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May Feature Focus: HVAC Troubleshooters

HVAC contracting business owners opine on the major issues of the day, including business management, training, recruiting, peer groups.

by Bruce Beckwith, Tom Casey and Brian Stack

By now, you’re making final preparations for the summer season. We knew that would be true of these gentlemen, so we got to them early, and now we’ll get out of their way so they can run their companies. Read what these leading contractors have to say about HVAC industry development, recruiting and marketing.

CAN YOU PROVIDE COMMENTS or ideas related to these topics? Send those to me, at [email protected] You can also use the Comments section below.
  

What Works?

Tom Casey, Chief Quality Officer, Climate Partners, Milford, Conn., and Griffin Service, St. Johns, Fla.:

Training — As systems get more complex, and consumer expectations rise, we as an industry must keep pace to be relevant. As the shortage of tradesmen continues to increase, it’s up to contractors to establish training programs, not just some random weekly meetings, to grow our businesses by creating our own “farm system” to pull homegrown talent from. Training is an investment in longevity.

Reviews — It doesn’t matter what we say about ourselves. Let’s face it, every contractor “parrots” the same old, tired catch-phrases to the client, so it’s like “blah blah blah” and they end up losing their meaning. Amazon and Google have taught the world to listen to the universe via online reviews. Who buys anything these days without checking reviews? Nobody.

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Processes — There’s a reason 9 out of 10 systems have at least one operational deficiency, and why Energy Star says over 50% of systems are installed incorrectly. What other industry would tolerate that degree of falling short? To produce predictable results, you need repeatable processes.

Brian Stack, President, Stack Heating, Cooling & Electric, Avon, Ohio:

Association Membership — The best contractors are taking part in industry associations such as Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).  I have been a part of ACCA over 10 years.  I have met with other leaders in our industry and learned from them. Association membership is only as good as what you put into it, but with a little effort the benefits you receive are tremendous. I would attribute a lot of the growth of our company over the last 10 years to my participation in ACCA and building relationships with other contractors across the country.  Participation in an ACCA MIX Group has been one of the best experiences in helping grow our business.

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Technology is rapidly changing the HVAC world and allowing us to explore different market areas such as the Connected Home and Whole Home Performance.  We are already in consumers’ homes every day.  It is a natural fit for us to look into these areas and offer solutions to them.  It doesn’t take much to install internet enabled thermostats, cameras, smoke/CO detectors, etc.   Whole Home Performance does take some training, but can be a great fit, considering people are becoming more and more energy conscience.

Bruce Beckwith, President/Owner, Beckwith Heating & Cooling, Inc., Akron, Ohio:

Technicians & Soft Skills — The best HVAC companies prepare their people for success. There is a level of tech training, but they also prepare their employees with the soft skills needed to converse with customers. HVAC companies should constantly offer training on new products and innovative ways to get the job done. All companies should treat employees with the same level of respect they would want in return or would provide to a customer.

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There should a be a positive environment where the employees are comfortable speaking up about things they have learned, questions they have, and issues they face.

What Doesn’t Work?

Tom Casey:

Poor Leadership — We all get the staff/team we deserve, based on our leadership skills. If we’re poor leaders, we will attract poor employees, who are unwilling to evolve. If we are strong leaders, the best performers with find us, and seek to be challenged to be the best version of themselves.

Random Marketing — The old adage — that half of all marketing works, you just don’t know which half — doesn’t cut it any longer. As costs-per-lead and costs-per-client acquisition increase, we need to be smarter with how we invest (not spend) our marketing dollars. We need to track results and divert investments into what’s working, away from what’s not.

Trading Employees — Why is Johnny Tech going to be a stud working for me, when he was a dud working for someone else? Perhaps it’s a leadership issue, but equally as likely, Johnny is a dud. We can’t be successful waiting to recruit A-players until we need A-players. We must always be
hiring and upgrading our staff.

Bruce Beckwith:

Promote HVAC Careers — There is a need for improvement within the HVAC Industry in many areas. We need to do a better job of promoting HVAC skills within schools. Beginning in 5th grade, we should be teaching our students the importance of trade schools and allowing them to decide whether they are a good fit for college or trade school. 

HVAC companies should be providing guidance for what the schools need to focus on while teaching in the HVAC career programs. There is a lack of communication between the future employers and the schools and students are coming out unprepared for the situations they will face in the field. More training on new products and services would benefit HVAC companies as well. The technology and products are constantly changing and keeping technicians up on those changes will allow the company to succeed in providing service to their customers. Creating checklists and procedures for your employees will help them be more efficient in their work.

Testing New Products — We have learned through experience that testing new products is not always beneficial to customers. In the past we tried to use new equipment that had recently been put on the market as customers are always seeking the newest and best products. We have discovered that it is better to wait until products have been out for a little while before offering them. This allows time for the manufacturer to get all the kinks out and keeps the customers from becoming irritated with the failures. Our company is progressing into a paperless system and have been very happy with the results so far. We use tablets for dispatch, data, invoicing and other office work. This has made us more efficient in serving our customers as well as cutting down on waste.

What Must Change?

Tom Casey

Everyone is NOT Our Client — We have to get better at defining who our best clients are, and what our super powers are that they value, so we can serve more of those people who value what we do, how we do it, and what
we stand for. Then, we can stop wasting money to attract to the wrong fish, and change the bait to serve the right people more effectively.

We Have to Stand for Something — Not just fancy
“mission statements” or “vision/purpose”. Words are worth-less without conviction and action. Once we define our core values and stand for something, we can improve our culture
by building it correctly with people who value and believe
similarly.

Stop Selling Boxes — A modern system is not just the latest, greatest efficiency or technology. Rather, it’s a professionally procured comprehensive systems of units, proper airflow, sound, air quality, and safety to meet the expectations of the modern client. We need to become consultative, putting the client’s goals first, and serve them by delivering “Goldilocks solutions” that are ‘just right’. 

Brian Stack:

Proprietary Training — Our industry is struggling to find qualified technicians, but also mechanically inclined people that want to learn. I believe contracting businesses need to do a much better job of training in-house, and not relying solely on the training technicians receive from technical schools. Technical schools provide a foundation to build from, but without a formal training/apprenticeship program within the company, we will all continue to have the
problem of finding qualified technicians. We have taken that next step and are in the process of developing an in-house training and apprenticeship program.

Bruce Beckwith:

Build Customer Trust — HVAC companies, and others, should go above and beyond for their customers and employees. Customers should feel as though they are friends with the company. This creates a level of trust and the customers will pass on their feelings to their friends and family. 

Your reputation should always be positive, and that comes from the way you treat customers. Employees are important as well; without them you can’t hope to grow. If you are treating employees well and going above and beyond for them, they will enjoy their work and take pride in what they do. This furthers the customer’s opinion when the employees are happy. 

Reviews, referrals, and ratings are important to HVAC companies. They help new customers decide if the company is reliable, trustworthy and fair. HVAC companies can promote positive reviews through social media, helping spread the word especially to younger generations. HVAC companies should to promote themselves within the industry through associations. Joining associations can help promote awareness of your company, and provide you with positive insight into how to succeed, through networking done within these groups. You can learn a lot from your fellow businessmen in the HVAC industry.

Join a Peer Group — It may be beneficial for  HVAC contractors to join a small peer discussion group with other contractors. It is incredible what you can learn from other contractors, in practices that work and others that don’t. Slow and steady growth are the best ways for a business to become successful. Although it takes time, you will build a rapport within the community and that will be the best way to grow. 

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