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The Empire Heating & Air Conditioning team.

Empire Heating & AC Thrives on Dependability

April 26, 2024
It is indeed a 'great' story. A husband and wife take an HVAC business from small beginnings to verifiable success.
The Empire Heating & Air Conditioning team.
The Empire Heating & Air Conditioning team.

THE GREATS: Empire Heating & Air Conditioning

 

Thriving on Dependability

As part of Contracting Business's 80th Anniversary celebration, we are honoring some of the “Greats” in the HVAC industry. They’re not necessarily the largest companies, but their greatness is based on dependable service and steady growth. One such Great is Martin Hoover, Co-Owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning, an Atlanta-area business founded in 1985. Their slogan: “Always fast, friendly and professional.”

Empire Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. was founded in 1985 by Martin and Gila Hoover. Its main office is located in Decatur, Georgia, with a satellite office in Cumming, Georgia. The firm services, installs, and repairs all makes and models of heating and air conditioning equipment including ductless systems and heat pumps.

“My wife and I started out very small, just us with a little bit of cash and an old used truck we lettered up with manufacturer stickers,” Hoover tells Contracting Business

At the start, Hoover kept his firm’s service area tight. “We culled through the ‘Haines Criss+Cross’ directory so I could look up by address and call neighbors to hustle up calls for the next day,” he recalls. In pre-Internet days, the “Haines Criss+Cross” directory was a prospecting tool to help businesses generate more leads.

Those initial efforts were effective.: “We got a little better each day at our job, and now it is 39 years later and our little shop still keeps a small footprint and a loyal local customer base.” 

Since Empire started, there have been a lot of changes in HVAC contracting operations, Hoover says. He lists the following:

  • Going from an old T-card wall-mounted system for scheduling calls to a digital customer relationship management (CRM) setup that schedules, dispatches, collects for service calls and is paperless. Hoover exclaims: HUGE changes there!
  • The revolution in marketing. In 1985, buying up Yellow Pages space was a big deal. Now it is websites, social media and web search.
  • The introduction of variable speed and variable-refrigerant-flow (VRF) systems was a game-changer and required elevating all technicians’ skills and abilities.

Environmental Awareness

Hoover sees environmentally-related regulations and practices as a hot topic for contractors in 2024

“The transition to A2L refrigerants is a huge deal. A2L's are already here and mandatory next year. Even with certification, we still don't have all the answers on how to store, apply, recover and transport this new refrigerant. There are SEVEN new refrigerants that I know of pretty much separated by brand. Right now we only need two. It's going to get weird if a service technician has to show up in a semi to have what he needs to repair your unit,” he says with a laugh.

Hoover believes HVACR contractors need to step up their efforts for refrigerant reclamation. “Refrigerant reclaim must be part of your process moving forward. It is actually profitable and painless to do it, with higher prices being paid even if the refrigerant is contaminated.”

EMPIRE is on solid ground. “We are a 39-year-old small family-owned company. My son Mason is involved and we have a great little team that keeps things running well,” he says, and adds that succession planning for an HVACR-contracting operation is crucial. “Knowing your numbers and remaining fiscally conservative is also critically important. As long as those two are addressed, small companies can attract great talent, as we have more to offer and more opportunity than the consolidators.”

Speaking of consolidators, Hoover says there may be more industry consolidation in the future. “Consolidators and private equity are everywhere, and it seems they are heavily in pursuit of the home services industries. Most people would be surprised to learn how many of their ‘local’ companies are actually corporate-owned.” 

He adds the following regarding industry concentration: “The current trend seems to be for keeping the current firm name and making it seem to the outside world that nothing has changed. In Atlanta, you can get three quotes from ‘three different companies’ and never know you really only got quotes from three that are all owned by the same corporation.”

Hoover acknowledges that, without question, many HVACR contractors are facing a shortage of skilled, seasoned workers. “We are all competing for a shrinking pool of experienced talent. The best plans are to hire great young people that profile well for a position and train them,” Hoover explains. 

He notes that Empire Heating does some in-house on-the-job training and apprenticing. “We outsource some training and work with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and others. We have ride-alongs when a technician first goes out on his own, and for experienced technicians as well. At this point the training never stops. All of our technicians are NATE-, EPA 608-, A2L-, and National Comfort Institute-certified. It is a never-ending process.”

Best Practice-based Company

Hoover believes that, to some degree, the HVAC industry needs to be concerned about commoditization of prices and services. “There are always going to be low-price leaders in every market. Most experienced homeowners can spot them and some get fooled. We work hard to maintain best practices and provide a solid customer experience. Our customers provide most of our future customers, and that's a good place to be.”

Hoover notes that some customers buy their own equipment and systems at a big-box location or website. “We typically don't install these due to warranty issues. We install it and it breaks and then folks want us to fix it for free when our install was flawless. Often, equipment purchased online doesn't even have a manufacturer’s warranty.” The Empire Heating solution, Hoover explains: “We provide the equipment with the installation so we are responsible for it all totally and completely. Also, we know our manufacturers and suppliers are responsible and reliable.”

Thankfully, says Hoover, supply chain issues in the industry are improving for the most part. “There are spotty shortages, but usually there are workarounds. The biggest issues I hear about are in commercial construction. In our world of residential light commercial, we are good for now. The coming refrigerant transition this year could change all of that, however.”

Congratulations to Martin Hoover, Co-Owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning, on being named one of the Contracting Business “Greats” in the HVAC industry as part of CB’s 80th Anniversary celebration.

Michael Keating writes for a variety of publications, including NATE Magazine and American City & County. Contact: [email protected]

About the Author

Michael Keating

Michael Keating is a freelance writer specializing in industrial and technology-related topics and trends.