Standard of care

Jeff Butler has been a successful entrepreneur since the seventh grade, when he ran his own painting business. The key to his success — both then and now — has been a caring attitude for his customers.

“To me, ‘care’ is what makes the whole thing tick,” says Butler, CEO of Repipe Specialists Inc., a copper repiping company in Glendale. “Everybody in every part of the business cares about what they do, cares about the customer, cares that we give a good, quality product.”

This means Butler and his employees and partners always try to go the extra mile to please the customer and encourage referrals.

“We as the company are in the most control of how many referrals we get,” says Butler. “You have to provide a consistent, high-quality service.”

Butler’s methods have grown his company from $7.3 million in revenue in 2004 to more than $10 million last year.

Smart Business spoke with Butler about his strategies for finding good employees and encouraging referrals.

How does your business model benefit your business and your customers?
What I look for is, how do I get the best quality product to the customer in the most efficient way? There’s two ways to set up a business. [In most cases], the CEO’s at the top, and he’s trying to ensure that all the jobs in his company are going well. Well, there’s no way he can personally oversee all that stuff, so he has to have hired managers and people to do that.

What I’ve experienced, at least in the contracting trade, is the more people you hire and the more people you put between the owner and the customer in terms of that hierarchy or structure, No. 1, the more expensive the job becomes because you have more management. You get top-heavy. And (No.) 2 is, you never get the same quality as if you had the owner out on the job overseeing it because that’s the person who cares the most about the job.

I set my business up where I partner up with guys who own their own [repiping] business … that are smaller shops. As long as I’m providing and making sure that the jobs are available for them, which I do, they can stay on the job and make sure that the job is going well.

It makes it so that the actual quality of work on each job is attended to by that owner, or at the very least, a senior supervisor.

How do you encourage referrals?
One, you show up when you say you’re going to show up — you’re on time.

We’re doing big jobs. We’re going into a person’s home and we’re opening up their walls, we’re replacing all their pipes. It can be a traumatic experience for these people. We just try to put them at ease by being extremely competent in what we’re doing [and] leaving the house at the end of the day cleaner than when we walked into it.

If we say we’re going to do A, B and C, and we get there and we see ‘We can do A and B, and C’ is not really very possible or it’s going to cost us a bunch more money, it doesn’t matter. We still do A, B and C because that’s what we agreed to do.

Also, we give customers cards that they can hand out to their friends. When that friend gets (a repiping) job done, we send (the person who referred them) $50. We have a tremendous number of people that do that.

How do you make sure you have satisfied customers?
You always verify the work that you’ve done. We call every single customer after we’re done with the job. We have an independent person who does a customer satisfaction survey.

It’s eight or 10 questions, and it goes through everything from the sales process to the repiping to the patching, anything else they want to say about the job. And if there’s anything at all that comes up on that survey from the customer, we go and handle it — immediately.

How do you find employees who will contribute to your mission?
I really have a clear picture in my mind of the type of person that I’m looking for. I sit down and I write down the qualifications of the person that I want for a new position before I go looking for that person.

I look for people who are kind of entrepreneurial in their own spirit and like to have responsibility. You don’t have to tell them what to do at every turn, so it makes for a great working environment.

One of the first things that I ask (job candidates) is, ‘What is it you like to do? What are your own personal goals?’ And I make sure that the position that I’m hiring them for really aligns with what it is they want to get out of a job or what their interests are. … [Otherwise,] No. 1, they’re not going to succeed at it, and No. 2, they’re not going to have any fun at it.

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