Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero, owner of Coastal Comfort, a $2+ million residential contractor in Ventura, CA shares her thoughts on how to motivate employees and on building a business.
Contracting Business: What do you find to be your greatest challenges in the residential HVAC business?
Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero: When I started my second company just over two years ago, we started from scratch, with no customers. While I knew how to run a business, and understood the operations and administration sides, I had to learn how to market and sell.
Marketing can truly make or break companies today. So often, businesses are built by technical people who are very good at their trade, but not always the most savvy marketers.
On the operations side of the business, insurance has definitely become my number one problem. Last year, a customer filed a mold-related claim against us. Although it was only a claim, our insurance company dropped us!
In addition, our premium for general liability has risen from $9,000 to $31,000. Prior to this incident, we had no claims of any kind, including vehicle and worker’s compensation. This is how serious this issue is for contractors.
CB: What would you say is key to running a successful HVAC business?
JBG: Empowering your employees is crucial. You can’t just tell them what to do. You have to let them know you trust them to do their jobs.
I wasn’t always good at giving up complete control; I’ve have had to work at it. As a result, I’ve watched my employees blossom because of my faith in them. They are just as important as I am to the company. I respect what they have to say and try to implement their ideas and goals.
For example, we have two retreats with our employees per year. The first is in the spring through International Service Leadership (ISL), which is a planning retreat for the summer.
The second takes place in the fall where we plan for the year ahead. Here, we divide into departments and employees do a self-evaluation of their department regarding what’s lacking and what can be improved.
Then, the departments evaluate each other — I don’t do any of it. Their feedback helps me complete my plan for the coming year, and this process helps them better understand all aspects of the business.
It’s also important to recognize individual strengths and what motivates each employee. For example, I have a technician who wanted to know how he could earn more money. Instead of just giving him a raise, I offered him a unique challenge. Because we didn’t yet have an in-house training program, I asked him to develop and implement one for the entire company for an extra dollar per hour.
He was thrilled, not so much by the income, but more so by the opportunity to do something so different. He created an agenda for every class we needed, and contacted our suppliers for a list of training videos available and to find out who could provide us with technical training.
This technician also got our company on track with ISL’s required classes on refrigeration, electricity, air distribution, etc. His goal was for all of our technicians to pass these classes. Currently, there are only three techs who still need to pass one test. He accomplished this in one month.
CB: What advice would you give to someone considering going into the HVAC business?
JBG: Surround yourself with people who complement you — not those who are just like you. Hire employees who have strengths that you don’t possess.
Also, planning and preparation are essential, as is having a vision of exactly what you want your business to be. Find a support group of successful people who are willing to share how they became successful, target companies that you would like to emulate, and look at what they are doing right.
Jacki Bradbury-Guerrero, owner of Coastal Comfort in Ventura, CA, can be reached at 805/650-8541 or at [email protected].
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