In this episode Josh talks with Tomas Keenan from Top Class Installations about things he is doing in his small business to be successful.
Tomas offers experience and expertise in building a business from the ground up, with no formal education and having to teach himself along the way to succeed. He shares deep insight into core values, personal development, running a service-based business, implementing the software into a small business, how to develop systems and processes.
Tomas is also the author of Unf*ck Your Business: Stop Business Self-Sabotage by Getting Clear on Your Core Values NOW. For 10 years, Tomas has been the CEO at Top Class Installations where he is responsible for setting the vision, managing finances, and building the team while on a mission to install 1 million GPS Tracking devices and Dash Cameras by 2025.
In today’s episode you will learn:
- What is Top Class Installations?
- How to build a business from the ground up?
- How to make a great service business?
- How to improve efficiency?
- How to provide an exceptional customer experience?
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at the sustainable business. Today, my guest is Tomas Keenan. Tomas owns a really kind of an interesting company it’s called Top Class Installations. And what we’re going to talk about today with Tomas is how do you start this business, how did he get into it. And it’s kind of an interesting story. So let’s bring Tomas on and start the conversation.
Hey, Tomas, how are you today?
Tomas: Hey, Josh, how are you, sir? Thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be here.
Josh: Well you’re calling me Sir. I must be really old now.
Tomas: No. It’s just a habit.
Josh: So Tomas, tell us a little bit about your company, what you guys do and how you got started?
Tomas: Sure. Basically, we help businesses become more efficient, in a nutshell, to simplify that, we install GPS tracking systems and dash camera systems into commercial vehicles.
Josh: So you don’t get your customers the way I thought you got your customer as well as that. Somebody calls you up on the phone. So you got a fleet of trucks and I want to put GPS and cameras in and come to you and do it. Instead, you get your business in a completely different way.
Tomas: Yeah, it’s a very unique business model. We are actually third party contractors and we don’t sell the product. We just perform the installation. We’re the labor. We’re the skilled technicians who show up to the customer’s location and put the product in professionally. Our direct customer is the manufacturer or the reseller of the GPS system or dash camera system.
Josh: So you’re not doing fleets with five trucks, you’re doing fleets with hundreds of trucks?
Josh: Both. You do both?
Tomas: Yeah, we do both.
Josh: So how did you get started in this?
Tomas: It’s a good story. So when I was 16 years old, I was bitten by the car audio bug, and fell in love with car audio. I have a lot of close family members who are in the automotive field, family members who were an auto body, auto mechanics, auto detailing, and I was around them growing up as a teenager. I come from a single mom who worked and basically she said, “All right, you’re 16, 17 years old. I don’t trust you during the summer. So you’re going to go with your uncle for a couple of months and he’s going to take care of you.” I’m so glad that she did that to me because my uncle’s literally worked my fingers until they were raw and it was with complete love. They definitely helped shape me into the person I am today.
So I started doing work with them and realized, “Hey, this really isn’t for me. I don’t want to go home with mechanics, greasy knuckles every day and banged up fingers.” And granted, we still get some of that in my field, but it’s not so bad. But I got bitten by the car audio bug and I said, “Wow, this is awesome.” I’m a music fanatic. I love going to live shows. I love high quality audio. It’s something that I experienced once at a young age. And I said, “Oh, my goodness, this is for me.” And I couldn’t get enough of it. I love cars. I love audio. And I said, “All right, let’s put these two together.”
And I did so at the age of 17. I went out and started to educate myself as much as possible on the professional way of installing this product and learning as much as I could go to a point where I couldn’t teach myself any further. I was working for a local shop here in Long Island, New York. And I said, “All right, I’m not learning any more here. I’ve kind of hit a plateau. The people I’m surrounded with aren’t the best of quality unfortunately. I want greater than what I have.” And we researched and actually went away to a trade school at a Watertown, Massachusetts called “Right Top” Richard and [inaudible 00:04:10] Team of Professionals. It was about a three month program where I went up there. I lived in a local dorm, apartment-style complex, and was trained by some of the top people in the field as far as basic electrical integrating into existing vehicle circuitry. And my favorite part was fabricating panels, interior pieces to make it look like you were never there. And that to me was just as cool if not cooler than the actual amazing audio quality that was coming out of vehicles when we were done.
Josh: Now it gets me Top Class Installations, this makes sense. So how do you go from installing aftermarket car stereo stuff to GPS and cameras and doing it for as a subcontractor for large resellers?
Tomas: It became very difficult to basically make enough money to support a family doing car audio at the time. The industry started to change and evolve— a lot of the stuff that we were selling aftermarket such as drop down TVs, headrest TVs, Bluetooth hands free kits. I’m sure as you know now you go buy a new car and all that stuff is standard from the factory.
Tomas: So the things that we were selling and installing and charging specialist prices to put into vehicles kind of fell off the end of the earth there. And I was like, “All right, what we are going to do here?” At the time, my business partner and co owner of Top Class had gotten involved with GPS tracking for a few years prior to me and he said, “Let’s maybe come together as a business. Let’s tag team this and see what we can do with it.” And that’s exactly what we did in September of 2009. And we incorporated Top Class and we slowly over the first— I’d say three to four years. We were still doing some car audio remote start work. And then we transitioned over to GPS tracking and camera systems exclusively.
Josh: So how many of these installations you guys doing here?
Tomas: Good question. So I was just looking over the numbers last night, and I think we’re just about 58,000 vehicles that we’ve touched in just under 10 years we’ve been in business.
Josh: So that’s an average of 5,000 vehicles a year.
Tomas: It can be more than that. It depends, some weeks are slow some weeks are longer. And it also depends on what we’re installing. There are actually some days where we’ll go and we’ll touch over 100 vehicles in a day. But we’re not installing a complex piece into that vehicle. It’s a simple device that gets installed in less than 15 or 20 minutes and vehicles on its way. Or other weeks we go in there and we have a fleet of let’s say, 100 garbage trucks to install camera systems on, but our team can only get two done per day because installations are so complex.
Josh: So what’s the biggest challenge you guys face?
Josh: Really? Why is this so difficult for you to hire? I mean, I can probably make up a good reason. But I’d like to hear from your reasoning is behind it.
Tomas: So we are a very skilled trade and I find that there are very few people who want to come into this as a new business and learn to trade in the skill. You have to go out and physically work and get this job done. We’re completely mobile business. So we go to the customer’s location.
Josh: Oh, really? They don’t come to you.
Tomas: Yeah, not at all.
Josh: Wow. Wow.
Tomas: So you’re on the road a little bit.
Tomas: Most days you’re home at the end of the day, but there are a couple of times here and there will get a project and off they go out of state for a two or three week clip. It doesn’t happen that often, but that’s taxing on a lot of people. Some people they want to go into their nine to five. They want to go into their same spot. Our schedule just isn’t that rigid. There’s not enough structure, because our goal here is to impact the customer— let me rephrase, impact the end users business as least as possible. So let’s say you own a vehicle of 10 trucks and their service delivery trucks and you have a bread router or whatever the case may be. Okay, well, we call the schedule you say, “Hey, I need these things installed like yesterday, but the catch is you either have to come here at five o’clock pm or later when the vehicles are down, or you have to get here at 4am or earlier before the vehicles go out.” It was the only time you should come to the work or come on Sunday.
Josh: That would be true with us because I had a vending company. Our guys started at four o’clock and they were basically out till two o’clock. So you would have two to whenever you want to finish the work to get it done, because I didn’t have that many spirit trucks. We had one.
Tomas: Right. It’s a common theme in the business. We were pretty much used to it at this point in time, but it turns off a lot of outsiders–
Tomas: –who are used to the four walls of the shop that they’re working in, “Oh, I’m just going into my shop. I have heat. I have a conditioning sometimes. I can work in this nice facility. I’m not going to get rained on.” Yeah, that’s not the way it works over here.
Josh: So out of curiosity, what do your [inaudible 00:08:45] make?
Tomas: So our team fluctuates. We have guys coming in roughly around the $45,000 area. We have some top tier guys coming in just under 80K—
Josh: Okay. And you’re doing the Boston Market?
Tomas: No, right of New York.
Josh: Oh, actually, you’re on Long Island, aren’t you?
Josh: So I’m going to bet that there are not a lot of people there who are– just become blue collar workers?
Josh: How do you go about recruiting people? I mean, first of all, where do you find them? You may not want to tell me where you find them because I know lots of folks who are good at finding people in your type of business. They’re not interested in blabbing to the whole world about what their secret is for hiring.
Tomas: So I’m a completely transparent person.
Tomas: I don’t hide anything. It’s just the way I am.
Tomas: Sometimes to a fault.
Tomas: So here’s what hasn’t worked for us. And I’ll get into what has worked.
Josh: OK, cool.
Tomas: The Indeed’s, the ZipRecruiter’s and the monster.com’s and whatnot have not worked for us hiring any installation technicians. However, they have been very successful for us when we need to hire or add on to our office staff.
Josh: That makes sense to me.
Tomas: The best thing that we’ve been doing to hire technicians is: A.) recommendation from an existing technician on my team. I worked with Harry over here three years ago, and he’s a good guy, and he’s looking for a change. That’s number one. We also incentivize our team members to do so. So basically, we say to them, “All right, look, listen. Our hiring funnel is always open. It’s never closed. So anytime you want to send somebody away, please do. If you do send somebody over and they make it past our 90 day trial period, the person who recommended them is going to get a $250 AMEX gift card.”
Josh: Oh, cool.
Tomas: Yeah. So we try to help out our team like that, “Listen, you helped us, we’re going to help you.” The next best thing that we found, we’re actually running Facebook ads and targeting people.
Tomas: Yeah, geo targeting, targeting depending on things that they like.
Tomas: We’re going after guys who like specific car audio brands.
Tomas: That’s typically the pool of technicians that we need to pull from. We find that they relate best to our trade. It’s the same but yes, it is a little bit different.
Josh: It’s a very similar thing I would bet that anybody who is an auto mechanic and does electrical work in there probably is a good prospect for you.
Tomas: Oh, yeah.
Josh: Which is basically you can be targeting people that work at car dealerships, which would make some sense to me. Now, one of the things that we did recently, which I found really interesting fits in with what you want to originally talk with me about. I said, we’re not going there, but we’re going there anyhow which is culture, corporate culture. More specifically values. My experience is, the more explicit I am about the values my company has, the easier it is for me to recruit. Is that true with you also?
Tomas: Totally. I started this job as a technician.
Tomas: And then transitioned into the executive or the business owner.
Tomas: I’m not formally trained on owning or operating a business. I look at it as if it’s the curse of the small business owner.
Josh: By the way, no small business owners are formally trained to run a business. When I say no, I was talking about like, say 95% to 97%. It’s rare that someone in– especially the blue collar business, by the way, is ever trained to run that business. It’s typically they’re carpenter, they’re technician, they’re a delivery driver, whatever it is they are, they end up getting you that business by mistake. And then they have to learn about what it takes to run a business.
Tomas: Yep. I learned that the hard way. This is my second business.
Tomas: My first crashed and burned really hard. I was 21 years old. And I was at the time, so I thought an amazing technician. I got this, I know better than the guy I’m working for. I quit my job. I had $300 in my pocket, and I went and open up a business.
Tomas: And it was a real swift kick in the rear very quickly.
Tomas: The business lasted five years before I decided to, “All right, this is it. I’m throwing the towel. I do not regret those five years because what I learned in that five year period could not be replaced by any amount of schooling, other than just physical experience of being on the job and running the company.” But at the end of the day, I was $80,000+ in debt on closing that business.
Josh: That’s chicken feed compared to me.
Josh: I didn’t go out of business, but I managed to get myself into $1,000,005 in debt. But that’s a different story. So I won’t break– $80,000 when you have no money is a huge amount of money, for sure.
Tomas: Sure is. It sure is. So that was actually about three years prior to me and my partner, Jimmy opening Top Class. I went to work for somebody in the interim for a few years in between got back on my feet, learned a little bit more about business because I was surrounded with someone who was very experienced in that area before telling them, “Hey, I’m leaving. I’m going to try this again.”
Josh: So hiring is the most difficult thing I think, for almost all businesses. Do you happen to have a hiring system?
Tomas: We do.
Josh: Cool. Would you share it with us?
Tomas: It’s about a seven step process. It is documented. I’m going to try and remember as much as I can on the top of my head.
Josh: That’s okay. Do what you can with it.
Tomas: So we basically have a conversation internally and say, “All right well, a.) I said, hiring is always an open pipeline. But there are times when the business is expanding where you need to go up hire for a specific role.” So we get together as the executive team and say, “What do we need, let’s list out the job, we’ll make a job description. And then we will decide where that job description is going to get placed.” Again, going back to depending on the role.
Josh: So is a job description, a narrative or as a bullet points?
Tomas: Bullet point.
Josh: Good, then what do you do?
Tomas: So basically, we then decide — is it going in Indeed, ZipRecruiter or is this going to be a Facebook hiring funnel that we’re going to run? And we put it out there, and the people that come into the hiring process are given strict instructions. For instance, let’s get with Indeed to keep it simple.
Tomas: If you use Indeed, they have some really nice tools built in where the applicant can submit their resume and you can look at it, you can check it off. We don’t use any of that. We say, “I need you to submit an application to this exact email address with this exact subject line in order for you to be considered an applicant within our process,” if that right there is not followed they’re immediately disqualified.
Josh: I love that. That’s great.
Tomas: From there, we then have several rounds of interviews, we have a phone interview is our first round. And the questions that are asked are to see if the person is going to align with our core values on higher level if the person makes it through there, then a second round or the third round coming.
Josh: Let’s stop there just for a second because you just hit what I think is the absolute key to successfully bringing people into a company. If they don’t have the same values you do and you can’t identify that they have the same values that you do. You have to spot yourself a pain in the neck.
Josh: –which I call off of the brilliant jerk because sometimes they are technically great.
Josh: But they are just a complete mismatch for your company. And anybody who’s running company knows this for a fact that we have spent zillions of hours trying to fix these bad hires, because of cultural mismatches. The employee knows it. We know it, but we’re not saying it to each other. So what you’re doing there is you’re saving yourself three or four or five [inaudible 00:16:25] of trying to fix somebody that you brought in, that wasn’t a good match in the first place. So congratulations for doing that.
Tomas: Thank you. I did not think of this on my own by no means we work closely with a local business coach here, who we were struggling heavily. We had three awful hires in a row. And we had spent about three to four months with each of them, [inaudible 00:16:49] training peers, the company clothing, setting up all the IT, email addresses, the whole nine yards, and then a couple of months into it. Its like, “All right, this just isn’t working. Let’s cut ties.”
I went into the guy’s office one Friday morning, and I said, I was getting a cup of coffee. And he looks at me, his name’s Dean, Dean looks at me and he goes, “Tom, are you okay?” I’m usually a pretty cool guy. I don’t get too flustered. He goes, “You don’t look too good.” I said, “You know, Dean not having a good day here.” I said, “We just had three rotten hires in a row. And I don’t know what to do right now. Because this guy, this last guy that we hired is no good. I now have to take off my CEO hat and go put on my technician hat and go in the field and finish his work for the next month.” And he’s like, “I’ve been telling you for about six months now that we need to start working on our core values and implement them into your business. And on top of that, we need to implement the hiring process. Are you ready to listen to me now, Tom?” I said, “Yeah, I’m ready.”
Josh: [Laughs] A little pain always helps with that.
Tomas: Yeah, I agree. I agree. It started the process it took us– it was not quick. Took us about six months to get everything nailed down and figured out?
Josh: That’s actually pretty fast, by the way.
Josh: The truth is if you had two hours a week to work on this that would have been a lot.
Josh: Because people don’t realize this with small businesses is that the owner isn’t working in the business because they love working the business, it is because they don’t have a choice.
Josh: So the only have a few hours to work strategically. And the goal is to go from two to three to four to five hours a week.
Tomas: Yep. Yeah.
Josh: Not to get to 40 hours a week because [inaudible 00:18:28] you’re not doing it. At least that’s been my experience.
Tomas: No, I agree with you 100%. I really do. It’s just a shame that a lot of people, small business owners, they get into this with these big hopes, dreams and aspirations. And they never get that clarity and never realized that and they spend the rest of their lives working in their business, not because they want to because they have to.
Josh: Right, there’s a bunch of reasons behind that. We don’t have time to get into all of them. But one of the big things is that coaches to businesses don’t often understand where the owner is and why they don’t have time to do the stuff that we want him to do. And I think it’s because a lot of coaches have never actually run a small business. Or they don’t remember what they did when they first started their small business because it was so long ago.
Josh: For me, it was 40 years ago that I started my first business and it’s hard for you go back to those days where it’s you go fill vending machines, they can’t make sandwiches, they count money, and then try to hire somebody who sells new accounts. I used to have changes of clothes in my office, I would change depending on what he had to go out and do it. I’m sure it’s the same with you.
Tomas: I’ve done it. I have a small pickup truck in the back. I have all the clothes hangers lined up. I got to go do an install. Let me put these clothes. I’m going to leave the house and then I got to go in for a meeting. I’m going to be at the headquarters of this company at their conference table. So I got to bring sport jacket, my shoes. Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve done the clothes, change hustle before.
Josh: Sounds like you’re really doing some really pretty extraordinary stuff with your business, Tom.
Tomas: Thank you.
Josh: We are unfortunately, out of time. And I could probably go with you for a couple of hours about this stuff. Because what you’re doing is just really kind of important stuff. If you’re listening and you’re a private business owner, this is a guy who is doing all the right stuff that I can see to make his business economically sustainable, if not today, at least tomorrow.
So Tom, if somebody wanted to find out more about you and your company and what you guys do and what’s your path to where you are today is how would they go about doing that?
Tomas: The best way is to go to Tomas Keenan, tomaskeenan.com that right there is going to give you a link to all of my current social media accounts. And you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, all the big ones and I’m very active on there. Do you want to know more about my business? You can go to topclassinstallations.com and check us out over there.
Josh: That’s a great site by the way, I just checked it out.
Tomas: Thank you. Yeah, I have a fantastic web guy who I work with closely who’s done a great job. I just did some updates on it. So we’re very happy with it. It really works well for us, too.
Josh: Cool. I also have an offer for you since we’ve been talking about hiring. I actually wrote an ebook what I call Hiring for Unique Abilities. And it gives you a step by step process, which is a very, very simple method. I’ve used for years to get the right person in the right seat coordination [inaudible 00:21:23]. And before we started using it, our success rate was like– about 35% of successful hires. After we started using it and did all the stuff that’s in the ebook, we went to 85% success. So I can tell you for a fact that the difference between 85 and 35 there’s difference between success and failure in your business.
So if you want to just click on the button below, here’s some information and we’ll get it to you on your way. And by the way, it’s free. And this is Josh Patrick, we are with Tomas Keenan, you’re at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.