From the Ground Up Part 3: Who Turned Off the Lights?

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of “From the Ground Up,” which is the ongoing story of Air Genie Air Conditioning Company, a start-up company with a unique business model and marketing concept.

My company, Air Genie, is headquartered in Bonita Springs, FL. We specialize in residential maintenance and indoor air quality. We’ll do repairs and replacements, but we don’t market specifically for them.

The company started as just my brother and I. Actually, it started as just me, with the understanding that my brother would join me as soon as I generated some calls for him to run.

In the mean time, my brother continued working for the company I’d been managing in Tampa. After being fired from the same company, I begged the owner to spare him his job while I relocated and prepared for his arrival, to which he agreed.

In the interim, my brother drove 140 miles each Sunday morning to co-host the Air Genie radio show, which is the company’s primary source of marketing. During these radio shows I tout the necessity keeping your equipment and air clean.

The “Total System Rejuvenation”

Initially, I offered what I called a “Total System Rejuvenation” (TSR). A TSR includes a thorough inspection of the entire system, a chemical cleaning on the outdoor coil, clearing the condensate drain line, and applying an EPA-registered fungicide or coil cleaner to the indoor coil.

TSRs take about two to four hours. Since most systems we see require additional work that goes beyond just a TSR, we could only run about two appointments per day for each technician.

I was in a hurry to get started, so I began booking Total System Rejuvenations before I had invoices, proper uniforms, or marked vehicles. The plan was to acquire a month’s worth of calls for my brother and I before bringing him on board and begin running them.

I planned to, and did, run calls six days per week right out the gate. I set 26 appointments as a result of my very first two-hour radio broadcast.

People respond to my offer on the radio by calling the radio station and leaving their name and telephone number with the radio station’s staff. Then, I have to call them back after the show to set the appointment.

It didn’t take long to realize that if I failed to reach the callers immediately after the show, while they were still feeling good about the TSR, and book their appointment, the odds were pretty good I’d lose them altogether. Losing just one person meant my cost per appointment increased significantly. It also meant an average 3.8% loss of revenue at 26 leads per show. It doesn’t take long to lose all of your net profit or even find your business losing money at 3.8 percent per lead.

On Sundays, immediately following the show, I’d go home sit down in my office, boot up the computer, put on my telephone headset, and start calling back and scheduling TSRs with all the people who’d responded while I was on the air. I worked from 11:00 a.m., when the show started, until around 6:00 pm each Sunday.

We got our backlog and my brother came on board.

Who Turned Off the Lights?

As it turned out, we needed the backlog. Within 60 days, 70% of our population disappeared. I hadn’t accounted for a drastic shift in population with the departure of what we in southwest Florida call the “snowbirds” (seasonal residents).

Around the middle of May, 2009, I went down to the radio station to do my weekly radio show. I was relaxed, ready to do another great show and watch the manna of customers gently fall from the heavens. I gave my normal presentation, spouted out the telephone numbers to the station, invited the callers to call in, and threw my hands behind my head, fully expecting the phone banks to blow up as usual. Instead, there was nothing.

I thought, OK, they must not have heard me. I wound back up, lobbed a slow one down the middle and . . . still nothing. Two hours later, I’d received a total of nine telephone calls, which is less than half of what I was used to getting.

The next week, the same thing happened. At this stage of the game, I knew I needed to forget about being backlogged with appointments; I was looking for appointments for my brother to run that week!

Panic began to set in. I knew I needed 18 to 20 appointments a week to keep the ship afloat. I’d never be able to survive on just my brother’s sales alone.

What do I do now? That was the question keeping me up at two in the morning. I needed more calls to fill my own schedule. The radio show was the only thing I know how to do. I changed the times of broadcast hoping to reach a new audience, with no significant change in the number of leads.

The Solution Dawns on Me

Three weeks into not enough appointments, not enough money, and the credit cards filling up, the solution hit me: I needed to do an additional radio show per week. I certainly couldn’t continue to do the same thing I had been doing and expect a different result. Insanity, right? But, could I afford to increase my marketing expense by 50% to generate the same amount of revenue as before?

I bought another one-hour early morning show on Saturday. And, thankfully it provided enough leads per week to fill my schedule.

I soon realized that I had another problem. If I was going to schedule TSRs for myself on Saturdays after the show, I wouldn’t have the time to make the follow-up calls to schedule the appointments the same day. Again, this meant that I would lose some of them and continue to bleed out, fiscally.

I had to hire someone else to drive my truck and run my TSRs for me. I knew from listening to successful contractors around the country that “The sooner you begin to work on your business, as opposed to in your business, the sooner you’ll reap rewards from your business.”

Now, I’ve got an experienced, ambitious service technician driving my truck, running calls full-time, and I’m running the office, recruiting, training and managing full-time.

The Lessons

What did I learn from this experience? Three things:

• Take immediate action when the well dries up. Don’t sit around hoping things will get better — make things get better.
• When you’re low on calls, ramp up your marketing. It’s not a matter of whether or nor you can afford to spend the additional marketing funds. You can’t make money if you don’t have calls to run.
• Get out of the truck yourself and start managing your company. Someone’s got to man the ship. It’s impossible to do all the recruiting, training, managing, record-keeping, and planning; and make all the telephone calls necessary to run an organized and profitable company, while you’re climbing around in attics and have both hands full of parts and tools.

Gene Slade, Jr. was raised in HVAC, is the host of the “Air Genie Radio Show,” and the president of Air Genie Air Conditioning Co, Inc. He can be reached by calling 239-390-0069 or by emailing [email protected] Visit him on the web at

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