Patriot Chimney

350 clients, $212,000 and 5 employees – The story of the modern chimney company

Mitchell Blackmon
January 9, 2023

Learn from our community entrepreneurs! In this interview, Mitchell Blackmon shares the story of building and growing Patriot Chimney, located in Roanoke, Virginia, USA

  • Hi! Tell us about your business and what problem are you solving?

    Hi Rich, thanks for having me. As you mentioned, my name is Mitchell. I am 25 and the owner of Patriot Chimney, a chimney company in Roanoke, Virginia, while I actually work remote in Raleigh, NC.

    Patriot Chimney provides chimney and dryer cleaning, repair, and builds for residential and commercial clients. The chimney industry gets a bad wrap because a history of poor service, “professionals” selling unnecessary services, and a few other things that lead to distrust. So we are really trying to innovate and disrupt the status quo to make a better experience for our clients.

    In this whole thing, I focus on building business strategy, marketing, and sales. My brother, Matt, and his friend, Billy, are the other two owners and they focus on the operations side, actually going out to the homes and performing services.

  • What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

    I have been what many people call a “serial entrepreneur” for a few years now and I think it stemmed from a few different sources. When I was in college I was very involved in a lot of different extracurriculars and always had a full day of class, studying, internships, and meetings. Naturally, when I graduated, I had a lot of free time, even with a full time job. So I decided to start a housekeeping company in Asheville, where I grew up.

    For a while, my brother and I talked about starting a business in Roanoke, where he lives. He was in the Marine Corps for 7 or 8 years and I guess he was sick of people telling him what to do. We tossed out ideas like another housekeeping company, a home health business, and even a landscaping company, but none of those stuck.

    In 2017, Matt started working for a chimney company in Roanoke and began thinking this is a great industry to be in. It’s very profitable and you’re doing good work making homes safer. He really liked the company he worked for, but he noticed some inefficiencies and nobody listened to his ideas on how to improve the business. During this time, Matt and I would go back and forth about what he should do - either starting our business or continue waiting his turn to speak up about growing the company he worked for.

    Eventually, a few of his paychecks bounced, so we decided it was a great time to start Patriot Chimney, so he got Billy, who also worked for the chimney company and served in the Marines with Matt, on board. They started doing a few jobs on the side and the company they worked for eventually caught wind and fired both Matt and Billy a couple of weeks after we started. Truthfully, the plan was to go slow and do work on the side until the other company went belly up. I think Matt and Billy getting fired was the right kick we needed.

  • What’s your one biggest challenge you face and how do you overcome it?

    There have been a ton of challenges and obstacles along the way. For starters, it’s never easy to have multiple owners, let alone 3, all of whom are pretty stubborn. This causes some issues where no one really wants to be told what to do and no one wants to tell any of the other owners what to do. Sometimes that creates some bottlenecks in communication, but the best way that we found was to just communicate. You have to talk to each other because you are going through this with several people. What we’ve done to sort of curb this is to have regular meetings, where we talk about upcoming projects, assign different action items, and hold each other accountable for the work. This helps keep us on track and continue to grow.

    Another huge challenge that we face and continue to face is the fact that I have another job and I live in a whole other state. I put a lot of focus on Patriot Chimney, even when I’m at my job because I have a goal to eventually work for my company, but there are a lot of items on my docket and a to-do list that has to be placed on the back burner since I simply don’t have time. It’s also very difficult managing this company, a full-time job, a gym schedule, and my personal relationships, but I do it with a very well kept calendar. I use Trello for larger picture items and Asana for daily to do (and groceries). I have my time blocked so I know what I’m working on and when I’m working on it.

  • To anyone looking to start or grow a business today, what three tips would you give them?

    The first thing that we did was make simple door hangers with a $25 discount for all services. We also offered free inspections to help get us business in the beginning. We posted on Porch and Thumbtack, which surprisingly was being underutilized by other chimney companies in our market, but used by a lot of customers in the area. We also made a huge effort to make our Yelp, Facebook, and Google Business page at least better than everyone else in the area and began paying for the Yelp ads pretty much right off the bat so we could be ranked higher on their pages.

    Since Porch and Thumbtack wasn’t used by our competitors that often, it honestly wasn’t that long after we started until we actually picked up traction. In fact, in our first month, August 2018, we earned just shy of $12,000. This felt incredible since we built something from scratch that earned that much in its first month. I think our timing was just right for us as well since we got started just before the burn season, which is the busiest time for all chimney companies. There’s a good possibility that our customers called us last and went with our service since we could put them on the schedule sooner than our competitors. Now we’re already booked through January and have February closing up as well.

    Currently, we don’t offer free inspections or post on Porch or Thumbtack as much anymore (we’re more selective), but we still use door hangers, Yelp, Facebook, and Google like the beginning. We do focus a lot on Facebook and Adwords PPC ads, but a lot of our business comes organically - SEO, referrals, and word of mouth. I work with a company called Godot Media to help create blogs for our website but also work to get backlinks and listings on directories to help bump us up on Google. Godot Media is a company in India that provides different “levels” of content for a pretty decent price. I provide the topics, send it over, and each month I get two 1500 word blogs for about $60. Honestly, the quality isn’t the greatest at the lowest level, which I pay for, but it gets a lot of the work out of the way. I simply go back through, change some words around to fit the southern Virginia tone, and publish. For companies with a lower budget, I definitely recommend doing it how I’ve done it.

    We also have a “customer packet” that we share with each of our customers that includes the condition report, referral cards, a list of our other services, and then a postcard where we ask for a review on Facebook, Google, or Yelp.

    We’ve also recently hired a door to door salesman, Kyle, who goes through neighborhoods in our market, knocking on doors and leaving newer door hangers. We’ve also implemented a sales cadence that allows for us to consistently reach out to our prospects in a more organized manner. It utilizes a mix of door hangers and mailers, plus targeting homes located in the area with PPC ads to try to boost brand awareness and hopefully taking advantage of the Rule of Seven, which basically says that prospects need to come across your brand at least seven times before they really notice it and start to take action. I’ve heard it’s sometimes up to 12 times, but seven is a good place to start.

    Finally, another huge tactic that we use is calling past clients to remind them that the NFPA recommends their chimney be inspected annually by a CSIA trained professional. We also make sure to call all open quotes within 2 days of submitting the proposal and again 2 days after that to try and win the deal. This has helped increase our close rate for open quotes and helped contribute to a strong return rate for our past customers.

  • Where can we go to learn more about your business?

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