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Fuel growth by adapting to community needs

When you run a family-owned service business, you exist to assist those around you. And to do so successfully, adaptation and community involvement should sit at the heart of everything you do, for both your customers and the greater community that you live and work in.
Fortunately, when I took over as CEO of Atlas Butler, I inherited a family business whose culture has prioritized those two traits since our founding 100 years ago in 1921.

Prior to the pandemic, Atlas Butler was experiencing 200 percent year-over-year growth. And as we began to settle into the first few months of 2020, we were optimistic to see our numbers in the year leading up to our centennial. So when the pandemic hit and we had to make a slight reduction in hours, we were disappointed. But as an essential business, we knew we had to keep our heads square on our shoulders, because our customers were counting on us.

We avoided panicking and took an intentional moment to pause and figure out our next steps. Operationally, we had the technology that would allow our front office to work remotely, so we were a step ahead there. At that point, we remained laser-focused on our customers and how we would continue to meet their heating, cooling and plumbing needs, while also being respectful and aware of the new apprehension that people had around visitors in the home.

This is where our beliefs around staffing benefited us. We long ago learned that to build the most effective service workforce possible, it is important to hire for character above skill. We can teach people how to install and service HVAC systems, but we can’t teach an employee how to be a good fit for our business. That comes from within. And during 2020, when we all needed to have a little extra grace and patience with the world around us, having a workforce that we knew would treat our customers with compassion and respect went a long way.

In my experience in leading a small business, adaptation starts with preparation. No business could predict the pandemic, but thinking through how your operations, tech and recruiting support your overall beliefs as a business go a long way in enabling any business to survive the next pandemic, recession, crisis, or whatever else lies ahead.

Good neighbor, good business

The focus on what the community needs should extend beyond invoices. Philanthropy has been part of our DNA since the beginning, but what I believe truly has made it more special over the years is the employee buy-in we have cultivated.

Having an open-door policy about the causes and projects to support generates more enthusiasm than merely following a project that only the CEO cares about. It fosters a sense of community that we’re doing good work together and drives employees to find what they are passionate about on their own so that they can support a cause with the backing of the company behind them.

This employee-informed and community-driven approach allows us to have a broad impact on causes such as children’s activities, community health, veteran support, animal welfare and more. Having flexibility through the pandemic to cater to the community needs has been essential and should be a goal for all companies. A company’s success is the community’s success and look forward to the next 100 years of growing together with our community.

Mark Swepston is owner and CEO of Atlas Butler Heating, Cooling & Plumbing

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