PHC News’ Contractor of the Year designation is a tough one to fill, because most of the contractors we read about and spotlight have something in common: they bust their butts for their businesses. This year, our Contractor of the Year is Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air, award-winning business based in Commerce City, Colorado, led by dynamic duo, Susan Roberts Frew and William Frew.
Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air (PHA) has been making a lot of noise in the Denver area. It has received recognition in distinguished categories like 4-year Angie's List Super Service Award Winner, Denver Business Journal’s #1 Fastest Growing Company 2015 and its Small Business of the Year 2016, and Top 100 Women Owned Companies 2016. This year it ranked No. 4 among small companies for the 2017 Denver Business Journal Best Places to Work awards and received the BBB Torch Award for Marketplace Trust. What a mouthful.
There are many reasons for the high praise, and as you can imagine, it’s not because of one person. But it does help that at the helm of Sunshine PHA is Susan Roberts Frew, small business champion. Frew manages the company’s strategy, marketing and finances. Her husband, William Frew, who started the company, is a second-generation Master Plumber and certified NATE HVAC technician.
Susan Frew started her career in New York City. She was there for eight years, and during this time she took on the role of international vice president at AT&T Wireless. She conquered the many feats in this role, and was also involved in its small business sector. She was transferred to Colorado, which eventually led her to buy her own business coaching firm.
Though the transition was challenging for Frew, a city-loving, New Jersey native, her move to Colorado was when her passion and business-savvy started to take an exciting form.
“I used to fly home to get my hair done, but I got over that,” Frew laughs. “I was hungry when I got to Colorado.”
Through her coaching, Frew coached 17 different trades — unintentionally. A daughter of a carpenter, who has always been “comfortable in a blue-collar world,” believes that trade coaching was her calling into plumbing.
“These coaching experiences with the trades really prepared me for a career in the plumbing business,” she says.
Her coaching even landed her a show on ESPN called “Coaching: Not Just for Sports.” On this show, she interviewed business owners on their successes and struggles.
Most importantly, her business coaching led her to the love of her life. Then, Sunshine PHA was Sunshine Solar and Mechanical. In 2012, when Susan and William married, she changed more than her last name; they merged talents and Sunshine Plumbing, Heating & Air was born.
Along with her other responsibilities, Frew also focuses on business development for Sunshine PHA — pretty much as they tend to say, “moving and shaking.” Though she’s needed on the home front, her real work happens when she’s out and about, talking to people and participating in networking groups.
“It’s my responsibility to bring new opportunities to the table for us,” Frew says.
Frew serves on six different boards and is involved with a few women’s groups, such as CampExperience and the Colorado Women’s Chamber. As it turns out, 80 percent of Sunshine PHA’s clients are women.
Frew’s voice has become essential to the industry. She is a professional speaker with the National Speakers Association. As president of Colorado PHCC, zone director for National PHCC, and Trustee for Quality Service Contractors (QSC), PHCC’s coaching division, she is naturally on PHCC Educational Foundation’s lineup as a speaker. She travels around the country sharing ways to grow a company’s marketing, get reviews, hire millennial workers and related topics. Through these interactions, Frew has been able to build hearty, lasting relationships.
Kim Gill, executive director of PHCC Colorado, has known the Frews since 2013 when they joined PHCC Colorado.
“From the beginning, they were not only focused on growing their business but also in supporting PHCC and giving back to their community,” Gill says. “Susan has gone above and beyond as president for PHCC Colorado, a PHCC National Board Member, a Quality Service Contractor Trustee. With her determination and support, PHCC Colorado grew from an inactive association to a thriving association within just a few years.”
Gill came to know Susan and William through their strong input in the community and industry. She speaks highly of Sunshine PHA's exceptional customer service and unique business model that makes the team stand out in their growth and success.
“I’m not surprised at all that they have won Contractor of the Year for PHC News. On behalf of PHCC, I congratulate them for their outstanding achievement,” Gill says.
Frew recently gave a talk at PHCC CONNECT 2017 on inventory management, some of the recent changes in the home services industry and Sunshine PHA’s experience in this arena. Though there are still a lot of pieces to work through, the company has recently been able to establish its own database by partnering with Ferguson and ServiceTitan. By connecting these dots, Sunshine PHA has benefitted tremendously, which has inspired other businesses and prompted their questions.
“Our inventory manager created a paperless solution for inventory management. Then, we partnered with Ferguson and ServiceTitan to try and triangulate that and make it all work together,” Frew explains. “It’s still a work in progress. We’re looking to add more vendors into the system to build a database. ServiceTitan has been awesome in helping us with that. For a while, we were kind of the beta. A lot of people look to us to see how we did it.”
Chris Cannon, inventory and service manager, is the person responsible for this multilayered project. “Chris is our rockstar. In one year, he has reduced our inventory costs by 22 percent.”
Frew also speaks highly of the rest of her team: her husband, William, who is in charge of the field and is the lead estimator, Dani (Danielle) Brann, director of operations, dispatchers and everyone else.
“We have a really great team here in the office. And our dispatchers are amazing,” Frew says.
Frew dwells on the dispatchers for a moment and offers this advice about what she sees as an invaluable role. “You need to find dispatchers with previous experience,” she says. “It’s really hard to teach someone the ins and outs of plumbing and HVAC, so do whatever you can to get that person who has the right background because it makes a huge difference in your closing, retention, booking calls and all of that. And as you know, if it starts off well, it has a better shot of ending well.”
Everyone loves brownies, right? Well, Frew and the rest of Sunshine PHA agree that they are pretty great, which is why they incorporate it into their pillars of customer service. (Brownie points for brownies.)
The 12 Points of Love is Sunshine PHA’s creative way of going above and beyond thank-you cards. A gift basket for a boiler installation. Okay, so they do send thank-you cards, too, but they make their own. They send custom cards to businesses with a personalized note and a signature photo of William “sticking his head out of a toilet.” This kind of touch especially comes in handy when mistakes happen, as they tend to do in most human settings.
“If we can’t fix it, we’ll put you in a hotel. If we screw up, we’ll send flowers to say we’re sorry. We try to go above and beyond. People love our brownies,” Frew says.
VideoPlumber is another example of Sunshine PHA’s personal touch. The tool, which William Frew trademarked and patented, allows customers to get free estimates through video. Through Facebook Messenger or FaceTime, the Sunshine PHA team will talk with customers and inspect their systems without having to come to their homes or businesses.
“This is for people who are busy. And also for those who want a quick estimate. For example, a lot of relators want an estimate, but they don’t have any intention to do the work,” Frew explains.
The tool also helps solve some of Colorado’s traffic problems.
“We have a big traffic problem here, so we’re hoping it frees up some of our guys a little bit and eliminates wasteful calls where we have to run around,” Frew says.
VideoPlumber has more room to grow, and those at Sunshine PHA can see the tool connecting with other audiences, including disabled veterans in the trades.
“We could potentially open a call center. Disabled or retired workers could work from home and provide estimates in a sale per lead type of situation. Take, for example, a disabled veteran who was a very talented plumber or HVAC technician. They can’t necessarily do the work, but they still understand it. They can video, form an estimate, put a parts list together,” Frew says. “Wouldn’t a plumber or HVAC company want to buy a lead that already has a video, a parts list and a sold estimate? I mean, it seems like it would be a no-brainer.”
Customers notice the little things, and not surprisingly, will vouch for Sunshine PHA’s customer service. Mark Spiewvak, local business owner and client, has been doing business with the company for the past three to four years. Sunshine PHA is the exclusive provider of his company’s plumbing and heating needs for each location as well as the homes of many employees.
“Susan has done an incredible job of growing Sunshine PHA without losing a step. Her team members are well-trained, incredibly personable, professional and competent in their craft. What’s most impressive is that Sunshine PHA is not simply about business but also about the community. We see them working diligently in our neighborhood, church, food banks and other areas that are well beyond business and profits. Susan and William truly have servant hearts and have developed that culture within their team,” Spiewvak says.
Culture is everything these days. With Sunshine PHA, givers fit the culture.
“I know ‘culture’ is the big buzzword. With us, we figured out we are a community of givers. We will be the first to ask what you need. When we hire people who are takers, they don’t tend to work out here,” Frew says.
Managers even ask in interviews about the places interviewees have volunteered, things they’ve done without getting paid and how it made them feel. “Made them feel” is a double-take kind of phrase that isn’t tossed around in this industry, or most of them, actually.
Being givers, as much as they ask from their employees, Sunshine PHA gives back, in the form of unlimited personal time off, paid volunteer days, Red Wing boots and Dave Ramsey training. Come review season, top prize is a trip to Mexico for two. Say what?
I was legitimately confused by the phrasing “unlimited personal time off,” so I asked for clarification.
“It’s unpaid time, but let’s say your dream is to go hike in Nepal for one month. With ample advance notice, we believe you should be able to do that. We believe if you’re happier outside our doors, you’re going to be happy inside our doors,” Frew says.
On community: “Get into a community and be willing to listen to those who have walked before you and are successful. But I will also say don’t listen to too many voices. I’ve seen people, even those who are close to me, who will hire four or five different coaches at one time. Everyone has different methods and theories that can come into conflict with others. Sometimes people get overwhelmed with information, and they can’t move forward.”
Small bites: “It’s easier to take small bites of things you want to get done each quarter. Start with the end result in mind. Your business is going to end one or two ways, planned or unplanned. You need to make a plan. Are you going to sell it? Are you going to pass it along to your employees? Your kids? Figure that out as soon as you can.”
Digital troubles? “Get a really good marketing person, who is objective and not trying to sell digital marketing. Maybe find a marketing consultant and really track it. I know key performance indicators on every single marketing campaign. I do not do anything for more than three months at a time. I track it with a tracking number. I know my cost per lead, closing ratio, revenue per lead, revenue per dollar. I know all those numbers because then it takes the fear out of it and makes it subjective and concrete. There’s no bs-ing on the digital side because we have the data.”
“Fill the gaps with women!” Frew recently gave a TEDx Talk on “The Runaway Train of the Skilled Trades Crisis,” where she confronts the runaway train headed for her and thousands of contractors around the U.S. She starts with her story, the one we’re now familiar with — where she meets the love of her life, a plumber, who she starts a business with. Then she moves on to some of the challenges in said business.
“It wasn't long before I realized we had a huge problem. We were advertising, but nothing was happening,” she says.
Frew joined PHCC with other contractors who were having the same issues, who all seemed to reach the same realization, a shortage of workers, that is the 1 million skilled workers who are needed to fill the gap by 2020.
“What if we could fill some of these million jobs with a woman? What if she is out there?”
It's true. The trades are changing. “Trades are no longer about brawn and might; they’re about customer service. They’re about strategic thinking, critical skills and technology,” Frew says.
To learn more about Sunshine PHA visit www.sunshineplumbingheating.com.