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A Service Story

May 16, 2024
MIchael Keating
Ron and Betty Smith at a Ron Smith Appreciation event, March 29, 2022., presented by ServiceNation.

HVAC Business Legend Ron Smith Dies at 87

Dec. 21, 2023
Smith wrote 'HVAC Spells Wealth' and other HVAC business books and founded Service America. He grew Modern Air Conditioning to $15 million in less than 20 years by focusing on pricing for profit, and it kept on growing.

Ron Smith, viewed by many to be the father of the modern air conditioing service business, has died. More details surronding Mr. Smith's passing will be provided when we receive them.

Ron Smith began Modern Air Conditioning, Inc. in 1965, with $500 of working capital. By 1984, the company had achieved $15 million in sales volume. From 1979 to 1984, Modern's service business grew from $1.5 milllion to $5 million each year. 

From RonSmith.com:

Later he purchased, significantly grew, and then sold three similar air conditioning and heating companies in the Louisiana and Florida markets.

In 1985 he founded Service America, based in Atlanta, GA, the first national HVAC franchiser. In less than four years the firm had over 100 franchisees. It was later sold to a Swiss public company, purchased back from them two years later, and sold the second time in 1991 to Roto-Rooter.

Ron wanted to share his ideas with other contractors so that they too would build prosperous businesses. He founded Ron Smith & Associates (RS&A), an HVAC exclusive training and consulting company based in Roswell, GA in 1991. RS&A, with its focus on operations, systems, processes, and disciplines soon was one of the industry’s leading training and consulting firms. Ron developed and then over the next several years personally presented his Dominant Market Share yearlong training program to over seventy distributor groups with well over 1900 contractor attendees. He sold the company in 1997.

In 1997 he joined Service Experts in Brentwood, TN, an HVAC consolidator and public company, as Chief Operating Officer and served in that position until after the company was sold to Lennox Industries. When it sold in early 2000 it had 116 locations across the U.S after making more than 200 acquisitions, and with annual revenues of over $600 million.

One of Smith's hires was Drew Cameron, president, Flow Odyssey and Energy Design Systems, LLC.

"Ron Smith was a great friend, savant, trendsetter, and industry colleague. He shared many talks and insights, hired me at Service Experts in 1998, and even gave me me a plug in your industry-success blueprint book “HVAC Spells Wealth.’ He was always growing others. I appreciate his impact on me," Cameron said.

"Ron was a one-of-a-kind human being and educator. He has had a great impact on so many firsthand and so many more beyond, with his ripple-effect reach, who never knew him. That is legacy. The HVAC industry and everyone who benefits from it in any walk of life is better off today because of Ron Smith. I appreciate him for who he was and all he did for others. HVAC Spells Wealth, but Ron Smith spells HVAC, and that's all we need to know."

 

Ron founded, co-founded, owned, had or currently has an ownership in twenty-four businesses.

He served many years on the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board, and also served on the Florida Governor’s Conference on Small Business. In 1979 he was chosen Free Enterprise Citizen of the Year in Ft. Myers/Lee County, FL. In 1980/81 he graduated from Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program, Managing Organizational Effectiveness.

He is proud of being one of only 33 people to have been elected to Contracting Business magazine’s HVAC Hall of Fame, and has been presented numerous awards including being recognized with Service Roundtable’s Servant Leader award. He is on the Editorial Advisory Board of HVACR Business magazine and has authored many articles for various trade journals for the past 35 years.

In 2014 Contracting Business magazine published an article titled “The 22 Most Influential People in the HVACR Industry”. Ron was listed as number three on the list after only Willis Carrier and John Copeland.

In the past he served on the Board of Directors of Spiro International S.A. in Friborg, Switzerland, Buckeye Ventures, the Advisory Board for North Carolina National Bank and the Advisory Board for Roto-Rooter/Service America. He now serves on the Board of Directors of Service Roundtable, Inc and is one of the founders of the company. He is on the Advisory Board of HVACR Business.

Ron, the author of the best selling book HVAC Spells Wealth, the HVAC Light Commercial Service Agreements book, the 9 Disc Audio CD Set HVAC Spells Wealth, and the “More and New” HVAC Spells Wealth book, consults and coaches with contractors and distributors. As well as the latest book, “Travel Gets a Bad Rap”.

He also is a real estate developer with his last project being a tract with small farm estates of 8 to 40 acres located in Mid-Tennessee.

Ron’s civic work includes involvement as area coordinator in a South Florida youth drug abuse program for several years, and chairing a huge five year church construction project in Ft. Myers, FL on both the Planning Committee and the Building Committee. He and his wife, Betty, do church mission work in foreign countries and are very active in their church. He was also a member of the South Rotary Club in Ft. Myers, FL. And, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for several years in Washington, D.C, Cherry Point, NC and Parkersburg, WVA.

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A great friend to Contracting Business, Smith provided numerous commentaries on what it takes to succeed in the HVAC industry, most essentially, selling to make a profit, and was a featured presenter at the Comfortech show.

"One thing I tell people is that to be in service, you've got to overcome what I call a 'new construction' attitude," Smith wrote in a 1984 CB article. "I think it's important to recognize the difference between service and new construction. Service does and can provide high gross margins and excellent cash flow. If fact, you can make 40 to 70 percent gross profit depending on the particular type of service you're doing, and you get paid when the job is completed. Or, better yet, you can get paid in advance, sometimes a year in advance."

Smith was one of the HVAC industry's earliest and best authors. His seminal work, "HVAC Spells Wealth," viewed by many as an essential guide to growing a successful contracting company.

During a March 2022 appreciation event, a Proclamation was shared celebrating Ron Smith as "The Father of Modern Contracting Business Practices."

Recollections on Ron Smith, from those who attended the appreciatioin event:

Matt Michel, President, Service Nation Inc. ---This event is a tribute to Ron Smith. He’s one of the most generous people in the HVAC industry. Ron gives a lot to the industry by dispensing his wisdom. Like it says in the Beatitudes in the Bible: As you give, so shall you receive. Ron earns it back a thousand-fold. In addition, he brought his daughters into the HVAC business.

Susan Hart, SLH Investments and Ron Smith’s daughter. She was Ron Smith’s business partner for 20 years. — He gave his all to the HVAC industry, especially in the early years of his career. Today is a truly special day for our family!

Brandon Jacob, Principal, Contractors Financial Opportunity—Ron Smith has always supported me in the HVAC industry. Ron gave me the words of encouragement that made me decide to walk the Appalachian Trail, 2,200 miles, in 2016. Ron told me to “Do it now,” rather than wait until I’m too old or physically unable. The Appalachian Trail was on my bucket list. The Appalachian Trail is NOT a walk in the woods. Ron is a hiker who has completed hikes in the Grand Tetons and other places. Ron encouraged me to take a break from my CPA practice and walk in the Appalachian Trail for six months. Ron has always promoted me and my firm at industry events.

Mike Maynard, Owner, Golden Triangle Repair of the Low Country, based in Bluffton, SC— Ron Smith, you are a treasure. The industry is all connected through you. You saved my life when I was struggling, working 80-90-hour workweeks. You taught me how to run an HVAC business. As a consultant, you helped our business grow by $5 million in four years. Our industry doesn’t have a young Ron Smith around today, and we are missing that. It’s a loss for our industry. It’s all about the money now. There’s no human touch.

Chandler Pernell, Call Pernell Heating & Air, Smithfield, NC—I met Ron Smith five years ago at Service World. Regarding Ron’s book, “HVAC Spells Wealth,”—the book shows how to accumulate and is a guide to financial and spiritual wealth. I read Ron Smith’s book for the first time 15 years ago when it was first published. I am now reading it again and learning new information from it. My competitor read it, and that’s why I read it. For readers, they feel like they are already Ron Smith’s friends as they turn the pages. There are core fundamentals in the book that will be still relevant and on-target 50 years from now.

Philip Ferrara, owner, LIBERTYAIR Air Conditioning and Heating Inc., Gainesville, FL—Ron Smith is very genuine. He always wants what’s best for people in the HVAC industry. Ron Smith doesn’t do it for the money. He wants to help people in the HVAC industry succeed.

Rick Busby, Busby’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Augusta, GA—Ron Smith had pretty radical business ideas. In our first meeting with him, he touched on just the surface of his approach to business management. In our second meeting, after he told us the HOW of his approach, it made all the difference in the world. Ron Smith IS the HVAC industry. I’m glad to see all the industry people show the love and respect that Ron Smith and his wife Betty deserve. Ron knows everybody in the industry. He is a quality human being.

Tim Hanlon, owner of Grogg’s Home Services in Parkersburg, WV —Ron Smith taught me how to pick managers and how to do budgeting. We also learned about wine and whiskey after our training sessions in Virginia. My wife and I went on a memorable leaf tour with Ron Smith and Betty. It made me happy to see Ron Smith happy at this appreciation lunch in his honor. It’s awesome to see all these HVAC industry executives!