Having your home’s chimney swept once a year might not be something you think much about. However, chimney cleaning is a business — a booming business. After leaving his day job, Shawn Ziemann recently started his own chimney cleaning business, but it’s so much more than that. He uses it as an opportunity to excel at his craft, make his customers’ homes safer, and, make a living.
Just a few months ago, Ziemann was an employee at a local chimney cleaning service in Texas. Ziemann felt that the company’s focus was only on profit margins, and that they didn’t put enough attention on the customer’s happiness.
Ziemann cared a lot about how the business was run and had several ideas for its growth. He would even fantasize about how he would run the business better. He knew that he wanted to put more focus on the customer. He also felt that the company overcharged their customers simply because they could, and he didn’t agree with that philosophy.
After working this Temple, Texas company for over three years, Ziemann considered the owners his adopted family. He had the the impression that they would eventually allow him to run the business. Over the years, as that didn’t come to fruition, he became frustrated.
One day, Ziemann walked into his boss’ office, the owner of the company, and asked if he would ever allow Ziemann to manage the company's day-to-day operation. When it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, Ziemann resigned.
A few weeks after his resignation, he came up with a name for his own fireplace servicing company — Cen-Tex Fireplace Solutions. He then filed the appropriate documentation with the IRS and State of Texas. Unfortunately, because he hadn’t properly planned to start his business when he quit his day job, he ran out of money and couldn’t do more to realize his dream of starting a business.
Fall is a busy season for fireplace repair. Since his former employer had so much work, Ziemann got a call from them, asking him to come back for a season. He agreed, and started setting money aside for his new business.
Within a few months, he was able to purchase a truck and tools, with the help of a $3,000 loan from his mother. He still held to the hope that his employer would hand over the business to him, as their retirement was rapidly approaching. Ziemann broached the topic with them one more time. Again his employers said they would not let him run the business, but that if he wanted to start his own business, he could work in nearby Waco. With one condition. That he would not be allowed to work in the local area where his employer’s business was located.
For the second time, Ziemann resigned, despite having only $180 in the bank.
Ziemann had a simple marketing plan. He printed 1,000 flyers and handed them out door to door.
“The phone started ringing, and has not stopped,” Ziemann said.
Old School Service Isn’t Dead
His competitive advantage at Cen-Tex Fireplace Solutions is caring about his customers.
“I truly want to bring back the way it was 50 years ago, when you knew your banker or butcher on a first name basis.”
He treats every job like he’s working on his own fireplace, and never takes shortcuts or uses cheaper material. And his customers are much more than dollar signs to him:
“I have one customer that called me for a sweep and is recently widowed. I did his job three months ago, but every time I am in his area, I will stop by and see how he is doing and sit down and just talk local weather or sports for half an hour.”
Shawn is delighted to continue the tradition of the chimney sweep, and prides himself on being a part of his community. So what can we learn from him?
- When you see a hole in the market, use that as your launchpad for your business. Shawn saw that the one player in town didn’t put enough attention on customers, and charged more than necessary.
- Never underestimate the importance of good customer service. Having happy customers tell others about you will net you unlimited rewards.
- Reconsider profit margins. While you want to make enough to pay your expenses as well as a profit, being greedy won’t pay off in the long run.
- Make friends. Shawn has connected with local fireplace shops, creating his own industry community.