20 Questions with Kenny Chapman, owner of Peterson Plumbing
Originally published: 04.01.11 by Terry Tanker
Publisher Terry Tanker recently spoke with Kenny Chapman, owner of Peterson Plumbing, a plumbing and HVACR contracting company in Grand Junction, CO. They spoke about defining moments, adding new services, and shortcomings in the industry.
1. It’s rumored you were a baseball star in high school. True?
I was O.K., and even had a baseball scholarship to a small community school, but dropped out.
I loved college baseball, but I unfortunately didn’t focus on schoolwork.
3. What did you do after dropping out?
I made some poor choices and got into some trouble. A judge gave me an option of three years on probation with no slip-ups, or the military.
4. What branch of the military did you join?
The Army. It really changed my life. It taught me discipline and got my life on track. I learned I wanted to make something of myself. I was in from 1989 to 1992 and spent seven months in Iraq and Saudi Arabia during the first Persian Gulf War.
5. You had a “defining moment” when you returned from war. Can you describe it?
My father rode with an outlaw biker gang and had made some bad choices. Three days after my 21st birthday, he was murdered. (My parents were divorced.) I was faced with the decision of burying my dad, or going to see my mom and sister to comfort them. I wasn’t going to be able to do both because I didn’t have the money. I decided that day, right then, that I would never let something as insignificant as money stand in the way of my life.
6. After that tragedy, what did you decide to do?
I finished my stint in the service and knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had two uncles who were business owners, and they helped groom my entrepreneurial spirit. I found a small drain- cleaning company and bought it.
7. What happened next?
I wanted to be a business owner. I didn’t want to be a technician, but I didn’t know the next steps. So, I called anybody who was successful in any industry to gain knowledge. I had lunch with a franchise owner of multiple Taco Bells. His simple advice, “be the best you can be,” changed the way I thought. I began to realize that I needed business education and needed to be around the right people, and that led me to my E-Myth training, and then Nexstar.
8. What is E-Myth?
Entrepreneurial Myth, a book written by Michael Gerber. The premise is that just because you understand the technical work that a business does, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to manage that type of a company. In the contracting world, you see that all the time. Technicians go into business for themselves and don’t have any business acumen.
9. When did you buy your first HVACR company?
In 2004, my company had a good reputation and market share on the plumbing and drain-cleaning side. I thought moving into the HVACR business was a good and natural fit.
10. How difficult was it to incorporate the HVACR business into your existing business?
I knew I needed industry-specific knowledge and had joined Nexstar, a best-practices organization, a few years before the acquisition. I knew also that understanding the overall systemization of the company was going to be a key.
11. What did you learn about having both companies under one roof?
It made a perfect storm for us. We really grew a lot from that acquisition. But the business models for HVACR are very different. Many contractors make the mistake of thinking that plumbing, electrical, and HVACR are the same because they are all trades, and nothing is further from the truth. They have completely different strategies about client acquisition and client fulfillment.
12. What do you like the most about the HVACR business and managing it?
I love the people. I’m blessed with strong leaders, and strong team members. I’m sure it exists in every industry if you’re around the right people, but the people that we deal with and the opportunity to learn and grow is dynamic.
13. How do you sum up your management philosophy?
Create a great system, plug in the right people, train them effectively in that system, and then get out of the way.
14. Your success has enabled you to coach and train others. What’s the largest shortcoming you see?
In this industry, we’re taught as the owners that we have all the answers, and our identity is tied to that. In reality, quality people make quality decisions based on information sharing. Training, empowering, and holding them accountable is much more powerful.
15. What are three things that grow your company best?
Company culture first and foremost. The philosophy of what a company stands for is second. And finally, and maybe more traditionally, lead generation through marketing and advertising that results in sales.
16. When did you feel comfortable enough to leave your company to pursue your motivational speaking and consulting business?
In 2005 I began to implement a model where my team was going to be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the business. I have been learning and tweaking the model ever since.
17. What has the process taught you? That you’ll find weaknesses, and if you correct them, it makes the company stronger.
18. What were some of the things that you found deficient? Communication is always a challenge, but it can get magnified in your absence. We also had a larger management team than was necessary for a business our size, and I didn’t leave room for younger people to grow.
19. What is the pet project you’ve been working on this year?
Actually there are two things. I’ve written a book — The Six Dimensions of C.H.A.N.G.E. It’s about a platform and a framework. C.H.A.N.G.E. is an acronym for clarity, habit, action, never give up, gratitude, and enthusiasm. If you wrap those with belief and self-worth, I truly believe you can accomplish anything. The second is a new business
I’ve launched called The Blue Collar Coach.
20. Where can our readers go to learn more?
Visit my website for free tips and tools at www.thebluecollarcoach.com, or call me at 877.968.2244.
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