Welcome to #HOMETOWNHUSTLE – a SweetwaterNOW exclusive series where we highlight hardworking individuals in our community.
This week, I had a chance to catch up with Keaton West, the Vice President of Sales & Service at the long-standing local business, Vaughn’s Plumbing & Heating.
Vaughn’s started out as a mom-and-pop shop back in 1963 under the vision of Vaughn & Lila Cross. They started out working from their home and quickly grew to a storefront, moving to various locations throughout the town.
“Through their determination and with the help of their (Vaughn & Lila’s) sons, together they’ve grown the business,” explained Keaton. “After two generational changes and 57 years of being in business, Kreston Cross and I have been tasked with taking over the reins as the 3rd generation, and after two very successful tenures by Vaughn & Lila, and their sons.”
Vaughn’s now offers service and sales for residential, commercial and industrial markets; and has become a mechanical contracting and construction company on large-scale new construction projects.
Vaughn’s is currently providing the plumbing and sheet-metal work for the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston, WY.
“It’s the largest job we’ve ever been awarded to date.”
As the Vice President of Sales & Service, Keaton has a variety of responsibilities – one of the most important, being to help lead their outstanding team of employees.
“With any management role, there’s always the difficult duties of hiring and firing, but collectively we all wear a lot of hats around here and lend a helping hand whenever and wherever we can. Although that all can be overwhelming at times, having key personnel in place helps streamline the day-to-day operations while ensuring we are efficient and accurate in our work. Without these individuals, a title is just a title. We are fortunate to have the team that we do,” said Keaton.
“I’ve always said there’s a difference between a boss and a leader; I prefer the latter.”
“We like to have fun here as well,” explained Keaton. “Laughter has an important calming effect that can turn someone’s day around or even start if off on the right foot. I encourage that and look forward to getting to know each employee. Vaughn’s is a family business and we treat our employees as such. Without our loyal customer base, we wouldn’t have the employees that we do. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customer. Eventually, everything will come full circle.”
The folks at Vaughn’s do have fun, but they have a passion for the job they do and strive to provide high-quality products and services to the community.
“Our mission is to improve the well-being of our customers by providing superior quality services and competitive pricing while ensuring we create a safe and enjoyable working environment for our employees. We make plenty of mistakes and will certainly never be perfect. But we learn from them and are always striving to be better.”
As you can imagine working through the ebbs and flows of the service and construction industry presents quite a few challenges.
“One week you’re struggling to find skilled help, the next you’re putting in the extra hours to make sure everyone has a job and is getting their hours.”
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In addition to the unpredictability of the industry, Vaughn’s must focus heavily on safety. A low safety rating can be the reason Vaughn’s is not awarded a job. “For a company of 50 employees, it only takes 1-2 injuries to drive that rating down,” explained Keaton. “So we invest in our employees pretty heavily by sending them to various trainings and reminding them that most accidents are preventable.”
For Keaton, business success is all about reaching goals while keeping morals intact.
“To me, business success is about running a profitable organization that conducts business with the utmost honesty and integrity, gives back to the community that has paved its path, and cultivates its employees so they may live a balanced and successful life.”
Beyond his duties at Vaughn’s Keaton is also very involved with our local community and government as a member of the Rock Springs City Council.
Although serving our community takes up some of Keaton’s free time, he enjoys being able to help make a difference.
“While being a member of the city council you are able to meet and work with a variety of talented individuals who at the end of the day all want to make the community a better place. You may not always agree with certain stances or decisions, but you should always have respect for the position, especially in higher office.
We have a community that bands together in times of need – I think that’s something to be proud of, and what keeps many of us here. Working with people who are proactive and passionate about making a difference is what it’s all about.”
With years of leadership experience and community involvement, I was curious to know how Keaton defines a good leader.
“The ability to lead through influence, rather than authority is the most important quality of a leader. Being inquisitive and using strong, open-ended questions to learn about staff, identify opportunities and threats to the business or organization and challenging employees to take risks, think critically, and increase engagement. A great leader is someone who does the right thing, even when it’s unpopular or difficult. It’s important to listen and respond to employee suggestions and use those ideas to grow the business. Doing so will help build relationships with customers and make each member feel valued as a person, and as a member of the team.”
There are also a few wise words of advice Keaton would like to share with aspiring business owners/managers/leaders – especially in the current climate of society where it seems every bad customer experience is posted on social media.
“Don’t stress about the things that are out of your control. If you focus on the things you can control, the others always seem to have a way of working themselves out. Be decisive, be confident, and stay humble. Admit when you’re wrong and learn from your mistakes. It’s important to be respectful, yet stern when you need to be. People will look-up to and appreciate you more.“
“Also, in today’s crazy social media world, find a way to develop some thick skin and do your best to disconnect at the end of each day. I sure do love reading all of the rants and raves online – thank you Facebook! Did I mention we aren’t perfect? Finding a way to disconnect is easier said than done, but there are more important things in life like your family and social life outside of the everyday business routine. Don’t let your stress affect those areas. Enjoy the short life we’ve been gifted and head into Monday with a new eagerness to win that next sale or improve that last service call. Orrrrrr, get into politics because going from complaints at the job to complaints in the political arena will build your skin thick enough to survive the Alaskan tundra!”