David Richardson/NCI
Interior Hvac Diagram
David Richardson/NCI
If you know what to look for, a visual inspection provides clues to unsafe operation. It's never good for one package unit to exhaust into the economizer of an adjacent unit.
National Comfort Institute
Before you jump on the heat pump bashing bandwagon, look at your duct installation practices first.

'Behind the Scenes' Service Essentials

April 1, 2010
Commercial HVAC service goes beyond the nuts and bolts of a mechanical repair. Your business structure has a direct impact on how you serve customers in the field.

Tom D’Agostino, manager of special projects and service for Kimmel Service — a commercial HVAC contractor based in Denver, CO — has a passion for helping businesses succeed.

D’Agostino used to own a very successful, 130-employee plumbing and HVAC business on the western slope of Colorado. The strongest component of his business was the HVAC service and special projects division.

“After the sale of my firm to a national consolidator, I began to assist business owners who were in financial or operational distress. I enjoy working with companies to help identify what may be holding them back from becoming the best they can be in their market,” he says.

D’Agostino started an HVAC and plumbing service division for Kimmel Service in February, 2009. With his guidance, the division began to see results immediately. After starting with no service customers and no employees, he now has six employees, and five dedicated service vehicles— which he hopes will be 10 by year’s end.

D’Agostino holds a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting, a master plumber’s license, and a steam and hot water license. This “triple major” in business and technicial know-how has helped him address service issues from field and management points of view. Here are some of Tom D’Agostino’s tips to providing superior service. By following the following tips, Kimmel’s service division became profitable after the first seven months of operation.

Know yourself. Many people are very good technicians but bad business people. At least 50% of a successful HVAC service business comes from having keen business skills, either yours, or those of someone you trust.

Know your market. Have you conducted any market research? Do you have a real business plan which identifies your customer base and number of customers you must have, for the growth you need to succeed?

Are you capitalized? Do you have the resources to get started, and sustain yourself as you grow the HVAC service business?

Do your employees or you have the essential skills to get the job done? Do you know how to handle the customers in a polite and professional manner?

Track your success. Review all invoices for work completed and find out how you make money. What type of work makes the most profit and which ones are the least profitable? You must do job costing on all your fixed dollar jobs.

Do you know how to establish operating costs? This helps you set rates at competitive levels and get a return on your personal investment. If you don’t know how to do this, seek a professional who knows how to calculate this number for your type of business.

How are you going to market? Do you have a plan to explain what it is that differentiates you from competitors? Customers need to know that you are unique and that your HVAC business is special.

Establish a board of directors or advisors. Everyone needs a peer group of diverse advisors who have been successful in their individual lives, at whatever they may have done.

Ask questions, and ask for advice. When you get the answers, you’ll be more comfortable about handling questions from customers, suppliers, and the general public.

Target your HVAC customers for each of the four seasons. Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Concentrating on your competitors’ business is a waste of your valuable time, and gets your HVAC business nowhere.

Know when it’s time to step back and refresh yourself, so you can have a clear picture of what you’re doing and where you’re going.

Enjoy what you’re doing, and it will show in your enthusiasm and the bottom line results.

Follow up with your customers to ensure that the service job was done correctly. Ask them if they want to follow up on a future service call next season to keep their equipment running properly. Use service contracts for all customers.

Develop business plans: short term, medium range, and long term. These should include business and personal goals. Are they aligned? Where do they intersect?

Hire the best employees you can find for all positions. If you’re ever going to invest in a single item, make it your employees and, of course, yourself.