Meet Tommy Nelms of Sweeps & Ladders in Franklin, TN. Both a CSIA Board Member and Instructor, Tommy shares with us some ways he overcomes challenges and how his team keeps him motivated.
What is a question you get asked most about being a chimney sweep/chimney sweeping/the industry?
Are you scared of heights? The answer is no, but in my younger days I took some risks that were unnecessary. Thankfully we have had a lot of really good training like the CSIA Rope Access class. We understand, and are prepared to handle the difficult jobs safely without doing something risky! We say every day that there has never, is not, and will never be a chimney that is worth dying over. We break our morning meeting with the same saying," At the end of the day, everyone goes home."
How did you get started in the industry?
I was a career firefighter for the Franklin Fire Department, and like every other fireman I needed a side job. I had done a lot of different things, but I wanted to parlay my experiences from the fire department into a side job. It was ingrained in us at the fire department that "fire prevention starts with education." I wanted be a part of that process on my days off. What better way to continue that creed than in the chimney and venting industry? Every day I get to educate people about fire safety. You never know how many fires you can prevent simply by being educated and educating those around you.
What advice do you wish you had received when you were getting started?
I wish I would've started going to conventions and getting involved earlier. You hear it all of the time, but this is a very giving industry. People really want to help. Making connections with others that have given me advice or helped me correct or avoid mistakes has been so valuable.
What is the biggest challenge you face on the job? What are your best strategies for overcoming it?
For us it’s saying no. We want to help people and fix their problems, but sometimes you don't have the time, manpower or whatever. This is usually when you get yourself in a bind. We want to fix everyone’s problems and make them happy. As I have gotten older the saying "under promise and over deliver" becomes more and more real. Sometimes I think I have learned my lesson, but then you catch yourself falling into the same trap!
The thing that has been most effective for us has been establishing systems for everything. How we schedule appointments, how we sweep chimneys, how we raise ladders and so on. Stick to your system and remember there are reasons why you do business the way you do business. Thankfully, my wife is a genius and she is so good at stuff like this. The troubles start when we don't follow these guidelines. Establish the way you want your business to run, teach that to others and explain why you do it that way. These procedures and guidelines have made us more efficient and more profitable.
Who was your most famous customer?
We work in Music City, USA. We have had lots of famous customers!
Have you ever attended NCSG Annual Convention & Trade Show? If so, what was your favorite takeaway?
YES! The convention is a must do. I attended my first convention in Branson, MO and I have not missed one since. The classes are phenomenal, and the connections are invaluable. You show up thinking you have something figured out only to realize there are better ways. People are very willing to help, all you have to do is ask for it.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Personally, being a husband to a wife (Beka) that I do not deserve and a father to my two boys Boone-9 and Wyatt-7.
Professionally, my greatest accomplishment is watching and being a part in the growth of the people I have the privilege to work with. I have watched these men and women set goals, achieve them and then work for bigger things. I am so proud of all of them. We have a very young team. Some of them started working here in high school. Watching them grow into leaders, start families, buy houses, and overcome personal struggles has been incredible. It has been an honor to hopefully teach them some of the things that I had to learn the hard way. You hear a lot about their generation, and a lot of it is not flattering. I can tell you this. From what I have seen from my team- they will be just fine!
Have you ever had to make your own tool to solve a particular problem?
Absolutely! When chimneys are built (especially masonry) no one ever considered that at some point they will have to be worked on, and that causes problems for us. You have to make tools that can reach a far distance or that can get around bends. We've made a lot of different tools to grab the things that have been dropped (pocket knives, flashlights, drills, etc.).
Weirdest thing you have ever found in a chimney?
We found a really old arrow. It was wooden with real feathers for the fletching. That was quite an accomplishment having perfectly fall from the top down.
What do you like to do outside of work?
We enjoying spending time together as a family. Especially spending time outdoors hunting, fishing, etc. Nothing better than a relaxing day at the lake!
What is, in your opinion, the most valuable part of being a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild?
Relationships and the support from the members and staff. It is very comforting knowing that there are a lot of people out there that are willing to help you succeed. It you are in a situation that you find difficult, chances are that there is a fellow NCSG member that has been through it. The NCSG staff is amazing, and always willing to help. If they do not have the answer they will more than likely know someone that will. The TAC line is amazing!
Thanks, Tommy! If you or someone you know should be featured in the next Meet a Member, send an email to Annemarie Stockton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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