Spanaway Veteran Mechanic Finds Success In a Cool Business

An employee of TRS readies a work truck for daily operations

Life in the military tends to ingrain a sense of self-discipline and often times a leadership style that is essential as an entrepreneur. In fact, nearly 2.5 million veterans in the U.S. find owning their own business to be a natural fit for them.

However, even with seven years in the U.S. Navy and a background that fit the scope of his father’s recently started business, Clay Hand admitted he had no idea what to do when it came to running a business.

Hand is now the president of TRS Mechanical, a construction and HVAC/refrigeration service company in Spanaway, Washington, which employs 25 staff. He is also a recent graduate of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Emerging Leaders program. “The biggest obstacle at times was myself; I needed the opportunity to learn,” Hand said. “I knew how to do the things that I had been doing, but I didn’t know the things that I needed to be doing. Emerging Leaders helped me understand what those things were.”

The SBA Emerging Leaders program is a “mini-MBA” training initiative for local business on the brink of growth. The program is a seven-month executive education series that includes approximately 100 hours of classroom time, connects small business owners with a network of industry experts and peers, and supports the creation of a three-year strategic growth action plan.

Hand said his father started the business in 1995, about the same time he left the military. He began working for his father after a few years of training and apprenticing with another local company.

“As we began hiring on more people, I moved into a management position,” Hand said. “We also hired on my wife, who is now the vice president, as our first dispatcher.”

As the business grew and Hand’s managerial responsibilities increased, he wanted to find more information on how to run the business side of things.

“I had been searching for ways to educate myself,” Hand said. “I have no college degree; we are truly the American dream in that we built this company solely from a lot of hard work, but I needed education on strengthening the business itself.”

Hand received an email about the free course offered by the SBA and decided to apply.

“It has been a great opportunity,” Hand said. “I think the biggest help was the change in mindset of working on the business, rather than in the business; smart goals that will get me to the growth that I want, and to stop focusing so much on the less important aspects.”

Hand formally took the position of president and ownership of the company just a few months before the end of the Emerging Leaders course, though they had been working on the transition for more than a year.

Part of the seven-month program requires developing a three-year growth plan, one which Hand said has drastically changed his outlook on the future of the business.

Hand said they plan to double the size of the business within three years; and, become a major contender as a construction and HVAC/refrigeration service company within 10 years.

He said the biggest thing he wishes he had learned sooner was the mindset of working on the business, rather than just working in it.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the great team of people we have here, but once I learned how to focus on developing the business, that made a big difference,” he said. “Learning that if I’m intentional about the choices I make, focused around smart goals, I’ll increase my likelihood of achieving those goals that I set for the business.”

For more information about the SBA Emerging Leaders program, visit www.sba.gov/EmergingLeaders. For more information about TRS Mechanical, visit www.trsmechanical.com.

Company Name: 
TRS Mechanical
Location: 
Spanaway, Washington