More Leads Online Podcast Episode 003
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All right. We’re here with Alex Hallmark of Fred’s Appliance Academy. How are you doing, Alex?
Alex Hallmark (00:07):
I’m great. Thanks for having me. Yeah, man.
Thanks for being on. I appreciate it. So tell us how long has a Fred’s appliance been in business?
Alex Hallmark (00:14):
So Fred’s appliance service has been in business since 96. That’s where we’re actually going into people’s homes and fixing appliances on location. Our Fred’s Appliance Academy has been around since 2008. That’s a primarily a solution to a problem we have in our service operation when we needed to find more techs.
Okay. Very cool. Yeah. That’s right in line with a lot of stuff we’ve been talking about in the industry, um, just trade services in general, trying to find good help. So that’s really, that’s really cool that you’re doing that. So what all do you guys do then?
Alex Hallmark (00:48):
So Fred’s appliance services. We’re operating in six different counties in Northeast Ohio, primarily servicing Whirlpool products, but we also work on Electrolux, GE, and a few others, and that’s always a flux, but the Academy teaches across the board. The original idea behind it. Fred started the Academy teaming up with a local community college in the area called Lakeland, teamed up with one specific brand and started teaching. I wasn’t, I don’t know if it was a three week course back then, but it was, um, it was a bit more, uh, basic along the lines of that specific manufacturer that wanted to do the training. And eventually that was around 2006 and Fred decided, well, we got to train on everything else for my techs to be successful. And, uh, he decided to start his own. Originally, we only had maybe three or four students in each class and it’s cranked up to about 20 sometimes in certain classes where we’ll actually sell out.
Alex Hallmark (01:36):
And then it kind of started the steam roll. It wasn’t just about training his guys and training people locally. Uh, we started getting requests from folks in California, Alaska, New York, Florida, Texas overseas on both sides. And that’s when we discovered that we really, it wasn’t just us. Most of the country had just forgotten that this was something that people still need to be trained on. It’s not to suggest that field trades are in great shape, but plumbing, HVAC, electrical, those have much more established, uh, educational paths and appliance repair really doesn’t have one. It’s very rare to go to a college right now and going to have an opportunity say, Hey, it’s two years. You’re going to be able to fix anything, know how to diagnose anything that doesn’t exist, that I’m aware of. Uh, and it’s not as accessible cause what do I do here in Cleveland? Can I send them there? Can they stay there? Uh, what do they do while they’re there? There’s a lot of other factors involved when you’re trying to train someone on location, no different than what the military has to deal with. When they’re training
soldiers to start with, you know, they send them all to one centralized location and that’s kind of how we’ve been crafting our, our Academy program,
The appliance military. I like it. That’s great.
Alex Hallmark (02:47):
It is essentially a bootcamp. It’s not going to cover everything, but we cover the basics. How to use your meter. How does electricity work through the product? What’s, what’s the difference between a top load and a front load from a function standpoint? What are the common issues regardless of the brand, you know, where you should look at it, depending on the type of customer complaint. So these are areas that build confidence for the technician, uh, taking the class and it’s not just for technicians. We’ve had others take it as well. We’ve had a tech support, people from manufacturers take the class. Uh, so that way they’re better on the phones or any folks in the field. We’ve had CSR people take the class. So they’re just better on the phone in general, which kind of segues into some marketing talk later, just because when a CSR is able to close a lead, it makes us look better when we’re sending leads to them.
Alex Hallmark (03:33):
So having that confidence is a huge deal. It’s just making that investment is already expensive enough for a revenue generator. It’s a lot tougher to swallow for a business owner to invest in your support, staff like that. We see dividends from that and even sales, somebody selling an appliance has taken this class just to understand how it works. So because most most cases, I’m sure you’ve bought an appliance in the last five or 10 years. You can’t test it when you go in, you can’t just put a load of laundry in the washing machine before you buy it, you can test the car, but you can’t test the washing machine. You can’t test the fridge. Is it really going to fit all your food? You know, there is a inherent challenge to sell it because you know, there’s cases where the salesman may not have realized that it does X, Y, Z, and then we get a warranty call to come out. That same day it’s delivered and our expect is explaining it like, Oh no, it doesn’t work this way. This is how it works. And God forbid, it’s a bad, bad advice that the customer goes, well, I don’t want this in my home. Oh shit.
So you guys offer housing then for people that are out of town, is that correct?
Alex Hallmark (04:41):
Correct. Yeah, that was, we originally were housing them in hotels, but that went against the bootcamp mentality. It’s hard to try and cram everything we’re doing in three weeks. So what happens at the end of the day now is this in, within walking distance of where they’re actually getting the training and we have three of our buildings to be able to house the, each student. There’s two students in each department, they get their own private bathroom or excuse me, private bedrooms. They share a bath, they share the kitchen. They share the living space, but it’s within walking distance. And then as soon as they’re done, they’re right, they are staying with somebody that’s dealing with the exact same challenges they are, even if they’re from a completely different part of the country, they’re able to study and work together. And that’s been a huge benefactor in trying to make sure the information sticks cause even with three weeks, there’s only so much we can cram in our heads. Studies will show that, you know, 20 minutes is all you got and then you gotta take a break and I’ll let us, you know, lose that ADD and sit back down and listen to the next line of knowledge. So we have pacing that we have to work
within that three week time period, but at least then we can make up for extra studying, extra discussion back at the flats is what we call them. Fred’s flats for the students.
Fred’s flats. Awesome, man, that sounds awesome. So how can our clients bridge bridge the gap here from, from the pain that you guys were having to this solution? How can our clients use your Academy to help scale their businesses?
Alex Hallmark (06:09):
Yeah, that’s a very common question. So a majority of the people that take our class are already employed. That’s about 70% of them because we’re part of their training program. So what your clients can gain from this is they hire somebody brand new cause very unlikely. You’re going to find someone with experience because they have experienced and are unemployed. It’s usually because they have bad habits sadly. And because there’s such a demand, I know a company in Hawaii and it’s still looking to hire. So how am I going to hire in Cleveland, Ohio to compete with somebody that can put you on a beach and take you and you get to take boat rides to go to your service calls and stuff on paradise. And they can’t fill position. So to bridge that we asked that they have someone that they bring in and they ride with their best senior tech that they have on their team.
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Alex Hallmark (06:54):
That might be the owner itself themselves. And, um, after a couple months they can send them to our class and we’ll start going through the basic fundamentals again, going through how you use your meter, how you read in a schematic, what are the common complaints? What are the common ways to address? How do we properly install all these products? Because that’s a common issue. You know, it can be years. Sometimes we’ll come into an appliance and it was never installed right. To begin with, which led to the failures. So we got to be able to identify that, be able to advise if we it’s outside of our skillset, you may need a carpenter. You may need a masonary depending on put it in brick or something, all those things we got to discuss in a classroom environment and allow the students to ask dumb questions, which I don’t like to call them dumb questions, but they feel they’re dumb questions.
Alex Hallmark (07:36):
There are questions that you would want to ask in front of a customer when you’re on the road training when somebody’s like, Oh wow. That was, that was that flame supposed to be that big and quote. Exactly. So the idea that, you know, we’re, we’re going to try and simulate all those situations while in a customer’s house while trying to take care of that immediate customer, no matter how friendly and, and, and, uh, willing to deal with the training issues. It’s very unlikely they’re going to be cool with that question. So they can’t ask that stuff and they need an environment to be able to do that. And it’s hard when you only have two or three techs, you don’t have the money to invest in a warehouse to start your own training facility, gotta get product. You got to create the structure. You know, you got to have reinforcement.
Alex Hallmark (08:22):
How are you reinforcing it week in and week out? That’s one cool benefit of having guys here for three weeks is by the second week, we’re usually able to start seeing some patterns, patterns that we’re gonna try and massage out. You know, whether it’s, uh, you know, a lack of going through steps when you’re diagnosing, you want to skip ahead because you want to try just guess, right. You know, and not
necessarily do your due diligence and make sure you’re diagnosing the problem correctly, stuff like that, you know, and if we had them for longer, we could accomplish even more. But it’s hard enough to ask a, an owner to invest in training for three whole weeks and to ask that candidate to be away from their house and their family and their friends for three whole weeks. Yeah. I don’t know if I would do it to be quite Frank it currently at my age.
Alex Hallmark (09:03):
Now, if I’m in my twenties, I’d have been down, but yeah. You know, it’s a different animal. So the COVID has made us pivot, uh, into one online space. Uh, our main focus, there’s a few different outlets that we’d like to recommend master samurais while we’d like for online training, online, follow up learning, you know, they cover some of the same subjects, but they’ll go into a bunch of other things that we just don’t have time in three weeks that we have. But now that we can’t really teach classes, we have the benefit of trying to explore that space and see where we can participate and where we can bring value to the industry and to our clients.
Let’s say I started an appliance repair company, hypothetically, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a veteran repair guy. Right. And, uh, I start using Fred’s Appliance Academy to train my new recruits other than marketing. What are some of the other obstacles that I’m going to run into in growing my business? You know, how would you consult and what would be the other main pillars other than training and marketing?
Alex Hallmark (10:07):
Great question. So for our Academy to be successful, we discovered that, you know, with so many of our students coming from other company owners, we want to go out of our way to try and solve their problems. So inevitably they grow, which guess what happens next? You need more techs. That, that is an area that we try to approach with them. So some of these key areas that are easy to ignore is CSR training. You know, your customer service reps, the people that are on the support side of things. So there is a huge gap, like almost a lack of investment. We have a hard enough time justifying trying to get clients to justify training their revenue, generators, the guys that are actually guys and gals that are in the homes, fixing appliances and collecting cash, where your support people that doesn’t necessarily equate to it.
Alex Hallmark (10:47):
Now they are a part of that journey. And that’s where the struggles happen. You know, if you have a situation where the CSR walk the lead first off that’s, that sucks just in general, but if they are just pissy on the phone, you know, not really being accommodating, not trying to answer questions, didn’t necessarily collect the information accurately. There’s so much revenue that gets lost because of a tech can’t find the home, the tech gets in there and it’s a hostile environment. God forbid, that’s his first call of the day. He’s got nine more to go. And it just didn’t, you know, and we could have prevented all that by just being a little nicer, you know, or maybe allowing the customer to text us, instead of just doing phone calls or allowing web chatting and stuff like that. Those things are huge right now.
Alex Hallmark (11:27):
And especially with COVID COVID is, you know, put shine a huge light on these areas because people were forced to have to work from home. We were fortunate, Adam and I added – Adam Butcher runs Fred’s Appliance Service is Fred’s oldest son. He and I have always wanted to get us completely remote.
And we did beginning of 2019, the entire team at Fred’s Appliance outside of the Academy. Now the Academy, because of it’s, how it’s designed requires a physical presence because there’s physical students in the, in the, in the classroom. But the service business everyone’s been working from home since the beginning of 2019. So that includes our parts guys, the triage person who maybe screening calls, everyone’s working from their home. Now that created a whole nother slew of problems. You know, how do you to make sure someone’s doing their job on a, you know, train? Uh, they, these areas aren’t necessarily hammered out. But since then, I mean, I’ll put it this way. If I try to say, Hey, we’ve got an office building, we’re all coming back in the office. I probably have half the team quit.
Alex Hallmark (12:28):
We can’t go back now. Like it’s, it’s too nice. It’s the comfort level. Not dealing with traffic. Granted our techs have to deal with it, but the support staff, not having to deal with that, there’s so much other flexibility. My power goes out, but if everybody else is powers up, it still runs. You know, but if you were at an office building, the power goes down, the whole operation shuts down. Uh, so there’s, there’s negatives, but there’s positives. You can’t strongly encourage enough that everyone should be doing this. We’ve been technicians have been working from home since I think around 2012. So that’s not a new concept. So the revenue generators have been dispatched from their home. They’re expected to be there at eight o’clock. And I can’t tell you how that is a new concept to a lot of people in our industry and field services in general.
Alex Hallmark (13:10):
So many people are so reliant on the fact that they need to bring that body into that, into the building, see them, touch them, talk to them that way, pass along their parts, their inventory. But then all of a sudden it’s nine 30. They got there at eight hour and a half goes by. Been there. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s, that’s been a big part of what we’ve been coaching because there’s really nobody that I’m aware of. That’s a hundred percent remote like us. There’s combinations, but not a complete hundred percent. Now we are fortunate because we’re not in a bunch of major markets. I have one major market to manage. It’s a little bit of a different animal. Once you scale up and go into other States, there is a level of need to have some kind of like Depot situation where you can store trucks, some of your inventory for the trucks and stuff like that. They’re trying to have a checkpoint like that, but that’s case by case, and I’ve seen clients handle it differently.
Do you guys offer consulting as well?
Alex Hallmark (14:05):
We do. Yeah. Anyone’s welcome to schedule time with me. Just like you did. I just shot the shot, the breeze for about a half hour. I have no problem to do advice. It’s easy. I’ll tell you all day exactly how we’re running it, how we’re doing it. But that’s the thing it’s if it was that easy and it was just a flip of a switch, we would, there would be a price tag, you know, right down here, click here to right, right, right. It’s not like that. And that’s, that’s the reality that, um, it, we’re trying to figure out ways to make it smoother and get better guidance. But a lot of it comes down to the leadership. You know, they have to take the time to learn new ways of doing things. And if, because it’s up to them to implement it and spread it down to the rest of their team, you know, that technician that’s running 10 calls a day. He’s not going to give a shit about whether or not we’re texting our customers or not. Yeah. Like that comes down to your, as a manager, you have to put other people in positions, in your company that are going
to embrace those new ways of communicating. So you can start solving some of these problems and have better morale amongst your team, which tends to lead to more money for everybody.
Yeah. Wow. So you guys are, you guys are fixing appliances. You see a need not enough techs. So you start, you start an Academy, you start helping other companies within your space. That’s awesome. I love that model. I noticed you guys are also doing SEO work in digital marketing. Why is that so important? How’d you get into that? Why is it important for an appliance repair company to have a good SEO solution as opposed to other forms of marketing?
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Alex Hallmark (15:37):
So, uh, that’s um, great because we, that’s a great question. Cause there’s a specific example I can share about us. Uh, so Fred’s Appliance services physically the physical office, which is empty, but it’s next door to the Academy. But the physical office where we’re listed as an address is in Madison, Ohio, which is about a 45 minute drive East of Cleveland. Uh, and one thing that a lot of companies don’t understand is when you Google you Google an individual location, Google tells exactly where you’re at as you know. So that changes things. You know, if you’re in Madison, Ohio, I show up organically. I don’t have to do any advertisement or one of the main, it’s a town of like 35,000 people. So, you know, just the Google My Business listing is good enough for that SEO, but here’s the problem. That’s not where the population is.
Alex Hallmark (16:26):
That’s not where a majority of our traffic is. And you still only have 10 spots organically to show up on that first page. Then that’s where SEO comes in. So how do we show up in Cleveland organically, which we do now, we’re number two and number three, usually when you’re talking, when you’re doing appliance repair and that comes down to generating relevant content for Google and other search engines to consume, and that’s in a nutshell, what SEO is, is search engine optimization. You’re optimizing yourself to show up that’s relative to something that you want to show up for. So if, if I type in appliance repair, I have to at Fred’s appliance, make sure that I am constantly generating content that relates to apply to repair washer repair or not even repair just about appliances in general or about home improvement. And then the other thing I need to take into account is I need to generate content locally and make it driven to all the different individual cities that we service.
Alex Hallmark (17:24):
Cause just cause you ranked well for Cleveland. Are you going to rank well for Akron, which is about an hour Southeast, no, it’s a totally different market. You might, but you may need to start doing some localized content specific to Akron and what you do and what you offer. And then that way you teach Google over time, you know that, Hey, I’m a resource, I’m an authoritative resource. Here’s why. And as you start to share that, if it’s good content, people will start to share it as well. And they’ll start to link back to you. And it just snowballs. So we’ve been generating content. We’ve been doing SEO since 2012. So wow. Way longer than anybody that I’m aware of in our industry. Uh, there’s still many companies that are four or five times our size that that’s a website they built 10 years ago.
Alex Hallmark (18:11):
And then their, their thoughts are, well, it doesn’t make me money now. So it doesn’t make money. You know? It’s like, that’s that’s yeah. That’s why it does it. Cause it sucks. And you gotta, you gotta talk
more. You gotta go. How does the machine gonna know that you do appliance repair? You can’t just say one thing, put a name up and then hope to God. Google’s gonna start referencing you. There is millions and millions of pieces of content, probably more than that. Now that’s being posted every single day. So if you’re, you’re basically, you know, not part of the conversation. Not generating content.
So I’ve, I’ve started my appliance repair company. I I’ve hired either your company or ours to do SEO. So it’s, you know, the, the phones are blowing up. I’ve got new techs being hired. I’m sending them to Fred’s for this, for this boot camp. I’ve got my customer service, people being trained properly. They’re taking down the right information. They’re making it easy on the techs. What else specific to your industry can I do as a business owner to help my business grow, to help it scale? What other advice do you have?
Alex Hallmark (19:20):
Communication tools? So we’re in the service business. It’s a little different. Now, if I was selling an appliance, maybe I wouldn’t be so hamstrung on some of this stuff, but we’re in service. Nobody, nobody that’s actually paying the bill, uh, for an appliance repair job is happy. They’re never really that excited. No, I’ve, you know, your washer leaks all over the floor. You have all other kinds of things going through your brain. You’re hot. You’re you’re on the phone. You’re angry, all understandable. But the real shitty part is if I’m only available eight to five on the phone, that’s the only way you can actually get in touch with one of our team members and get on our schedule. That sucks. That’s just not 2020 anymore. Honestly, it wasn’t 2010. So, you know, it’s are, is, is the phone number listed on your website? Can I text it?
Alex Hallmark (20:05):
And when I text it, what happens, you know, it, can I get on the website on any type of device? Like we’re still dealing with that. Which sounds crazy when you and I talk about it because of our experience and the other stuff we’re doing, but it’s very common to not be mobile friendly, even though Google has specifically announced that they are indexing by mobile in most cases. So you literally could just be tanking your rankings, even if you have SEO going, if it’s not mobile friendly. So a web chat, that’s another communication tool that we’ve been heavily heavily leveraging because you get those leads, they land on that landing page. Sometimes they don’t want buy, you know, they, you know, for whatever reason, you know, but if you’re a web chatting, you can see that they’re on that page. You can see that they came from organic or from an ad or from a specific referral and you can jump right in and say, Hey, I see that you’re in XYZ and do you need help?
Alex Hallmark (20:55):
And that’s it, that’s it that’s usually enough to, to get the lead if it really exists. And they’re not just, you know, maybe window shopping or maybe trying to learn how to repair appliances. Obviously searcher intent can go all over the place, but at least with those primary leads that we care about. So that’s been a big push for us in the last two years because it leads, it segues into working from home and setting up a complete a hundred percent remote operation being accessible for your customers to be able to communicate with you. So you can cut down the phone volume. We initiate a text in such an aggressive way. We cut our own volume by 50%, but we did not cut our revenue. So the morale, well I’ll put it to the same, same analogy with a us working from home if we tried to take away texting from our team, we probably have people revolting and quit.
Alex Hallmark (21:40):
Like it’s, it’s that important now. Cause they cause they, we, we checked to see if it’s a mobile number from any, any resource that we’re getting a referral from, or if it comes from an actual organic lead or something like that, we have canned program responses for a lot of different scenarios that takes time like that. Didn’t have like, there’s no program that you can go to. That’s ready to rock like that. You have to figure out how you and your team are going to communicate with your customers. What are you going to say? What if they have an issue with this? What about after hours? You know, all those things have to be figured out. And while I love the idea of setting up a playbook and that is on my to do list, I have a strange hunch that it’s not going to line up with everybody’s procedures because everybody runs differently.
Alex Hallmark (22:18):
If you’re all in the same building and you’re not using any type of CRM or anything like that, to try and manage your communication. In general, you have texting web chatting, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, all of a sudden, you’re just like, this is too much. We’re going back to phones. And you know, it’s because they, you know, you got a baby step, one piece. So texting was, are our campaign in 2019, uh, at Fred’s. And we spent a ton of time, third quarter, fourth quarter, figuring out how we wanted to use texting and maximizing that technology to basically try and strip away all the bullshit calls that we had to deal with on the phone and bullshit, meaning like just verifying information or just letting you know the parts on the way. Like we don’t need to call you to do that. And sometimes it turns into two phone calls, one phone call to call, ya know, I didn’t get you. I left you a message. Now you didn’t get the message. So now you gotta call me. Now you gotta sit in the queue, wait until you get in touch with somebody. Wow. What a great experience. I can’t wait to call Fred’s again. So get rid of, we get rid of all of that. And it’s just coming up with those procedures coming up with how your team’s going to handle it. That’s the tricky part, but that’s why we give free advice just because
Alex Hallmark (23:26):
Yeah, that’s a, yeah. I’ll tell you how to do it, but you know, whether you’re going to roll your sleeves up or not take the time to test train, coach encourage and trial and error because things aren’t going to work the way you want them to as you. And I know we just had technical difficulties getting out here, but it’s to happen. Embrace it. Embrace the suck, I think is just suck. Right?
That’s the, that’s the quote right there. Um, awesome, man. I think, I think we’re speaking the same language. You know, a lot of business owners are really apprehensive to grow because they get stuck in certain gridlocks and it sounds like you’re not only solving those issues for your company, but you’re trying to help others get out of that gridlock as well. Yeah, I think that’s so cool. You know, there’s a lot of overlap between our companies, but I, we, we sort of have the same attitude, like, especially with helping people. It’s like, I’ll tell you anything. If you’ll, if you’ll apply it, it’s like, I’ll give you, I’ll give you the keys to the Ferrari if you’ll pull it out of the damn driveway,
Alex Hallmark (24:30):
But do you know how to drive stick?
Yeah. Yeah. So, Hey man, how can, how can people find you? Uh, how can we get in touch with you plug away?
Alex Hallmark (24:41):
Thank you. So Fred’s appliance Academy dot Fred’s appliance.com. Uh, we have course pictures. You can see stuff about the flats, all the course dates, everything’s online to register any upcoming stuff that we change and whatnot. Everything’s got a feed through there for me, it Fluid Services and whatnot. That’s fluid.services. You could also type in if you’re an appliance guy. And you’re curious about some of the stuff we recommend from a software standpoint, Google appliance, repair business resources, or the first thing that comes up. And there’s a large list of softwares that either we’re using or we know clients that are using them and having success. So that’s just a resource page that for folks that are like, man, what are those guys using for texting? There’s a link. You can go there, figure it out to your heart’s content. You don’t even have to talk to me.
Austin (25:27): That’s awesome.
Alex Hallmark (25:28):
Yeah, but that’s yeah, those are the two main areas and there’s contact forms and stuff on those
websites to reach out to us directly
And Fluid Services. That’s for the marketing and SEO side of the business. Is that right?
Alex Hallmark (25:39):
And consulting. Yeah. I mean, yeah. The consultants kind of pivoting in that direction more, uh, cause it’s mainly me doing it, so sure. And Adam as well, but we’re both cofounders of fluid and that’s the, uh, that’s, that’s us doing it on that. And friends Academy is going to be more geared towards the staff, you know, let’s help your techs. Let’s help your CSR folks. Eventually that’s my, my longterm goal is to essentially create structure for stylists.
Can I ask? Yeah. Yeah.
Alex Hallmark (26:04):
But that, that that’s that’s the hope is that the Academy will fulfill that role and then fluid will continue to help on the administrative side to help the owners directly speak their language, speak to their concerns and problems. Cause there are different, they are unique and they are challenging. So, um, that’s, that’s the outlet we’ve created.
Well, Hey man, the rising tide raises all boats. So we’ll be, uh, we’ll be sending people your way. We can’t do our job if business owners don’t want more calls. Exactly. Um, so yeah, we’ll be sending people your way to refer you for, for training their texts. I think it’s great. What you’re doing it.
Alex Hallmark (26:43):
I appreciate it. I’ll keep you guys in mind if somebody doesn’t want to deal with me, if you really, if it happens, it happens. I’m not perfect, you know, and you know, so I’ll definitely keep you guys in mind as a resource to refer as well.
Yeah. Yeah. If you get too busy or something, let us know. Absolutely wonderful, man. Thanks so much for being on. We really appreciate it.
Fred's Appliance Academy
Fred’s Appliance Academy and Fred’s Appliance have been in business since 2008 and 1996 respectively. They are experts in appliances and solving problems for their customers and getting their team trained up quickly.