Marketing • Productivity • Management • Operations • 64 minutes

Chris Hunter: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

May 19, 2020

Episode Overview

It was the medical scenario we all dread. In the emergency room, a doctor found eight masses in Chris Hunter’s lungs. An oncologist told him he had six weeks to live. 

“They thought I had Stage 4 cancer,” Hunter recalls. “You talk about an eye opener. Oh man, what a reality check.”

Thankfully, the diagnosis was wrong. 

“Praise God, it was not cancer,” Hunter says. “It was a rare fungus that I had breathed in somehow. It was making tumors and started attacking my body. It was a butt-kicker. Oh my gosh, it kicked my butt for a year, but I was able to beat it.”

The misdiagnosis had quickly forced him to examine his priorities.

“It really makes you think about what’s important,” he says. “And I realized work is important, and doing things right was important to set my family up. But what immediately hit me was that relationships are what truly matters the most.”

Shortly before doctors told Hunter he was going to die, he’d sold Southern Oklahoma/North Texas-based Hunter Super Techs (the 90-person heating, air, plumbing and electric company he founded in 2009) to Turnpoint Services.   

The plan was for Hunter to stay with the company in the position of director of business development. In April 2020, though, he joined ServiceTitan as director of customer relations. He’s also the cofounding partner and still active with the Go Time Success Group training company.

Minus parts of his lungs removed by a surgeon after the health scare, Hunter’s plate is full—and he’s going on strong.

The leap of faith

Many years before the near-death experience, Hunter was much more carefree and focused on playing baseball. Looking for an easy high school class that wouldn’t interfere with playing ball, he took an HVAC course. He liked it, but figured it’d never amount to anything.

He got a job as a communications tech for AT&T and was with the company when 9/11 happened (in 2001). He was going to be part of a mass layoff. But when an air conditioning tech position opened at AT&T, he remembered enough from high school, applied, and got the job. 

By 2006, Hunter had his contractor’s license and was doing maintenance jobs for friends. In 2009, he started his own company full time. 

“I studied everything I could,” he says. “I was like a sponge. I just fell in love with the trades, with the work, with the challenge, and the gratification of saying at the end of the day, ‘Hey, I fixed that,’ or, ‘I built that.’”

Leaving AT&T to start Super Techs was a leap of faith. Before doing it, he had a long series of talks with his wife, Nickie.

She told him: “Chris, it’s go time. Just go for it. You can do this.”

That meant leaving a well-paying job.

“It was paying $70,000-$80,000, which was a great, comfortable salary in Oklahoma,” he says. “And then I went to paying myself $25,000 that first year in contracting. I was thinking, what in the world are we doing here? Why did we do this?”

He reminded himself that nothing great happens in your comfort zone.

“If you’re going to do something, you first have to give up to be able to go up,” he says.

He gives a great deal of credit to Nickie for the ultimate success of the company.

“I had her support,” Hunter says. “Without her encouraging me to go out on that limb, and trusting me that we’re going to make this work, there’s no telling where we would’ve been today.”

Working and serving others

After Turnpoint acquired Hunter Super Techs, both Chris and Nickie maintained roles at the company. But the shift also gave Chris more time to work with Go Time Success Group.

Hunter’s friend/mentor Ben Stark—who also sold a company to Turnpoint—suggested the pair team up to form a training company.

“We’re both super passionate about building technicians for tomorrow,” Hunter says.

Go Time is both a brick-and-mortar school for techs as well as an online university that offers tech and management training.

“We have a group of coaches and consultants who have worked in the trades as business owners, or worked inside of a company,” Hunter says. “It’s all people that have felt the pain of business ownership and leadership, and know how to navigate through those things.”

Whether it’s at the training school, Super Techs, ServiceTitan or in life, Hunter has one guiding principle that comes from the Bible: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you’re working for the Lord and not for men.

“Our mission is to keep customers comfortable, save them money, do it better than anyone else, and honor God with the way we do it,” Hunter says. “That’s how I still do anything. It’s a gift and curse, but whatever I do, I give it all I got.”

Chris Hunter’s Home Services Trade Tips

Chris Hunter, former owner of Hunter Super Techs and now director of customer relations at ServiceTitan, offered tips for success in the trades on a recent episode of “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, hosted by ServiceTitan. Among his top tips: 

1. Work balance for leaders.

Hunter firmly believes the success of a company rises and falls on leadership, but that a work/life balance is critical.

“No. 1, you definitely have to invest in yourself,” he says. “That can be expensive and it can be very time-consuming—but you cannot give what you don't have.”

Being a leader entails sacrifice—but not the ultimate sacrifice where you become a workaholic and risk losing your family.

“Anybody who is driven, in any line of work, probably faces the same thing that I did, where there is no off switch,” he says. “Oh my gosh, you want to turn it off but you can’t. Even if you go on vacation, you’re thinking, oh, man, we could probably implement this. Or I could do this for a marketing campaign.”

Hunter uses a simple visual representation to remind himself to intentionally prioritize and balance his life.

“I’ve got this little chart called The Wheel of Life,” he says. “You shade in each area of your life. It’s like a car wheel. The goal is to keep it rounded. When one side gets flat, next thing you know you just ditched yourself. That can happen if you focus all on your business and not on your family.”

2. Maintenance agreements = club memberships. 

Rather than call it a maintenance agreement, Hunter calls them club memberships. It sounds more user-friendly and it benefits the company, customers and the techs.

“For every service agreement/club membership that a tech sells, they get the first right to go service that customer,” Hunter says. “That’s helpful to the techs during slow times of the year, plus, they get a residual SPIFF as the years go on.”

That means every month, a tech gets a percentage of every membership they’ve sold. Over the years that monthly income adds up—creating an incentive for the tech to stay with the company.

It also creates a long-term bond between techs and customers. 

“When the time comes and a customer needs a big replacement, there’s no longer a bidding situation,” Hunter says. “They’re dealing with a trusted friend.” 

3. Business is relationship management.

These days, a business can live and die by internet presence. Word of mouth is crucial—whether its online or old-fashion, in-person interactions, Hunter says.

“We built complete new locations by utilizing social media and influence, as well as walking around, shaking hands, meeting people, getting involved in the community and giving back,” he says.

Never forget that the customer is the boss, Hunter says. “Put the customer first every time, and always do what’s right, and we’ll never be wrong.”

Hunter has a favorite story that illustrates the benefits of that mindset.

“We had a customer call our dispatcher to say she couldn’t make an appointment—she was out with a flat tire,” he says.

The dispatcher called the tech. The tech found the customer on the road, changed her tire, and met her back at the house for the tune-up. 

“Oh my gosh, she raved,” Hunter says. “There’s no telling how much business in referrals we ended up getting out of that. That wasn’t the purpose, but it started with us having a culture that rewarded and recognized extra-mile service.”

More tips, tricks and bits of trade wisdom 

Chris Hunter, former owner of Hunter Super Techs and now director of customer relations at ServiceTitan, offered tips for success in the trades on a recent episode of “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, hosted by ServiceTitan. Among his top tips: 

Pricing and numbers: “I once heard that most contractors that go out of business do it at the time in the year when they are the busiest,” Hunter says. Why? “If your pricing is wrong and you do more work, you compound the problem. If your collection system is wrong and you do more work, you compound the problem and run out of cash.” The lesson: Commit to understanding numbers and financials.

Learn to delegate: Avoiding micromanaging is hard—especially when it’s your name on the company. “The main reason a company gets stuck at a particular profit margin is due to bottlenecks created by leaders who won’t or can’t delegate,” Hunter says. “But if you truly empower people, and give them training, coaching, and the tools to succeed, then you can get out of the way. That’s the lesson. Let them run and give them the freedom to do it. You’ll be surprised where it will take you.”

Build your bench: “If you think about pro baseball teams, well, they all have minor league systems,” Hunter says. “They got people on the bench that are ready to be called up to the big leagues. You may not need extra techs right now. But if you are committed to growing, you need to have tomorrow’s technicians being trained and mentored today, and be ready to take and run when the opportunity comes.”

Partner with ServiceTitan: “I hate to give a shameless plug to ServiceTitan, but honestly, I went through several softwares, and it really is about leveraging technology to serve better,” Hunter says. “The bar is raised. Homeowners are impressed when a contractor just shows up on time. So, when they get that notification that shows who’s coming, a little bit about their family, and then maybe even a link below about how to get pre-approved for financing, or the club membership that we have, man, those are game-changers.”

Find mentors: Everybody needs advice. Here are three tips from Hunter on finding the right mentor:

  • Choose a mentor who has been there. They should know what you’re going through and the pressure of being a business owner—how much weight it carries financially, and how it affects the team, the customers, everything. A mentor that has been in those shoes is very important.

  • Find someone with a value system you believe in. Someone you respect. I think that you can learn from people that may have a different set of values than you, but be guarded, because a lot of people mean well, and their strategies might work, but it may not be a fit for your culture.

  • Keep it to one or two mentors. Ideally one. Too many advisors can get confusing.

Avoid depression: Being a business owner brings pressure, and that can cause depression. “There are highs and lows,” Hunter says. “But we all struggle through the low points. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and seek out others who have been there. Don’t quit. Don’t get down. Just keep going.”

The value of awards: Awards are nice, and Hunter has received several, including Tom McCart Consultant of the Year, and the 2016 ACHR Best Contractor of the Year. “It’s humbling and you feel honored to get awards,” Hunter says. “And if you do win awards, it opens the flood gate for new recruits. For that, I encourage you to have your team submit you for awards every year.”

Recommended reading

Books that have inspired Hunter include:

HVAC Spells Wealth. “A no-brainer for getting started and definitely the top on the list.”

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. “I think John Maxwell ought to be required reading for anybody that assumes a leadership role.”

The Power of Positive Pricing. “Matt Michel, the author, is a personal mentor of mine.”

It’s Go Time. Hunter and Ben Stark are publishing a book about the transformational journey from being a tech to growing a business to exiting the business. It’s expected out this fall.

About ServiceTitan

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive software solution built specifically to help home service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and substantially elevate the trajectory of their business.

Our comprehensive, cloud-based platform is used by thousands of electrical, HVAC, plumbing, garage door, and chimney sweep shops across the country—and has increased their revenue by an average of 25% in just their first year with us.

Ready to learn more about what ServiceTitan can do for your business?

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Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

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