There’s a lot that’s refreshing about a man who can explain his life with wit and candor.
Consider Tom Casey, Chief Visionary Officer for Griffin Service, a Jacksonville-area HVAC company.
In proudly pointing out that he grew up in the trades, Casey first described himself as a “third-generation SOB … son of a boss.”
His reason for going to college for one year: “Probably to meet girls and drink beer.”
On starting his business the day after Thanksgiving: “Great timing by us,” he said.
And after a health scare turned into a false alarm, Casey said he felt “whichever power that any of us believe in said, ‘OK dummy. Wake up.’”
As for his qualifications to run a successful business and become (more coming on this) a national contractor of the year in 2001, Casey said: “I have a PhD from the school of hard knocks. And so if there's a mistake to be made, I figure out how to make it at least twice.”
Casey is not a man who writes or performs stand-up. But he has figured out how to turn all those hard knocks and second chances into successes, whether it’s with his health, a surprise second HVAC company, or a second go with ServiceTitan’s cloud-based software for the trades.
Griffin Service, which has about 25 employees, takes care of numerous issues for homeowners, including air conditioning, plumbing, water treatment and conditioning, and dehumidification. It has been in business since 2016 and this year outpaced its revenue budget of $3.95 million.
Casey says he gave himself the “Chief Visionary” title for a reason.
“I'm more focused on my business than in my business,” Casey said. “And so it's my job to set the vision and the direction and the pace of where we want to go than it is to do the nuts and bolts of operations day to day.”
When he started Griffin Service, ServiceTitan was part of the vision. But the day-to-day told a different story.
An investment in the family business
Casey’s business journey started in Connecticut when he was young, with the trades a part of the family fabric.
“My grandparents started with delivering coal and ice way back in the early 1900s,” he said. “And it evolved to fuel oil up in Connecticut, and then air conditioning kind of became invented, in vogue. And then my dad and my uncles were in the more traditional HVAC and refrigeration business. And I worked with my dad, ran night calls and carried the tools, and kind of did all that stuff.
“I took a year off from college because I really liked working in this industry, and I really liked working with my dad, and we're now, I think, 35 years later, and I'm still on my year off.
“So it's sort of in my DNA. I love it.”
Casey is a living example that not all successful people need college to succeed.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
But as he grew in the family business, Casey realized he was caught between his father and uncle. The work environment wasn’t always, shall we say, ideal.
“Dysfunctional” was the word Casey used.
So the brothers split the business, and Casey wound up with 51 percent of a climate engineering company in Milford, Conn.
It worked: In 2001, the company was national contractor of the year. Through it all, his father did all he could to teach Casey—loaning him to other contractors, sending him to schools, signing him up for webinars, and including him in management and decisions.
“(My dad) invested in me, and he gave me the opportunity,” he said. “I’m pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.”
Always learning, always teaching
To this day he visits shops to find out how others do their work, their emphasis. As much as he learns, he tries to help, to pay it forward the way his father paid it forward to him.
The family sold the business to Blue Dot in 2001, and Casey worked for Blue Dot for three years. In 2004 Casey went on his own with Climate Partners.
“We ended up taking back the business from Blue Dot,” he said.
That worked for 10 years, but around 2014, after a physical, Casey’s doctors sent him to a heart specialist, who told him on a Friday that he would have surgery on Monday—and that it was time to get his affairs in order.
“That was kind of a stressful weekend,” he said.
He woke up after surgery, looked at his chest and saw no sign of an incision, merely a small scar on his wrist. The heart scare turned out to be a false alarm, which led to some reflection on Casey’s part. He decided to move to Florida and build his dream house (though he still owns Climate Partners).
New town, new house, new problem
When he got to the house, he realized it had problems with HVAC and plumbing.
“That is my trade,” he said. “The shoemaker with no shoes.”
When his wife talked to a plumber about making the repairs, Casey’s wife told him: “If we ever did this in our business up in Connecticut, we'd be out of business. You should start a business."
“Boom,” he said. “Griffin is born. So that's the long, convoluted story to Griffin Service, how we got to here in Florida.
“So in 2016, we launched. Zero customers, zero employees. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving. It was great timing by us.”
At that point he needed a software and chose ServiceTitan, but his business as a pure startup—“Zero client, zero employee”—was not far enough along to take advantage of what ServiceTitan could provide.
“We didn't utilize any of it,” he said. “We just weren't ready.”
After a year Casey realized the partnership wasn’t working. So he tried another company, which had limited features but had enough to help Griffin get on its feet.
Within six months that software could not handle what Casey built. In 2019, he tried another company, but the software didn’t live up to its promise.
Another second chance
His technicians and management suggested returning to ServiceTitan, the company’s third software in two years. Casey demanded more information, and asked ServiceTitan what support it could provide. The company invited him to a training session in Atlanta.
“And so everyone's like, ‘Why are you going?’ I'm like, ‘Because I keep hearing what it can do, I'm going to go in a room full of smart people, and I'm going to be the dumbest guy in the room and ask a lot of questions.’ And so that's what I did.”
Casey said ServiceTitan answered every question he had, and representatives spent extra time with him to explain what the software could do for him.
He talked to other users, and hired someone from the class who wanted to move to Florida to be Griffin’s office manager.
As ServiceTitan became a larger part of the operation, Casey started to recognize the benefits.
“When we went there, we weren't using anything,” he said. “We weren't using the notification. We weren't using the map. We were using none of that stuff. And now that's one of the favorite things from our customers. When we look at our reviews, there are very many like, ‘They confirmed, they texted on their way, they sent me a bio.’
“We get a lot of credit for that, but it really is ServiceTitan's credit. How we interact on the job, how we close out and follow up, and then how that feeds the follow up process, and how we then call to make sure they're satisfied or call to make sure that we can manage that whole thing through, was what I anticipated the initial time and didn't experience.
“And I wanted to see it the second time.”
He has. Happily.
“It's a million times the right decision for us,” Casey said. “We finally made it, again for the second time, after three strikes, but we made it.”
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