Bill Gallagher, president of Connecticut-based Summer Rain Sprinkler Systems, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – certainly a far cry from what he does today. After coming face to face with a serious illness, Gallagher decided to pursue a different career path. Something a little less stressful and that he could call his own.
Today he’s built a successful irrigation business that custom designs, installs and services turf and shrub irrigation systems. Summer Rain Sprinkler Systems has been honored as one of the top 100 irrigation companies in the country by the Irrigation Association. And while this successful business hasn't allowed Gallagher to cut back on the amount of hours he puts in, he says he loves being part of the green industry and that’s made all the difference.
“In the mid-70s, when I graduated, the federal government wasn’t hiring,” recalls Gallagher. “So I applied to state and local law enforcement agencies. I took a position on the local force in Greenwich, Conn.”
While working as a police officer, Gallagher talked to a friend who was having trouble finding a good irrigation company. The friend claimed that people weren’t returning his calls or proving reliable. That’s when the idea of getting into the irrigation business started to stick in Gallagher’s mind. Around the same time he went through a life-changing bout with cancer.
“I decided to give the irrigation business a shot,” says Gallagher. “It was something I had thought would allow me to be home a little more – at least at night. I went to school in Dallas to learn the trade and started the business by myself. We’ve come a long way since then. Now we have about 60 trucks. The moral of the story is that you never know what God has in store for you.”
With the rapid pace at which Gallagher’s business has grown since its inception in 1980, it hasn’t been something that’s allowed him to be home more, he admits. But it’s certainly something he enjoys. “Little did I know that I’d be in the office before 4 a.m. and get home late in the evening,” he says. “I am fortunate to have a wife that is very understanding. But I don’t get home at midnight anymore like when I was working the force. And when it’s your own business, it’s more enjoyable. You have a different mindset about going to work each day and putting the long hours in.”
Adding revenue streams
Summer Rain Sprinkler Systems, which brought in about $10 million in sales last year, focuses primarily on residential work – about 90 percent. And while the business is about 90 percent irrigation work, Gallagher did add a lighting segment 10 years ago that has helped bring in additional revenue. He says it was a good match for the company since the work already required them to be in the ground. Since bringing some electricians on board, the company has gotten involved in doing in-home lighting as well.
Gallagher says his entrepreneurial spirit has always kept him busy looking for new ways to bring in revenue. But he also seeks out new revenue strategies because he values his employees so much. He keeps them on board year round.
“We have a storage room at our facility and have been considering other things we can do to fill a void in the winter,” Gallagher says. “We do carry people all winter, as well as their insurance. One of the things about carrying good quality people is that it does cost a fair amount of money. But for me, having the right employees are a critical part of the business.”
Growing with good people
Over the years Gallagher has built up his business by bringing in people that he knew. He believes that a good business is all about having the right people behind it. “I started by myself but eventually brought my brother-in-law into the business,” he says. “Then as we grew, we started to recruit friends and family – and friends and family of people we knew. Not just for management positions but for laborers, too. To me, it’s all about having good people. It’s not just about knowledge – I can teach them the trade. It’s about having a good quality base of people to surround the business with.”
Today Gallagher has a range of employees on staff including plumbers, electricians and even auto mechanics. He says that everyone benefits from having a range of skill sets on hand. “In the winter, the auto mechanics will also service all of our equipment and machines to make sure they’re up and working for the season,” Gallagher says. “But they’re also on the road doing service calls and openings and closings. They have brought their skills to the company but also learned a new trade – something we’ve all benefited from.”
But it’s the exceptional customer service that Gallagher believes really sets his business apart. He believes in having someone personally answer the phone to take customer calls and also has 10 employees in the office who solely dedicate themselves to managing customer accounts. He says that customers notice the special attention and that it helps him stand out in a crowded marketplace. After all, the whole catalyst behind Gallagher getting into the industry in the first place was witnessing the frustration of a friend who couldn’t get an irrigation company to return his calls. Gallagher set out from the beginning to be different.
“We’re extremely focused as far as our customer service is concerned,” he says. “If anyone has any form of emergency, they’ll typically see someone from our company within 10 or 15 minutes of their call. We’re a same-day type of service company. We’d never leave a customer hanging. We always get back to them. I honestly don’t go home until I answer all my calls and we always remind our employees to do the same. That effort has really paid off. We love what we do and I think it shows. I’m really proud of our people and our company.”
This is one of three stories that appeared in Lawn & Landscape’s Water Works e-newsletter. To continue reading about Bill Gallagher and Summer Rain Sprinkler Systems:
In the field: Why Bill Gallagher spends his days beside his employees and customers.
Natural fit: Lighting can nicely complement irrigation services.