Gordy Noe left with General Manager Mike Conley They met at teeball became friends and are now partners at Pioneer Heating amp Air Conditioning Terry McIver

Gordy Noe, left, with General Manager Mike Conley. They met at tee-ball, became friends, and are now partners at Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning.

National HVAC Contractor of the Year Charts a Course of Excellence

Pioneer’s marketing plan includes attention to inbound marketing opportunities provided by an Internet presence and a realization that consumers want to know the quality of reputation of prospective service providers.

The team from Pioneer Heating

Our 2017 Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year has devoted every minute of his professional life to excellence in HVAC contracting and the best in customer service. He is Gordy Noe, founder and president of Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning, Knoxville, Tenn.

Gordy Noe (pronounced no-ee) entered the HVAC service industry directly out of high school. He was hired by Knoxville-based Leopold & Orr, where his father Tom was employed as a plumber. The work provided Gordy with great exposure to both the plumbing and HVAC trades, and although he was adept at and enjoyed plumbing, he felt a stronger pull to the HVAC side. After a time at Leopold & Orr, he joined a utility company, and later was hired by another business as an HVAC technician.

In 1981, a coworker convinced Noe to team up to go into business. The partnership didn’t last very long, however, Gordy persisted, and stuck it out alone to build the fledgling business. As a single man, he had plenty of time, and lots of ideas to make it a successful enterprise. His dad had retired by this time, and for a few years, he helped out, with advice, guidance and occasional technical help with the company’s minimal plumbing work.

Many discussions between father and son contributed to Gordy’s knowledge and business sense, with one thing taking precedence over everything else: the customer always comes first.

Dad Tom Noe’s quest for perfection rubbed off on his son and it remains part of Gordy’s nature today.

“I always felt like he was a perfectionist and I guess when I was real young I probably didn’t really know the difference, but it rubbed off on me,” Gordy says. “He always wanted to go into business for himself, but he was always afraid to do that so he never did. When he retired he kind of operated somewhat on the side during retirement for a few years. And I guess with him wanting to do that and never did, maybe I thought that I needed to.”

PIONEER MANAGEMENT TEAM

  • Gordy Noe - President
  • Mike Conley - General Manager
  • Lisa Davidson - Office, Administrative Manager
  • Chris Noe - Sales, Install Manager
  • Austin Noe - Generator, Install Manager
  • Allen Graham - Service Manager
  • Vickie Gibbons - Routine Maintenance Manager

Many discussions between father and son contributed to Gordy’s knowledge and business sense, with one thing taking precedence over everything else: the customer always comes first.

“If he went on a call, whether it was for the company he worked for or for himself after he retired, they were taken care of, even if he didn’t get paid for it. And I guess that probably rubbed off a little bit.

Gordy’s commitment to the customer was always paramount, despite the many challenges faced by a business owner with big dreams. In those early days, the biggest hurdle to clear was maintaining capital to keep the business running.
A section of the Pioneer showroom. It includes product samples, and project photos are also on display.

“It’s our policy that we take care of the customer’s needs no matter what it takes, and money is secondary. If we do the first one, we’ll make the second one,” he says.

Gordy’s commitment to the customer was always paramount, despite the many challenges faced by a business owner with big dreams. In those early days, the biggest hurdle to clear was maintaining capital to keep the business running.

“At first we didn’t have any money. I admit that it was a long shot. I also wasn’t as knowledgeable as I needed to be to enter into business,” Noe admits. “I feel that happens to most people who go into business, young or old. On top of that, we were entering a recession.  The recession didn’t affect us much because we didn’t have any money to start with, but I never knew until several years later how much it helped me in business to learn how to operate in a recession. So, when another recession came along years later, we didn’t have a lot of trouble getting through it because we had learned to operate that way to start with. I don’t want to do it again, but I kind of feel like we could if we had to.”

Pioneer’s marketing plan includes attention to inbound marketing opportunities provided by an Internet presence and a realization that consumers want to know the quality of reputation of prospective service providers.

Starting out, Noe hired subcontractors to install the HVAC systems he sold. Air conditioning and heating was about to enter a great period of growth, recession notwithstanding, as old technology made way for newer and much improved products.

Conley says Noe believes in empowering employees. “He’ll say, ‘This is where I want to go,’ and then he’ll step aside and let you, his employees, lead their way down those paths."
Visitors to the office see a packed trophy case.
The office includes photographs of all employees.

“Back then we’d put in a lot of full duct systems, so we took out a lot of window units. I couldn’t count how many seal heat systems I unhooked. That’s almost unheard of now. Very few people today live on a window unit and very few people still have sealed heat or baseboard heat. It’s mainly replacement or new construction these days,” he says. Three years on, Gordy saw it was time to begin a service division to assist him and his installers.

“So then we operated with one serviceman and myself, and I was the only salesmen probably for the first five years. Then I’m going to say probably at about the five, six year mark, is probably when I had to hire someone to sell full time instead of my working during the day and going out at night to sell. Then eventually we had two service technicians and then three, and over a period of 36 years we’ve blossomed from that, to say the least.”

General Manager Mike Conley entered the picture in the fall of 2010, a short time after he and Gordy met at a youth T-ball practice. Conley had moved to Knoxville since 1997, and was working in his wife’s family’s home building business. He would often hire Pioneer to install the HVAC systems in new homes.

“Then came the housing crash of 2008. Gordy offered me a job because the housing market was not doing very well. I thought about it for about four days, and the rest is kind of history,” Conley says.

Conley has always been impressed by Noe’s commitment to company employees. "Everything’s set aside to make sure the employees have everything that they need,” Conley says. “We talk about it a lot, and I’ve learned this from him over the years, that these are not just employees, it’s a family. We don’t have 45 employees, we have families — husbands and wives and kids — and that’s the thing that drives us every day.”

Conley adds that Noe believes in empowering employees. “He’ll say, ‘This is where I want to go,’ and then he’ll step aside and let you, his employees, lead their way down those paths. I know very few employers who are like that. Most will want to micromanage, but Gordy is the opposite of that. He shares a vision and lets everyone get there in their own way,” he says.

Gordy and his wife Ethel have two sons, both of whom who work in the company— Chris, 29 and Austin, 27. Chris is sales manager, and he also oversees installations and operations. Austin works in the company’s generator division and also works with installations. Both young men have been a part of Pioneer since their early teens, and plan to remain into the future.

Gordy Noe is a believer in North American Technician Excellence certification. "We keep all of our technicians up-to-date on NATE certifications. Sometimes, they’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops to try to stay up with the standards and make sure they got all the credits that they need. If we find that somebody has not met their requirements, we drop what we’re doing and go get that done.'

Marketing Programs Work Hard, Too
As general manager, Mike Conley handles marketing and oversight of other departments and Pioneer’s financial status. In issues related to customer service, he says the team follows prearranged protocol to prevent problems from escalating.

“I put time and effort into making sure things don’t get out of control. I’ve been on jobs where there have been problems but it’s not a high demand. We concentrate on making sure we take care of it.”

Noe, Conley and the entire management team strive to reach the utmost levels of professionalism, through training programs designed to ensure customer satisfaction, creative management procedures and more.

In areas of personal appearance, company uniforms are required, and there is a dress code. Trucks are clean and wrapped with an attractive design.Continuous training is offered for service technicians, office personnel, sales reps, installers, managers and supervisors.

A lifetime workmanship guarantee is offered on all installations, up to five year parts and labor warranty on all service repairs. Call back satisfaction check to all customers, including potential customers after the estimate, after the sale, after each service repair and preventative maintenance. Customers are given the opportunity to evaluate the team online or by calling the office.

Pioneer’s marketing plan includes attention to inbound marketing opportunities provided by an Internet presence and a realization that consumers want to know the quality of reputation of prospective service providers.
Gordy Noe: 'I can't wait to get up and go to work every day.'

“We use the internet as one of the types of different advertising that we use. We work with some different people doing different types of digital ad and using tracking software to keep up with our customers, or with people that might be interested in the products we have. We also use social media — Facebook and Twitter, and those types of things,” Conley says.

“Our website is pretty in-depth in my opinion, with a lot of information to help people learn about products and services we offer. Our website also includes a place for customers can leave reviews of the service and that we provided for them. That’s a big feature for people who want to check us out before they visit or buy. Our philosophy is that, if you go onto Amazon, you don’t buy the first thing you see. You read the reviews. I don’t know of [any company] that doesn’t do that.”

Advertising activities include:

  • RADIO: On 4 stations with personal endorsements by DJ on all stations, giveaways, contest, etc.
  • TV
  • INTERNET: Average 8,000 – 12,000 visits per month to the company website. Participates in social media through Facebook and Twitter. On company website customers may access videos and register for giveaways, contests, etc.
  • DIRECTMAIL: Delivered to targeted neighborhoods based on customers and demographics
  • TRUCK WRAPS:  35 trucks that each have a custom designed wrap
  • LOCAL EVENT SPONSORSHIP: Cool Kids events, Parenting Fair, and more
  • SPONSOR LOCAL TEAMS: Knoxville Ice Bears Hockey, Tennessee Smokies Minor League Baseball and several youth baseball and softball teams. Pioneer is a major supporter of local Halls High School, Middle School and Elementary School sports events, clubs, charity events, etc. It donates 1300 cases ( 31,200 bottles) of private label bottled water to Halls High School, Community Park and any community organization or function for non-profit events and concessions.


CLICK HERE TO SEE PIONEER'S COMMUNITY SERVICE

And don’t believe it when anyone tells you that “analytics” are not important to service businesses. Conley knows otherwise, and has some help in that regard from outside experts.

“I have two different digital partners that I work with that assist me in [analytics]. They come in once a month, and we sit down to review the data, and review our different ad campaigns, click-through rates, and conversion rates.”
The company’s presence includes an LED sign on a nearby highway, nicely wrapped trucks, and print, radio and television advertising.

Service and Comfort Innovations
The staff services and installs HVAC systems, residential and commercial, including heat pumps, geothermal, gas furnaces, air conditioners, home generators, indoor air quality products, Wi-Fi controls and much more.

Pioneer employs various time-saving procedures to make every job run smoother, more efficiently, such as bar coding of parts, electronic dispatching of service technicians and sales leads; shop sheet metal pre-fabrication and any other methods that will increase productivity while increasing and maintaining customer satisfaction and job quality.

All trucks have GPS and vehicle locations are displayed on two 42-in. screens in the main office. All service technicians are provided with company smart phones and ipads, with a generous data plan that allows them to find any technical info on equipment while in the field.

All service and installation records are computerized and complete, dating back  to 1981. Management procedures and office empowerment includes in-house personnel training of personnel and full computer capabilities. Weekly meetings are held for managers, office and sales staff, and service and installation teams meet bimonthly.

An in-house training room seats up to 40 people.  Extensive on site manager training is provided by professional consultants for the Pioneer Management Team.

Involved in the Trades
Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning participates in apprentice training, industry funds, code committees, labor negotiations and association leadership.

It donates used equipment to area high school vocational classes, and is a member of the Knox County Schools Vocational Advisory Committee, and a member of planning committee for PHCC Apprentice Classes.

The company participates in all PHCC-related trade shows, career days, code committees, and issues-related meetings. Gordy Noe has served as president for the local chapter of PHCC for three years.

‘Ride and Decide’ for Career Seekers
The innovation of which Gordy Noe is perhaps most proud is the ‘Ride and Decide’ program. The program gives high school students the opportunity to work in the trade industry before graduation (www.rideanddecide.com).

He has worked numerous hours talking with school officials, government and State officials to promote this program. In 2016, Noe had the opportunity to present the program to the United States Congress. The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC) has adopted the Ride and Decide Program, which now operates in six states and is continuing to grow nationwide.

“Gordy’s dedication to the industry is unparalleled,” wrote Beth Killen, executive director of PHCC, in a letter of recommendation provided with Pioneer’s awards entry materials.

“The ‘Ride and Decide’ program is the first step in trying to alleviate the shortage of workers in the industry,” Killen wrote. “With Gordy’s vision and leadership, the program is a huge success, and is starting its third year in the summer of 2017. Also, Gordy has not missed a single Career Fair on the high school and middle school level, to encourage students to consider a PHCC career in the Knoxville area.”

Tremendous Sales & Service Training
Pioneer sales training includes the Trane Boot Camp and business-to-business selling; sales department management; residential and commercial load calculations.

Others include: WaterFurnace sales, design and installation school; application, design and service schools by Briggs & Stratton and Generac; Mitsubishi sales and product applications; training in Navien tankless water heaters; training and certification in all types of new refrigerants and uses; E-score/TVA Energy Right training, classes and guidelines; and blower door, duct blast and in-home energy efficiency training; communicating HVAC equipment and thermostats; Honeywell controls and zoning systems and air filtration systems, humidifiers and dehumidifiers training.

Looking back on his success and lifelong HVAC career, Noe is thankful for the people who helped him along the way, and glad he had the wisdom to take good advice.

“I probably didn’t know what I needed to know to be in business, like most people don’t, especially when they’re young. It was a challenge for me to make sure that I overcame that, and had some good influences. I had several people that I bought equipment from who gave me advice, people in the industry who were good to listen to.

“I appreciate those people. They had a little bit of confidence in me, and thought even if I was a long shot, I might work out. I wanted to make a difference. I want to be good for the industry, for our employees and their families, and for our community. I hope we are, every day. We try our best to be that.”   

Noe is also transparent about the ups and downs of business management.

"We probably stump our toe every now and then, and I’m sure every day is not a perfect day," he says. "I don't know that I would change a whole lot about what I’ve done. It has not always been easy. There’s been times when we were on the ropes, and it was tough. There’s been days when I was burned out like everybody gets and I didn’t want to go to work. I haven’t had that day in years. I can't wait to get up and go to work every day. I expect I’ll probably keep doing that for the next 10 years, I hope. I’m 60 now and I hope I’ve got another 10 years in me."

CONGRATULATIONS Gordy Noe and Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning,
our 2017
Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year! 

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