Bryce Johnson is president of Air Conditioning by Jay, a $4 million residential service and repair HVAC contracting firm in Phoenix, AZ. He is a member of Contracting Business magazine's Editorial Advisory Board.
Contracting Business: What's the biggest challenge you face in your business?
Bryce Johnson: The standard answer is people. However, while many companies have a hard time finding qualified people, I think a bigger challenge is being able to assess your current personnel and having the wisdom and the courage to weed out those who just aren't stellar performers. It can be tough to spot mediocrity during the hiring process. We're careful. We do personality profiling, aptitude and technical testing, and multiple interviews with key people. But, ultimately, you never know what an individual is made of until the honeymoon is over and he or she has worked with you for a while.
You're not in the rehab business. When you recognize that you have someone who's not a champion, you have to be willing to jettison that person quickly.
CB: What's your outlook for the residential HVAC industry in general?
BJ: We see a raising of the bar in terms of the number of good competitors. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things out there now, more so than even just 10 years ago. Slowly but surely we're seeing people do a better job with the basics of properly sizing, designing, engineering and commissioning residential comfort systems. So that's a positive trend that bodes well for the future.
Also, I think some of the climate change issues may affect us. We're seeing strange weather patterns all over the country, and that's obviously something to watch in an industry that's still largely weather-driven.
CB: What's the best thing about the HVAC industry?
BJ: The opportunity to serve people. In addition to our external customers, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of the people we work with ever day. I think we have an awesome responsibility as far as coaching people. You need a vision for your business, and a desire to bring people to a higher level and help them grow in line with that vision. That's a big challenge. It's also an ongoing challenge, because even when you've assembled a great group of individuals, you still have to coach them to work well together.
CB: What's the best advice you ever received in this industry?
BJ: Jump in and gain your experience early. Starting and building a small business can be very stressful, and it's probably best to deal with the worst of that stress while you're young and your heart can still take it.
CB: How have you made your business successful?
BJ: Trust. One of the keys we've identified is what drives the economic engine in our business. At Air Conditioning By Jay, there are two groups of people who are primarily responsible for the majority of our revenues. They're whom we call clients and advocates. To explain who these people are, we'll start at the beginning. When trying to find new customers, we might send out a targeted mailing to a certain demographic, or “suspects.” When suspects respond with a phone call seeking more information they become prospects. Once we actually work with a prospect, he or she becomes a customer. Customers who come back to us exclusively are clients. And clients who tell their friends about us, and help us find new business, are advocates. Clients and advocates are the individuals who have played the largest role in bringing us to where we are today, and they'll also be the base we build upon for the future. You don't ever want to be so busy chasing new business that you compromise the trust of those two groups.
CB: What advice would you give to someone considering entering the HVAC industry?
BJ: Don't do it in Phoenix, We’ll bury you. No, I'm just kidding.
Really, I think the most important advice I would give to anyone, whether they're just entering the industry or if they've been in it for 20 years, is to take some time to develop a business plan and set goals. Then stay focused on your plan. Be careful about silver bullets and miracle cures for your business. Stay focused on the fundamentals. Serve your customers, both internal and external, well, and always be there for them.
You can reach Bryce Johnson at 480/922-4455.