As To The Point climbs the charts and RYNO continues to grow and be recognized for our digital marketing services, we’re incredibly proud of our success. Still, staying humble is always a core value of ours, and one we proudly share with Dave Geiger, Founder & CEO of Horizon Group Holdings. Dave, like our team, comes from humble beginnings of wanting to help others and carve out a living in this world. A godfather of the industry, Dave has grown from a young man dreaming of being a plumber to running one of the largest home services companies in the mid-Atlantic, growing from a $1MM company to $500MM today. In part one of this series, Dave takes us from his childhood through the founding of Horizon Services.
As a child, Dave had modest dreams, and a goal that you’d be hard pressed to find in a kid these days. He simply wanted to be a plumber and have his own business, with maybe a few plumbers working under him. In school he struggled to understand why he needed to learn skills that wouldn’t help him become a better plumber, like learning how to type. He was fortunate enough to have teachers who cared about him and encouraged Dave to do well in school. As incentive, one teacher offered to help Dave get into the local trades high school if he did well.
During high school, Dave was working lots of side jobs ranging from small plumbing gigs to bagging groceries, learning the trades and hustling along the way. One day, a grocer he worked with mentioned needing their new furnace installed. Dave saw an opportunity, and even though he didn’t know how to install a furnace quickly offered to take the job. He went to one of his teacher/mentors for help, and together they went out and installed that furnace, splitting a $1200 payday between the two of them. Dave knew right then and there that this was the lifestyle and industry he wanted for certain.
That first furnace installation was in 1978, and Dave graduated from his trade school in 1980. He quickly began work for a few different plumbing contractors, eventually landing in Loveland, CO working for an uncle who happened to be a plumber. He was installing sewer systems during a big tax credit boom, but when that dried up in 1985 he went into new construction plumbing. New construction wasn’t a great fit for Dave, and he found himself in debt and without much opportunity in Colorado.
Dave moved back to Maryland, got his contractor license and began building his own business. He jokes that at that time he was so poor, he couldn’t pay attention! Married and with a child, Dave couldn’t afford much of anything and was determined to pave his way forward. He would go as far as standing in front of the licensing and permit office, waiting for guys to come out with blueprints so he could ask to bid on their work. The problem with this strategy was that the only guys who were willing to give him work were the guys who weren’t paying their bills. Dave was forced to take work wherever he could find it, working nights for a pipe fitting company from 3 in the morning until the next day. He also ran ads in the paper for service, working his days running calls as often as he could. Slowly, Dave built up a customer base and left the pipe fitting job. This was the beginning of Geiger Services (later renamed to Horizon Services), in 1987.
Dave was doing pretty well for himself, doing around 1.6 million in revenue in 1996 with a few employees. He was still focused on plumbing, but wanted to grow. Dave was still doing some new construction and wanted to build out Horizon Services into other areas, and started attending night school to learn heating and air conditioning. Around this time is when Dave pinpoints he really started paying attention to his business. A few key things happened in 1996 that allowed Dave to double his revenue in two years, and grow to 8 million by 2000.
Firstly, Dave joined Nexstar (Contractors 2000 at the time). A lot of major players had joined Nexstar around the same time, and Jack Tester wanted them all to get together as a peer group and share their information and best practices to help one another. Dave was hesitant, but Jack told him that if he participated, he would give him access to 8-10 of the best members of Nexstar to go and visit their business to learn (not knowing he would have been able to do that anyways!). Dave agreed, and began making some serious improvements to understanding how to best operate his business. Mainly, the peer group forced Dave to write down his processes, from how he dispatched and answered the phones to pricing and more. This was great for Dave, because he wasn’t doing any of that!
The second big thing was that Dave hired Mark Aitken, who would eventually become Co-Owner and Senior VP of Horizon Services. Mark was a pretty organized guy, and while Dave was very mechanically skilled, Mark brought to the table complimentary skills like promoting and marketing along with some great ideas for bringing order into the organization (like the famous Horizon Services orange trucks!). Together, Dave and Mark put their heads down and really worked on getting Horizon Services where it needed to be in order to grow. They traveled around the country, visiting many different incredible home services companies, taking lots of notes and making a list of things they learned that could be implemented at Horizon.
In 1998, Dave and Mark were still growing the business, and joined CSG (Contractors Success Group). As CSG knew HVAC and Horizon Services was just a plumbing company at the time, they joined and learned how to get some leads. They went back and sent out 10,000 letters, getting leads while not having a sales guy, installer, or even equipment. Dave and Mark scrambled, bringing onboard those key pieces. They hired a great sales guy who would eventually become a partner, an installer, and placed a call to Lennox who took a chance on Horizon Services and has been a partner ever since.
A lot of the growth that Horizon Services experienced isn’t due to any special secrets, and it’s not something that Dave will take much credit for. He simply used the information he gained from joining Nexstar and CSG, hired the right people, and put in the work. Quoting Jim Abrams, Dave says “This business is simple, not easy”. It’s a lot like getting in physical shape. The steps are easy, but the work you have to put in is what separates the successful companies from those that fall behind.
One of the biggest pieces Dave points to is learning how to properly budget and forecast for your business. You do this by building a budget based on real data, and can be as simple as adding Service Titan to your business or figuring out how to track it yourself. From there, you’ll want to measure against a plan and forecast to find out where you are. You’ll also need to have KPIs, and to ensure that everyone has the same definitions for things within your business. Dave ensures that everyone onboard has the same understanding of terms like callbacks and closing rates so that everyone is on the same page. Without sharing the same definitions, it will be hard to communicate efficiently when you’re measuring and tracking things day in and day out.
When you grow, Dave points out that you have to be increasingly reliant and trusting of your people. That means hiring great people and leadership for your team is integral for success. You also have to be willing to empower your team to make decisions on their own, and support them even when they fail. Dave calls this “failing forward”. If they make a mistake while trying something out with good intentions, you can’t punish them for an attempt. Not everything is going to work on the first try, and a business owner should have no trouble relating to that being the truth. Don’t be afraid to fail, and to let your team fail on occasion if you can learn and grow from it.
Dave is still involved with Nexstar, and is honored to serve on the board. He is passionate about helping other people in the industry, and to provide information that will help others grow and have a better life and better opportunities for themselves and their families. That’s what drives him, and gets him up each morning.
In the second part of this series, we’ll take a look at how Dave would go on to sell Horizon Services, buy it back, and grow it to the $500,000,000 mark they’re at today. You don’t want to miss it! In the meantime, if you have any questions for Dave, he’s been kind enough to share his email. You can reach Dave at [email protected].