Once again, we come to you live from ACCA Conference 2022 in St. Louis! Along with our To The Point superstar guest co-host Ken Goodrich, we had Brian Sloan, President of TR Miller join the podcast to tell his story.
Brian is the 4th generation of a family in the trades, and is the culmination of years of experience in the industry. Still, his story isn’t one of a golden spoon. From where he started to where is he is now is incredible, but he’s got quite the roadway ahead of him. We’re excited to not just have Brian on the podcast to share what he’s learned to help other contractors, but also to see where he’s headed.
At the age of ten, Brian can remember being in the house with his brother, Cody, and his dad remodeling the house. The sounds of a circular saw filled the house. The trades weren’t just part of the family history, it was part of daily life. By 2008, Brian’s father was working for a new construction company. The owner wanted to exit, and offered the opportunity to purchase the company to Brian’s dad. So, his dad bought the business, and Brian took the opportunity to come aboard.
Brian started off at the bottom and climbed his way up. New construction was a big portion of the business, and he would begin his path doing deliveries. Eventually, Brian worked his way into doing fabrication, installs, service, sales, and even project management. In 2016, his parents separated and both wanted to exit the business. This was an opportunity for Brian and Cody to step into a more involved role, and they seized it.
Things were tough at the beginning, and even still in 2016 things weren’t in the shape they are now. Revenue had been declining, and they were doing about 2.4 million with 11 employees that year. With Brian leading the charge, that would rapidly begin to change.
In 2016, Brain set out to get more involved and more education in the business. He joined some best practice groups, did a lot of reading, and attended ACCA forums. This focus on improving both his knowledge and the processes and efficiency of the company paid off in spades. In 2022, TR Miller is budgeted for 23.5MM and on pace for 25MM.
It was more than education that helped the business see such incredible growth year after year. That first year in 2016, the company was like a lot of heating and cooling companies. They were doing residential, light commercial, and new construction – essentially anything they could make money doing. Even though they had been slowly leaving the new construction space from 2008-2016, it was still a considerable portion of their revenue; about $500,000-$1,000,000 per year.
Today, the company is 100% residential replacement and service. It wasn’t an overnight process, either. Brian basically approached it with the mindset of finding something to replace the pieces he was eliminating. Once they supplemented the revenue with their other service offerings, they were able to completely remove new construction from their mix. Last year, TR Miller added plumbing to their services line and did 2.5MM. This year, they’re budgeted for 5MM in just plumbing. From 2.5MM to being on pace for 25MM in about 6 years is pretty incredible! So what did Brian and his team do to have this massive growth?
Brian is very humble, and is quick to say he’s just happy to wake up every day and face the challenges of the present. Still, it’s apparent that there were a lot of hours of blood, sweat, and tears put in to grow the company over the last half-decade. He points to a number of things that helped him achieve this growth, namely ACCA, education, and joining best practice groups to find the tools and resources he needed to implement into the company.
Today, he feels confident that he knows how to run a 10-20 million dollar company. He also has the self-awareness to understand that as they continue to average 40-60% growth year after year, he needs to continue to do the things that helped him get to where he is. He needs to keep attending ACCA conferences, keep staying involved with best practices groups, and continue to stay current with both the industries he is in and the other industries that influence them. Below, we’ve outlined some of the main factors that Brian details in this episode that he felt really propelled TR Miller on its current skyward trajectory.
Brian lists the single greatest thing he’s learned is to understand the numbers both at the financial level and the operational level. One thing that he learned from the recent 2022 RYNOx event has helped improve the bottom line, and plenty of other contractors may be able to benefit from it! Since COVID began, product fulfillment became a bigger focus for TR Miller. In the process, they paid less attention to what they were paying their vendors. Materials were being paid for each Friday by check.
After RYNOx, Brian learned that by using a credit card instead of paying by check to his vendors, he can see some huge annual revenue chunks returned. They’ve now partnered with a credit card company to get 2% back on their purchases, and that tool will help decrease their material and equipment costs. When we’re talking about millions, 2% is not a small number!
Both Brian and Ken Goodrich talk to one of the biggest mistakes that contractors make time after time. You’re growing your company, and need to start filling out management roles. You look at your team, and think “hey, this is my best service tech–surely he’s the right pick for management!” Don’t do this! Management is a completely different skillset. Why would you take your best at one position and move them to something where they may or may not succeed? It’s not to say that it can’t work, but for Brian and Ken, it certainly hasn’t.
You have to find the right people with the right experience, skillset, and personality to put into the right seats. Sometimes that means looking outside of the industry, too. After a recent management restructuring, Brian and his team looked outside of the industry to fill a mid-level management position. They found a highly experienced candidate that oversaw 300MM in service revenue in a different industry. Now, plugged into TR Miller, that manager is brining in a ton of value by having a different set of expertise that they wouldn’t have found within the trades.
Once you’ve found the right pieces, you have to continue to learn and grow. Just like Brian continues to involve himself in best practice groups and attend conferences, he’s looking at educating his team as well. A focus for Brian is his frontline employees; he wants his frontline team to be educated and sophisticated. Each month, there are team meetings that are more than about ROI. They cover things like how to utilize a 401k, and even the mortgage/housing space. In addition to technical training, Brian wants the young technicians fresh out of trade school joining his team to be setting themselves up to purchase their first home instead of buying drinks at the bar with their first paycheck.
That’s not to say leadership isn’t a focus, of course. Not only does leadership attend ongoing training, there’s a push for professional development and progress between the levels of leadership roles within the company. TR Miller looks at staff they want to take from frontline positions into managerial roles, and meets biweekly to support their progression. They tackle two books, Extreme Ownership and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
Ken Goodrich says it best: “Your business is a school for your employees”. Brian goes a step further, calling the business a school for himself.
With 40-60% year-over-year growth, TR Miller has to plan for staffing to keep up with demand. They’ve begun work on a 25,000 square foot training facility, with the end of the year as their goal for it to be fully operational. While their weekly trainings with all departments to cover soft skills and reinforce technical things, there’s more that is needed. As they take green technicians out of trade school, there’s more of a polishing process that has to take place. Ken calls this a finishing school. TR Miller has partnered with Nexstar to implement training programs, and use an extensive plan to utilize this training facility in the years to come. It’s also a highly effective tool for recruitment – technicians love to learn!
Brian is now at a spot where he’s running a 25MM business, and being profitable. However, it’s going to take a new set of skills to take it from 25MM to 100MM. Ken points out that there is a crossroads here, and multiple paths one could take. You could educate yourself to be a better leader to help grow the business, or go out and find a tenured, qualified person with a track record to grow the business for you.
Ken has seen it many times in the trades. A company gets to a certain size, and the owner decides not to put in the time and effort to educate themselves to keep growing. There’s something in play here called the Peter Principle. Essentially, the Peter Principle is the idea that at some point in an organization, people will rise through the ranks until they find themselves in a position where they are no longer competent. Brain is aware that he needs to be keeping an eye out for signs that he’s approaching this “Peter Principle moment”. That’s when it begins to make sense to consider hiring for your weakness, and stepping aside to have someone else help steer the ship.
Brain has financial goals, but his real focus is building up the team around him. He wants his team members to be financially secure, have great jobs, and be developed both professionally and personally. While 100MM is a number he’d like to hit, it’s not about the money. Still, growing his business is the goal. He’s looking at all kinds of opportunities to accomplish that, and that’s something a lot of contractors miss. Investment and acquisition opportunities, training opportunities, and continued involvement in industry best practice organizations are things that will help Brian and TR Miller stay on the right track.
No matter where you’re at in your journey through the trades, there’s always a better or easier way to do things. You have to keep pushing yourself to learn, and be open to those opportunities! If you want to get in touch with Brian, he’s more than happy to help. He’s an admittedly stereotypical millennial, so texting him is best at 815-830-0113. Or, find him on Facebook or his other socials and shoot him a DM!