Anthony Williams
John and Vicki LaPlant have been true servants to the HVAC contracting industry.

The LaPlants Say, 'Til We Meet Again

Oct. 1, 2021
Consultants John and Vicki LaPlant are retiring after serving the HVAC industry admirably over 50-year careers.

It was great to be back in show business, to attend the September Service World Expo in Louisville, Ky. About 1,000 were there, which was a good sign that normality is returning to the HVACR industry. Later this month, it’s the EGIA Epic2021 Conference at Paris, Las Vegas.

Service World Expo featured a packed roster of quality presenters from the contracting, consulting and vendor worlds, and excellent keynote speakers. I’ll provide an extended show review in our November issue.

Towards the end of the show, attendees were treated to reminiscing by John and Vicki LaPlant, HVAC business consultants who are retiring after serving the industry admirably during 50 years in the manufacturing and consulting sectors. As they retire, they leave large shoes to fill.

Two dedicated consultants present some final observations on managing and growing an HVAC contracting business.

These two crazy kids met at Lennox Industries, where John held various positions in quality, training and strategic planning, and Vicki was leading the Lennox Dealer Marketing Advisor program. In 1995, they started the Vital Learning Experiences training and consulting company and provided immeasurable amounts of help and advice to HVAC contractors for 20 years. They joined the training team at Service Nation in 2016.

Service Nation President Matt Michel called the LaPlants to the stage for an interview about their careers in this great industry. The segment was called, “Blood, Toil, Tears and Soul.”

John was holding the very first manual he and Vicki developed for their contracting clients, and he read a portion of the introduction:

“The very first paragraph says, ‘a primary reason for owning and operating your own business is to make the highest possible profit for yourself and your family. You also have responsibilities to employees, suppliers, community and customers whose lives your company touches and impacts. It is you who have taken the risk, invested your money, time, and oftentimes, blood, sweat and tears in your business.’  

What do you mean by “blood”? Michel asked. “Blood means family,” Vicki replied. “Some have had dads and stepdads who let the industry beat them up and they eventually walked out the door, leaving debt for their children. Two here had that happen, but they turned the businesses around. Do not do that to your children. This is a wonderful industry. Plan for transition. Leave your company so it truly is a legacy, something you can be proud of. Don’t leave your children to clean up your messes.”

Vicki complimented those families who worked through their differences and became a better company. She and John singled out Yarbrough and Sons of Oklahoma as an example of a family team that figured out the best way each could contribute as managers and marketers, according to ability.

“They each have different functions and contributions to make, but they also have an ownership group. All four have an equal say in decisions. So, there are variety of ways to make a family business work,” she said.

And why “Soul”?

Vicki explained: “Early on, even in our Lennox days, where we got to work directly with contractors, we saw how hard contractors work, how much they invest in their businesses. You are the lifeblood of America and Canada; you are what makes this economy run. You provide thousands of jobs, good paying, high-quality jobs. We added ‘Soul’ to the title of this interview, because it has to be your passion. We so respect what you do, and you don’t always put enough value on what you do. You undervalue too much your contributions to the world, your community, employees and the families you care for, not just the customers. Be proud of that! John and I are so proud to have invested almost 100 years combined to this industry. You are the salt of the earth.”

Michel asked, ‘What are signs of trouble in a family-run business?’ Vicki said one is when the company’s founding father thinks he has to always be in charge, and is unwilling to change.

John added that problems can develop when owners try to be ‘one of the guys’. There has to be a management that defines your leadership and culture, or there can be favoritism and fractions,” he said.

“We’ve been fired for that very reason,” she said, for insisting that they change. “I think if you’re from the older generation like John and me, you have to be open to changes, and the ideas your children are bringing to you. There are so many new resources. You’ve got to be willing to change.”

John added that problems can develop when owners try to be ‘one of the guys’. There has to be a management that defines your leadership and culture, or there can be favoritism and fractions,” he said.

Vicki: John and me are absolute opposites, but we’ve worked it out. The key is respect. You’ve got to respect one another, your differences and what each brings. John and I figured out what our different skill sets were. Also, be polite to one another. We still say ‘thank you for doing that.’ I think we’ve forgotten that in our relationships.’

Thank you, John and Vicki LaPlant. The HVAC contracting industry is a better place because of your numerous contributions to business excellence.

Best Wishes to You!

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.