Compass Magazine

Compass Magazine

July 21. 2017

MEMBER SUCCESS STORY: Brent McDonald of Rub-A-Dub Plumbing in Gun Barrel, Texas

Winners are Built

Brent McDonald and His Team Have Propelled Rub-A-Dub Plumbing to Meteoric Growth & Success Thanks to Being Open to Change, Committing to Personal Development, and Possessing an Old-Fashioned Hustler’s Attitude. – BY BOB HOUCHIN

Gun Barrel City, Texas. Upon hearing the name, it’s hard for your mind not to conjure up images of the old west. History tells us the town was named after a local road, Gun Barrel Lane, which inherited its moniker thanks to the outlaws who frequented the area in the 20’s and 30’s. Notorious fugitives like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were rumored to have considered it safe backwoods during the Prohibition era.

Brent McDonald hopes the town and surrounding communities come to know Gun Barrel City, Texas, for something much different: The home of his company, Rub-A-Dub Plumbing.

The simple act of reading the name puts a smile on your face. Imagine what people do when they see Brent’s bright yellow service vans with the large, blue cartoon duck holding a wrench adorning its sides? Needless to say, it demands attention.

“We’re going to be doing radio commercials. At the end, they’re going to say, ‘Rub-A-Dub Plumbing, We’re Squeaky Clean.’ And then you’ll hear a little ‘squeak, squeak’ like a rubber duck,” Brent says and then bursts into laughter. “I mean, how can people not remember us? People are going to hear that ‘squeak, squeak’ in their dreams. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really excited about it.”

The name Rub-A-Dub Plumbing, the new logo and colors, new uniforms, new website, new truck wraps, and new radio spots are all part of a re-branding initiative Brent has undertaken along with Success Group International marketing partner, The Brand Guys. “[The Brand Guys’] Ray [Seggern] did a great job helping us come up with a list of potential names. We got everyone involved with picking it. Rub-A-Dub kept growing on me,” Brent shared.

“I went back and watched a presentation [SGI President] Rebecca Cassel did on branding at the last Expo. She stressed that the best names are something that’s commonly known, but not commonly used. That’s rub-a-dub. We really don’t use it, but everyone has heard it as a kid,” Brent continued. “I knew I was on the right track.”

Such a massive transformation, shifting the name from Plumbing to Rub-A-Dub isn’t without risk. How often do you hear of a company that grew 81 percent from the previous year completely redesign its image and marketing message? Not often, if ever.

A year prior, Brent carefully but doggedly tackled a challenge as nerve-racking as the re-branding. He acquired another plumbing company, more than doubling his service area. “I’m in a town with a population of 6,000. There’s maybe 50,000 in our whole county. We acquired a company in Lindale. It’s only a town of 5,000, but it sits outside a town of 100,000,” Brent revealed. “The deal took almost six months and it almost felt through. I have to give [SGI’s] Bill Weaver a lot of credit; I was on the phone with him a lot. And I really have to thank my bookkeeper, Ginny Rivers. She really analyzed the numbers, and we got the company for what it was really worth.”

“The first day we took it over, I knew it was the right decision. It’s been a money-maker, very profitable. We’re going to have it paid off quickly. If you want more money, you have to do what’s necessary to get more exposure.”

“[With the re-branding and the acquisition,] I was willing to make those moves because I knew they would help me reach my goals,” Brent said steadfastly and with conviction. “In business, you can’t be afraid to make change. If you do the same things over and over, you’ll never get different results. You have to reach for what you want and put in the hard work. Do the small stuff, and hopefully you earn it.”

Brent may have been talking about his business philosophy, but his words could also be used to describe his approach to life.

It Wasn’t a Business; It Was a Hustle

Brent hasn’t been handled a single thing in his life. He’s had to claw and fight for every dollar. He was raised in a laborer’s family. Brent installed septic systems with his dad, and his brother taught him the plumbing trade. Neither interested him much initially, and so he moved on.

“I had gotten injured on my next job, and it put me out of work for six months. I was going through a divorce and was completely broke. I didn’t have a cent, and I was trying to do anything else but go back into plumbing.”

But plumbing was persistent and drug him back. An uncle offered Brent a job setting plumbing fixtures in new homes. It was in the middle of the housing boom, and the money was good. It was consistent, too. Brent also began picking up a few service calls here and there.

In business, you can’t be afraid to make change. If you do the same things over and over, you’ll never get different results. You have to reach for what you want and put in the hard work. Do the small stuff, and hopefully you earn it.

One day his father approached him with a phone number and a company name. It also had a one-liner ad in the local phone book. Brent’s dad said the number would ring, people would leave a message, but no one was responding. “It was bizarre. I still don’t know how or why he had this number, but I didn’t care,” Brent said through a chuckle. “I needed the calls. I forwarded it to my cell phone. It’s when I found out if you just take care of people, and you answer your phone, it goes a long way.”

“This was 2004,” Brent continued. “That’s really when my business started. But it wasn’t a business; it was a hustle. I was in my mid-twenties. My daughter and I were living in a trailer, trying to make ends meet. Every cent I spent was to make sure I could get custody of her—and then we needed a new place to live. You want to talk about motivation? I was already a motivated person, but that pushed me even harder.”

When Am I Going to Make Some Money?

It was 2008. Brent would probably agree that Plumbing was mostly surviving, much like himself. “My credit sucked. I had to pay cash for everything. I was going day to day. I knew how much money I had by what I had in my checking account,” he admitted. “I always remembered thinking to myself, when am I going to make some money?”

Brent found himself paging through a COMPASS Magazine. He can’t recall how he got it, but it was in his hands. It contained a story about a high-performing plumber in the Houston area. “Right there and then, I said, ‘I ought to talk to these guys at SGI,’” he said. “They didn’t have a Profit Day near Dallas; so, I flew to St. Louis for one, and I signed up. Like I’ve said, I’m a very driven person. Everything they were saying made sense to me. I knew [SGI] was the right fit.”

Back in those days, new SGI members’ next step would be to attend Expo, where they would be exposed to Executive Perspective and the core systems and principles. Like many have said before and after Brent, the conference proved to be an intense experience. “It was like getting a firehose turned on you,” he said.

The volume of information didn’t deter Brent’s enthusiasm. “I was ready to go by the end of the week. I was excited. They told me that I would get a box of books to UPS back home. So, I didn’t even check a back. I used my suitcase to fly everything home with me. I wanted to get started right away. I didn’t want to wait for shipping.”

Implementing the System

The evolution of Plumbing began before Brent even attended Executive Perspective. “At Profit Day, they told us that we needed to go home and start charging a service fee now,” he recalled. “That’s what I did. I started at $39. I’m at $69 now. I think I got more push back at $39. It’s because today, we offer so much value for that $69. People really don’t have any problem paying it.”

Among the other core changes Brent implemented after Executive Perspective included refined uniforms and ensuring he answered every phone live. The biggest modification would be Plumbing’s pricing. He increased them immediately, and he did so while installing Straight Forward Pricing.

“I knew I needed to charge more because I didn’t have any money, and I was spending way too much time and effort to be broke,” Brent said. “Straight Forward Pricing wasn’t the easiest for me. It took some time for me to get it right, but it was worth the time. For any members reading this that have struggled to get it in place, don’t give up. It makes a world of difference.”

Increased prices created a ripple effect in Brent’s business. He quickly realized it didn’t make sense to devote time and effort to working for other contractors. “It came down to simple math. We were busy. I was making money [running service]. Why would I stop doing it to work for someone who insisted on a discounted price and was twice as demanding? That work just went away. I’m proud to say we do zero work for contractors today.”

Brent paused and said while reflecting back on those early days, “I don’t even know how I did it all. I used to wear an earpiece, answer phone calls while driving or in a customer’s home, write down appointments in a little planner, and then dispatch two other guys. And I was doing that while running three service calls a day. It was insane.”

Attract & Hire Better People

The crazy, long days didn’t stop anytime soon. For much of the next five years, every time Brent felt like he was getting ahead, he’d have a setback. It almost always was due to employee issues. Don’t be confused, he finally was making money; however, the business see-sawed in terms of growth.

“I was really hard on my people. I’d always complain that my guys would do this wrong or that wrong, and I was right about everything,” Brent said. “I went up and down in terms of size probably three times. I kept finding myself alone in the truck, a one-man operation. Finally, after the third time I found myself in this situation, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked, ‘What’s the common denominator?’ Of course, it was me.”

Brent sat down with his trusted bookkeeper, Ginny Rivers. She had been with Brent some time and earned his trust. “She’s just really a strong part of my team. I went through three CPAs before finding her. She’s amazing. I trust her so much that I value her help on training and HR. She has a corporate background.”

“I told Ginny that I didn’t want any more riff-raff, number one,” he continued. “The only way to attract better guys is we need to build a benefits package that allows us to compete with the big guys in Dallas, because guys down here have no problem driving 45, 50 minutes to work.”

Brent and Ginny then redesigned their hiring process. It became a test of endurance for any applicant. Soon, Brent found himself syphoning off candidates whom otherwise might have slipped through and been hired.

Rub-A-Dub Plumbing’s hiring process entails five steps. First, a job candidate must talk with Brent over the phone. He does most of the talking, as he will explain his vision and employee expectations. That first call eliminates many candidates. An interested technician’s next step will be to complete a brief opinion’s survey. Assuming that is sent back to the office and seems accessible, the third step involves a sit-down interview with Brent and Ginny.

“I have learned over the years that I can’t do everything. There are people better than me on many things. When I find someone like that, I give it to them. Ginny is very good at pulling things out of people. I’ll sit there and watch. If there’s something I pick-up on, I’ll ask,” Brent explained. “We had a guy the other day say to us, ‘I don’t think she should be asking the questions. I think you should.’ Well, he was out right away.”

Should the interview go well, Brent will ask the applicant to complete another, more thorough behavioral assessment. He will also inspect the individual’s driving record, background, and have them complete a drug-test. “I prepare people for this process in that first call. I let them know, it’s going to take time,” Brent said earnestly. “But I promise them, if they get through it, it will be worth it.”

Culture Built by Training

After enduring the lengthy hiring process, Brent greets a new technician with an extensive onboarding program. The first several days he sits with the person going over the basics of service, as he’s learned them from SGI training. “By the time we’re done, they have a completely written script,” Brent said.

The next time Learning Alliance’s Service Essentials course is available, Brent insists his technicians attend it. All of Brent’s technicians have attended the new Service Essentials course. “I went to [SGI’s] old Success Academy class probably eight times or more. I could teach it. I firmly believe Learning Alliance is much better. It’s similar information, but it’s presented in a better manner. It’s easier for people to understand.”

New technicians next take turns riding with two of Brent’s most trusted technicians. “And I prep my experienced guys beforehand. I stress to them to run the calls by the book. What works for you may not work for them,” Brent explained. During the ride alongs, the experienced tech handles the calls at first with the new person observing; then the roles reverse. Both the experienced and new tech must complete a ride along survey to be submitted to Brent at the end of the day.

The new technician doesn’t merit a truck until everyone feels he’s ready. “Before cutting them loose, they also have to do their entire script in front of me,” Brent shared. “I don’t care if they fumble through it. I just want them to get all the nervousness out. I want them to get comfortable presenting.”

The lessons learned in the onboarding process are complimented and strengthened by their daily training. Every day for 30 to 45 minutes Brent and his guys huddle. They talk about what they’re experiencing in the field, any troubles or situations encountered. For new guys, this time is especially invaluable. “Our experienced guys play a huge role in that training process,” Brent said.

Daily training also reinforces Brent’s message and culture of accountability. “Everyone knows what we’re trying to accomplish. Everyone knows the standards their held to. You can’t come in looking sloppy or have a dirty truck. You’ll get called out. My guys know they have to be different. Because we are different.”

Transition from Truck to Office

“Training absolutely builds into our culture,” Brent validated. “They know what our expectations are as a team. That time is also huge into building our comradery. Seeing the guys each day, they get to know one another. They learn about their families. It does bring them together as one, and not just a bunch of guys running calls.”

Brent also values that time each morning. He said it’s the most important part of his day. He calls it “walking the floor.” He tries to connect with each guy, making sure they’re doing well. In the evening, Brent talks with his technicians as they’re driving home. “A lot of what I do is making sure their needs are met,” Brent stressed. “I try to pay attention to my people and make sure they’re happy.”

Brent can dedicate significant time to focusing exclusively on his staff because he’s removed himself from the field almost two years ago. “When you’re in a truck, it’s hard to spend the time you need to train, recruit, and manage,” he said. “I realized I couldn’t do what I wanted if I was in the truck. So, as soon as I could, I got out.”

His first day in the office felt very foreign. “I remember thinking, ‘I know I’m supposed to be doing something, but what?’” he said and then laughed. “I felt unproductive. That’s the technician mentality. You translate production to being busy. That’s not what leaders do. You have to have a finger on everything. That’s your job. I’ve become very good at managing my schedule. That’s the biggest thing.”

Grass roots recruiting fills many time slots within Brent’s schedule. He deploys ads and job postings like everyone else, but he realizes those only do so much. “I make the rounds at the supply houses. I pass out flyers. I’m trying to woo guys like you woo customers. Every time they’re there, I’m there. It’s all about frequency. My goal is for them to call me. I don’t have a magic pill. I’m hustling. I don’t wait for people to come to me.”

The trade community is a small fraternity. Brent knows everyone talks. He hopes that after a technician meets him at a supply house and maybe talks with one of his people, more go-getters will give Rub-A-Dub a call looking for a new job and more opportunity.

“I have very little interaction with customers. My employees are my customers. I’m trying to take care of them,” Brent said earnestly. “Hopefully, they’ll spread the word that Rub-A-Dub is a great place to be. My outlook on how to approach this business has grown a lot over the last two years.”

Sell the Vision

At the beginning this year, Brent’s techs kept bugging him. They wanted to know how much revenue Rub-A-Dub Plumbing generated in 2016. Until that point, Brent had kept it a bit of a secret. Finally, he happily relented.

Brent stood in front of his techs and wrote down last year’s total on a board. It was easily the most the company had ever sold in a year. “They were amazed,” Brent said with a smile. “I don’t think they understood what they did, because they did such a great job of going out and doing their jobs.”

Brent wisely leveraged the moment to discuss goal setting for 2017. He asked each technician to write down what he would aim to sell that year. “When they were done, I told them that I had budgeted to increase an additional 75 percent. Then, we added up each of their goals. It surpassed my budgeted goal,” Brent said.

“I told them, ‘You can’t say we can’t hit that goal. You guys set the bar higher than even I did. And you know you can do it. All of you are better today than you were last year. And I’m ready to add a truck. If we do that, we can definitely blast past that number.”

“It’s funny. I looked at my first guy I hired after my last house cleaning, before I changed. I said to him, ‘If I told you where we’d be two years ago, you would have told me I was freaking crazy,’” Brent laughed recounting the story.

“These guys, I know they have confidence in me. As big as my vision is, they’re buying in and believing in me. I just sent two guys to Jimmie Dale’s place [Baker Brothers in Dallas]. They were amazed. I told them, that’s what we’re going to do here. If you want it, and will work for it, we can have it. And that’s what we’re going to do. It helps sending your guys to a place like Jimmie’s. They can see that the vision isn’t all talk. It’s possible,” Brent added. “I told my guys—and I firmly believe it—we can be at five million in five years. We’re going to do it.”

Develop People

Throughout this two-year reinvention of Rub-A-Dub Plumbing, Brent has discovered his true passion—growing the business. It’s why he acquired the other plumbing company in Lindale. It’s why he spearheaded the re-branding initiative. While there have been rough spots, the positives have by far outweighed the negative. “I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had,” Brent said with absolute certainty. “I have more on the line than I’ve ever had, but I love it.”

To grow a business, Brent has found he can never learn enough. Leaders expand their minds. They open themselves to new concepts and philosophies. He’s become an avid reader and eager student. “Even when I was still in a truck, I constantly studied,” he said. “I soak up as much information as I can. I’ll read anything someone suggests, and I don’t sit on it. I’ll spend a whole weekend digging in.”

This attention and commitment to development drove Brent to hire a personal coach. He speaks with her 60 to 90 minutes a week, and she’s always available, should his overaggressive, high-D personality become flustered by an employee issue. Brent firmly believes the regular sessions have redefined his leadership style.

Not long ago, Brent’s personal coach had the entire company complete a survey. The results unveiled one employee was not particularly fulfilled. Now, Brent’s coach didn’t reveal who it was; nor did Brent go on a tirade, which he admits he might have done at one time. “I eventually figured out who the person was. We’re not a big company. And no, I didn’t get mad. I made changes. I found a new seat on the bus for this person and got them in a role where they’d be happy and succeed,” Brent shared. “It’s easy to blame people for not performing or being upset with their jobs. That’s our fault. As coaches and leaders, it’s our duty to make sure we have everyone in the right position.”

“You can’t put a little wide receiver on the offensive line,” Brent added and then laughed. “They ain’t gonna be happy.”

These mental exercises and long-form, in-depth conversations with his personal coach have helped Brent realize another truth about himself. Beyond simply growing the business, he’s taken great enjoyment from watching his employees grow.

“I want my people to have awesome lives. I mean, we’re all working hard. I want them to be fulfilled too with what we’re doing,” Brent urged and then paused for a moment before continuing.

“In life, champions are built. Winners are built. That’s what we’re doing here. We have some guys that had some raw materials, and they had some drive to succeed, and I’ve been fortunate enough to help them realize their potential. And that’s really cool. It’s completely fulfilling.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the money is a by-product. Being successful to me is now making sure my people are successful first, taking care of them. They’re the ones who are taking care of the customer. If I take care of them, all the rest will take care of itself.”

The business journey won’t always be delightful or easy. Brent still encounters troubles. Employees will forget the vision and drift from the team. Recently, a top technician lost his way and had to go. It was a difficult but necessary sacrifice. The culture of the company could not be superseded by the production of one. That person’s removal, while immediately impacting sales, was best for Rub-A-Dub’s long-term trajectory.

“Far and away, I have an amazing team. They’re awesome. I couldn’t have come this far without them,” Brent implored. “I probably don’t pat them on their backs enough. That’s something I’m still working on. They work so hard, and they’re always trying to get better.”

They sound a lot like their boss.

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