The GOAT of HVAC is here! Joining To The Point is none other than Jim Abrams, and for his first podcast appearance ever to boot. While Jim needs no introduction, let’s rattle off some of the highlights from his incredible career. Currently chairman of FYZICAL, Jim is the founder of Clockwork Home Services. He’s the co-founder of Contractor Success Group. He built the largest Weight Watchers franchise. He’s won multiple Entrepreneur of the Year awards. He coined the phrase “Home Services”. He earned the title “King of Replacements” from his peers. Simply put, Jim Abrams is the most influential man in residential contracting history.
Jim is a pretty humble guy, and even calls himself an “accidental entrepreneur”. But we know better. We’re so grateful to have him on the podcast, and can’t wait for you to enjoy both of parts of this amazing two-part series. Enjoy!
A former teacher, Jim found himself running the largest Weight Watchers franchise in the 1970’s. He was looking into the next chapter of his life and came up with three things he thought would be important in the future. The three things he came up with were something energy-related, cheap food, and the automobile market. Jim ended up in the energy-related business, and went to work for Trane in 1976.
Jim started out in the front room doing telemarketing for Trane. He became a straight commision salesperson. With 1800 people in his division, he worked his way to become number one in the Trane Consumer Products division. He also helped establish and take Trane’s “5 Saluting Men” franchise nationwide. During this time, Jim led Trane’s national dominance in residential HVAC sales and introduced consumer financing to the industry.
In 1981, Jim started his own business, Home Energy Savers. He picked St. Louis because it was hot in the summers and cold in the winters. Simple enough! Jim moved his family there and started his one-man business, hiring just one technician to help out. In those days, Yellow Pages was the key. It was really the only means of marketing back then. Jim opened in June, and the openings to get listed in the 1982 Yellow Pages that came out in October 1981 had closed that March.
The first few years were rough, and Home Energy Savers was not profitable. Jim had expected that, though. As he had to wait 18 months to get listed in the Yellow Pages, he had to get a little creative. That meant walking up and down the streets of St. Louis knocking on doors, as well as utilizing telemarketing and direct mail marketing. His efforts, ingenuity, and knack for business and innovation meant that it wouldn’t take long for things to turn around. And turn around they did.
By 1988, Jim was running the largest residential service company in the United States with 12MM in sales – a pretty crazy number back then! During this time, Jim made several “firsts” in the industry. He was the first contractor with over 10,000 service agreements. He was the first to offer 10-year parts and labor warranties, and the first to private label his own HVAC systems. He was even the first to offer a 100% money-back guarantee. These ideas that are so commonplace these days all trace back to Jim.
Jim had a friend, John Young, who he’d known since his days at Trane. John was helping Ron Smith turn his business around in Ft. Myers by helping him transition out of commercial and industrial to residential. After leaving, John and Jim partnered to create Contractor Success Group (CSG) in 1990. John was a marketing guru, and Jim brought his operational expertise to the table. The plan was to teach contractors across the United States a similar way of doing business in order to put them together and form the industry’s first publicly traded company. Jim was the first to consolidate in the industry, and invented the best practices concept with the creation of CSG!
To compliment CSG, Jim also founded Future University. This was in order to provide high level training to the front-line employees that would be integral to contractor success. He brought onboard former podcast guest and legendary sales trainer Terry Nicholson to help teach Jim’s methods.
Enjoying continued success, Home Energy Savers would morph into a company that became known as Service Experts. As president, Jim placed Terry Nicholson as National Sales Training Director. Service Experts was almost a billion dollar company at its height, and went public to the NASDAQ in 1996 and the NYSE in 1997.
Jim headed operations, but had a different person acting as CEO. Jim’s vision was branding residential home services, while the CEO was more driven towards compilation of earnings and increasing the stock value. John Young and Jim held stock that was worth about 100MM at the time, and Jim felt like that was enough money to call it a day. He retired in 1997 with a career and legacy that would be untouchable. Of course, the story doesn’t end there.
Jim may have been retired, but he certainly didn’t sit still. He was focused on his relationships with God and his family, but he sure missed his career. With all the money he could want, he was bored! During this brief “first retirement”, Jim created a talking thermostat, a new pricing system, and a ton of other inventions that would become part of Success Group International. In a short period of time, Jim obtained 4 patents and over 100 different trademarks.
Jim would come out of retirement to found Clockwork Home Services (CHS) alongside Terry. During this time, Jim introduced branding to the industry and founded One-Houe Air Conditining and Heating, Mister Sparky Electric, and Benjamin Frankling Plumbing. He also founded multiple client service companies and helped thousands of contractors achieve multi-million dollar success. In 2010, Direct Energy acquired CHS for 183MM, and Jim once again retired…but not for long!
After Jim and Terry enjoyed a brief retirement (again), they founded FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers, a physical therapy franchise. With almost 500 locations in the U.S., it’s the fastest growing healthcare franchise. Jim applied the same business principles he had pioneered and mastered in other industries and found success, proving once again that he understood how to grow a company to unfathomable heights. During this time, Jim was still in touch with the home services industry and recognized that there was more work do be done. The industry was changing, and Jim saw an opportunity to help improve the business model he had created before.
Jim once again partnered with Terry to form PRAXIS S-10. PRAXIS S-10 is the ultimate success group for contractors. It gives contractors the same playbook former podcast guest Jimmy Hiller used to grow his company from 2MM to over 100MM. This business model that Jim created continues to be utilized by the largest players in the industry and is truly foundational to the sustained success of thousands and thousands of contractors across the country and beyond.
While a hard copy might be hard to find these days, in 2008 Jim published A Contractor’s Guide to Greatness. There were 10,000 copies, and they sold out quickly! The way the book was written was Jim would speak out each chapter over the phone, recording the lessons over the course of 30 months. After it was all finished, it was edited and polished.
A few years ago, Jim and his wife escaped a Florida hurricane and rented a cabin along the ocean out in Maine. He wrote what will become his second book, which will be coming out very soon. He’s rewritten it several times to get it just right, and has employed the help of one of his sons who is a screenwriter. We’re all excited to get our copy, are you?
Looking at the highlights of Jim’s career, it’s easy to forget where it started. After leaving Trane to start his own company, Jim was faced with a dire landscape. Unemployment in St. Louis in the 80’s was 20%, well over the 14% national average. He had moved his family and was worried about losing everything. He couldn’t get in the phonebook, and things were looking tough. There were only two options for Jim, and he isn’t the type to sit still. So, he got out there and knocked on doors. Thousands of them.
His grandfather had owned a moving company during the Great Depression, and Jim asked him how he managed to run a business wehn unemployment was over 25%. His grandfather told him that he only focused on the 75% that were working. Sure, he helped his neighbors out, but that 75% was the key. Jim used that as his foundation. Still, he couldn’t find people to help him knock on doors.
Sitting at the dinner table with his family one night, Jim was praying and seeking answers. Suddenly, someone was knocking on his door. It was two Mormon men who told him they were there to speak with him about God, and Jim agreed! He invited them in to ask where he could find others who were willing to knock on doors, and before long he had flown out to Salt Lake City, Utah. He would end up speaking to a classroom of students at BYU, and recruited 22 students to knock on doors for him. Jim was able to sell 3,000 service agreements that summer and his business took off. The next year, in 1986, Jim made a million dollars for the first time.
Jim’s new book has the subtitle “The Baby Is On The Island“. While it sounds strange, the idea behind it is powerful. It’s a thought experiment. Imagine you have a baby, and you set it down on a little patch of land just for a second. You think nothing of it, as it’s only for a moment. Suddenly, water rises around that piece of land and it becomes an island. Water is raging around it, and the child is stuck and alone. If you jump in the water, there’s a good chance you’d going down in the water. If you do nothing, the child will be stranded and die. You have to make a decision.
Jim once had a mentor in his teaching days that told him if you go to the races every day and bet on the horses, you only have to be right 51% of the time — even though that means being wrong 49% of the time. In business, you’ll often face decision that can cause “analysis paralysis”. But you have to do something. It’s critical to act. You have to make a decision even if it ends up being wrong. As long as you’re right more than you’re wrong, things will work out.
Make a decision even if you’re wrong
A big part of Jim’s success formula is gaining knowledge. You can only gain knowledge two ways. You either get it from experience or education. Experience cannot be replaced. When you’re faced with a challenge where you don’t have the answer, take all the facts into consideration and do SOMETHING. You’ll get that experience whether you’re right or wrong.
Jim has a 10-step approach he’s applied to every business. If you apply it, it works. It’s worked in electrical, plumbing, roofing, HVAC, physical therapy, and even restaurants. It’s a broad-base business program that works for service business, and it’s been proven time and time again over the past several decades.
On the second episode of our two-part series with Jim Abrams, we’ll dive into more of the wisdom he’s graciously giving out for FREE and hear those very 10 steps. Are you ready? We’ll see you there!