of goals.
For Hong, making the accounting available to the team fosters transparency. That allows her to track and follow up on goals set for each employee – and it allows them to learn about the business and feel like they have a vested interest in its success.
“I show them a lot, and then everybody’s on board,” Hong said. “Without ServiceTitan, we cannot grow this fast.”
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