Florida’s economy was one of the hardest hit by the recent recession, but Patrick Kennedy must not have gotten the memo. President of the Mister Sparky – Sarasota franchise in Sarasota, Fla., Kennedy’s approach to customer service, his employees, and marketing have helped his company grow 375% during the past three years. This tremendous increase in one of the country’s most troubled markets earned the franchise a spot on Inc. magazine’s Top 5000 Fastest Growing Companies, coming in at No. 883.

“This is the third time we’ve made Inc.’s list of the fastest growing privately held companies,” says Kennedy. “What many people don’t realize is that this time we came in No. 33 nationwide in the Construction category. “We have also been recognized as one of the fastest growing Mister Sparky franchises in the country for the last three years in a row.”

Patrick Kennedy, president of Mister Sparky – Sarasota in Sarasota, Fla., helped his franchise grow 375% over the past three years and earn a spot on Inc. magazine’s Top 5000 Fastest Growing Companies.

While these accomplishments are impressive, they become even more so considering Kennedy doesn’t hold a business degree or even a high school diploma. This is because the Dublin, Ireland, native began his career at the age of just 14.

“The part of Dublin I lived in was very blue collar, and at that time all the kids wanted to become tradesman,” he recalls. “I was lucky enough to be offered a job in a nearby factory. I received excellent technical training in Ireland, and I became a journeyman electrician when I was 19 years old.”

Soon after, Kennedy decided to take his electrical skills on the road, working and living in places such as Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Little did he know, a brief visit to the United States would change the course of his life forever.

“I arrived in New York two days before St. Patrick’s Day 1985, and here I am 27 years later,” he laughs. “It’s been a wonderful journey so far, and it’s far from over.”

Like many electricians, Kennedy spent several years working for different construction companies before deciding to strike out on his own. After six years of self-employment, however, he says he became burned out.

“I was working seven days a week, putting in way too many hours, and I was hardly making any money,” he notes. “I felt too stressed out, so I gave up the business and took a break to visit Ireland.”

Upon returning to the United States, Kennedy decided to give entrepreneurship another go. This time, he did some research before setting up shop again.

“A friend of mine owned a plumbing business that was strictly service-oriented,” he notes. “I studied his business model and thought I could apply it to the electrical contracting industry, doing only residential service work. I went for it, founding the original Mister Sparky in 1996 in Atlanta. I didn’t think there was a huge demand for what I was offering, but I was wrong.”

Several years and much success later, he sold the business and partnered with Clockwork Home Services to franchise Mister Sparky across the United States.

“Because I love this business so much and know it so well, I eventually decided to buy my own franchise,” he says. “I started the Sarasota-based Mister Sparky five years ago.”

Just because he’s Irish, Kennedy has not relied on luck to ensure his success. Instead, he sticks to a formula that includes excellent customer service, top-notch employees, and an aggressive advertising campaign.

“When it comes to customer service, we don’t have one or two things that set us apart from the competition,” he explains. “Instead, we do lots of little things very well, and we do them consistently.”

One of these details requires office employees — including Kennedy — to keep a mirror on their desks that they smile into before answering the phone.

“It might sound kind of funny, but I believe people can tell when there’s a smile in someone’s voice, and that’s what I want our customers to hear when they call us,” he says.

Field employees are also held to stringent standards, including wearing a uniform comprised of a pressed white shirt, charcoal gray slacks, and black shoes that are polished each morning. They also are expected to maintain neatly trimmed hair and arrive clean-shaven every morning.

“The public often expects tradesmen to look ‘rough around the edges,’ which is unfortunate, because they are wonderful, talented people,” Kennedy says. “We want our electricians to dispel this misconception when they show up at a customer’s door. This means we spend a great deal of time training employees, and I spend roughly 30% of my time recruiting open-minded, high-quality people.”

Another way Kennedy sets his company apart from the competition is to ensure on-time service.

“We block our appointments in a short window, typically one to two hours” he says. “We take being on time crazy seriously, and right now we are running 99.2% on time. Our slogan is: ‘We’re on time you’ll see or the repair is free.’ If we run late, no matter what the repair the customer needs, it’s done free of charge.”

Other measures taken to encourage customer satisfaction include giving a flower to the lady of the house on Mother’s Day and randomly bringing apple pies on service calls.

“I try to think outside the box,” says Kennedy. “So while our customers are very important, unlike many companies, I put my employees first. The reasoning behind this is that our employees have to wow the customers the first time out. If they don’t, then our referrals and repeat business will dry up. Right now, 53% to 55% of our business is repeat clientele, so I think this approach is working.”

Kennedy also believes in spending money on advertising, despite the initial investment.

“I’m aggressive when it comes to advertising, and that’s something many electrical contractors are uncomfortable with,” he says. “I get that. Advertising can be scary, because you’re putting a lot of money into a campaign, and you don’t know what the return will be. But more often than not, the risk is worth the reward. Entrepreneurs simply cannot afford to neglect the marketing side of their business.”

Kennedy also encourages those just starting or considering starting their own electrical contracting company — or any business — to stop and take a deep breath before diving in.

“Do your homework,” he advises. “Don’t price your services based on the going market rate, or you might end up sabotaging your profits. I’ve been guilty of doing this. Instead, do extensive cost analysis so you know your bottom line. These days, I don’t compete on price — I compete on service!”