Along with her husband and one other partner, Vanessa Gonzales is an owner and co-founder of Albuquerque Plumbing, Heating & Cooling. They founded the company in 2008, which Gonzales refers to as the humble “ramen days.”
Today, the company does $14 million in annual revenue and has more than 100 “team members” (not “employees”). Gonzales, a recent guest on ServiceTitan’s “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, talks about building camaraderie, delivering customer service and the opportunities and challenges of being a female business owner.
Here are Vanessa Gonzales’ top trade business tips:
Key TakeawaysHave team members, not employees. Great ideas come from empowering co-workers. Call them ‘Customer concerns,’ not ‘complaints.’Have office workers go on ride-alongs.MarketingPro is a game-changer. ‘It’s cheaper to keep her.’ Make company social media posts personal. Balance being female, being a business owner. Recommended research and reading
Have team members, not employees.
“We’re not the bosses—that’s a ‘B’ I really don’t like,” Gonzales says. “I like to be addressed as a co-worker, not a boss.”
She says that’s the case for everybody, unless a person slacks off or constantly requires disciplining. When that happens, the dynamic shifts and those people lose the privilege of being regarded as being on the same level.
Great ideas come from empowering co-workers.
Some of the company’s best marketing ideas have come having everyone co-exist as peers. “It makes people comfortable enough to come and speak to us about good ideas,” Gonzales says. “It comes from that organic relationship and from having open-door policies in our office.”
Call them ‘Customer concerns,’ not ‘complaints.’
Gonzales has a background in customer service that she brings to the trades. “Most of the time customers aren’t actually complaining, they just have a concern that needs to be addressed,” she says. Concerns don’t sound as drastic as complaints.
Have office workers go on ride-alongs.
The point of this practice is to let the people in the office see exactly what techs are dealing with in the field. “The office people get a different perspective on what it’s like to be a service technician,” Gonzales says. “It also lets the techs get to know the CSRs and the dispatchers and it builds camaraderie.”
The best time to do ride-alongs, she says, is during shoulder seasons, not during peak season.
MarketingPro is a game-changer.
Gonzales says her company has tried other marketing solutions but is thoroughly impressed with what ServiceTitan’s MarketingPro tool has to offer. “It’s the recording and tracking with MarketingPro that makes a difference,” she says. “The person who does our email marketing sat through the training session and her first two email campaigns were some of the best we’ve ever had.”
‘It’s cheaper to keep her.’
“Think of your customers that way,” Gonzales says. “It’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. You’re going to spend double, maybe triple, the amount of money to get a new customer versus nurturing existing customers.”
Make company social media posts personal.
Gonzales says they don’t just use social media to post campaigns, coupons and ads. Nor do they post customer jobs—because some customers don’t want you to take pictures of their homes.
“We like to use social media to brag on our team,” she says. “We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. We’ll post our team member of the month. We keep it social. That’s what social media is.”
Balance being female, being a business owner.
“I'm a business owner,” Gonzales says. “It doesn’t matter what clothing I wear; it doesn't matter what my chromosomes say, I am still a business owner. I need to act like it and then I'll be treated like it."
Sometimes, she’s the “mama bear” at the company, the person people come to and share concerns. But she’s also experienced at doing physical labor in the field.
“I know what it’s like to work in 100-degree heat with insulation all over you,” she says. “I’ve been in crawl spaces when the lights have gone out and all you have to see with is a little flashlight on your drill. I’ve walked that path.”
Proudly, Gonzales says the company just began training its first female apprentice. “Our call center manager signed up to be one of our first apprentices,” she says. “I also plan to also go out and start talking to high schools about opportunities for women and young ladies.”
Recommended research and reading
The Dichotomy of Leadership, by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox
Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet