Q&A with Nexstar® Network’s Jack Tester
With Nexstar® Network’s Super Meeting right around the corner — October 13-15, 2011, Nashville, Tenn. — it was a good time to catch up with president/chief executive officer Jack Tester (beginning November 1, 2011) to discuss things all Nexstar.
How did you get involved in the industry?
Tester: Coming out of college in 1985, I landed an entry-level position as the assistant executive director with the Minnesota Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. I had some interest in trade association management, which is what led me to this opportunity. I knew nothing about plumbing or air conditioning.
More importantly, how did you get involved with Nexstar?
Tester: Through my work with the PHCC, I ran into Frank Blau. I had Frank come to Minnesota to do several “Business of Contracting” seminars. I got to know Frank and started to talk to him on a regular basis. During our conversations, Frank mentioned he was going to start a “new kind” of organization and ultimately he asked me to be the founding executive director of Contractors 2000 (now named Nexstar Network.). I have Frank to thank for our great organization and my involvement.
I worked in that role for six years and then left for eight years to work for ServiceMaster. I came back to Nexstar as a Business Coach in 2006. And here I am today.
What does a typical day for you entail? (What are some of your duties as prez?)
Tester: My first responsibility is to figure out how to deploy our organization’s money and staff and member resources in a way that will help our member’s grow their businesses and succeed in the market. That is my first job — trying to determine what our members’ needs are for staying way ahead of the competition and then making sure they are developed and deployed throughout our membership. Now, how I go about doing that each day varies — I meet with our coaches and help them. I work with our outstanding Training and Strategic Partner Departments. Because we are a training and development organization and are always working on new things, there is not as much routine as other jobs.
Other than that, I am an early guy — kind of a dairy farmer at heart. Start the day early, but am not up all night. I have a 10 P.M. rule, which is nothing good happens after 10 P.M. so you better by home and done for the day. I live by that one.
What are some of your initiatives for the Network?
Tester: Nexstar is focused on delivering some new training programs in the next 12 months — both live training and online. We are working on some general manager training programs, which we currently do not have and some e-learning service meetings where live and taped training can be deployed weekly to elevate the talents of our member’s front line employees. I am excited about both of these.
We are also adding to our staff talent with a newly hired Call Center Excellence Coach who will help our members with converting more inbound calls to work orders. We’ve also hired a full-time sales trainer who will supplement our training events with in-the-field training at member’s shops. These are new skill sets we are bringing to our membership.
We are also working hard to develop more lead generation programs for our membership both in traditional channels (direct mail, television, radio) and internet-based. We have generated thousands of new leads for our members in the last 12 months and have plans to develop tens of thousands more.
We have a lot going on!
What are the goals of NEXSTAR?
Tester: Our goal as always is to make sure that our independent contractor member has a competitive advantage over everyone in the market. That is THE goal. We will do whatever it takes to make sure we keep our edge.
No one can serve a customer better or at less expense that our independent members. Our goal is to keep it that way.
Can you describe what it means to a contractor to be a member? (give more credibility to customers, education & training, etc.)
Tester: First, you have the comfort knowing you have the best support in our industry and the benefit of being independent. You are plugged into the collective talents of 400+ like-minded contractors. You learn from them in a trusted, confidential environment. At your fingertips, you have outstanding training programs for nearly every position in your company — so if you have a new hire you can get them up to speed quickly. To succeed in this industry you need great people who have great training. We help with that one.
Finally, we have full-time coaches who get up each day and work on the details of your business with you. These are not consultants — they are Nexstar employees — seven in total — and they are available at no cost to every member. They are experienced and know how to help struggling companies and high performing companies get better. They are outstanding!
How does the Nexstar Network differ from other associations?
Tester: We are member owned. 100% of what we take in for dues and fees is returned to our members in services. That is a huge distinction.
We are also focused tightly on helping our members grow profitably. We are not a trade association with an entire industry focus. We support those and encourage all of our members to belong to them, but this is not what we are about. We are about helping our 400+ members maintain a competitive edge in their markets.
What are some of the key benefits of being a member of the Network?
Tester: There are lots of benefits, but a huge one is much of the trial and error in business is removed. Our systems and training programs are proven to help our members grow profitably. That is a huge benefit for independent contractors.
Another benefit is our cost structure which is very low when compared to franchises or independent consultants. The costs of membership are so much lower than any other support structure — so you can stay independent and for a modest investment get the best training, coaching and buying group programs in our industry.
I may be biased, but being a member is a no-brain decision. Even if you are a passive, non-involved member you will receive a return well in excess of your dues investment.
What are some of the key highlights of the Super Meeting in Nashville?
Tester: We have analyzed the high impact management practices of 20 top performing companies and have boiled down that learning to the most important management processes. We are revealing those management practices AND giving the details on how to go about implementing them in your company. This will be good.
We have also created some new call center training materials and have made some changes to our flagship sales training programs that will be reviewed and trained. It will be a great meeting.
In addition to the Super Meeting, describe the other regional “smaller” meetings?
Tester: This year, we will hold around 50 training schools, workshops and networking events. These range from job specific training schools for technicians, customer service reps and service managers to Peer Group events where will go to a member shop who showcases their operation and then the members critique the business. We also hold business and marketing planning workshops throughout the year. We hold so many meetings we have two full-time meeting planners just to keep all the details straight.
Can you provide some tips (or positive forecasting) for the struggling contractor in this economy?
Tester: First, if you are not in the service/replacement market — you should plan to move that way. This last recession was very, very tough on new construction — focused operations. It still is. Service contractors generally speaking weathered the storm very well. Some prospered through it.
As always, focus on what you can fix and don’t obsess on the things out of your control. The reality is that for almost all small companies in our industry — the economy and general business conditions have much less to do with their business success then how they react to these forces. Focus on sound fundamental business practices, make sure you attract and retain great people and you will likely thrive no matter the business climate. Being a member of Nexstar sure makes all of that much easier.
In your travels and meetings, can you give a forecast of the PHC economic climate?
Tester: We track year over year sales from our members and the last 18 months have been very good. We see the rate of year over year growth in member sales slightly declining right now but still strong.
I believe that will continue because the service/replacement sector of our industry is recession resistant. I am very optimistic on the future for Nexstar members.
How does a contractor become a member?
Tester: Call us and let’s see if we have a membership territory available in your market. That is the first step. Call or email Lisa Schardt (email@example.com) or Bryan Martin (Bryanm@nexstarnetwork.com) at 888-240-STAR (7827).