Growing a Company From $250,000 to 7.5 million

An interview with Josh Zolin CEO of Windy City Equipment Service | Author | Speaker .

How did you get started in your industry?

Changing career

My Dad started it back in 2003, just him. He was going around and repairing restaurant equipment. I was in California as a stunt man. I was in the film industry doing stunts. That’s, my maternal side of the family, that’s what they do. All my uncles, my mom, my grandfather, everybody has been in the stunt industry for forever.

That was kind of my chosen path until I realized that’s not exactly what I wanted to do. So, I came out in 2008 to work with my dad, side by side, and I think I was about 22 at the time. And I told him, “Look, I have no idea what you do for a living, but I’d like to do it with you. And I’d like to, to grow it.”

And that was my intent. I wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to be a business owner, an entrepreneur, and grow something bigger than myself. So, I started working side by side with him, learn the ropes and learn how to be a technician. Through the years I learned the back end of things, all the finances, the scheduling, operations, and we gradually started bringing on more and more employees and now we are where we are today.

Business growth

To put that into perspective, when I came on, we were doing about $250,000 a year in revenue. And then last year we broke 7.5 million, which was a huge accomplishment. Hence the INC 5,000 list and everything else. The growth we’ve experienced in the last three to five years has been just astronomical.

How do you explain your growth?

Becoming recognized experts in their industry

When we started off just me and my dad, our niche was hot side, we would fix the fryers, the ovens, the stoves, the rotisseries, things like that. That’s what we knew. That’s what we knew best. And through the years we built a great clientele, a really, really good base of customers. And once we established ourselves as the hot side guys, the guys that could fix anything in the kitchen, it wasn’t long before they all started asking, “Well, can you do our HVAC? Can you do our refrigeration?” And we always said, “No, no, no, no, we’re going to stick to what we do best.”

Expanding and becoming an inclusive company

But then it got to the point where if we wanted to continue to grow and compete with the other companies in the city and in the region, we had to expand our services and get into those other trades. So, we brought on a couple of guys that knew a whole lot more than we did when it came to that kind of stuff. And from there, I mean, it was history. All of our current customer base started calling us to do their refrigeration and HVAC. And then once word got out that we did that in addition to the hot side of things, we were more of an inclusive company. So, the phone just started ringing, and we just went up and up and up.

What gives you an edge on your competition?

Use of media and technology

We did a good job of leveraging my youth. Typically, in this industry, service companies like mine are old school. Clients like the experienced, old school feel, which I respect. So, I had adopted the old school mindset, but I integrated traits from my generation. I introduced the technology. Our company has always been ahead of our time when it came to the technology.

1) For demonstrating thought leadership

In 2013 I started my YouTube channel for repairing restaurant equipment and doing industry vlogs and information and stuff like that. At the time it was the first of its kind, for hot side commercial kitchen equipment repair. Nobody else was doing it. So, once I started putting out those repair tips, people really started to resonate with that. That helped our customer base as well, getting our brand and our name out there as to what we do. And then that trend just kind of continued.

2) For better customer experience

We partner with a company now called XLI that specializes in artificial intelligence and visual communication. And we try to implement that on every single work order that we do. So instead of just getting written notes of what was done on any piece of equipment, the customer receives a link to a video where a technician is actually showing them and explaining to them in that video what’s being done on their equipment. So, they have a little bit more visibility. So, we’ve always been a little head of head of the curve in the way of technology and I think that might’ve helped facilitate our growth.

What has the growth of your YouTube channel been like?

We’ve been consistently gaining followers, but because it is such a niche thing that we focus on, it’s not one of those YouTube channels you see that has millions of followers or anything. We’re actually just about to break a 1 million views. But I only have I think about 6,000 subscribers.

The cool thing is that I know each one of my subscribers is genuinely interested in exactly what I’m talking about. That’s always been a big thing for me is not just collecting follows or collecting subscribers on social media, but really honing into those who my information will resonate with.

How would you define success in the industry?

That’s where it gets fun because it caters to everybody’s own personal definition of success. When we talk about college, it’s usually because somebody has told a kid that if they want to be successful, they have to go to college, without asking them how they define what success is to them. I’ve got guys that love to be in the field, that love getting dirty, that love just that feeling of fixing something with their own two hands and that’s what makes him sleep good at night.

And then I’ve got the guys that are using it as a stepping stone and they want to be in a different aspect of the trades, sorting through parts in the parts department or wanting to be entrepreneurs. I’ve had guys come up the ranks with me and then go off to start their own company because that’s their dream. And they’re using the trades to facilitate it. So that’s the beauty of it. It can be used for whatever you want. A big, big thing is travel. A lot of people want to travel, but if they’re stuck in an office job, they won’t get that opportunity. But in the trades, you’re traveling for work, you’re traveling for training, you’re traveling to meet new people and make connections all within the industry. So it really, it offers a lot of different paths, depending on what it is you define success as.

Windy City Equipment Services


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