The SBC 100: Five Smart Uses of Tech (6-10)

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff
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Doug Gantenbein, Angela Garber, David Myron, and Amy Blankstein (with reporting by John F. Moore)

Will Fix It Plumbing
45 employees
San Antonio, Tex.
6-year-old plumbing and air-conditioner repair company

The Fix Is In
Six years ago Will Hawkins started Will Fix it Plumbing out of his San Antonio, Texas, basement. Initially, he relied on his friend Stacy Keller -- now the full-time controller -- to handle his books. During the first few years the company experienced moderate growth, adding just a few trucks to the fleet, but then everything took off.

The company grew from a 3-truck operation doing just $250,000 in business to a 45-employee, 28-truck operation pulling in $3.2 million in revenues. Both Hawkins and Keller credit a new communications and accounting package for the jump.

"All of our communications changed from being totally paper-based, to being totally computer-driven," Keller says. "It simplified the entire process, from the time customers call to the time we get to their homes."

In the beginning, Keller says, calls came in on Hawkins' cell phone. He scribbled down the information on scrap paper and passed the details on to whichever technician that was available to make the repairs. At tax time, Hawkins brought Keller bags full of receipts. Then, three years ago, the company implemented a better system. This included a phone system with caller ID and a software package, Service First Accounting from KRS Software, tailored to the plumbing industry that handles paging, dispatching, inventory, and billing.

Keller says that caller ID, used in conjunction with the software package, has made a big difference. "We can see who's calling and pull up the customer's information before we even pick up the phone," she says. "If the customer is past due on a bill, we can see that and let him know that we'll need to pick up a check. That way we won't have to continue to service a customer behind on his bills."

When a call comes in, the call center operator enters information into the system and sends it downstairs to the dispatching center, where the information pops up on the dispatcher's screen. When a service technician is available to take the call, the dispatcher forwards the information along.

The paging system not only allows Will Fix It to send new jobs to technicians while they're on the road, but also allowed the company to expand its service area. Without setting up a second operations center, Will Fix It now also services homes and businesses in Laredo and Austin.

Hawkins says that he is now considering new technology purchases. "I'm looking into laptops and laptop printers, a GPS systems for the trucks, and a barcode system for inventory," he says. "If I can keep the guys from turning right when they should have turned left and can expedite their paperwork, I can get one more invoice per truck each day." And that type of foresight can raise profits dramatically.

One more job per truck may not sound like much, but according to Hawkins, it adds up. "At $400 per customer, and 25 trucks, that's an extra $10,000 a day. Times 5, times 52, that's $2.6 million a year," he says. "That's without buying another truck, hiring another technician, or buying any more equipment."

It's hard to argue with math like that.