It’s all about the challenge for Quinn Huffman, acting General Manager of Plumb-Tech.
Quinn recently took the helm of the Missoula, Montana-based Plumb-Tech, a small heating and plumbing company that has been in operation for 15 years. But the transition to management was anything but easy for the Canadian systems specialist.
“It’s not something I’ve ever done before. I never owned a plumbing company. I’d never even been to Montana,” he explains. “Prior to this, I was living in Mexico. So when I moved up here and got off the plane in a t-shirt and shorts, it was a bit of a rude awakening when it was minus-10.”
Indeed, Quinn’s past experience – both professional and personal – wasn’t something that would prepare anyone for owning a plumbing company. The majority of his career was spent working for banks and schools, serving as an IT and systems professional. So, when the time came to helm Plumb-Tech, it wasn’t necessarily an obvious fit.
Still, Quinn took the job and moved to Missoula to run the company. It’s an experience that he’s found as rewarding as it has been challenging. Looking back now, it has become apparent to him that the first days of running the company were some of the most integral to his success. Using Acquira’s resources and methods helped him navigate those especially difficult early days.
Acquira has five core values that govern every aspect of its business. They can be found here. Having a set of strong core values creates a common filter to process decisions through. It helps everyone in an organization make decisions in a similar way and empowers them to act independently.
So, when Quinn is deciding whether or not to implement a new idea at Plumb-Tech, he’s filtering that decision through these core values. He asks himself how his decision will impact the people who work for the company and how it will improve and energize their lives.
Good leadership is about supporting your workers, according to Quinn. It’s about showing them that someone believes in them and trusts them.
For example, Quinn was surprised to learn that, in the plumbing industry, workers are expected to buy their own tools. This led him to implement a tool allowance program in the first few days of taking over. Under the new program, workers now had $500 a year to make any upgrades or purchases of new tools they might need.
“You just want to hear what your employees face, on a day-to-day basis, that’s difficult,” Quinn asserts. “That’s a really important thing. To not only relate to them, but to actually improve the business without changing anything that’s familiar to them.”
The way Quinn saw it, employees may have certain tasks that they’re very good at but aren’t as efficient as possible. Workers could be spending 30 percent of their time on a manual process that doesn’t need to be done, he said.
“I think a lot of these businesses that you buy, people have been here for years. So they’ve been doing things a certain way. Not to change it too much, but to improve it, is the most important thing.”
You can find more information on Acquira’s core values here.
The First Week
Plumb-Tech was originally founded in 2000 by Lance and Carlett Hogan. In the intervening years, the company built itself up to become one of the region’s leading plumbing and heating contractors, making it an attractive acquisition opportunity for Acquira.
Acquira had been sourcing businesses for approximately six months when it discovered the small plumbing operation. Plumb-Tech was well-established in an area with low competition, making it an ideal prospect for a buyout. While many aspects of the company were well-aligned, Quinn knew that the first week would be some of the most important days of the onboarding process.
“In the first seven days, what’s really important is getting to know the people that work for the business,” he says. “Whether it’s two people or a hundred people, you want to learn what individuals are doing on a day-to-day basis. What interests them? What has a negative impact on their day-to-day?”
The first few days after acquiring a business can be daunting. But try to spend as much time as possible getting acquainted with the new business and the people who run it. There’s no need to rush in the first week.
Take the opportunity to get to know the workers. What their expectations and goals are. This will help ensure that quality workers stick around and help guarantee the longevity of the company.
“The first day, it’s just about getting to know people. It’s about getting comfortable,” says Quinn. “Don’t come empty-handed. Come in with coffee or donuts. It’s a good icebreaker. Just be personable and have a conversation.”
Having one-on-ones with the employees is a great way to get started, according to Quinn. It allows a new owner to assess their goals and help find ways to reach them. It also provides owners the opportunity to reassure their workers that nothing will change overnight. After all, these people are the core of the business and their experience will be integral to future success, as Quinn says.
Many businesses will serve very specific niches. As such, it’s important to be nimble and open to learning new information. This can provide owners an opportunity to help their employees solve problems they may not have realized existed.
You can find other aspects about the onboarding process here.
Finding Efficiency Gaps
In the early days of working at Plumb-Tech, Quinn was going through the daily operations of his employees when he realized something wasn’t quite right.
Each time a technician would go out on a call, they would write their reports out by hand at the end of the day before handing it to the service manager to analyze. The service manager can’t be on every single job with each worker, so this allows them to make sure the jobs are being completed properly.
Quinn realized that this handwritten process was very time consuming. It also was done at the end of the day, so could fall victim to distractions and poor short-term memories.
So, Quinn created a simple form-based application that allowed workers to fill out all of the pertinent information as soon as they completed a job. It included all the information about the work, including the location, the materials used, the time it took to complete, and more.
“Instantaneously, you kind of saw an increase in their communication because they were doing it in real time as opposed to having it in their head and doing it at the end of the day.”
First Week Checklist
Here’s an itemized list of what Quinn did on his first week that new owners can use themselves.
1. Set up one-on-ones with employees
Organize meetings with your workers but avoid anything too formal. Have a chat over coffee during lunch or a beer after work. The friendly atmosphere will allow you the chance to better get to know your employee.
2. Analyze the accounting
What type of bank account does the business have? What bookkeeping methods are being used? Is it done by hand or using a program like Quickbooks? Are these the best options for the company?
3. Learn about invoicing
Learn what platform is being used and who is responsible for the invoicing procedure. How often do they do the job and is this the most efficient way? Find out the average time it takes for your customers to pay and whether there are customers who aren’t paying on time.
4. Get familiar with scheduling
Find out who’s responsible for this task and when they do it. Ask your employees if they have any scheduling issues that you might be able to resolve.
5. Learn how jobs are done on a day-to-day basis
This may entail shadowing workers as they head out into the field, or you may be able to glean all the necessary information during your one-on-one conversations. But make sure that you understand what each position entails and how much work is necessary for each job.
6. Analyze data and look for efficiency gaps
Look over invoices, pay stubs, customer feedback forms. Any information you can find that might reveal inefficiencies in a business. After all, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.
Obviously, the questions asked during a one-on-one interview will change depending on the industry. But here’s a good starting point for new owners getting to know the lay of the land:
- What are your current daily tasks?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What do you not enjoy?
- What are your goals?
- What licensing/education do you have?
- What licencing/education would you like to achieve?
- How can we help you reach that goal?
- Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?
- What tools do you currently not have that you would like?
- What opportunities were rejected in the past due to cost restrictions?
- Are there any areas where we can help you improve?
Filling The Knowledge Gap
Regardless of what type of business an owner acquires, there will be challenges. For Quinn, that’s what has made this such an exciting experience.
“I think it’s a scary thing but the best way to improve in life is to get out of your comfort zone,” he says.
Still, owners may bump up against a certain knowledge gap that could seem daunting at first. In many instances, the acquired business may not be something an owner is familiar with. But that shouldn’t scare away prospective buyers. For Quinn, the key to navigating this issue, especially in that integral first week, is patience.
“The important thing to remember is that nobody has the answer to everything,” he explains. “You don’t have to answer something on the spot. You can take your time and just say ‘I don’t know the answer right now but I’ll get back to you.’ You’ll be more confident with the answer that you finally do give.”
Know When To Delegate
The early days are also a great opportunity to look for holes in your team. If the cash flow can support it, a new employee may be able to help relieve some of the heavy workload that naturally comes with stepping into an ownership position.
While this may not be a position you’ll be able to fill in your first week, you should be looking for chances to delegate. Not only is this a way to lighten your load at a stressful time, it also shows your employees that you trust them and want to encourage and support them.
Looking back on his first days with Plumb-Tech, Quinn says he could have hired somebody to help, someone to whom he could download some of his work. This is especially helpful when you find yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Delegating will also be important for the overall happiness of the owner and the happiness of their employees. Don’t expect to change things in a manner of months but having someone to help will make the process easier. Otherwise, a new owner could find themselves taking on more than they can handle.
“All you’re going to do is stress yourself out. You’re going to be working 12, 14 hours a day which is not the reason that you buy a business,” Quinn says. “You bought a business so that you could learn and so you could build it and grow it and eventually become more absentee.”
See the full interview with Quinn here.
It’s Okay To Feel Overwhelmed – Here’s How We Can Help
It’s natural to feel nervous the first week on any new job. It’s even more understandable if you’re the one who bought the company.
The post-acquisition life can be intense, but it is also intensely rewarding. Fortunately, Acquira is here to help with the process. We’ve developed various training materials and resources for new owners to help ease their transition into ownership.
Anyone who joins our Acceleration Gauntlet and pays for the training will also gain access to our forums. Here, they will meet fellow business owners, acquisition entrepreneurs, and Acquira’s team, who are all happy to answer any questions.
It’s a powerful support network for budding entrepreneurs. We are constantly developing training around these issues and we have a community of people sharing similar experiences.
To access all of this and work with us, check out our Acceleration Gauntlet.