Front Line Interview: Adam Miller

Frontline Interview:

Adam Miller
Mirage Pool Services
Moreno Valley, CA

hasslefreepools.com

 

Mike Major:

Hi, it’s Mike Major from Idea Bank and it’s time for our monthly interview with a successful business owner, out on the front line of business in the real world.

Today I’m talking with Adam Miller, owner of Mirage Pool Services in Moreno Valley, California. Adam’s been in business since 1998 and I started by asking him if his customers are price or service driven.

Adam Miller:

It’s a little bit of both. Some people are calling around, just looking for the best price, and if you can get them to start talking usually you’ve got a deal. Most people, if they’re just looking for a price, they’ll just call around until, it seems like, they get someone who engages with them a little bit. Ask them what’s going on, why they’re in the market now, and once people start talking it’s pretty hard to shut them up! And usually that’s it, that’s all it takes. We just come in and do the job, and that’s it.

Mike:

So it’s all about building a relationship, yeah?

Adam:

Kinda. You know it’s almost a little bit like people are lazy and they’re resistant to change. So once you’ve got your foot in the door, as long as you don’t do something drastic to mess that up, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

Mike:

And you can’t do this on the phone, because you have to see their pool, right?

Adam:

Right. A lot of times I can give just a general estimate on service, but I do have to go and look at what I’m getting into., because it’s just a guess on its own.

Mike:

Adam, you have a great business model, with a recurring service. What’s the ‘lifetime’ of a typical customer?

Adam:

Oh, I’d say two years – three years.

Mike:

So why would they move on? Because they move house?

Adam:

Oh, sometimes things just. . . sometimes they move, sometimes you know, there’s a problem they couldn’t get resolved to their satisfaction.

Sometimes the numbers are skewed a little lower because you get someone and they stick around for a couple of weeks, and they’re gone. Or they cancel in the wintertime. So I’d say two to three years is a pretty average lifespan of a customer.

Mike:

That’s still pretty good.

Adam:

It’s not bad!

Mike:

Because it’s a monthly service, yeah?

Adam:

Right, right.

Mike:

So you don’t do much in the way of a one-off. If somebody rings up and says “my pool’s turned green, come and fix it” do you say “sure, but that’s just the start of our relationship.” Or do you do one-off?

Adam:

Absolutely, yes. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to convince them that they don’t want to let their pool get like this again. And it’s more cost effective to just maintain it, rather than trust their own abilities. It’s not necessarily an ability thing, it’s just sticking with it. If they’re going to do it once every other week, or once a month, they’re not going to have the results they want.

Mike:

Adam, as I understand it, you’re using an ‘attraction’ or ‘magnetic’ sales model. You want prospects to come to you, yeah?

Adam:

I don’t do any kind of sales. I don’t go looking for anything, it’s all passive. So I don’t cold call, I don’t send out flyers or mailers, or put up signs. Really. . . at first I was doing Yellow Pages and that worked out pretty well. And now it’s just Internet. Just Google Search Results.

Mike:

So let me just clarify that for listeners. Because there’s a lot of different ways to promote a business and what’s interesting about yours is, it seems to me you’re saying 90% of it – if not more – is coming off the Internet.

Adam:

I would have to say yes. You know I still do have an ad in the Yellow Pages and it’s just . . . you don’t know who still looks at them. I mean, yeah, there’s a certain demographic. Anybody, I would say 60 – 65 and older, they could still be using the Yellow Pages. But pretty much everybody else is online.

So, occasionally I’ll get a referral. Occasionally I’ll get somebody who said they found me in the Yellow Pages, but they’re getting more and more rare

Mike:

So, well, one of the questions I normally ask is “what was the best thing you did to promote the business?” (Laugh) There’s only really one answer in your case: get online.

Adam:

Right! And I guess one of the things I like about this business is, because they’re a service and it’s recurring, it makes the cost of acquisition a lot easier to justify.

So if I spend, say, $400 a month I don’t have to get four new accounts every month, I can just get four new accounts in total and everything after that’s gravy.

Mike:

So just on that, you’re paying a monthly service fee, rather than a per lead?

Adam:

It’s pretty much a flat rate. I pay an SEO company, they list me on Google. I wonder sometimes if I’m doing the right thing; there’s so many different options out there as far as, you know, like your website or Google AdWords, or any number of things. There’s so many different ways now, that you can use the internet to your advantage. And I think SEO’s kind of basic, now, because that’s the very least you need.

Mike:

Uh huh. So you’re running an AdWords campaign, and the response is straight to the phone number.

Adam:

Actually I’m not running AdWords. I thought about that, but the results of just having an SEO campaign have been so good that I didn’t feel the need to spend more money on, you know, Cost Per Click.

Mike:

Well, that’s really interesting, Adam. You’ve got a great business, because you’ve got a long customer lifetime, you’ve got a pretty much fixed acquisition cost, you’re not hassling and haggling on your rates, you’ve got a competitive price – but a fair price – ah, it’s kind of the perfect business, yeah?

Adam:

It’s alright, yes. About the only thing that is a pain is just collecting.

Mike:

Oh, really?

Adam:

Yes, sometimes people tend to let it go and then, I don’t know if they just forget? So sometimes, chasing customers down for payment, that’s about it. It’s my number one hassle.

Mike:

It’s not on an automatic payment basis?

Adam:

No, no, cause I’m not. . . Because it’s all me, pretty much. I mean, I have two guys that work for me, but sometimes I get caught up in the day to day, you know just running the business, and I don’t have time.

And it’s stupid. It’s like a Catch 22. To not spend more time working on making the business better , because I’m out doing, you know, the running of the business. It’s like they always say, you should spend your time working on your business, not in your business. And I work in my business.

Mike:

You know, that’s one of the lessons that we teach (laugh). Thank you for doing it for me!

Adam:

Well, you know, what I think it was, too. . . it’s because this is, for want of a better term, a luxury item. People don’t need to pay someone to clean their pool. They don’t need to pay someone to clean their house and mow their lawn. But if they have extra money, they’re going to do it. It makes their life more convenient.

And when the economy tanked, it got a little scary. So it’s been for the last five or six years trying to hustle and keep everything going. Now it’s actually improving somewhat, so maybe this year I can stop working in the field so much.

Mike:

And what will you do differently, then?

Adam:

Maybe do more for repairs, customer service; spend time working on systems like you said, the automatic payments. That makes sense. Instead of sending somebody a bill and then hoping I get paid, set people up on an automatic recurring payment. I mean, if it’s automated it saves everybody time.

Mike:

If you had to put a percentage on it . . . collections is something you raised as a problem; I mean is that 20%, 50%, 5% ?

Adam:

Of unpaid, totally unpaid, I would say less than 5%. The people that I have to call and remind, that I have to stay on top of, probably 25%. So it’s just a time-waster. And then you still have to be diplomatic about it – you can’t call someone and call them a deadbeat!

Mike:            (Laugh)

Adam:

It takes time and they want to know, “oh I thought I paid. Can you go through the account and send me an audit?” Yeah, sure. But it’s time consuming.

Mike:

Do you do all that yourself, or do you outsource your office and finance?

Adam:

No, I was doing it all myself for a long time. Since then I’ve had my sister, she has office experience and accounting, she’s been helping me out with that. Really it’s been six months in which she’s been trying to get everything organized. I had my own system, that I wouldn’t call accounting.

I knew what it was, but if someone with a business degree saw it, they would laugh. They would probably be horrified!

Mike:

Well, what it is, it works. But it seems to me that what you’re doing is, you’re looking to scale. I mean, you’ve got your sister putting in systems, you’re looking at taking time out to be working ON the business. . . I think in another couple of years Mirage might be a pretty big force in the Inland Empire, huh?

Adam:

That would be nice. It’s what I’ve been trying to work on. To get to a point where I’m not working so hard. I don’t necessarily need to be making millions, but it would be nice to not be needed every day. If I could take a week off and no-one would even really notice. Right now, if I took a week off, it would be difficult.

Mike:

So you’re looking to replace yourself in the business. Good move.

Adam:

Kinda, yeah. And like you said, maybe scale. You know, maybe just take on a different role.

Mike:

Hey look, I’m going to wind it up there because the principle of these things is to keep it to about ten to fifteen minutes. Hey listen, I appreciate your time.

It’s been interesting. I mean, you’re in a different field, in a different geographical area, in a different industry – and yet the principles are the same. Fascinating.

Adam:

Yeah, maybe they kind of do, don’t they. I try to read as much as I can about general business practises, ideas, marketing. . . and I try to take those ideas to heart. Like we said, sometimes you just get caught up in the day to day and these other things, you can, like, push them off and make them wait. But really, they are important.

Mike:

It’s confusing the important with the urgent, huh.

Adam:

Yeah, yeah. Ha. That’s a great way to put it.

Mike:

Hey, it was really good to talk to you, Adam.

Adam:

Thank you.

Mike:

Have a good day.

Adam:

OK. You too.

 

Click here to listen to the interview: Adam Miller – Mirage Pool Services

 

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