Carrying on

Features - Irrigation

The owner of Millenium Irrigation took ownership of her husband’s company after he lost his battle with cancer.

January 18, 2013
Lindsey Getz

Irrigation started as a side business for Gregg Poe. But, he did it so well, his reputation as a troubleshooter continued to build him a following in the field. By 2009, it became obvious that the work could become a full-time job, and with his wife Carla’s help, Millenium Irrigation was launched. It wasn’t terribly long after that when Gregg was diagnosed with lung cancer and those plans would need to change. Though he lost the battle with the disease, Poe has carried on the Atlanta company’s mission, creating a legacy that is supporting Gregg’s dream.

As the owner of Millenium Wiring, a wiring company that was contracted with Comcast, Gregg got his experience repairing damaged irrigation lines that were hit in the field during wiring work. Over time, he learned so much that he started installing and repairing irrigation systems as a side business. Since his start was based around repairs, he became known as a good troubleshooter. Poe says he was the guy that would never back down from a challenge. He began tackling a lot of tough repair jobs that other contractors didn’t want to attempt.

In 2009, Atlanta was hit with a severe drought and the number of calls Gregg was getting began to increase significantly. There just weren’t as many irrigation companies in business and Gregg had proven himself as effective and reliable. That was when he started to think about going full-time. That same year, Gregg launched Millenium Irrigation. Not long after, the water restrictions were lifted and Gregg was in an excellent position. But just as business began to really take off, Gregg got some life-changing news. He had lung cancer.

“During the course of Gregg’s treatment, we began preparing for what was inevitable for our business – I would be taking over,” Poe says. “My specialty was marketing and that’s where I’d always helped out, but I had to become completely educated in everything from design to auditing. I knew how the systems worked but I’d never sat down to design one. Gregg walked me through everything.”

Saying goodbye.
During Poe’s crash course in irrigation, Gregg was fighting the battle of his life. While Gregg responded well to treatment initially, the cancer came back and he did not respond to the second bout of treatment he received. He was put on hospice July 2, 2011, and passed away July 12 at only 41 years old. He would have been 42 on July 22.

There’s an app for that

Carla Poe is using technology to improve customer service.

Nowadays, there seems to be an app for everything, which inspired Carla Poe, CEO of Millenium Irrigation, to create a scheduling app for her company. While it’s still pretty new, the app is already getting noticed by customers. It facilitates easy communication between the company and its clients.

Poe says that her husband Gregg, who was co-founder of the company and passed away from lung cancer in July 2011, was always saying “there’s an app for that.” That memory inspired her to create a custom app for the company.

“It’s just a very simple thing for both new and existing customers to schedule with us,” Poe says. “We ask the customer how they prefer to be contacted – on the phone or via email. We try to accommodate everyone’s needs.”

Using a build-it-yourself program online, Poe says that it was an inexpensive endeavor to build her app. The app will serve as another way for customers to contact Millenium. Since everyone nowadays seems to have a smartphone, Poe says that for many, it’s an easier way to get in touch. “People love using apps,” she says. “I thought it was a great opportunity for us to have one. It’s just another way to help us stand out from the crowd.”

The app is available on Android and iPhone. “I’ve always thought of it as a tool to connect and communicate with clients, but it may also be a way to gain new ones,” Poe says.

“If you’re on your phone and searching irrigation apps, ours just may pop up. That could potentially get us new business. It’s an opportunity to take advantage of the technology available.”

“When I told my guys that Gregg wasn’t going to make it, the big question was: ‘Do we keep doing this?’” Poe says. “If we did, we knew we had to do it like Gregg would have and that meant radiating the energy and the excellent customer service that he always offered. So that’s what we’ve done.”

In keeping with Gregg’s initial mission, Poe puts an emphasis on providing the very best customer service. “We are trying to build customers for a lifetime,” she says. “That was part of Gregg’s legacy for this company.”

Poe says that she and the employees get to know customers on a personal level. They’re always available for follow-ups and keep in regular contact with clients. “Our customers have become like our extended family,” she says.

While the primary focus is residential work, Millenium also does some commercial jobs. But Poe says they are hand-picked. “We’re a small company so we are selective about what commercial work we choose to take on,” she says. “I really try to choose jobs that mean something. We have a close relationship with our residential clients and we also try to select commercial work that is meaningful. For instance, we’re doing the Girl Scouts of America. I take into consideration what Gregg might have done with each job.”

Millenium also handles quite a lot of repair work, as that’s where Gregg got his start and built the company’s reputation. “The difficult stuff that nobody else wants to mess with has sort of become our niche,” Poe says. “Gregg never gave up. He always figured out the tough jobs and that’s the attitude that our guys have. If they have a tough day I remind them that Gregg never gave up – even when he was dying – and they take that to heart. We’ve become known for those difficult repairs that require a lot of troubleshooting.”

Stepping up. Poe started a facebook page called “Wear Pearls in November for Lung Cancer” (clear or “pearl” is the color for lung cancer awareness) and continues to work with the Lung Cancer Alliance on fundraising. Prior to Gregg’s passing, in 2010, $5 of every sale was donated to the Lung Cancer Alliance during Smart Irrigation Month in July. Last year, all employees and their significant others participated in the “No More Excuses Run/Walk” to raise lung cancer awareness. As a team they raised more than $5,000.

It hasn’t been easy taking over full reign of the company that was once shared by the couple, but Poe has had a lot of success at the helm. She brought in her sister to help run the office, and recently named Chris Faulkner, a long time employee and Gregg’s assistant, as COO. She says that while many businesses have found that working with family doesn’t click for them, it always worked for her and Gregg, and is now working for her and her sister.

Even though Gregg told her the business was “her baby now,” she’s carrying it on in a way that she knows Gregg would have respected. “An amazing man is no longer here anymore but because of him, I have this great business,” she says. “He helped me build it, and now I feel confident I can do it. We are carrying on in a way that would have made Gregg proud.”

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