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A Service Story

May 16, 2024

HVAC Survival Stories

July 12, 2016
Here are stories of two successful HVAC contractors who persevered and succeeded in the face of challenging times. They never gave up on their dreams, and did what they had to do.

After 30+ years in the industry, I totally admit that I am the most blatant thief there is. Charles Caleb Colton was the first one to write, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I believe that, because I steal the very best ideas and examples that can be found and share them over and over again. And with this column it will continue.

Story 1:  Imagine a cool fall day in central Oregon.  A fantastic place to be. A fantastic place to live.

But not this day. Don Todd sat on the curb.  Beside him was his professional life — his tool box.  Don had just been fired, and he was waiting for his wife, Kathie, to pick him up. Don looked skyward wondering, What was in store for him? He was the ideal service technician. Don’s customers loved him; he had standout diagnostic skills for electrical, mechanical and airflow issues. His boss even loved him for Don had the highest conversion ratio and the highest average service tickets.

So what happened?  Don had a dream and his boss found out about it before Don was quite ready. A story similar to many of yours.
This was in 1993. But fast forward 23 years and where is Central Oregon Heating & Cooling of Redmond, Oregon today? A $9 million plus business with three locations, diversified in commercial, residential replacement and some new construction and a bonus plan for employees that has paid out over a half million dollars.

So what happened?  A dream and the determination to make it happen.  

Miley Cyrus in her song, “The Climb” said it this way:

“I can almost see
That dream I’m dreaming
But there’s a voice inside my head saying
“You’ll never reach it
. . . The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking ‘ Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I’m not breaking
Just gotta keep goin...

Don’t lose the dream! And implement. No one implements better than Don. He internalizes an idea, processes it, explains it to his team, sees that training happens if necessary and then just expects that it will happen. And it does. The key is to keep moving.

Story 2: It’s a hot, humid day in 2001, in Clarksville, Tenn. Every breath takes in as much water as oxygen.  Alana Ward walks into Baggett Heating and Cooling, her father’s company. She remembers how hard her Dad always worked: many long hours — gone before she gets up in the morning and home long after she is in bed at night. What she sees is a man who is tired, a man who has burned himself out, a man who has let the business spin out of control.  Soon Dad has retired and Alana is facing a mountain of debt. Slowly, consistently and conservatively, Alana buys the company from her Dad and pays off the debt.  

The company is sure-footed. Sales hold in the $600,000 to $800,000 level with a minimal and inconsistent profit. But for Alana it wasn’t enough!  2015 brought a new insight, a new challenge to herself.  Perhaps, Katy Perry’s song Roar was her inspiration:

“I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
'Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!”

So what did she do differently?  Branding! In 2015, Alana embraced the importance of branding and then she implemented.  She wrapped her trucks with her image and a consistent blue background with the marketing statement:  “Come home to comfort.” 

She did not stop with truck wraps. Next came billboards in geographic areas that she staked out as hers. The billboards mirrored the trucks. The billboards were augmented with a series of postcards mailed to the same geographic areas and newspaper ads — all with the same look of the trucks and the billboards.
Many companies think that branding means a good logo and a creative marketing line that are used on the company web-site and advertising. No! Branding is much more than using a consistent logo and marketing statement.  It means using similar colors and images.  It means all the marketing and advertising should look enough alike that over time a consumer in your targeted area sees your company everywhere – trucks, mailings, trucks, newspaper ads.

Branding doesn’t mean that the offers don’t change, but it also doesn’t mean that every new marketing piece uses different colors, different pictures, a different message or has a different feel.

Results: In 2016, Baggett Heating and Cooling is on track to break a million dollar in sales for the first time in Alana’s 15 year tenure and with a significant profit percentage. Take-away:  Your marketing like Baggett’s should Roar and that happens with a consistent color scheme, consistent images, consistent look, consistent feel and repetition.  
Vicki LaPlant, formerly a principal with Vital Learning Experiences, is now a business coach for Service Roundtable, She can be reached at [email protected].