Matt Michel – A Lifetime of Service
— by Lynne Brandon
A Lifetime of Service — Matt Michel, CEO and Co-founder of Service Roundtable
Years ago “Mr. Garrett the furnace man” changed the life and future of a small boy in Tallahassee, Florida. Matt Michel admired George Garrett who serviced their heating and cooling system in his khaki uniform. Even Michel’s dog, Sadie, enjoyed Garrett’s visits and spent many afternoon lying by the condensing unit. This experience shaped the confessed “soft spot” that Michel would later develop for the industry.
Another experience at a young age left a lasting impression on the young boy when he and his family moved to the United Kingdom. He was 10 at the time, and George Garrett kept Sadie while the family was out of the country. Coal mining was a strong industry and Michel remembers the “coal man” showing up periodically with his bag of coal. Michel had the job of shoveling coal into his family’s coal boiler each morning.
Life happened and Michel grew up and went to college at Texas A&M, earning a degree from the college of engineering. His career got supercharged with a bit of luck. The Reader’s Digest version is that Michel’s resume landed on a VP of Manufacturing desk at Lennox, and he was placed in charge of company factory automation with only 2 years experience instead of the required 10. Through another stroke of luck or fortune, he landed into the company’s marketing department from manufacturing, where his natural skill sets were more on display and he wound up running marketing west of the Rockies before turning 30.
It was during this time at Lennox that Michel developed a respect for independent contractors. He did not know that he would become their champion later in his career. As his career continued to unfold he joined Titus, running the company’s VAV terminal unit business. “Honestly, I didn’t know what a terminal unit was, but I needed P&L experience so I figured it out and despite a downturn in high rise construction, we grew each year.”
At Titus, Michel got a call to start a residential HVAC franchise. “Once again, I was in over my head, but I put in the time and worked it out,” Michel said. Time passed and Michel had moved on to a consulting firm. It was at that time in his career when it first became apparent that dealer programs were focused primarily on the top 5% in the industry. “I started wondering how I could help the remaining 95%,” explained Michel. “These contractors did not have much money or know how to market themselves. It was also the dawn of the Internet. It seemed the right time to start an Internet based business to affordably help independent contractors of all sizes.”
It did not happen overnight. After trying to raise capital without success, Michel had a meeting at Tempo in 2002. People flew in from across the country. After a half day of presentations, an investor handed him a five-figure check and said, “I’m in.” “This was my ‘Rubicon moment,’ Michel stated. “There was no turning back. I had a wife, two kids, a mortgage and car payments. Suddenly, I was committed and the only direction was forward.”
After funding was secured, Michel and COO, David Heimer met at 10 p.m. and worked until 2 a.m. on weeknights for five months. “We built our company from the ground up with 100 members initially.” On September 12, 2002, Michel launched the Service Roundtable as the first product of Service Nation. Today, the Service Roundtable has more than five thousand member companies across the United States, Canada, and Australia. It is the world’s largest contractor business alliance.
“Service Nation is different from other organizations because we do not require a business to be a certain size,” said Michel. “We have worked with two-truck companies to some of the largest in the industry, like Goettl; we just require that they want to grow. Success stories are legion.
Chris Hunter started by moonlighting from the phone company and (after joining Service Roundtable) eventually became the largest contractor in southern Oklahoma with a 50% market share when he sold his business years later. Other stories include a contractor and his family that could only afford to eat cereal for dinner. Today that contractor has a vastly different lifestyle that includes a nice house and a boat.
“When the pandemic hit most companies focused inwardly, but we focused externally on how to help contractors,” said Michel. “It took the fear out by focusing on others. We were the lone voice in 2020 saying that it would be a good year. People thought my rosy colored view was crazy but we proved to be right.” Michel and his team took an analytical approach to the pandemic and looked at industries (what was deemed essential business vs. not essential), and how to serve its members. “I believe growth comes from serving others and customers,” said Michel. “Remember, the revenue of any company is an exact reflection of how society values what the company provides. If you want more revenue, find ways to be of greater service.”
The work world looks different these days and will continue for some time according to Michel. His team has worked on a hybrid model with a mix of office and work from home. “It is a different world these days and many of the younger employees want to meet and work by Zoom,” said Michel. “We are flexible with our employees’ hours and needs, and its has helped us retain great employees.”
He pointed out the example of hiring Liz Patrick who had a long career with Service Nation and started the successful Roundtable Rewards buying group. Patrick started part-time while her children were still at home. “I could not have afforded to hire her originally without offering that flexibility.”
The Future Looks Bright
At Service World Expo in the fall, Michel announced he was stepping aside and leaving the leadership of Service Nation to others. Tom Peregrino, a former contractor, who built the Alliance Premier program, will take over the leadership role from Michel. It was time for Michel to start a new chapter.
“Our mission has always been to help contractors improve their business and financial performance, leading to a profitable exit strategy,” said Michel. “One of the things I am most proud of is how our members have consistently outpaced the industry growth rate. And, when all is said and done, our founding investors will have received a return of nearly five thousand percent.”
The Next Chapter Still to be Written
Michel has no plans to sit on the sidelines. Books will be written, columns will still appear in trade publications, speaking engagements will ensue and the rest is up for grabs. There is also a ranch house in Texas that will command his attention, and free time, along with his family who welcome the end of 80-hour workweeks.
“We bought Flat Rock Ranch, a small 137-acre ranch (less than an hour north of Michel’s home), a year ago and we are turning it into a place for hunting, fishing, and general recreation,” said Michel. “It has a 140-year-old log cabin that’s been expanded and renovated a number of times through the years. In the future, we’re going to add a new barn, outdoor kitchen, a filtered swimming pond, and a children’s commercial grade playground, but at the moment it’s a place to fish and hunt, and relax. The ranch is named after a unique geological feature in Ox Creek, which runs through the property. This is, of course, a massive flat rock.”
The service-oriented man follows his motto of service first – even in his conversation. When thanking him for talking to you don’t be surprised by his answer. “You didn’t take my time; I gave it to you.”
Service Nation has been recognized by the Dallas 100, Fort Worth’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies, Aggie 100, and Inc. 5000, including multiple times as one of the top 75 business service companies in the nation.
Service Roundtable: Milestones
“The future is bright for Service Nation,” said Michel, along with the Service Roundtable (core program), Retail Contractor Coalition, Service Nation Alliance, Alliance Premier, Roundtable Rewards and the Service World Expo.”
2008 The Retail Contractor Coalition, a branding program that has literally introduced hundreds of local, private labeled equipment brands in the industry, was launched along with the Roundtable Rewards program, the largest contractor-buying group in the service trades. Members receive millions of dollars in loyalty and growth rebates from more than 140 strategic partners each quarter.
2009 Service Nation Alliance, a contractor best practices program was launched. Approximately ten percent of Service Roundtable members have upgraded to the Alliance.
2016 Service World was launched and quickly became the dominant residential trade show.
2022 Innovation continued and Alliance Premier was launched – a training, coaching, and mentoring program with coaches coming primarily from the ranks of contractors who have built and sold their companies. “These are the people who have been there, done it,” said Michel.
A Testament to Service: Matt Michel Accolades
When asked to share how Service Nation and Matt Michel affected their lives and companies, testimonials poured in from staff, members and investors.
“Service Nation Alliance changed my life. Before I attended one of their Success Days, I was lost. I hated my job. My business was failing and I didn’t know what to do.
”Service Nation gave me the tools and the support I needed to get my business back on track. Now I wake up each morning excited to go to work. The Service Nation Team is second to none. Not only are they ridiculously smart, but they actually care about your success. That’s because they have been through it themselves and succeeded. The future is bright for my team, my company, and myself, and I owe that to Service Nation.”
— Jason Giglio, Vice President, Xtraire
“Being a saleswoman in a predominately male dominated industry, especially in the field, has been a unique and sometimes solitary experience. Our affiliation with Service Nation presented me with a female community of tradespeople who have become leaders, mentors, advisors, consultants and friends. The wealth of knowledge and experience is immeasurable and always accessible. It’s inspiring to have a support system of women across the country who understand the challenges and opportunities of working in the trades.”
— Tracie Harper, Sales Manager, Daffan Cooling & Heating
“We are a multi-family new construction contractor. I joined Service Roundtable in late 2018 through one of the many free memberships available through various trade organizations. As a member, I began reading about the Roundtable Rewards program and opted for the paid membership to take advantage of that program. Our first rebate check for Q1 of 2019 was over $50,000.00 and to date, we have received almost $375,000.00 in rebate checks. I cannot express enough that any contractor who is not a part of this program is leaving money on the table.”
— Michael Brown, Senior Technical Advisor, J.R. Hobbs Co.
“We joined Service Nation Alliance in October of 2018. We finished that year at $632,000 in revenue at a whopping 1.5% net profit. Four years later we are on track to generate $3.3 million with a 13% net profit. What a difference SNA has made in our business and in our lives! As much as SNA has helped us financially, I will tell you that isn’t the best part. The relationships that we have built with some of the best contractors in North America (and some of the most amazing people), has been so helpful and gratifying. There is not one challenge that can come up that I can’t pick up the phone and call multiple people who have “been there, done that,” and are more than happy to share their wisdom and advice.
”I literally have no fear and I’m so inspired by so many people within SNA that it inspires us to utilize the success principles and ideas that have worked for others and implement them in our business. All of the success we have had over the last four years is thanks to God, an amazing team, and some incredible mentoring by so many wise and talented people within SNA.”
— Roy White, Owner, Fixed Right & Guaranteed
“Previously, I was a Field Supervisor for a national plumbing company for more than 22 years. I was nervous to leave the field and to come to work in an office for a company that I knew very little about. It was the best professional decision I could’ve made. The mission of Service Nation is to help service contractors improve their business and financial performance, leading to a profitable exit strategy. That means we want our customer’s companies to grow so that they can retire comfortably. This struck a chord with me as I’ve seen single-truck contractors working until their bodies give out. Often this is because they learned how to be plumbers, but they never learned to be a business owner. We show them how to be a better business owner.
“Under their leadership, many of Service Nation’s customers have grown, thrived, and have been sold for an amount that has left them comfortable in retirement. I’m grateful for what Matt and David have done to build Service Nation into what it is today, and I look forward to the next chapter. The future looks very bright.”
— Dave Bailey, Vertical Market Manager, Plumbing, Service Nation Alliance/Service Roundtable
“My husband Don, has 32 years in the HVAC industry and in 2008, just when the bottom fell out of the economy, he started this business with one truck, me doing the books, and our 15-year old son, Charles (and sometimes our 12 year-old daughter). They hit the road and we haven’t looked back. We now have a warehouse, offices, 8 trucks, 20 employees and have reached our first big goal of $1 million in revenue.
“At the time, I found Service Roundtable, I didn’t know if we could spare the $50 a month to become a member, so I signed up for their newsletter and from there I didn’t think we could do it without them. So we dug deep and found the money to become a member. As a new start-up business on a shoestring and no credit, the advice and the help we got was fantastic. The Digest (forum) was a great place to find answers to questions we had and others had that we hadn’t even thought of yet. The website provided us with social media posts, forms, business information for our technicians and our customers, as well as worksheets to help us price our service. The rebates that we receive more than pay the membership dues.
“Service Nation holds conferences and we went to our first conference in Tennessee a few years ago. The Speakers were top in their field and the information was invaluable. We were able to meet other business owners, vendors specific to our industry and we were able to see the potential in our business and ourselves.”
— Shelley Kinder, Office Manager, Kinder Heating and Air
“Matt and I became friends in the 1980s and have stayed friends since. We’ve worked together, we’ve built action-oriented research for clients together and we’ve shared the hopes and dreams we have had for our families, and our friends. Our “friends” since the 1980s have especially included those in the Trades industries, beginning with the HVAC community.
“The industry was and still can be a seasonal one. There are not enough technicians to fulfill customer’s needs through the summer and fall months. Then there can be too many technicians to stay on the payroll and are cut. That means in 1980, Matt and I discovered the contractor businesses within our industry needed help and a lot of it just to survive, let alone succeed.
“Service Nation was Matt’s final and most impressive answer to the help that could be provided to honest trades contractors. It provided so much more than just ideas. It provides a big brother, answers to serious business questions, a friend (a cadre of friends) and it actually helps the contractors level out their seasonality.”
— Garry M. Upton, Executive Vice President Emeritus, Decision Analyst, Inc.
“We joined Service Nation Alliance part of Service Roundtable in 2014. The Alliance helped us to grow by giving us endless resources that help our company and team members reach our goals. In addition, the Roundtable reward rebates cover our membership dues each year. We have found the most valuable benefit of being an alliance member is attending the women’s weekly advisory board meetings with several like-minded, professional women, which allows us to share ideas. ”
— Julie Orzechowski, Owner, Bailey’s Comfort Services
“I worked for Service Nation for 16 years, retiring in 2021 as Vice President of Strategic Alliances. When I think about Service Nation and all the things the company did and accomplished, the list starts with Service Roundtable for HVAC contractors and grows and grows. It grows through serving additional industries, through additional membership tiers, through additional programs, like Roundtable Rewards, through additional rebate partners, training programs, and trade shows. There are thousands of members, who’ve earned millions in rebates. There are training opportunities for every level of contractor employee. There’s Service World Expo and dozens of smaller meetings each year. The growth has been remarkable.
“What’s more remarkable is that each and every thing we did was driven by, and evaluated by, how it served our community. The mission of Service Nation – “to help service contractors improve their business and financial performance, leading to a profitable exit strategy,” was lived daily. We didn’t do things unless they resulted in a win first for the contractor, the customer they served, and our partners, and then for Service Nation. It’s the only workplace I know of where being a servant leader was rewarded and awarded. That truly sets Service Nation apart. And it made it an empowering place to work.”
— Liz Patrick, former Vice President of Strategic Alliances, Service Nation
“As members of Tech Coast Angels, an investment group in California, Raulee Marcus and I brought Service Nation to the group as a candidate for an investing round. We helped Matt Michel in sharpening its focus on providing value to the HVAC community. It was give and take as we shared lessons from our backgrounds in start-ups and large corporate management and found ways to apply to Matt’s vision of an on-going service to HVAC businesses. We provided capitol, Board of Director membership and are pleased with the return over several years. Altogether, it has been a good deal for SN and TCA.”
— Gilbert H. Hoxie, Investor, Tech Coast Angels
“Being a founding member and serving on the BOD for many years I am very proud of the impact this organization has had on the industry. We created a group of founders that believed in the industry and how we needed to improve the business model through education and sharing of best practices, processes, documents and other resources. Our ability to have weekly, monthly and yearly meetings with members who were willing to share provided the growth for all who became a part of Service Nation, and has changed the lives and careers for many deserving owners and the team members of those owners. I feel we have built many bridges into the future for all owners and their teams.”
— Larry Taylor, Founding Member, Service Roundtable