Spend a few minutes with Jaimi Lomas and you'll realize you're not dealing with a run-of –the-mill general manager who does everything by the book. That's not how Lomas operates. She's full of energy that's contagious as she zips up and down the halls of A.O. Reed, answering questions and giving direction to employees, while not missing a beat with our conversation. She is a trailblazer with style, charisma and finesse.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Lomas. She got her start in the HVAC industry more than 20 years ago at a small company, selling maintenance contracts. When she started, the company was under new ownership and the previous owner told her that there's "No way a woman was going to make it in the construction industry." "One day, they were going to take me on a rooftop to do a survey, and the owner wouldn't allow it. He said I was too much of a liability on the rooftop because I was female," Lomas explains.
It was decided that Lomas would perform the surveys by driving to the top of hills around the buildings so that she could count the number of packaged units on the rooftops. If there weren't packaged units on the buildings, then Lomas was to go inside and count the thermostats. It was deterrents such as that which led to Lomas's marathon runner-like endurance and motivation to succeed beyond everyone's expectations. She ended up being a top maintenance contractsales person at that company.
Lomas sold maintenance contracts for 13 years and was the leading sales person at two companies. Looking for something more than just selling maintenance, Lomas started to think about getting out of the business. The service manager at A.O. Reed approached her and offered her a position in sales. "I was just burned out on selling maintenance contracts," she says. "I didn't want to sell maintenance for the rest of my life, I wanted a challenge where I could grow."
In May 1997 Lomas accepted the position at A.O. Reed under the terms that she would start out selling maintenance contracts and then move in to a sales manager position. With A.O. Reed's encouragement and support, Lomas grew quickly and was promoted to sales and marketing manager in just over one year. Over the next decade, Lomas grew the sales team from 4 to 11 sales people selling HVAC and plumbing maintenance agreements, HVAC projects, and plumbing projects.
Lomas was instrumental in the growth of the service division at A.O. Reed and was promoted to her current position as general manager in 2008. Thanks to her efforts from sales to general manager, the department has grown at a rate of 17% per year.
"When we started out," Lomas explains, "we only did about a half million in sales. Now we're doing about $15 million in sales." She currently manages a staff of 70 service plumbers and HVAC technicians, as well as 20 people in-house in sales, management, and administrative staff.
If You Can Think It, We Can Do It
Lomas and her crew are always coming up with new projects and new ideas to grow their business. A few years back they decided that they should start getting into the energy field. "We developed a relationship with our local utility company and I hired an energy manager," Lomas explains. The energy side of the business really took off from there and A.O. Reed won the 2010 San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) Energy Showcase Award for being “Industry Champions.”
Lomas attributes her success to being curious. "If you were to ask my crew, they'd say my strengths are creativity and curiosity. I'm curious about everything. There's not a week that goes by that I'm not reading sales books and management books, or searching the Internet for the next big thing to get into."
There's really no limit to where Lomas finds new ideas. "I sat next to a guy from the elevator union on an airplane last week and started asking him questions to find out what he's doing on the energy side of things. I asked him to have his business manager contact me. Today I have a contractor from one of the elevator service companies coming in to talk to us about how we can incorporate elevators into our energy projects. I'm always asking questions."
Lomas and her team have expanded into building technologies. "We're creating smart buildings. We're integrating all the different systems into one management tool that a property manager can access on an iPad. The iPad is included as part of the project," Lomas says. "I always try to see things from the client's point of view. I think 'if I was the client, what would I want?' We want our clients to look like heroes in their client's eyes. If they look good, we look good."
Lomas attributes a lot of her success in sales to her involvement in industry organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).
"I've lived and breathed BOMA for almost 20 years. I've always been on the board or chaired a committee in the organization," she says. "BOMA advocates on behalf of the Commercial Real Estate business both locally and nationally, which ultimately affects our business. There's not a day that goes by that I'm not involved in or planning a BOMA activity. In order to get the most out of any association you need to just jump in and get involved. BOMA has helped me understand how to help our customers achieve their goals."
Lomas is also on the marketing committee in Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA). "This group has been invaluable to me as far as mentoring goes," she says. "I can email any one of them and ask for help. It can be something as simple as where to find a part or a union question. The brightest minds in the industry are involved in MSCA. The information I gain at the annual conference keeps me motivated and charged up all year."
Lomas took her love of teaching outside of work as part of the Big Sister mentoring organization in San Diego. "When my two kids went to college, I got into being a Big Sister. Lomas has 3 "little sisters" that she has mentored for the past four and a half years. "That's really a huge part of my life. The girls have lived with us for periods of time. It's more than just mentoring. They stay with us on the weekends; they have their own rooms at our house."
"It's a real challenge, but I always think if I could influence them enough to stop them from repeating the cycle, then I've made a difference," she says.
When it comes to running a successful service division, Lomas does things her own way, and it works. "I send a box of fudge to every new maintenance client," she says. "I don't golf so I've taken clients out for massages, pizza parties, and things like that. I've never had a client call after a sales call and say 'she isn’t an expert on air conditioning or plumbing.' I have 70 guys in the field who are experts; I don't need to be. What I need to know is how to treat the customer."
Lomas came up with a customer loyalty programs where clients are rewarded for their loyalty with special incentives and additional services at no charge. "It makes the customer happy and it keeps them coming back. Staying focused on the customers is what we’re all about."
"My passion," Lomas explains, "is growing individuals by tapping into what excites and motives them. I do my best to keep it personal as much as I can while still trying to look for creative ways to grow the business."
Lomas has proven that she's a born leader, with a track record of proven success in the HVAC business. For that Contracting Business magazine is proud to present Jaimi Lomas with the 2011 HVAC Woman of the Year Award.