Geoff Gillon always knew he wanted to build a successful trade company, sell it and live the good life. A true entrepreneur, Gillon created The Pink Plumber, an iconic brand based in Atlanta, raising a million dollars for breast cancer research along the way.
Even before he cashed out, Gillon always believed in the “work-to-live” philosophy. He was always willing to make bold moves to achieve his dream and thinks there’s never a good time to cut the marketing budget.
Here is Geoff Gillon’s advice for financial success in the home services trade:
Key TakeawaysWork to live, not the other way around.The key to financial success is not hourly rates. It’s flat-rate pricing.Don’t be afraid to take risks. When the economy tanks, keep advertising and renegotiate marketing rates. You can actually build growth on the back of a credit card. Make bold moves. Techs will drive pink trucks—especially if it makes them money. A rising tide raises all boats.
Work to live, not the other way around.
From the very beginning of his career in the trades—after he gave up aviation to be a plumber—Gillon made it a priority to play golf every day at noon.
“I always felt like you go to work to earn money so you can be with your family or enjoy things,” he says. “Just to sit there seven hours a day is mind-bending. I think you spin your wheels and become unproductive.”
The key to financial success is not hourly rates. It’s flat-rate pricing.
Gillon learned the basics of the trades from how-to tapes he purchased back in 1988. “I learned that it’s not OK to charge a lot and not give the customer something,” he says. “But it’s OK to charge the right price if you give them the very, very best. You have to factor in the cost of doing business into the price.”
Don’t be afraid to take risks.
During the time period, he was growing the business from one truck to 10, Gillon was consistently warned by staff members to slow down. He refused.
“Listening to other people can inhibit an entrepreneur,” he says. “My accountant was always telling me I was stretched too far. That we were going under and I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. If you listen to those types of people, you’ll never get where you want to go. It’s fear. Fear is a terrible thing.”
When the economy tanks, keep advertising and renegotiate marketing rates.
When the Great Recession happened in 2008, Gillon had eight trucks on the road and was mostly advertising on the radio and in the Yellow Pages. “I told them now is the time for you guys to give me a better deal because I’m sticking with you,” he says.
Gillon negotiated reduced rates for a three-year term. He actually upped his spending in ’08 and his volume went up 30 percent.
You can actually build growth on the back of a credit card.
Gillon used an American Express card to essentially loan himself money to buy more trucks on a monthly basis.
“You can’t do this with a credit card with a high-interest rate,” he says. “But with American Express you pay everything back in 28 days. Isn’t that like a loan that doesn’t cost you a penny?”
Make bold moves.
After spending two years looking for a way to make his company stand out, a plumber mentioned that perhaps the techs could wear pink ribbons on their uniforms and donate money to Breast Cancer Awareness. (At the time, Gillon’s mother had just had a double mastectomy.)
“Life changed in a split second,” Gillon says. “We changed all the trucks to be an absolutely beautiful glossy pink. And we started giving back to fight breast cancer.”
The Pink Plumbers concept was born.
Techs will drive pink trucks—especially if it makes them money.
Gillon says the first response from techs was, “Hell, no, we’re not going to drive these trucks.” Then a week went by. Sales started to skyrocket. Soon, everybody wanted to drive the pink trucks.
A rising tide raises all boats.
Before selling his business, Gillon made a habit of going to lunch with other plumbing company owners. His office manager didn’t understand why he was so willing to share information with the competition.
“Guess what—you’re not sharing, you’re learning,” Gillon says. “Knowledge is wealth and without it you have nothing.”