Indiana Journeyman Builds Thriving Residential Services Shop
June 27, 2012
Critics who say that unions stifle innovation and entrepreneurship should spend some time with Ryan Ferry.
Ferry, the owner of All Services Electric, a residential services company, worked nonunion for several years before he was organized into the apprenticeship program of Hammond, Ind., Local 697 10 years ago.
For four years after graduation, he worked on heavy commercial jobs—schools, offices and hospitals, often as a foreman.
Then, while helping rewire an office building damaged by fire, Ferry seized an opportunity to start his own company focused on fire restoration work.
Like the situation facing most small business owners, nothing has come easy since for Ferry or All Services Electric. A rapid startup—marked by the hiring up to six IBEW journeymen—was followed by a dip in the commercial market. Ferry could have given up life as a signatory contractor. Instead, he doubled down and adjusted his business model. And he hasn’t just survived.
Through aggressive online advertising, reaching out to other entrepreneurs across the country for assistance and putting the needs of customers first, Ferry is building a thriving business. Ferry—who works in the area of Lake and Porter Counties and the southern suburbs of Chicago—was recently awarded second place for electricians in Northwest Indiana Times’ 2012 “Best Business” listing.
Local 697 Business Manager Ray Kasmark, who, as a former business representative, first recruited Ferry, says Ferry’s experience offers lessons to others who are considering breaking into markets where too few union contractors dare to tread. Kasmark says:
Ferry says after the commercial downturn, he got “turned on to the residential services market” by Karl Krizmanic, the now-retired Incentives Program Facilitator of the Northwestern Indiana Labor Management Coordinating Committee, a joint project of the National Electrical Contractors Association and Local 697.
Krizmanic had placed an ad in the Yellow Pages, to attract customers who needed residential services. Then he steered the business to union contractors like Ferry. The business tactic had been popularized in an IBEW Journal story in 2005, “Seattle Local 46 Breeds Union Residential Services Contractors.”
“Karl fed me calls and I went out as a one-man band on services and fire restoration,” says Ferry, who shifted his core business to residential services after reviewing a year of invoices and assessing the profitability and growth in the sector.
To improve his business model, Ferry networked with Nextstar, a business-development and best- practices organization that supports more than 400-member companies in North America, mostly independent home service plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electric professionals. Nextstar provided Ferry with a business operations coach who advised him on how to better build his customer base. Says Ferry:
Contracting with Florida-based Footbridge Media, Ferry built an All Services Electric Website and a Facebook page.
He purchased paid links on search engines that prominently post his company’s information when local residents go online looking for an electrician. Ferry lists All Services Electric on ServiceMagic and in coupon books and encourages his service technicians to leave advertising fliers on doorsteps in neighborhoods where they work. Recently, the company’s Web site added postings addressing questions on electrical safety and basic facts useful to consumers.
When callers are put on hold by All Services’ secretary, Brittany Steward, a welcoming voice comes over the phone telling them that they are lucky to have called a company that will supply “neat, clean, uniformed” electricians who will show up with well-stocked trucks and are comfortable working on 99-year-old homes and new residences alike. Customers are promised that they will be quoted a price for the job that won’t change no matter how long the job takes. Says Ferry:
Brant Short, a five-year IBEW residential electrician, began his career wiring tract housing for a local signatory contractor. Short, who now works for All Services along with fellow Local 697 members Mike Kil and Doug Hoffman, says:
While satisfying the diverse needs of residential customers may not be a good fit for every electrician, Short, who worked on sales jobs during high school before entering the U.S. Army, says:
Selling electrical equipment to protect homeowners’ investments against emergencies is a growing market. As storms rage across Lake Michigan and knock out electrical power in neighboring communities, the demand has increased for generators to keep their appliances running. Ferry is currently trying to expand his market share for installation of generators, partnering with GE to sell their product.
To other electricians who are thinking of starting up a residential services business or contractors looking to improve upon their business model, Ferry says:
Responding to fellow members who say that IBEW should stay with the big commercial jobs and not get into smaller work, Ferry says: