‘Do the right thing, even if it hurts’

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Chris Corley (second from left), owner of Corley Plumbing Air Electric, shared insights on entrepreneurship at a recent Pique meeting of young professionals.

Chris Corley of Corley Plumbing shares the tricks of his trade

 

Chris Corley, owner of Corley Plumbing Air Electric in Greenville, once got some advice from his father-in-law: “Learn a trade and you’ll never be without a job.” Following up on that advice, Corley applied, and was selected for, a plumbing apprenticeship with the Oklahoma City Plumbers union. The Corley family eventually relocated to Greenville, and Chris went to work for his in-law’s family plumbing company.

In 1986, with an investment from his father, Chris decided to start his own company and won a bid to install the plumbing and HVAC system for a large tenant at Haywood Mall. Over the next few years, Chris was motivated by providing for his wife and four children, who as he says, “put a strong emphasis on having a roof over their head and expected to eat every day.” No job was ever turned down, and at one point, he was working full-time during the day on one project and completing another in the middle of the night. Every time he wanted to throw in the towel, someone came along to offer work.

Chris Corley has run his company by emphasizing that “we will always do the right thing, even if it hurts.” His approach to challenging the way things are being done helps to push his company to new levels. Ask any of the 50 employees of the company and they’ll tell you that Corley is a man who sets the tone for a culture that is driven by the company’s four core values of character, excellence, unselfishness, and engagement.

Here are a few of the lessons Chris Corley had to share about being a successful business owner.

How did he choose this career path?

After just one semester in college, Corley realized that working with his hands in different job locations would be the most fulfilling route for him to take professionally. He ultimately decided to open his own business, growing it into something much larger.

What does he wish he knew prior to starting a business?

“If you are averse to risk, you do not want to start your own business,” Corley said. He went on to share that if it is important for you to have a consistent paycheck or if you don’t like solving people problems, starting a business may not be the best fit.

What barriers did he face when starting a business?

Being in the plumbing, HVAC, and electric business, Corley explained that knowing how to price a product or service correctly is imperative. “If you don’t do that correctly, you don’t make money; if you don’t make money, you don’t stay in business,” he said. “Time is something that you only have so much of, and when just starting out, there are many things that you’ll need to prioritize. Managing your time, in addition to knowing how to price a service correctly, can both be a challenge.”

How is he finding employees and attracting young professionals to fill positions?

It is a big challenge to find technical people, including electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians, Corley said — not just locally, but nationally because we have been college-career-track-minded for so many years. “We must remember that as long as we are living in homes with electricity and plumbing, there will always be a need for the trades,” he said. “Unfortunately, most of the technicians today are baby boomers and subsequently aging out of the workforce. In order to find people to fill those roles and close the demand gap, we make sure to recruit around the country.”

Corley uses the desirable Greenville market as an important recruitment tool. “We also make sure to hire young adults and apprentice them with the assistance of area technical schools via online and on-the-job training,” he said. “In addition, we make sure their values fit our core values and will be the type of person we want in front of our customers.”

What tips does he have on following up with his contacts to earn business?

“If I don’t follow up, I don’t eat,” Corley said. “People don’t call with an emergency and then wait a few weeks until you call them back.”

What strategies does he use to create duplication of leadership?

You should always be building your people, Corley said. “People surprise us; if we coach them and trust them, they will do great work.”

What is the single most valuable piece of advice for entrepreneurs?

“Can there only be one piece?” Corley asked. “The best advice would be to find a really good mentor. Being in business is very rewarding; however, when you’re feeling down and you need someone to build you up, you must have that person in your life. If you don’t have them when you start a business, it will likely be very lonely.”

By Sara Dolan, Smoak PR

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