There’s a saying: “You become the people you surround yourself with.”
When starting a trades business, this is especially true! In this episode of Take Stock, CEO of Service Emperor and host of the Service Business Mastery podcast Tersh Blissett joins us to share his thoughts on who to have in your inner circle when launching your field service business.
In this episode we’ll discuss:
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You need a good accountant, you need a good lawyer, you need a mentor, a coach, and your banker.
This is Take Stock presented by Commusoft, the podcast where we bring together diverse experts and leaders to discuss the top trends, ideas and strategies used in the field service industry and beyond. Let's dive in.
Hello listeners and welcome to Take Stock, the show where we interview top professionals and share the best ideas from the field service industry and beyond. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with a brilliant leader in the field service industry. He's the founder and president of Savannah- based HVAC business Service Emperor, a top 40 under 40 service industry, professional and host and producer of the service business mastery podcast.
I'm pleased to welcome Tersh Blissett.
Hey, thanks for having me, man.
We're happy to have you. You've been making waves in the industry, so we're happy to hear more about your experience and your career.
Yeah, it actually, it all happened by mistake, honestly. I had no intentions of starting podcast or operating a business remotely. Like it just snowballed effect on me.
That's sometimes how the best things happen- just by chance. In that same vein, can you tell me more about your background and how you ended up in, in field service and what your career path was like and how you got here?
Oh, absolutely. So I went to school. Right out of high school, I joined the Air Force, but also was going to college for mechanical engineering. Then I went to work at a chemical plant actually with my father and I really did not like it. Didn't like the chemical, like just the entire plant atmosphere, the seven day swing shift. That was horrible for me. And so I was talking to my dad and he said, you need to really get into the trades.
Now he was a welder by trade. And then one of his best friends was an electrician. And so I was like, ah, electrician doesn't really tickle my fancy, but I definitely will give it some thought dad, anyways. And so I had a friend of mine who was in HVAC. He was a technician for our local company.
And he was working and he was a good dude, but we really had different paths as we were growing up where he didn't finish high school. He dropped out early. I went to college and he's working less hours making the same amount, if not more money than I was. And I was like this is like, let me get a job where you're at.
And so he was like, I can get you an interview. I can't guarantee you a job though. And so I was like, all right. Bet. So I I interviewed and started working with that company and worked my way up to eventually where I ran things there and was there for about seven or eight years, something like that.
And then once I left there, I, I actually started my, my first HVAC business.
Okay, great. And that business, that first business, that was an HVAC business?
It was, so it turned into a multi-trade business and I still own it. I'm a partner there. And it's in the same market as Service Emperor.
So they actually compete against each other in a way they do. One of them focuses on like your, your property management, lower profits, but higher volume. And then the other is the exact opposite, but technically they're still competitors and they they're in the same market area.
How fascinating to have two companies in the same area, mostly in the same field, competing against each other, but with the two different business models that probably works out in your favor pretty well.
Yeah, I can market research things like different CRMs, or if I want to like do different marketing tactics and see what works, targeting different audiences.
I can really, I can it's it's like AB testing on steroids.
Right, right. Mutually beneficial for, for your business and for both businesses really?
Yeah. 100 percent.
I'd like to go back to your time in the air force. What drew you to the air force and do some of those experiences contribute to your career today?
Oh, sure, absolutely. I knew that I wanted to be in the air force my entire life. I don't know why, cuz really not many people in my family were military. I have two uncles who were in the air force. But other than that, I didn't really have any family members who were in the military. Now my, wife, she's still in, she's an officer, she's captain currently in the air national guard.
But I didn't know anybody that was really in the military, but I just knew that I wanted to be in the military. And originally I wanted to be a sniper. I grew up hunting and we live on 250 acres now and we like just constantly out in the woods and everything. But my uncle being in the air force, he was like, you're not gonna be a sniper in the army.
The air force snipers were MP's and he was like, Nope, you're not doing that. And so I was like, well, I still want a hoorah career. So I ended up joining up with TAC P, the special ops group with the air force. And a lot of what I learned there is just diligence and some leadership.
I wasn't in long enough to get into the real leadership side of things, but the self-determination and that type of things. I really that's what I kind of took away from, from being my time in there.
Absolutely. Is there a time that you can think of, an instance or an anecdote of your time in the air force that, that rings out specifically to you?
Perseverance wise we had some, some. So our career field is we called in the airstrikes for people for the army and, and, and other joint forces were J talk. And there are times where we had stuff called in danger close, and unfortunately we had some casualties.
That perseverance, like really taking that, I mean, that really, it made an impact, both good and bad on me. And there's, there's bigger and worse things out there than some of the stuff that we fight over frivolously. You know what I mean? Right. Like it's, it's not that big of a deal at the end of the day.
Right. It probably gave you a sense of scope and brought the things into a clearer picture, I'm sure. I'm sure some of those experiences like you mentioned with diligence and, and leadership and self-determination and perseverance, some of those qualities you, you learned and experienced in the air force helped out in your career path, especially starting your own HVAC business and in that same vein what were the, some of the challenges you faced starting and, and founding your own service business?
Honestly, there's always challenges, right? Just like putting together an airplane, but you're putting it together after you've already jumped off of a cliff and you're putting it together in mid-air and hopefully by the time you hit the ground, you've got it together.
Employees there that's always a challenge. But at the same time, it's not really that big of a challenge. I mean, clients are a challenge, the capital raising capital, because both the businesses we bootstrapped from the ground up without having to borrow money. And so not having that influx of cash has always been a challenge for us. Then bringing on team members, not knowing if your marketing's doing good. Learning marketing.
And most of the times a technician becomes a business owner and it's like, all right, I'm a really good service technician, I'm a really good installation technician, or even an amazing salesperson. But then you get into the business side of things and it's like, oh crap. I didn't know. I didn't know all of this stuff existed.
I didn't know. QuickBooks required this much data entry. So just learning those things. It's the unknown aspect of it. You don't know what you don't know until, you know, type scenario. And that's the biggest, like the, just the pure uncertainty, which is the whole reason by. Behind starting. My podcast was, I was just like, I was in that, that position I was in your shoes.
I want to share with you what I've gone through. I mean, I, even, for a while there even had my books were open, so like people could see what I was spending money on. Yeah. And really. Even the mistakes like, and Lord knows I've made mistakes, you know.
Especially the podcast is a catch 22 for me because we'll have guests on and that I'm like, oh yeah, that's a great idea. I wanna try that product. And then the product either doesn't work for me at this time, at this point in my career, or it just flat out didn't work at all and, you know, wasting thousands of dollars. You know, I don't wanna waste money by any means, but I'd rather me waste money than my listeners waste the money.
You know what I mean? So, right. It's kind of a catch 22 for me. And that's that challenge for me is, is just one of those things where it's like, okay it's a risk that I'm willing to take. Just so that I can share with others, my experiences, which is the whole reason why I started the show.
Absolutely. Given your experiences and the lessons you've learned and some of the mistakes that you've made and that we all make along the way in our, our career journey, what tips would you give somebody who is starting their own business. Specifically in field service.
Honestly. First and foremost, have six months worth of your income stashed away. If you can do that. The one time I did it, I didn't have any money stashed away. And it was a real challenge for me because I had to sell in order to pay my mortgage. And you know, there was, at the time my wife was she was a full-time nurse in the civilian world. And so she had to cover our expenses for a while. With the first business that I started then.
Network. A lot of networking, you know whether it's in the industry, networking or it's local networking at your local chamber of commerce, that really helped us out a ton getting our name out there and just guerrilla marketing, you know, putting out yard signs, door hangers, that kind of stuff.
Some of the things that are quote unquote uncomfortable for us. As a technician, it's okay. We can work on a furnace or a heat pump or, we can diagnose things, we can diagnose airflow and why your home is unhealthy. And we know that stuff like the back of our hand.
But then you get into the relationship building portion of employees and vendors, and then the vendor starts asking you. Okay, well, how much, how much are you planning on buying this? I don't know, I just started . I don't know how much I buy. I don't know how much we bought at the last company I was at. Like if you can develop a relationship with that person, like your vendor, and especially if you can find one and it's you know, some TM's are great. Some TM's are just there to make their own money. If you're lucky enough to get hooked up with a good TM that really can make or break you. I wouldn't say break you, but it can definitely make you make your life a lot easier going through.
Honestly you need to have relationships with five people. There's five very important people. It's tough to have those relationships when you first start out. But you needed a good accountant. You needed a good lawyer. You need a mentor, a coach, and with the banker. And I've been fortunate with that.
I just kind of grew up around some of these, these guys and gals that had just been really good and then our CPA, he actually lives in Charleston, South Carolina. We're in Savannah, Georgia, so three hours-ish away. But still we can call him or whatever at any anytime. And, and we have a good relationship with them.
When it comes to starting the podcast. What was the idea for that? Where did that come from? How did that all begin?
Honestly, it's, it's weird in a way. I have a speech impediment and dyslexia, and so I was networking a ton to try and get more comfortable in my own skin. Eventually I got roped into being the president or vice president, then president of the small business chamber in Savannah and so I was getting up in front of all these people and talking constantly. And then I had a buddy of mine, Brian, he has a podcast called the HVAC School Podcast and tons and tons of people listen to that show. But he, and he talks a lot, a lot about technical, the technical side of the trades and stuff like that.
And he had a business week segment and so I got on there and, and he interviewed me a couple times for that. And then a couple months later, I don't know why I just text him and said, Hey, if you ever wanna start a podcast on, you know, the business side of things, just let me know. And I'll, co-host it with you.
And he said just so happens that I am in the middle of starting up a new network. You know, it was called the blue collar roots network. And so we started up that show. We start Service Business Mastery, HVAC School Building HVAC Science with Bill Spohn, Tool Pros Podcast with Billy Knoth and Brent Ridley, and then Zach Psioda HVAC shop talk. We all kind of joined together and started up this network. And Brian taught us how to, how to do it all, how to set it all up, what to use, how to do this, that, the other, edit and all this good jazz. And that's kind of how we got started.
And I just wanted to just share my experience with the industry. And I'm sure that if I have experienced it, other people have experienced it. So just to let people know that they're not the only person going through whatever issues it might be that they're going through at the time.
Right. I love that you took something that was with a speech impediment a challenge to you. And I love that you took that challenge and stared it in the face. And now it's a huge part of your life and career.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean we do, I mean, it's probably three episodes a week now that we're recording. And so we're putting out a ton of content and next is video. I've done video. I mean, all of ours are live streamed also, but to record I'm very much a perfectionist, so like I can't get anything published because I'm just constantly editing in trying to, well, what if I just add this transition in here?
And, and so is like, that is so critical of our videos. So that's gonna be our target for this year is to really get those, those videos out there more often than not.
And that's the trick with, with production, but also so many different things. So many different fields, sectors, crafts. It's not how much do I put in? How much time do I put in how much stuff, how much content, but when do I cut it off? When do I say, okay, I am done, I'm turning it in. I'm sending the email, I'm posting it. I'm done that. The hardest thing to do.
Mm-hmm yeah. With editing the podcast. I got, I created a rule. If I have to edit it more than three times, I'm done. I could just, at the third time it's gonna go or it's gonna have to be scrapped and redone. So that's really what I need to do with the video editing also. I just need to just set it and then leave it alone or give it to somebody else, you know, delegate it out to someone else. And that's, that's always a challenge of mine, but that's another thing that I really do a lot is automate.
And I had to start doing that because of operating the business remotely. Wearing so many different hats. But I was challenged because I would delegate by application. So I would like give very little information and delegate and then overshare information when I'm delegating. So it's like, they can't do anything on their own because I have 100% of the steps filled out for them. So they can't make it their own. So I had to really learn. There's a median between the two of those that you have to find that fine line.
There's wiggle room. There's a middle ground for the wiggle room.
Switching gears here, when it comes to your business Service Emperor and when it comes to marketing- what are some key ideas that you stick by?
If it's normal, do the exact opposite.
If it's normal, do the exact opposite.
A friend of mine's name's Jesse Cole. He owns the Savannah Bananas.
I'm sorry, can I stop you right there? The what?
The Savannah Bananas.
What are the Savannah Bananas?
Okay. So the Savannah Bananas are, it's a college league baseball team. Yeah. So it's a summer league team. And the Savannah baseball team before, before Jesse came down was the, I won't mention their name because they're the team to not be spoken of. But they couldn't keep like 400 seats filled for their games. They were a AAA mono league team. But they went to the city of Savannah and said, Hey, we need a new stadium because Grayson Stadium is, I mean, Babe Ruth played there, like it's an old historic stadium, it's really filled with lots of great stuff, great stories, but they were like the stadium's too old. People won't come to the games. We can't get more than 400 seats filled every game.
Well then Jesse and the, his whole crew came in and Jared is the president of the Savannah Bananas and a really good friend of ours. They came in. They have 4,000 seats now that have been sold out for, I think six seasons straight.
And yeah, so it could be five seasons, but either way, 4,000 seats, they actually had to come and build more seats in there because they were selling out so many of them and it's all you can eat all you can drink. It's just completely different and so much so that they created their own baseball league this year to where they're, they're traveling the whole country and, and doing different baseball games in their own baseball league. But it's a college team essentially. And they sell out every single game for every season.
And so it just proves the fact that doing baseball normally- it's very boring. It's a slow sport. And so the normal- Jesse came in and did the exact opposite. And so that's kind of the same with us. Like that's why, like I wear a suit and tie when I go work on an air conditioned unit. And people are like okay, that's not normal. That's different. So they remember, and that's the same with our guys.
I mean, they wear khaki pants, they don't wear suit and tie, but they, I mean, they're in khaki pants and, and in the uniform outfit that matches every single day. And so we just really, what we do is try to stand out. Our brand is not blue and red- that's the normal air conditioning company is blue and red.
We went away from that and yeah, anything that's normal, we just literally do the exact opposite.
It's the standing out. That's what people remember.
Thinking about sales. How do you think field service companies should approach sales?
We don't have quote unquote, a sales division. I mean, it's more of, we present options and allow them to make their decision. So first off is back to what we were saying earlier about developing relationships. So you develop a relationship with the client and we're there as the physician for their home and for their HVAC system as an entirety.
And so then we come in and we present options to everything. Like if you don't wanna do anything at all, you know, that's your first option. If you want to go and not have to worry about this for next 10 years, here's an option for that. And then everything between. You know, everything in between.
And so, but you have to be careful with that too, because a confused mind always says no. And so if you start giving out 15 options on something and then they're like, oh no, this is, this is a lot to think about. Let me think about this and I'll get back with you.
It's really, it's just having the conversation and saying, what is it that you and then providing options that match what they want. And then it, it goes back to kind of like the Henry Ford, like the famous quote, where he said, if I asked everybody what they wanted, they'd say faster horses.
And in reality, you, a lot of people don't know everything that you offer as an option, unless you tell 'em so that if you, if they just said, I want cooler air. Then you just left it at that and said, okay, well I can replace this capacitor and we're done. And you didn't inspect any other duct work to see if they have any infiltration from outside. If you didn't do anything else, but the bare minimum, that's an under service. They literally paid you to come out.
We call it a consultation fee. Some people call it a diagnostic fee. So we're there to consult them on their home's health. The entire encapsulation. Not just the immediate symptom of the system. And so they've paid us the consultation fee, but if we only gave them one option, then we haven't done what they just paid us to do.
So it's just providing options to the client. And, but you can't provide options until you've had the conversation and they built the rapport and the relationship to know what it is exactly that they're, they're asking for.
It's not just, you're not just slinging a product. You're not just selling a service. You go in, you have to number one, have that relationship, build that trust, go in, diagnose the problem, but not just as you said, the symptom of the problem, the entire house, the body as a whole and present them with options, but not too many. Hm, and then take it from there. It's a balancing act.
Really it is yeah. A hundred percent. And there are times where I'm like, I don't think we're providing enough options and then I'll pre-build some extra options or something to them to give. And then all of a sudden where I can see their conversion percentages dropped off. And then all of a sudden it's like, okay.
So when we debrief after the calls, And they were like, so why did I get a notification that we didn't convert the job? There's no conversion on this job. And they're like, it was, they were confused. I was like, all right, duly noted. Let's take that back. Let's, draw these back in. And Let's knock off some of these, you know options on the sheet.
That reminds me of, of a restaurant. I go into a diner. I see the 15 page booklet with everything from stir fry, to burgers, to breakfast all day. And I'm spending an hour looking at the menu, trying to think about what I want, but if I go to the burger stand and they have cheeseburger hamburger, I know exactly what I'm getting.
Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. I mean, it is what it is. It's that entire scenario. As a nerd, I am very much like, oh, let's put this in there. Let's add this in there. Let's add this option. Or, you know, this is the next best and greatest thing, you know, out here. And then my guys are like, man, you're confused in the heck out of everybody.
Like just, you just need to tone it back a little bit.
All right. Tesh, that sound means it's time for a rapid fire segment. The part of our show where we get to know you, our featured guests on a more personal level. The stakes are high the time is short and we need to get to know you fast. Are you ready?
Okay. Here we go. What is a tool you could not live without?
What is the must have food while visiting Savannah, Georgia?
Oh man. Probably Zunzi's.
Employee uniform or no uniform?
Uniform 100 percent.
Suppose you had to choose one baseball cap to wear for the rest of your life. Which baseball cap do you choose?
Excellent. And final question. What is your favorite sports team?
Ooh, favorite sports team. Oh, just one favorite sports team, man. This is gonna be tough when Savannah Bananas, for sure. Savannah Bananas.
All right there you have it. That was awesome. So you're gonna have to explain to me what is a Zunzi.
Zunzi's is a restaurant where it's a sandwich shop, but they're world famous as far as they get voted the best sandwich shop in all of the food networks and everything else. The problem with Savannah is there's tons of restaurants that are all voted, they're all on the food network.
And so there's Zunzi's is an African style sandwich shop. And it's like, there's no, sit down. You just walk in and get your food and walk out. And it's very, I mean, it's very good, very good food. I don't get it enough, honestly.
Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sharing. Let's get back to our interview.
Let me put a hypothetical at ya. If you were hiring an HVAC business, what would you look out for? What would make you want to hire that business?
Communication. Obviously reviews, but at the same time, some reviews can be bought. Their reputation is a very big deal, but at the same time, their communication or lack thereof is a big indication of how the entire experience is gonna go.
So if from the time you thought about doing it, you've reached out to a couple different companies and you've got a company that reached back out to you. Or as soon as you book the call, then they're notifying you, Hey, just a reminder, this is your date. This is the technician that's coming out there, you know, good jazz like that.
That's the kind of things that are really going to in my opinion, if they can't communicate, off the rip, then when it's time to present options, oh, Hey, I need to go back. And I'm thinking about replacing the system HVAC system then there's like, they've ghosted you. There's no communication.
I mean, that's what you should expect. If there was lack of communication to start with, there's gonna be a lack of communication on the back end. Right. So that's the biggest fear of, of clientele is the unknown and that's a huge unknown is if you don't communicate with someone, then they're going to go somewhere else.
Especially the fact that they don't know all of the options, once they experience someone who does communicate with them, then all of a sudden they're like, oh, wow. I wish I had used you for years now.
Right. It's, it's a no brainer once that happens. And that I think goes back to what you were saying about building relationships and building trust. How can you build that relationship if you're not communicating?
Yeah. It's, it's a Ritz Carlton experience, honestly. So once you've experienced the Ritz Carlton, then like go into a different hotel. It's like okay. But it's not the Ritz. And so it it's, it's definitely giving that. You know, over the top experience, every single time in the consistency. And that's what we shoot for anyways.
Right. It's tough to go from the Ritz to the super eight. Let's say that. Yeah. Mm-hmm , I'm gonna, as we close here, I'm gonna ask a couple of broader questions. What does the future of HVAC and of field service hold?
Digital, lots of digital online. You know, I would say paperless and, touchless. Not interacting with people even touching their iPads. Going to like an approval over emails sending all of what size their system is before you even get there. Everything's gonna turn very digital almost, meta metaverse type scenario.
The tools are gonna be the same way. They already are transitioning Bluetooth tools. They integrate into different CRMs, whether it's, you know, like a measure quick where it's a diagnostic tool for an HVAC technician. There's gonna be a lot more of relying on those types of things.
The manufacturers are gonna get a lot more. I believe you're gonna get very manufacturer specific because even the manufacturers are coming out with their own refrigerants. And so it's gonna be where you either have a slew of refrigerants on your van or you're gonna have to stick with one manufacturer.
They're gonna start getting very specific on their controls. And I think that it's just gonna go that direction and it's gonna be years before that happens. And also it could go either way, like very small mom, mom, and pop or big VCs, the big VCs are coming in and buying up up shops too. So big, big companies or real small companies.
Right. Like everything we're seeing these days and everything in the customer consumer experience, it's going digital paperless and everything is becoming smoother and more seamless for sure. Specifically for you. What's next for you and what's next for service emperor.
For me really transitioning into more, more content being put out. And that's both for me and for Service Emperor really putting out more training content. And not necessarily technical, but just very educational. You know, educational training, educational, marketing that type of thing. That's, that's really where we're, we're heading towards.
Awesome. We're excited to see it. Well, there you have it folks. We've reached the end of our time together today, but in closing, I wanted to give a big thank you to our featured guest business owner and podcast host. Tersh Blissett. Thank you so much for coming on.
Oh, that's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
This has been Take Stock presented Commusoft. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe, leave a review and check out more content on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and at our website, commusoft.com.