Seth: Hello old friend, long-time no-see. Before we get to anything else, how’s the family?
Travis: Oh man, this is so great. I’m thrilled that we’re doing this again. First let me say that I think everyone (particularly men) should do some version of this. We’re programmed to keep things close to the vest, so we do. My buddy Keith will come over and sometimes we’ll get into some interesting convos but for the most part we talk about movies and stuff. This medium and format—where we essentially have a private conversation and then share it with the world–allows us to open up about stuff that we don’t normally open up about and for me, it’s really rewarding and therapeutic.
The family is great, all things considered. Claire is a junior at Trinity now. Unfortunately, she tore her ACL again so is out this season but she told us the other night that she’s planning on playing again so I’m thrilled about that. I still love to watch her play and now one of the highlights of my day is when I get to see her training with the boys. Cade is in 7th grade now and is embarking on his own basketball journey. He worked really hard over the summer and is getting the bug—which means I am too. He wants to train every chance he gets, so we try and accommodate that for him.
Cash is in 4th grade and is a different story all together. He’s by far the most outgoing of all of us—the only extrovert in a family of introverts. He’s essentially got his life planned out already. He plays basketball, too but you can tell it’s not going to be his number one priority. He enrolled in choir a few weeks ago so we have early morning sessions to take him to. The thing is, he’s not all that interested in choir, but rather he’s interested in building his resume. He plans to run for student body president when he’s in 5th grade and knows he needs to have several activities he participated in on his portfolio.
And he picks up these random facts from the ether and drops them on us every night at dinner. His head is full of the most random things but for the most part he’s got the facts down accurately. He loves to ask us a question that we don’t know the answer to and then tell us how wrong we are. This happens every day.
How about you—how are your boys? I’ve always loved how our two boys mirror each other in age somewhat.
Seth: It’s strange in that I feel like everyone knows my business because I live in a small town, I sometimes feel like I’m being repetitive because most people sort of know what’s happening. I’m always happy to talk about my kids. Always. I should quickly mention that my wife is great and I am lucky to be married to her.
Fitsum is in the 6th grade, which is our junior high and that’s the same school my wife is in charge of the ESL program, so they’re in the same place and my wife gets to watch him operate. Fits is still absolutely into Legos and I’ve been typing that for almost a decade, he’s really smart and did the art competition in UIL just this past weekend where you have to recognize a famous painting and write down the name and artist. He got 6th overall and was only dinged because you have to spell everything correctly and I couldn’t spell some of those things correctly. He plays tennis and is 100% into band. He plays the flute and we never have to ask him to practice, he just does it on his own every day. It’s amazing because he’s just never done this sort of thing. I asked why he’s putting so much effort into it and he said because he really enjoyed playing and wants to be good. That last bit is something 100% new for him.
Youssouf is in the 4th grade, is also really doing well in school, all A’s and an occasional B, lots of times in English. There’s words he still doesn’t know, which is weird considering he’s been home for such a long time, but I think that when you learn a language you really don’t fully learn it for 5 or 6 years. For example he knew what a license plate was, but didn’t know what it was called. Such a particular thing to know, but since he’s not driving, he had never had the opportunity to ask what that is. Regardless, he’s doing really well. Sports is still his jam and it doesn’t matter what it is, soccer, football, and basketball. He’d play others if he could. He’s still incredibly dominant in everything he plays. He’s 10 and wears a 10.5 shoe and is in the 99th percentile in height and weight. I think the difference with him is that he’s so coordinated with his movement and he’s so strong. We have a pull-up bar and he did 10 of them for fun and he’s constantly doing push-ups while watching television. It’s just sort of amazing. He’s a unicorn in a way.
I’m going to ask about you, but I want to back up a bit. When we last left, or it seems like it’s been that long, you were working for a large banking institution and helping people with the PPP loans.
Travis: Love your boys.
Yes, you are correct. I was at the big bank with the stagecoach for the last eight years (18 total) and I spent much of the spring and summer of 2020 processing PPP applications for small businesses. It was very tedious work but at the same time it was so rewarding. My role was like the final step so when I finished my work the loans were approved and it just felt really good to be pushing out those approvals to so many small businesses in need. I rounded up a team of about 40 or so bankers and we worked seven days a week for 12-14 hours a day processing approvals. I think the smallest approval I gave was something like $300. Sometimes late at night I’d scroll through the list of apps and it just seemed never ending, but we got them all through.
Unfortunately after we finished I was laid off. Fortunately though, two of my buddies from the banking world owned a tree service business and they needed help on the operations side so they let me buy in as 33% owner. It’s been a huge learning curve but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’d love to dig deeper into this but first, did you ever image SARR would ultimately end up as a chainsaw wielding bag man?
Seth: It was the natural progression for you to be a chainsaw wielding proper business owner. And we’ve basically reversed roles, I was in private practice for 17 years and have now entered the banking world, albeit on the trust department side of things and not for the retail side. I’ve seen you promote your new business venture on Twitter and it’s not just a business, it’s also a franchise that you’re trying to start up. So it would appear that you and your two buddies have figured out a way to not only have a business that’s sustainable, but a business that could be sustainable for other people looking to start their own business? What’s that process been like, starting your own business, including Action Junk Removal and Action Tree Service?
Travis: To be completely honest, they don’t let me anywhere near the chainsaws.
It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. I came onboard with the specific task of taking over the operations side of things and am in charge of all the behind the scenes stuff that makes a business work—HR, handbooks, training, all those sorts of things. I also handle marketing and advertising which has been really fun. I redesigned our logo and have had a lot of fun creating ads and stuff like that. But my biggest task has been in building the support system that guys on the front end—crew leaders and estimators—need to succeed. We’ve got virtual assistants who answer all the phones and handle scheduling, invoicing and much of the customer relations. I’ve found different systems and software we use to help with communications, video uploads and all the different ways to help generate more business.
I figured out pretty quickly that I was good at all that, or at least sufficient enough to be able to find a variety of ways to help the business run more smoothly. It was about that time that we started talking about ways that we could franchise the business. I figured that if I could come in as a soft-handed banker and run a tree service company, then there might be a lot of guys like me across the country that could do the same thing. It was sort of that same mindset that I had while processing all of those PPP loans—my focus turned to trying to figure out a way to help others start their own successful business.
So I began to build out the systems with an eye toward making the process replicable—like how McDonald’s does with their burger making process. It’s not exactly the same in this industry, but there are the big things that I could institute and pass along to franchisees, and help them all along the way.
We engaged a law firm to help create all the legal documents and to get us trademarked and registered in a variety of states and are now actively selling franchises. We feel strongly that we have a system in place that offers the necessary support to help a franchisee launch a business, market a business, and operate a business. All they need to do is lead their crew and we’ll handle almost everything else. So, do you think anyone would be interested in talking with me to learn more about the opportunity up where you stay?
Seth: Well, finding a good tree trimming service usually is at the corner of sketchy as hell and praying that disaster doesn’t strike, so yes, I’d definitely say that opportunities would abound in North Texas. I’ve seen enough YouTube videos to know how easily a tree job can lead to rebuilding a wing to your house because you misjudged the felling of a tree (did I use that term correctly?).
And speaking of YouTube, you’ve completely hijacked Cash and Cade’s YouTube channel. These bros just want to talk NBA hoops and you’re out here /me wildly flailing my arms/ posting tree removal and junk removal videos.
What’s the best part and scariest part of owning your own business? I know from my own experience it has always been a bit of freedom, but I never had the chance to experience that freedom because if I wasn’t billing, the firm wasn’t making money. It seems with your partners and support staff, you’ve maybe found the right mix?
Travis: You used it exactly correctly. And you’re right, the industry is full of guys that own a chainsaw and a pickup and operate what is essentially a chop shop. With the franchise, we’re trying to bring some structure and professionalism to the industry with standardized training, safety protocols, proper insurance coverage, etc. etc. etc. There is so much more to the business than felling a tree, it’s more about maintaining and preserving their beauty. One of the features that we are offering is we donate a portion of the franchise fee to the Arbor Day Foundation because we really believe in that.
And yes, I did take over their YouTube channel. I should probably create one separately for the business but I do need to show those boys how to really generate viral content.
The best part and scariest part of owning a business is probably the same thing—kinda like skydiving I guess. It’s complete freedom but you’re also always on the precipice of complete disaster. When I was in banking it was essentially a sales job and we’d try to just “move the ball,” with prospects. Just make progress. In owning a business, I can really see that progress. I love that at the end of most days I can look back and see real progress that I made for the business. I think of it like adding value. Cleaned up our CRM system? Progress. Made a connection with the Google Ads team? Progress. Found a new marketing tool at a reasonable price? Progress. Hired an experienced trimmer? Progress.
But on the flip side of that is the fear of failure because we’re responsible for feeding a lot of families. I just always try to remember that, especially when the procrastination monster tells me to just put off a task until tomorrow. All in all it’s the best decision my wife and I’ve ever made career wise and I love it. And I’m really hoping I can help others get to that point too with our franchises.
Seth: I don’t want to impede, but this is the real deal and if people want to contact you regarding your business, I presume they can call you up? SARR is open for business and ready to roll?!?!
And I think we’d be doing everyone a huge disservice if we didn’t talk a little bit of Texas Tech football. It’s been a roller coaster since Matt Wells was fired and I’ve been on the record enough regarding where I was. It was clear that things just weren’t working out despite the winning record. Terminating Wells when Kirby Hocutt maybe ended up being the best move in hindsight because it allowed the search committee to find the best candidates and then they were able to settle on Joey McGuire and have a coach in place, recruiting his tail off for the program while Sonny Cumbie coached the team? And with Cumbie getting his own chance to run his own program at Louisiana Tech, I don’t know if that opportunity happens if he isn’t given the opportunity to be the captain of this ship on an interim basis. And I absolutely love McGuire and what he’s done in a very short period of time, from the coordinators and coaches he’s hired to recruiting Texas and getting to know the team, just such a stark difference than the Wells era.
Travis: Heck yes. If anyone is interested let me know or go to Callactiontree.com for more information.
And yes, let’s talk a little football. I’m with you in that I love the McGuire hire. I saw last week he was tweeting pictures of all the local high schools he was visiting and everything he’s doing just seems to be really dialed into what Tech fans have been longing for. I also think it’s really cool with how things played out with Cumbie. Just seems like a lot of good dudes are getting their due.
I was never really thrilled with Wells but I also wasn’t anti-Wells, either. He was just kinda there I guess, which ultimately turned out to be how most viewed him. But I was really struck during the Houston game when the announcers talked about how he brought in a bunch of transfers to set the tone for the program. That was a huge red flag for me because if a head coach’s #1 job duty would seem to be to set the tone. You don’t pass that off on the players. He lost me that moment. I do think he’s a solid guy though and hope everything works out for him.
I remember back in early 2007 when I was still at the bank and I was traveling all the time. Part of the routine was for our teams to get together and basically eat, drink, party, whatever. It was a part of the job it seems. So we were all in Des Moines for a meeting and we did what we always did- we went out to the bars and ran up big tabs and just had fun “team building.” The next morning when we all got together for the day’s meeting, our boss came in and just ripped us apart for going out and spending money. It was so odd because we’d been doing it for over a year and there were so many times when he was right there with us, living it up until the early morning.
Somebody, maybe it was me, finally had the courage to ask what had changed—why were we suddenly in trouble when we had never been before? He started talking about cost cutting and how the landscape was going to get really rocky. He was basically telling us the financial collapse was coming 18 months before it did. What Kirby did reminded me of that time back in Des Moines. It seems as if he knew he had to make a move when he did to get the guy that would lead us into the future. Very cool stuff.
So this is great, doing these convos again. Really great.
Seth: I missed it too. It was one of the few personal things I did on the blog where we pulled back the curtain. There was just too much happening this past year and with kids having more things to do, I just don’t have as much time. So, in the spirit of gratitude, give me the top 5 specific things you’re grateful for this year and we’ll call it a day (I’ll do the same thing too and would ask our audience to do the same).
1. Grateful for two healthy beautiful boys, so incredibly diverse and so full of joy.
2. Grateful for an incredibly patient and loving wife.
3. Grateful for a new job and a great relationship with my former partner.
4. Grateful that my parents and I still live in the same town and that I get to see them all of the time.
5. Grateful for my own relative health and the ability to still run, which makes me so happy.
1. I’m grateful for my understanding wife. Neither of us are risk-takers but she’s been behind me 100% every step of the way on this new business venture.
2. I’m grateful for all three of my kids-their talents and quirks and how they believe in me.
3. I’m grateful for basketball. It’s broken my heart a few times over the last few years but it’s still such a huge part of all of our lives. Claire told us last week that she wants to play again. She said in a way she wishes that she didn’t because it would make it all easier, but she really wants to play. I feel the same way.
4. I’m grateful for trees
5. And I know this is cheesy, but I really love our two dogs- especially now that I’m working from home all the time. They keep me company.