I wrote this for the USA Newsletter a while back. Thought some people here might find it interesting.
Running A Small Service Company
Small service company (SSC). An SSC is a company made up of less than 5 employees. The Small Business Administration statistics for 2013, the latest available, show that businesses of this size make up approximately 80% of appliance repair companies in the United States. Businesses in this category often consist of just one person. Most of the people I know in this industry either run or work for an SSC, I run an SSC. Although this size business has a lot in common with larger companies operating a very small service company has unique challenges that larger companies may not share.
Most SSC owners are also full time technicians. As techs and business people we have a wide variety of responsibility that might be delegated in a larger company. Not only do we have to run service calls all day, attend technical training every few months and re-stock our trucks on a daily basis, we also have to meet with the accountant, run payroll and review the performance of other techs in our company. Not only do we have to research field service software, check up on payments collected by employees and wait on hold to talk to customer service for our ISP, we have to package and return parts, email the manufacturer service manager about that recurring warranty issue and so on, ad infinitum. And also be home in time for dinner, because why do all of this otherwise?
Balancing this technical, business and personal responsibility can be a challenge. As with any size business the ultimate responsibility lies with the owner. But in an SSC day to day, almost every problem, no matter how small, almost every decision, no matter how trivial, is in the hands of the owner. So what can we do to alleviate the stress that comes with that responsibility?
I’m sitting here on a Sunday evening writing this. We spent the day in New York City at a food truck festival with the kids, they loved riding the subway. It was a fun day. But it’s 9pm and I feel like I need to get back to work. This is the way it is. This business is my life and vice versa. My wife and I are both a part of it, so is my father, my children come to work with me sometimes and hold the flashlight. There is very little separation between business and personal life, and this is what we’ve chosen. Business is discussed in the same conversation as family vacations. I spent most of Friday evening thinking, and discussing with my wife, about an email I sent to the president of an ultra premium appliance brand as we try to work out an arrangement for my company to service their products. Was it worded properly? Are the rates I submitted calculated correctly? And this was over a beer on parents night out. But it wasn’t a burden, we enjoyed it, it’s simply another part of our lives.
I don’t have a service manager, that’s me. I don’t have a parts department or a technical support team for my technicians, that’s me. I don’t have someone to manage inventory, that’s me. And I like it that way. And that’s the way many SSC owners feel. With what seems like a constant push for growth from all sides many of us are happy with the way things are. We are doing well. We are agile and quick to make necessary changes because we can, because we are small. Everyone structures their lives differently but all of us are totally invested in this on an excruciatingly personal level.
With the overwhelming majority of US appliance repair companies being very small and not planning on growing I think we need to take some time to consider how we can improve and professionalize this segment of the industry. Some of our companies are having trouble competing with larger service providers, what can we do that they can’t? Some are having trouble keeping up with technological changes, what can we do to improve access to information, and education on how to find information? Some are concerned with rising overhead costs and lower appliance sales prices, what can we deduce about the future of the SSC from those two trends? These are questions that need to be answered if companies of this size want to continue to operate profitably into the future. Let’s answer them.