Rob Broadhead 2020 Fire Protection
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Josh Strawczynski: 0:27
Welcome to business life hacks. In this episode, we are meeting with Rob Broadhead from 2020 Fire. This is a Sydney based organization that has risen to be very successful in its field. And it’s a really interesting case study in how you make a business that has low barriers to entry, is highly competitive and beat out other competitors that seemingly don’t have a competitive advantage, but coming at your heels. So I’m really excited to introduce Rob Broadhead. Rob, welcome to the podcast.
Rob Broadhead: 1:09
Thank you, Josh.
Josh Strawczynski: 1:09
So, I’m really excited to talk to you about this. We’ve been working together for a while now, but we’ve never really talked about your history and how you got where you are and what you’ve learned along the way. So I don’t imagine that our audience knows a lot about 2020 Fire Protection. I announced 2020 Fire to start with cause I’m so used to it, but tell us a little bit about who the business is, where it services and how it all came about.
Rob Broadhead: 1:39
Sure. so we started in 2010. I’d worked for another fire company for years prior to that. And we started with the intent that we focus on the strata market in Sydney, in terms of competition there because I had a passion for strata, I had been involved in it for some time. Then a few of my friends came immediately worked in strata that’s where we did really start. Not long after we started some existing customers who had switched jobs, phoned me and asked if I could do some quotes for them on some tunnels.
So road tunnels that were lots of, V systems in them. And we kind of went down, well literally a rabbit hole, a tunnel maintaining most of the road, tunnels around Sydney. And we did that probably for the first six years of the business until a lot of infrastructures built in new south Wales, caught up, caused them to change pathways. But in the last few years and has hence the involvement with Josh, we’ve tried to get back into our core markets of strata and facility management and building management rather than those infrastructure projects. So that’s kind of the history we’ve, you know, we’ve grown quite a lot in that time.
Josh Strawczynski: 2:50
So, I’m going to get into the growth in a second. But one thing I’ll try to nail down with everyone is, what is the underlying problem that you solve? Why do people come to you in the first place or anyone in your industry for that matter?
Rob Broadhead: 3:04
I guess for two reasons, one because the legislation requires it and they’re forced to do so sorry everybody, but everyone who has a building in new south Wales is required to issue an annual fire safety statement to say that my building is still safe to exist in. The second reason is that if the occupation is very important to the risk management of people, their families, their coworkers, their friends, and their asset being the building. Fire protection keeps people safe.
Josh Strawczynski: 3:34
Okay, so this is where I’m going with it, which is in order for me to get the qualifications, to be able to do that inspection and give the certificate. I could go and do the schooling and get that the right to do that.
Rob Broadhead: 3:50
Challenging answer to a simple question, Josh. But this leads to, I guess, the barriers to entry to our industry. So in terms of the servicing of fire protection systems, there are almost no barriers to entry in terms of going there, inspecting it, testing it and making sure it works and possibly even repairing some aspects of it. In terms of the annual fire safety statement.
Finally, our industry has started moving away from zero barriers entry, to one where there is an industry accreditation scheme for those people effectively endorsing or signing off on annual fire safety statements. So at the moment you probably can’t just go to get the schooling to do it. There’s been a transitional accreditation scheme implemented by the fire protection association in Australia to get those people already doing that function across the line, and then coming, starting from it. Now there will be courses being created and delivered to allow people to school in this, but it’s a slow process to get that underway.
Josh Strawczynski: 4:51
So this is what I’m interested in. If until now anyone could basically get the qualification to do this. It’s like a lot of markets mine included. You’ve got a lot of fly by nicer and it’s very, I presume difficult for the customer to distinguish between someone who’s doing it right and someone who’s doing it wrong. How does a company like 2020 Fire Protection come out on top of that? You don’t just let people undercut you constantly. If it seems like a commodity product.
Rob Broadhead: 5:23
I think a lot of our successes have come from educating our customers and the industries that we service. What we do in the fire station, while it might be a commodity and the customer might just see the price and they don’t really care about them, until they are literally on fire, running out of their panicking. Our customers, being strata managers and facility managers and the like, need to understand what it is and why it’s important. And it’s very hard to understand because it’s very complex. Our industry goes all the way across plumbing and sprinklers and electrical and carpentry and building and you know, hence a whole bunch of sub-tribes like that. So the more we can educate our customers and our customer industry bodies, the more they recognize that we might actually know what we’re talking about. And so competitive advantage.
Josh Strawczynski: 6:18
So you can be saying on quality effectively, but you need to explain to your audience what quality actually means.
Rob Broadhead: 6:25
Spot on Josh.
Josh Strawczynski: 6:27
And so when you get into, I appreciate you’re in a lot of competitive pitch situations, where they go and get let’s say three quotes, does that become difficult in instances where they just want to do it all on paper, for instance, you get the chance to go and present.
Rob Broadhead: 6:46
Without a doubt, you need to. The more, if you had a chance to present, there’s a greater chance you’re going to succeed. But that’s why I guess we put the effort into things like our website, things like blogs, or written things we put on YouTube on anything else like that. And webinars that we attend for industry bodies, articles, we write for magazines and for, you know, other websites to try and make sure there’s as much data out there to show that we actually do know what we’re talking about.
Josh Strawczynski: 7:16
And this is something about you too. You are the face of the business and you, dare I say an authority in the space, given the boards you sit on and everything else you do. Is that part of the critical proof point of the quality that 2020 provides?
Rob Broadhead: 7:34
Absolutely because no different to the customer who, I guess who doesn’t care about partition till they’re running out of the building panicking. Really the customer doesn’t know whether we did a good job until they are running out of the building panicking, hoping the fire protection system is keeping them safe to get out of a building. So absolutely right. We have to find other ways to show quality because you know, if you’re an air conditioning contractor, which is not dissimilar to what we do, I suppose you know whether they’ve done a good job or not because your air conditioning is either, you know it is working or it’s not working.
In fact, the customer doesn’t know whether it’s working or not working in reality until it’s needed and it might not be needed forever or it might be needed tomorrow. And they might not even know that it’s worked well because it saved them in the first place. The sprinkler system went off or detection got them evacuated, long before the fire became dangerous. So it’s a challenging relationship between value and quality and them understanding why it’s important.
Josh Strawczynski: 8:39
That reminds me a lot of what was said to me once before about the service industry. You only notice service when it’s not there. If they’re doing a good job, you never see them.
Rob Broadhead: 8:55
Yes, when our technicians are going to a site and they have a building manager or a site contact. You know, it becomes so important that they go and say hello to that person. Or at least give them a phone call as they’re arriving or otherwise because ultimately the customer can’t see what it is we’re doing. So we’ve got to make sure we add tangibility to our service, no different to when you take your car for service. Probably if they make the tires look all shiny when they leave and the car is clean, you’re going to assume they’ve done a great job. I guess it’s not that different to what we’re doing. We’ve got to bring tangibility or something that the customer can’t see under normal conditions.
Josh Strawczynski: 9:34
So that’s a really interesting question in an industry where there are just ticks and checks and measures. How do you innovate? How do you do something that competitors aren’t or offer that extra level of service that makes you visible?
Rob Broadhead: 9:50
Something that is probably a medium to a long term plan. But I guess we’ve got to find ways to make the data that we collect of value to our customers. And this comes down to it. You know, the question I think you posed to me later in this, in terms of trends that we need to be looking for. We need to be finding ways to use the immense amounts of data. We collect to add value to our customer experience so they can truly see what we’re doing.
Josh Strawczynski: 10:19
You’ve got an idea of what their pain points are, but there’s a level of, of unknown, you know, by collecting data that there will be something there. Maybe it’s a, if it was super clear right now, everyone would be doing it. Interesting. Maybe we can go back in time then, I’m curious to know when you started the company when you’ve got some growth. Well, I know you grew exponentially over a number of years without advertising. How did you do it? What was the trick to success? And moreover, what did you learn that if you could go back in time, you do better in that process?
Rob Broadhead: 10:57
I guess with this, I was pretty lucky that I worked in the fire industry previously. So I knew a lot of people. And so really I got on the phones, which was the predecessor to Google searches and CRMs. So really getting on the phones and speaking to people and offering our service was probably the way that we grew and thanks to, some great customers who, who did it. What could I have learnt about when I went back in time? I guess the first one would probably be not to work in construction.
I think it’s really important in business to be working with companies, staff, people, contractors, all the rest of you share your values to some degree. And certainly my experiences in, in construction was that you know, it’s an entirely different industry to what we used to and the values that we espouse you know, we care and quality management. We keep people safe, hold up very low in the value chain for construction builders and developers. And they’re like, so when we grew very quickly, it had had a few goes at construction. It wasn’t very successful because they had different values to what we had.
Josh Strawczynski: 12:12
That’s a really interesting answer because you really know your current customer now, right. You know, their pain points, you know how to get what their KPIs are, how to serve them.
Rob Broadhead: 12:23
Yeah. And I think it’s so important to do that. Ultimately, we are a business that manages risk for our customers. And so if our customers have no interest in managing their own risk, their own risk to their occupants, their family if there is a residential setting, their co-workers if it’s commercial. If they’ve got no interest in risk management, then they probably have no interest in fire protection and therefore we probably shouldn’t be working together.
Josh Strawczynski: 12:51
Something working in an agency, we are kind of blessed with we get to see hundreds and hundreds of different clients. I’ve probably worked with thousands of businesses over the last couple of decades. And one thing that really stands out to us is when you have a competitive advantage by knowing your customer and how to serve them. When you look at university textbooks, they talk about competitive advantage being quality, price, and speed, some variation therein. And they never talk about just knowing how to take someone for a beer or how to call them up and suit them because you know what their KPIs are. It’s very service-driven, right?
Rob Broadhead: 13:36
I think all of those things are expectations of just doing your job. You should already have or be able to know what you’re talking about and do it quickly. And all those things, they can espouse university, the differences, people, people deal with people. And again, to expand on what you said, it’s not what, you know, it’s, you know, speak to them, talk to them, develop a relationship, Chances are business will help.
Josh Strawczynski: 13:59
You’ve heard me say it a million times. It’s the simple stuff that makes the difference, all that super complex automation, this and that. It’s nice to have, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of our relationship. So I am very much aligned with you, which is a nice segue into challenges. And in this series of podcasts, what we’re trying to do is look, we have a lot of other business owners who listen to it. So we want them to empathize with, I’ve got similar sort of challenges to this. In business, you kind of already touched on one playing out of your field. What are the challenges of your own counsellors across the years that really stand out?
Rob Broadhead: 14:46
I guess buying outside of that field was just one of the stupidest ideas that we’ve ever come with. We thought it was a good idea. The revenue looked amazing. We had a staff member who seemed to like that part of the industry and we had a good crack at it. And we probably should have just had a barbecue with a hundred dollars notes, the amount of money it cost us to do it. And, you know, we had the unions breathing down our necks. We had tried to been doing terrible work that causes huge risks and challenging deadlines and changing goalposts. So don’t stick with what you know, until, if you’re going to try something new, you try with it rather than them diving in. In terms of the other challenges, it’s really about, people you’ve got to have the right people, who share your values and now keep on going back to values.
But we also can’t get their values confused with measurable outcomes of the business. You know, a business exists to make money, we are not charities. People should be delivering business performance measured in customer service and financial outcomes. How they do it is the values that you hold and share. But business performance has to be, you know, non-negotiable in there. And so it’s been probably the biggest challenges has been that you know, I really like the business to grow, but we’ve been in a situation in Sydney and I don’t know enough about the rest of the world, but very low unemployment rates or effective unemployment rates for the last three to five years. And we really need to remember that we shouldn’t be growing if we can’t find people that can perform. And as well as matching our values, the same that the lesson out of it is you don’t grow. If you can’t find the right people.
Josh Strawczynski: 16:34
And so then on a personal level, what have you learned about hiring the right people and finding them? I’ve heard philosophies before on here about highest, slow fire, fast, I’ve heard personal growth using different studies and techniques to learn personalities. What’s been your trick?
Rob Broadhead: 16:55
Josh, I don’t have a trick. I’ve tried psychological profiling, we’ve tried recruiters, we’ve tried advertising, we’ve tried all manners of ways to find the right people to put in there. But you know, the right person, you can tell the right person face-to-face and there’s no difference to the relationship stuff we’ve been talking about. Do you feel like that person will deliver performance for the business and share and show that they do share your values and then take advantage of it and go, and I guess fight fast, if they don’t you truly don’t know until you’ve measured it.
Josh Strawczynski: 17:35
That was a big thing for me when I started J Marketing, was learning to fire people. I always wanted to be everybody’s saviour everyone’s hero and I would make excuses for them. I’m curious about values because that’s a word you’ve used a lot and I’ve actually got scribbled in my notes yet community focus. 2020 Fire does a heap of work with the community, with lifesavers, with charities and everything. This is clearly a value. How does that translate? Do you see a return on that investment with the engagement you get with the community, or are you able to see it in your people the way they care about their community? Where does that come from? What drives that?
Rob Broadhead: 18:20
I think that’s probably myself and closer, my wife’s, values being driven into the company. We care about the community and giving back to those who need help or who are less, who aren’t as lucky as we are, if you will we want to give back to people.
Do all of them have a measurable return? No. Which is kind of, against my current favourite. One of my favorite quotes, if you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so will be on me, but pay to Drucker. But it’s all part of the mix of making sure that not only does our big sign on the wall over there, that you can’t see say, you know, we care, quality matters. We keep people safe. You’ve got to be able to show how you care. And I guess those are investments in the community are important to show that we actually do.
Josh Strawczynski: 19:15
Really. I believe that what you put in you take out, it’s just not always measurable. We had another client of ours…
Rob Broadhead: 19:24
Josh, don’t publish that, I’ve mentioned my favourite mantra at the moment, aside from, there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently, that which should not be done at all.
Josh Strawczynski: 19:44
That one reminds me of Hanlon’s Razor, you heard that one before. It never chokes up to malice, what can easily be described by stupidity? I really believe that everyone has good intentions, no one wakes up wanting to do the wrong thing, but through lack of controls, through lack of everything else, it’s easy to go down the wrong path. That’s our job as business owners.
Rob Broadhead: 20:10
I’m pretty sure some people just live for malice but, perhaps as you say, perhaps it’s just stupidity or, not even stupidity, probably lack of thought as to the perspective of others.
Josh Strawczynski: 20:30
Emotional intelligence, it’s suddenly doesn’t get taught nearly enough in the education system. It’s something that I’m always talking to our staff about and they say, oh, so-and-so was so rude. You know, they didn’t understand X, no, get inside their shoes and work out their dog may have just died. That’s incredible in a service industry, how much you’ve learned about that. Okay. So let’s finish off with some quick final questions. I’ve given you these ones in advance. So I wouldn’t catch you on the, on the hop top productivity tool in your life. What do you use the most?
Rob Broadhead: 21:07
Personally? lots of different systems. So I’m not going to talk about my particular ones, but as a business Calendly made probably the biggest difference to us. As you probably know, from working with us, we have to access hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of apartments on a regular basis. And to get into them, we usually need to make an appointment. And so for many, many years, we would give them a phone number that would phone in and we would get hundreds of phone calls a week. Which we would have to take down details of the site. Otherwise, Calendly would send out a QR code, scan onto it, make a booking, we get a spreadsheet. You know, we send the spreadsheet to our technicians and I go and do it. So it’s saved us hundreds of phone calls and therefore hundreds of hours of time in terms of, in the last few years since implementing.
Josh Strawczynski: 21:57
Amazing, that is a cheap, cheap, cheap system. In fact, free for people to try. And I constantly get people telling me, we use a similar system, private market bookings meeting bookings. And people can say, oh wow, that was so much easier across time zones. It shocks me that more service industries haven’t got on to us. Great tip. All right. You’ve already given me a couple of quotes, best book, podcast, or mentor who have you learned from; who should people listen to ?
Rob Broadhead: 22:28
I loved the Subtle Art of Not Giving Up it’s a book. I’m loving those Peter Drucker quotes that I already mentioned before. In terms of mentoring, which you asked about, I’ve been a member on and off in the last 20 years of tech or the executive connection. And I learned so much from my peers who had similar size businesses, similar roles, but in non-competing industries, I learnt so much from my chair and mentor Peter Black. And they brought in speakers every couple of months to talk to us about particular subjects. So I can’t say enough for being involved in some sort of a peer mentoring program, because now once you get to your business becomes a certain size or you’re in that role where you’re at the top of the tree in your business, who the hell do you talk to?
Josh Strawczynski: 23:20
And who keeps you up ?
Rob Broadhead: 23:22
And make your head dead, right? So you might or might not be able to be, come on, I’ll be able to talk to them about that big deal that you just did or didn’t do, or that thing that you, you screwed up. I think it’s important to have some way you can go and talk openly about what’s really going on without getting confused with friendship or business.
Josh Strawczynski: 23:40
That’s interesting, actually, if you don’t mind me drilling into the executive connection, because on a number of occasions, I’ve spoken to people about joining organizations, kind of like that one that costs several thousand dollars in registration fees every year, it’s a cost. There’s not a direct are a lot. It’s not like putting a flyer in people’s letterboxes. So you’d be a big advocate of pay some money, dedicate yourself to actually getting them out.
Rob Broadhead: 24:08
Without a doubt, I learned so much from it. And so, as I said, twice I’ve been in it once when I was a key executive, 15 or 20 years ago, working for someone else, I was lucky enough to be enrolled and paid for me to go to it. And then again, about four years ago, I decided I’d re-enrol myself in the small business CEO section of it to try and learn some more and move my business. I got this feeling because we’d have business in the kind of plodding along in it wasn’t really growing. It was kind of sitting in exactly the same revenue for about three years in a row.
And I’m like, what’s going on here? And I came to the realization that it was probably me. I was the one holding my business back. I was the one thinking too small. And so, so I joined this again. I learned an immense amount, the business, I started doing much, much less in terms of operational involvement in my business. And the business grew quite substantially from doing that. And so a year, about nine months ago, I quit not because I wasn’t enjoying it or getting stuff out of it, but I decided I’d start putting some of my key executives through the same program so that they could follow the same pathway. So, I can’t speak highly enough about them.
Josh Strawczynski: 25:26
And just that we won’t go into it because we could be here all day, but they are empowering your people to also think differently and bring in new ideas. Absolutely a great tip. So tips to run an effective business. Then I guess we kind of were just talking about it. But if someone was stuck in the same position that businesses in growing, what’s the one thing you would tell them to do?
Rob Broadhead: 25:53
Well, my answer doesn’t really match the previous one, but the first one was really, it’s a business, not a charity. You need to be brutal. You need to be, make hard decisions for the overall outcome of the business and the majority of people in the business, including shareholders, not based on what is the nicest thing to do or make it, as you said, make excuses for individuals. There’s no value for the client or no profitability for the business. Then you should not be doing it.
And so you need to be ruthless with what you’re working on. If it’s not really going to add value, not dissimilar to the Peter Drucker question, you shouldn’t be doing it. And that’s one of the hardest things to do as a business. you spend so much time trying to get new clients and get new opportunities. It feels scary and horrible to say no, to say, stop to say, you know what? We’re walking away from this we’re resigning from this, but not going to do that anymore, but to be an effective business, as you say, the first thing you have to do is get pretty good at saying no to things that are not really going to add value to the business
Josh Strawczynski: 26:57
In one of the upcoming episodes, we are going to be talking to a guest who talks about taking the financial stress of your life away from business decisions. And when you no longer have those same, got to make money, got to make money, you got to make money. You’re free ironically enough to make a lot more money.
Rob Broadhead: 27:18
I’m not dissimilar to that. What I was saying about the tech group and whatnot and effectively, the first decision I had to make was to appoint myself as CEO, which sounds wanky if you’re in, in some ways, pardon the French, but really the first step was the mental jump to go. You know what? I shouldn’t be involved in controlling everything. If I am, I hit the limit of what I can possibly, you know, that issue I saw with the revenue staying at a certain one was effectively just the span of my personal control, limiting the business. So the first step you need to do is to change your thinking about how our businesses run, what you got, Hey, how you got there is entirely different to what you need for the next step.
Josh Strawczynski: 28:07
You have absolutely no idea how much I’m looking forward to introducing you to Mike Irving. You guys are going to be peas in a pod, with the way that you think.
Rob Broadhead: 28:16
The first question, which is about the psychology of business. It’s, if I had to name, my hobbies, you know, aside from stupid, dangerous, fun things, psychology would probably be my next one, on the list of hobbies.
Josh Strawczynski: 28:29
And it filters down through every bit of business. It’s why I don’t understand why we discuss it so infrequently in business, yet we will talk about rather the red and the logo pops crazy human big box. So tell us last one, this is a sound bite that we’ll cut out and put into a bigger one of different guests on the show. What’s the trend that companies should be thinking about in 2022 and beyond. What do you see as the next big thing?
Rob Broadhead: 29:03
Two things; the first one, and yes, we’re probably way behind Silicon Valley and all of this, but the digital solutions and harnessing the data to improve efficiency and improve the user experience. That’s my number one trend that we need to be concentrated on. If you need to be digitally native, every person in the organization. And the second one, and probably more important to more than just business. Sustainability is not going away.
You know, if companies in industries that are not focusing on how they can become more sustainable, that are going to be banned within a lifetime, you don’t want to lose your business because you didn’t make sustainability a focus. And aside from that, you know, whatever, you know, tropical island that you live on, Josh will probably be underwater if we don’t. So I think it’s important for businesses, our social license to operate and just for the greater good of the world that we actually stopped making it a focus. If we haven’t already.
Josh Strawczynski: 29:58
There was a great case study in Sweden, who they implemented a carbon tax at $22. I believe it was back in the nineties nowadays. They’re the highest in the world at about $125 per metric ton. And in that time, the arguments against it, there’s always been the little stifled competition in GDP. Well, their GDP has grown pretty much bang on the average of all the developed nations. Only they are doing better at protecting the environment and getting ahead of these technologies. So I’m a hundred percent with you. We need to be thinking for the bigger money shot, not just what’s going to make us money today. And that is a fantastic way to finish the podcast. Rob, thank you so much for joining us. If people are a strata manager or business manager or anyone that needs fire protection, particularly annual fire safety certificates in Sydney, how do they get in touch with you?
Rob Broadhead: 30:57
Please call 1300 340 210. Put a request on our website, email us it’s all on the website www.2020fireprotection.com.au.
Josh Strawczynski: 31:09
The other thing I know that you are looking for is you’re always looking for good committed staff looking to build a career. So same stuff. They should go to the website and lodge an enquiry.
Rob Broadhead: 31:19
Without a doubt.
Josh Strawczynski: 31:20
Awesome. Thank you very much. Thanks for the interview, Rob. It was really great. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you in the future, all the very best.
Rob Broadhead: 31:34
Awesome. Thank you, Josh. Have a great day.