“Everybody in our industry should take techs seriously.”
Starting as an apprentice and rising to general manager of Zoom Drain, Steve Solla has seen just about everything possible flushed out of Philadelphia’s drains and sewers: Rats. Snakes. Peanut buttery ooze. He comes clean on “Toolbox for the Trades” about the importance of a trade company having manuals and procedures, relying on measurable statistics, and how everybody benefits when a company expands.
Here are Steve Solla’s top management tips for home or commercial service companies:
Key TakeawaysThe trades are as customer-facing a job as any retail gig.Company expansion means there’s more room at the top.Manuals and procedures mean everything. Measurable statistics keep everybody on the same page. Owners need to stay in sync with techs. Your apprentice program is crucial. Good field communication reaps benefits. Track performance with your team every week.
The trades are as customer-facing a job as any retail gig.
Entering the trades in his twenties, Solla found the industry different from what he imagined.
“The biggest thing I learned is how customer-facing it is,” he says. “When I got into the trades, I didn’t think how similar it would be to jobs like working at a Subway or a Papa John’s, or just dealing directly with the customer. I thought you’d just go in and do your thing and go home.
“I didn’t realize how much customer interaction and sales there was, and how important it is.”
Company expansion means there’s more room at the top.
When Solla came into Zoom as one of four apprentices at the time, the company had one location and five techs.
“As Zoom has grown, there's been more room at the top,” he says. “When I became a field supervisor, it was because we had grown to need a field supervisor. When I became the service manager, it's because we had grown so big that we had enough field supervisors, but now we needed a service manager.
“Before, it was the owner doing everything. As we grew and grew, we needed those other roles. Now as the GM, we have more than 20 techs, four dig crews, and system engineers.”
Manuals and procedures mean everything.
Solla says one of the smartest things his company founder did at the beginning was to create job manuals and procedures. “As an apprentice, and as a tech, that’s what I would focus on,” he says. “I’d read up, I’d use them to guide myself.” Now as a manager, he still goes back to the manuals to edit or expand descriptions of procedures.
Measurable statistics keep everybody on the same page.
One of the first things Solla does when interviewing prospective new hires is go over the company’s salary ladder.
“I have a two-page sheet and I go through it line by line,” he says. “It says you come in as an apprentice. There’s a probationary period. Once you’re on a truck and you have proven that you know how to do everything that you learned in class, you move up the ladder, again.
“We track close rates, sales goals, average ticket, labor, and those kinds of things. There are no secrets here. Everybody knows how much everybody else makes.”
Owners need to stay in sync with techs.
Solla says it’s important to stay in tune with techs, know what they deal with on a daily basis and, very importantly, take them seriously.
“In fact, everybody in our industry should take techs seriously,” he says. “I remember when I first got the job, I would have my phone on my hip for emergency service. My friends would give me a hard time. They’d say, ‘Well, it’s not like you're a fireman or something.’
“Well, I take it seriously. If somebody's backing up, I got to go. What techs do is serious work.”
Your apprentice program is crucial.
Companies have to find people who are operationally and technically good at the job, but Solla says it’s just as important to look for good personalities.
“We do a two-part interview,” he says. “We see how they are with people. We also do a ride-along, so they can see what a whole day actually looks like.
“Our probationary period is 90 days. We also do classroom theory, and we have a training center where they can practice on everything in a safe environment.”
Good field communication reaps benefits.
The collective experience of a team can help individuals who might face a particular challenge, Solla says. Using texts and Google chats, the Zoom team communicates with one another throughout the day.
“If one guy has a drain he’s never seen before, somebody else will have seen it and can offer some ideas,” he says. “Our techs are out there supporting each other.”
Track performance with your team every week.
With help from ServiceTitan, Zoom tracks techs every week on things like close rates, sales goals, and average tickets, Solla says.
“We post it every week and we highlight the top performers,” he says. “We ask techs what worked, and we also try to dive down into any issues we’re running into.
“We ask, ‘What objections have you been getting lately?’ ‘Are we selling the right job?’ ‘Are we doing the right fix the first time?’ It all keeps techs accountable.”