Chris Petri’s family business has been in operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., since 1906, and the company has seen a lot, and been through a lot.
The Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918-19. Two world wars. Vietnam. 9/11. Hurricane Sandy. And, now, Covid-19.
Through it all, what is now Petri Plumbing and Heating has been part of the Petri bloodline. Petri, the operations manager for the company now owned by his father, is part of the fifth generation.
But he almost wasn’t part of the company at all. He interned instead with a union shop focused on huge new-construction projects in New York City.
“I'd be like, ‘Well, who fixes it?’” Petri said. “The union was dominating in such a way that they didn't go into homes because it was too small for them. So it was like, there's crumbs. But a crumb builds a cake. And in a city of 9 million people, the crumbs are more than some states are.”
Petri Plumbing and Heating, with a small service radius of about 9 densely populated miles, fills the gap.
“In New York City, if you're counting residential service and repair that is not union, there's probably one company that's bigger than us,” Petri said. “And it's like, that's the opportunity.”
Positioned for the future with ServiceTitan
Petri wanted one thing before he “signed my soul on the dotted line” and rejoined the family business: For the company to operate more like business than family.
ServiceTitan, the cloud-based, all-in-one residential and commercial plumbing business software Petri Plumbing and Heating adopted in 2015, helped. That was about the time Petri joined the family business.
“We're not a Mom and Pop shop anymore,” Petri says. “We've grown from that. … We're prepped for growth in a sense where I think we've built a good foundation of an actual company, not just a Mom and Pop shop, where it all relies on Pop.”
Among the benefits of ServiceTitan?
Accountability through live data.
A dashboard that captures key performance indicators and updates from the field in real time.
The ability to do automated, tightly targeted marketing campaigns.
But the pandemic has put two ServiceTitan features in particular at the forefront:
The ability to communicate quickly and clearly with customers.
And cloud-based connectivity that enables a remote workforce but making it possible to operate any facet of the business from anywhere.
Those abilities, Petri said, put the company in position to weather the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, with New York City among the hottest of hot spots.
Home services companies, meanwhile, were allowed to operate, deemed “essential businesses,” while those union companies doing new construction saw job sites shut down.
“I have a childhood friend whose family owns an electric company where there's 30 job sites, all shut down,” Petri said. “So it's a blessing that service and repair has been allowed to continue to run.”
Another blessing? ServiceTitan.
ServiceTitan makes operating in a pandemic possible
The ability to work remotely, which ServiceTitan has expanded even further since the onset of the pandemic, was key for keeping Petri Plumbing and Heating’s staff safe. The company stayed organized and in constant contact despite being disbursed to limit the spread of the virus, Petri said.
Petri’s office staff, other than him, is working remotely, including people in financial and oversight, CSRs and field managers. The company also has nine full-time service technicians and nine trucks in the field.
“We don't have to be right next to each other to communicate and to have a good workflow, because ServiceTitan's interface is pretty simple,” he said. “Without having an interface like ServiceTitan that kept all of our information in one place, I couldn't imagine what would have happened.”
ServiceTitan software enables the operation to run smoothly, just as it did before the staff scattered. Technicians can enter notes, arrange logistics, equipment and materials, offer financing for cash-strapped clients, and communicate with the office seamlessly through the cloud-based home services app.
Petri said he could manage up to 15 technicians by himself, if necessary.
“It really does help to make things a lot smoother,” Petri said. “(With) the old school way of an Excel sheet, I don't think anybody would be able to (operate) right now.”
The pandemic reaffirmed Petri’s belief in ServiceTitan. “Some of the smaller softwares,” he said, “just didn't have every little aspect that would help.”
Communication with customers: Easy, reassuring
ServiceTitan has helped Petri communicate with terrified New Yorkers and offer a contactless experience, too.
A dispatch notification includes a picture of the technician, plus a biography, which Petri said was big for customer experience even before the pandemic.
“If your plan is to keep a safe distance from everybody, the last thing you really want is a stranger coming into your home, let alone a stranger who has been into several homes that day,” Petri said. “That was a big hurdle we saw in the very beginning.”
With ServiceTitan communications and improvements around no-touch service, Petri cleared the hurdle.
“With a virus going around, being able to say you're having one person, being able to see him, being able to verify who it is at the door, you can kind of keep it down to minimum visits and minimum contact,” Petri said. “It made things feel a lot safer for all of our clients.”
Petri hasn’t pushed Covid-19 messaging in dispatch bios, though, preferring not to highlight the fear. But the company has been working through phone calls to every client—9,000 of them—to let them know Petri is still operating, and about safety procedures.
“They still get the same picture, they still get the same biography, because what we've said is we want to keep it as normal as possible,” Petri said, “because normalcy in a time of ambiguity is big.”
And once Petri’s team calmed fears and gained trust, conversion rates rose, and so did average ticket, to between $1,100 and $1,200. Despite the number of calls being down, Petri said efficiency and profitability are up.
“You're already having somebody in your home, there's no need to have somebody else come in,” Petri said. “While the guys are on site fixing the toilet bowl or fixing the boiler, they're asking how the hot water is. They're asking if there are any other issues, with the sole intent of saying, we can get it all done in one visit.”
Petri says the company did $3.2 million in revenue in 2019, with a goal of about $3.8 million for 2020. That goal has been affected by the pandemic, but Petri said he feels fortunate to still be open.
“In a situation where most companies are closed and we're able to operate, we are where we should be,” he said.
During a pandemic, that’s not a bad place.
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