We’re excited to announce Kevin Comerford, President of Service Champions as this week’s guest on To The Point! Kevin’s journey is more than just growing his company over 100 million dollars, it’s about finding his passion. It’s about discovering a love for developing people, and helping them be the best they can be each and every day. Whether you’re just starting out in business or you’re a seasoned vet, Kevin has plenty of wisdom, laughs, and advice that we can all learn from!
Kevin’s childhood was very much a blue-collar life. He grew up on a street called “Chicken Alley”, and while some might describe it as a farm, Kevin says it was more of a petting zoo complete with chickens, ducks, geese, horses, and a cow. His mother, a Ukrainian woman who grew up in Canada, was a hard worker, and who Kevin attributes his work ethic to. His father’s best friend owned a flooring company, his godparents operated a plumbing company, and his mother’s best friend was in the wallpaper business. Blue-collar was really all Kevin knew as a youth.
In 1972, Kevin’s parents started their very own heating and air conditioning business, which Kevin wanted nothing to do with. He had dreams of being in the professional sports world; with Al Michaels as his idol. Kevin didn’t get good grades in high school, and no one in his family had ever graduated from college. In fact, his father never made it past the 10th grade. When Kevin got accepted into Cal Poly, it was a big deal.
With a major in journalism, Kevin continued his path into the world of sports. He was thinking about being a sports agent, and actually landed a job with the Los Angeles Raiders for a few seasons. This was in 1990/1991, where big names like Bo Jackson were parts of the Raiders organization. Kevin was a coach’s assistant, and sports was truly his passion. What he discovered, though, is that being so entrenched into his dream world was making him lose that very passion. He started to consider another path, but he wasn’t quite sure where that would take him.
After graduating from Cal Poly, Kevin began working for his parent’s HVAC company. He started to learn that it doesn’t matter if you’re selling tickets to a Raiders game or air conditioners to a homeowner, business is business. The same principles apply across the board. He decided to give being in the world of heating and air conditioning a real shot. Two years later, Kevin would become the General Manager of the business. His parents were actually the founders of Service Experts, and the company would go public. Kevin stayed on with Service Experts for 6 years, and then decided in 2003 that he was ready to start his own business.
The story of Kevin’s company actually goes back almost a decade before it began. In 1994, Kevin had attended an HVAC convention where he met Leland Smith. The two had become friends over the years, and Kevin went out to visit Leland a few weeks before starting his company with Ray Dias and Darlene “Cookie” Silva, who are still with the company today.
While chatting, Kevin had the idea to change the name of his company to match Leland’s. This would enable them to share resources and perhaps find valuable and strategic ways to join forces down the line. With Leland’s blessing, Kevin stopped an ongoing order of truck wraps and decals being made and formed a license agreement which Leland continues to honor today. Their friendship and partnership is close, and remains so to this day.
That year, in 2003, Service Champions was born in the Bay area of California. They exploded out of the gate, hitting 15 million in revenue in the first 4 years. Driven by their core values, Service Champions continued growing. In 2022, the company is on pace to be just about at 100 million dollars in revenue.
Achieving 0-100 million in under 20 years is no small feat for any company. So what made Service Champions so successful, especially as an HVAC company in a relatively mild climate? Kevin attributes much of the success to the set of core values they established, as well as a range of other factors.
The six core values of Service Champions are simple, but have been proven to be highly effective. They are as follows:
These are the foundational principles upon which Service Champions was created, and you’ll notice each starts with an action word. Core values should be designed to be actions and behaviors. Don’t make the mistake of creating aspirational goals you want to achieve, but rather design them to demonstrate how you should act today.
The other huge driving force behind Service Champions’ recent success ties into Kevin’s love for developing people. That love has manifested itself into a university called Champions University. Kevin thinks back to his days at Cal Poly, and wants people to make a better living in the services industry than his fellows in college did. That’s why they love to say “a high-paying career without a 4-year”, a slogan that a member of Service Champions came up with.
From an 8-week course to get students ready to be in the field as service technicians to a 4-week course to become an installation technician, Champions University is about getting people ready and started on their journey in the trades.
When Service Champions was started back in 2003, Kevin asked his original team a question. When they write the book about our company, what do we want to be remembered for? It just so turns out that Kevin is the one who ended up writing the book! Champion Mindset is written as a parable, and tells the fictional story of Champion Air Conditioning, an HVAC company. The story focuses on the main character, Emily, who is starting out her journey in the industry and starting at the company. The CEO, Joe, takes her on a tour of the company, introducing her to different team members. Emily learns a lot of valuable lessons about the company, their core values, and how they show up each and every day.
This story, and the company, are all based on reality. The company is a fictional version of Service Champions, and many of the characters are based on real people. In fact, the premise actually stems from a time when Kevin went to visit Joe Cristiano (who the CEO in the book is based on!) at Kelly Moore Paints. Joe has been Kevin’s mentor for over 20 years, and when Kevin visited Joe in 1995, Joe took him around his shop. Kevin watched as Joe interacted with his team members, having deep conversations about specific details he knew about each of their lives. That’s when Kevin realized that being a CEO is about the people. It started Kevin’s philosophy and focus on culture and people development.
Champion Mindset is written for a few different reasons and audiences. It’s a tool Kevin uses for existing and new team members to get assimilated into the Service Champions culture. It’s also because Kevin has a passion for helping small business owners. If you’re in the trades, there’s a ton of valuable information to be gained from the book! We’ll cover a few of just the many bits of wisdom found in Kevin’s work, and highly encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you can experience it in full.
Most of the lessons Emily learns in the book revolve around core values, and one of those is about the importance of culture. In April 2020, during the midst of COVID, Service Champions had 178 team members. In April of 2022, that number is 350. With fast growth, documented culture is a must in order for everyone to understand the core values and what the company stands for. It’s no longer just Kevin, Ray, and Cookie standing in front of 6 techs and 2 dispatchers saying “here’s what we believe in”.
The book is Kevin’s way of documenting the real culture at Service Champions. He uses it in tandem with an internal document called the Common Service Language Guide. Together, these items document the company culture. If you’re growing your business, you have to be on top of ensuring that each new and existing team member is adhering to the core values that make your company, your company!
Something that truly sets Service Champions apart is that they spend a lot of time training their staff about being great listeners. Kevin says they need to be more interested than interesting. We live in world of social media; where everyone wants to be in the spotlight. Kevin says make whoever you’re around, be it customer or coworker, in the spotlight instead of you. They believe this so strongly that Service Champions technicians are actually given fewer calls so they can spend more time being great listeners and asking great questions than being rushed through their calls. Kevin has found that less is often more. The fewer calls they give their technicians, the more revenue and client satisfaction they generate due to this focus on being active listeners.
Part of having a Champion Mindset means being “whether-driven”, not weather-driven. Your success is contingent on whether you come to work with the right mindset. It depends on whether you follow the process. It’s focusing on what you can control, and not the weather. In Northern California, there are plenty of sunny, 75 degree days where Kevin could be frustrated that a lot of calls won’t come in. Instead, he views it as a positive. Now, there will be less unhappy customers and his team will have a chance to educate their customers on being proactive about their HVAC systems instead of waiting for the inevitable day when temperatures soar back above 90. It’s not about the weather, it’s whether you’re having a Champion Mindset.
The last two chapters of the book are the real story of how Service Champions implemented these core values and what it looked like. It’s the story of taking a company from 0-100 million dollars in revenue. Part of that journey was finding a financial partner in Leonard Green & Partners to come alongside and help accelerate their growth. Another part was finding Ken Haines and the Wrench Group. Mostly though, it’s about explaining that while the majority of the book is fictional, it’s based on a real company that actually does all of these things that we’re talking about.
As far as he’s concerned, Kevin is in the people development business, not the heating and air business. He’s whether-driven, and wants to help others be the same. No matter what stage of life or business you’re in, it’s never too late to start developing your very own Champion Mindset. If you’d like to get in touch with Kevin, you can email him directly at [email protected]. If you’d like to purchase your very own copy of the book, which comes out today, you can buy your copy of Champion Mindset on Amazon now!