“The mistake isn’t when we do things that aren’t right, the mistake is not learning from the mistake.”
— Mary Jean Anderson
After taking over the business from her ex-husband in 2005, Mary Jean Anderson tripled San Diego-based Anderson Plumbing Heating & Air into a $37 million company. With more than a dozen female techs on her staff, Anderson excels in acquiring and training a diverse team. She talks about her company’s “wow” factor, building her own school and creating a woman-friendly workplace.
Here are Mary Jean Anderson’s top tips for building a home services company that’s both big and diversified:
Key TakeawaysCreate a “wow” factor.Do memorable marketing. Equal pay for all.Start with training. Let Nexstar help you. Learn from your mistakes. The secret of recruiting women. Recommended research and reading
Create a “wow” factor.
Anderson’s company’s tagline is “Nobody wows like us.” It’s catchy, but Anderson says the employees live up to the billing.
“Our mission statement says that the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong,” she says. “We have our mission statement posted all over our building, so everybody knows it. It’s all listed there.
“Part of it is cleanliness—our trucks are clean, our environments around us are clean when we’re working. And other things. But we read our mission statement at the beginning of every one of our meetings.
Do memorable marketing.
When Anderson took over in 2005, she decided to flip the brand. She’d made some acquisitions, but trucks had different names on them and marketing was all over the place.
“There was no cohesiveness,” she says. “So, we rolled it all into the Anderson brand and we focused on the fact that it was female-owned. My marketing person convinced me to use a 10-foot picture of me. And we added the color pink to everything. It truly worked.”
Equal pay for all.
Anderson has a higher-than-industry-average number of female technicians. And the policy is equal pay for an equal job.
“Everything is the same for everybody,” she says. “And do you know what giving women equal pay can do? It lets them buy and own a home. It gives them a sense of being able to take care of themselves. It gives them choices they might not have had.”
Start with training.
Anderson decided it made sense to build her own school, in part, as a pipeline for new techs.
“Anderson Career Builder Institute is a great way to bring people into the industry,” she says. “Our industry pays well—but it's supply and demand. We’ve got to find ways to bring people in.”
Let Nexstar help you.
Anderson was at her wits' end when she turned to industry trade group Nexstar.
“I’d decided to get into heating and air but was failing miserably,” she says. “I didn’t get the margins; I didn’t get anything. I was failing and falling into debt. But after finding Nexstar, within two years of following their advice I was completely pulled out of debt.”
Learn from your mistakes.
Anderson admits she made a mistake with an early acquisition of a company.
“The guy had taken his trucks down to Tijuana and had them all repainted,” she recalls. “The fleet looks good—but it was really a heap of junk. I was conned.”
But that was the last time she approached a similar situation without in-depth background checking.
“Now, I know what to look for,” she says. “Before venturing out, I connect with people who know what they’re doing. The mistake isn’t when we do things that aren't right, the mistake is not learning from the mistake.”
The secret of recruiting women.
Anderson observes that women can be more detail-oriented. And better conversationalists.
“Let me say that I don’t just have 12 female technicians—I have 12 extremely successful woman technicians,” Anderson says. “Our top producers in this company are women.
“We don’t do anything special for them. All are treated equally—which is good for both the women and the men to see. Employers need to look for women to hire—they’re out there. Women in the military are a good place to look. But just put it out in your ads that you have openings for both men and women.
“It’s still tough. But it’s worth it.”
Recommended research and reading
The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America's #1 Customer Service Company by Robert Spector
Authors Pat Lencioni and Jock Willinkundefined
Here Comes Cannonball by Mary Jean Anderson