October 19, 2021
Live from Service World Expo 2021, host Chris Yano and guest-host Jeff Bowab, Director of Business Development at RYNO Strategic Solutions bring on guest Tom Casey to To The Point. Tom Casey is the Chief Visionary Officer of Griffin Service out in Jacksonville, FL. Over the years, Tom has seen firsthand just how important culture is to the success of a business, and he’s here to tell his story and why culture should be your ULTIMATE home service industry success strategy.
Tom Casey was born and raised in Milford, CT; a self-proclaimed 3rd generation “SOB” (son of a boss). His grandparents started many years ago delivering coal and ice, then transitioned into fuel oil, and when AC was invented, they were involved in the heating and air business. Tom grew up around the trades, carrying tools and going out on jobs with his dad. While his story echoes many of those in the trades, Tom had no intentions of staying in the trades as a career.
Tom took a year off between high school and college, and 37 years later he’s still on his year off. It turns out he really enjoyed being in the trades! He was working in the family business—a transport refrigeration and residential service company. His dad and his uncle were partners in running the company, with his uncle on the refrigeration side and his dad on the residential side.
This was a horrible family dynamic, and the culture just wasn’t there. There were constant fights between his uncle and his father about who was really bringing in the money, and they struggled to see eye to eye. It was so bad that Tom was applying to work for other companies, and eventually it came to head. The two brothers decided to split the business, at which point lawyers were involved.
The lawyers came up with a proposal in which Tom’s father would own two-thirds of the residential side of the company, and his uncle would own two-thirds of the refrigeration side. They would each have a third ownership in the other’s side to try and incentivize them to work together. The deal was also structured for Tom to be able to immediately purchase his uncle’s third in the residential side. This didn’t go that well, but eventually things cooled off between his dad and uncle.
Tom would go on to have a conversation about a third not being enough for him. He wanted to own his own company! While he was only 19, Tom worked out a deal in which he would purchase 1% of the company every year until he reached 51% and majority ownership. This company’s name was Climate Engineering, and Tom and his father worked very well together. In the first year with his dad in 1987, they did $163,000. They continued to grow the business together, and Tom was sent to lots of schools and training. The company started to win awards, and in 2000, they earned a national residential contractor of the year award.
Tom’s father gave him a lot of freedom, and made sure he had the support needed to grow. After a bad experience with his brothers, his dad wanted to make sure Tom didn’t have to deal with the same issues. They split everything down the middle regardless of ownership, and this worked really well for both them and the company.
Tom and his father were enjoying success with Climate Engineering, and then had an unexpected knock on the door. It was someone from Blue Dot who wanted to buy the company, a story many in the trades in the early 2000’s are familiar with. Tom wasn’t interested, but had no experience with the M&A world. The man had Tom write down a number on a piece of paper and slide it across the table, so Tom thought of a number he thought was way too high and the man said “we can do that”. The deal went through, Climate Engineering was sold, and things went great.
Tom would work with Blue Dot for two years, and it was going really well. Nothing changed in the businesses or the industry, but the stock market was another story. As many remember, things went downhill fast for Blue Dot. Unlike some others, Tom didn’t buy the company back from Blue Dot. From the money made on the sale, Tom and his father started Climate Partners; carrying over key people from their original business.
This fresh start allowed Tom and his father to reform Climate Partners the way they wanted it. They referred away things they didn’t want to do like the commercial refrigeration side of things to other companies, and would add energy conservation, blower door testing, and other whole-home services they were interested in. During this time, Tom also co-founded Dr. Energy Saver, a company that would become a successful franchise that still exists today.
Tom was really coming into his own, and understood how to get a company up and running and then growing. He wasn’t 19 anymore, and was doing really well for himself. However, during an annual doctor’s visit, Tom got some scary news. He was rushed to the cardiologist, and after failed tests he was told he would need emergency surgery for something in his chest and that he should get his affairs in order. Tom had a wife and three young children. He would spend what could be his last weekend with his family, and wrote his children what could be his last words to them.
Thankfully, Tom got some great news. Whatever was causing the issue had disappeared, and he had a clean bill of health! His wife wanted to get away from the snow, and the family found a place in Florida that they loved. Tom moved to Florida, still running the business in Connecticut. As they had management, systems, and a good culture in place, things continued running smoothly.
Tom and the family built their dream house, but this quickly turned into a nightmare. From AC leaks and plumbing problems to mold and more, the home had tons of problems that naturally landed on Tom to fix. He was ripping everything out and doing things the right way, reinstalling and patching up the plumbing, air conditioning, and the many other issues resulting from shoddy workmanship during home construction.
Neighbors of Tom saw him working, and would ask him if he fixed air conditioners. His wife was telling Tom that if he ever did such a poor job (referring to the people who did the initial work), he’d be out of business. She encouraged him to start his own company in Florida! This was in 2016, and Tom didn’t want to buy a company—he wanted to start his own from scratch. He had done some coaching by this point, and with his experience, he knew what it took. Tom wanted to prove he could do it. This was the birth of Griffin Service.
Tom spent a lot of time creating the brand. There were lots of golf clubs in the area with crests, and wanted the logo and name to mirror that high-end experience that the area wanted. He looked at Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other famous high-end company logos during his research. Tom also held contests to design the logo and truck wraps, and looked at what colors didn’t exist in the market. Settling on gold and black which stood out from the red and blue in the area, Griffin Service was born.
Jacksonville is much a different market than Connecticut. It’s huge, and the largest landmass city in the country. Instead of furnaces for the winter, it’s all about air conditioning to combat the intense summer heat and humidity. As a result of Tom’s focus on a great brand and, more importantly, a great culture, Griffin Service took off. They started with full HVAC service and replacement (about 95% residential), and would add plumbing services and recently launched electrical. They are finishing the year at about $8.5mm, and projecting well over $10mm for 2022.
From dealing with fighting family to working alongside his dad, Tom knows firsthand the difference a great culture can make in a business. He strongly believes culture is the end all, be all of a company. Griffin Service has banners in the office that say “Fuck Average, Be Legendary”, and that’s the aggressive stance the company culture has in serving their customers. Tom has implemented a culture of family, integrity, and legendary service.
From the old hats to the newer generation of service techs, a culture of people who want to win can integrate anybody. You want a culture of no excuses, no assholes, and a mindset that when your team goes into battle, you’re simply going to win.
No matter how good your business strategy may be, nothing can fix a start with a bad culture. At Griffin Service, Tom onboards new hires with full immersion into the culture. This includes real videos of Tom interacting with his team, completely uncensored with expletives and the charge-ahead energy that the culture demands. This gives the potential employee a chance to see the passion and culture in action before they sign on, and make sure it’s a good match for them.
Tom believes success is all about the people in your organization. You have to have the right people in the right places, and have a winning culture. It doesn’t matter how good your marketing and brand strategies are if you don’t have a team that is willing to work together and do whatever it takes to succeed. Tom’s advice? Don’t wait until you need a good person; if a good person presents themselves, hire them. Then, ensure you’re empowering your team. A good culture is trusting your team to make decisions, and then supporting them for better or worse.
If you’d like to get in touch with Tom for advice or any other reason, you can reach him at [email protected]