Rookie Owner Faces Challenges Head-On
HVAC Contractor Fulfills Dream of Being Self-Employed
Rick Martinez just wasn’t happy at his old job. With more than 30 years in the HVAC industry, he felt his skills weren’t being properly utilized. The time had come for a new challenge.
Applying due diligence, he attended classes, carried out extraordinary amounts of research, and, on April 1, fulfilled a lifelong dream, opening the doors to Home Environment Solutions LLC, his own residential HVAC contracting business.
“My wife and I had been kicking the idea around for the last couple of years or so, and it’s always been somewhat of a dream of mine to work for myself, so I decided to give it the ole’ college try and see if something would happen,” Martinez said. “I have all the sheet metal training, went to classes for service training, and a lot of my skills weren’t being utilized where I was at. So, in order to be able to do that, and not have to leave where we live, I thought perhaps it was time to start my own business.”
Even though Martinez’s company, located in Casper, Wyo., is up-and-running, a lot of work went into getting him to that point. There were strenuous meetings with attorneys, and detailed visits with accountants, who helped him secure capital, define budgets, implement advertising, and more. Martinez held countless discussions with people he knew who ran businesses of their own, seeking input on the steps they took to help them to get off the ground.
“I was somewhat winging it,” Martinez said. “You can talk to people and they can guide you, but it just comes down to winging it on some of these things.”
Martinez’s wife, and company owner, Kelly McConnell, echoed a lot of her husband’s sentiments about the process of launching the business.
“The toughest part of the start-up process was just getting the nerve up to do it,” she said. “Hiring a good business lawyer and accountant, as well as working with a local bank who knows you and your financial history, is crucial.”
But something that helped Martinez greatly was attending the International Training Institute’s service manager course, as he made the snowy eight-hour drive from Casper to Butte, Mont., in December for the five-day, 40-hour course.
“I thought I should take the service manager’s class to see what the steps are to start a business,” Martinez said. “That helped me put all the pieces of the puzzle in the right order, which helped me a lot.”
Darrell Garrison, who runs the course, said it is a huge eye opener for most who take it.
“It exposes all of the behind-the-scenes things that go on to make a service department work and helps prepare them for what might have been the unexpected,” Garrison said.
“I also share a lot of my experiences with them. I actually did it. I started a service division within an existing TABB [Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing Bureau] company. That’s all they did was test and balance. For a while it was just me, but we grew it. We advertised, we got maintenance contracts, and it became a service department. So, I share a lot of the struggles we had and the creative ways we dealt with things. At the very least, attendees leave understanding what all really goes on behind the scenes to keep the lights on. They also leave understanding that starting a service division, or even a service company, isn’t as expensive or as complicated as people think. And the rewards can be a lot better.”
For Martinez, working for himself is a big benefit, and something he really enjoys. But he said the process of getting there was rather interesting, noting he had worked himself into somewhat of a frenzy with the tall task that stood in front of him.
“I commented to my wife after everything was up and running that I thought there was going to be more to starting a business than there actually was,” Martinez said. “I was really scared, to be honest. I wasn’t sure if I was dotting all my I’s and crossing all my T’s. I got liability insurance, dealt with state workman’s compensation, unemployment, and all these other things.
“There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through, but really, I thought there was going to be a whole heck of a lot more. Maybe because I just wanted to stay small and low-key at first and not bite off a big chunk right off the bat. But, right now, it’s a little bit less than I really expected.”
McConnell said the start-up process was exhilarating and frightening.
“There are so many uncertainties, but the thrill of being able to provide quality services at reasonable prices to hard-working folks is a wonderful feeling,” McConnell said. “Folks here, like everywhere, work hard for their money and often times are subject to unscrupulous business dealings. Home Environment Solutions has a single work motto that we decided early on to follow to the letter: quality work and quality equipment at reasonable prices.”
For the first few months in business, Martinez was determined to make sure his expectations didn’t exceed the reality of the situation. He said it’s been slow, but it’s nothing he didn’t expect starting out. He knew it would be unrealistic to expect people to be beating down the door to start.
“I’m the type of personality that always has low expectations. I don’t want to build myself up for disappointment,” Martinez said. “I had a gut feeling that starting, it was going to be slow, and it has. You have to get out there and establish your name from ground zero. Building the customer base, and building trust in the community, is a daunting task.”
That aspect reared its head for Martinez almost immediately. While submitting a bid on a job, he said the homeowner asked him why he wasn’t listed with the Better Business Bureau. He replied by saying he’s only been in business for a month. He hasn’t heard back about that job.
Those are the types of challenges Martinez has encountered along the way, where he said not having a reputation, whether good, bad, or indifferent, has been one of the biggest issues he’s run into.
“It’s that new-kid-on-the-block aspect,” Martinez admitted. “It can be a little intimidating because people can be put off a little bit by not having that name recognition or having that history in the city of Casper.”
Knowing many people in the community has helped. The pair has also started circulating advertisements in the local newspaper, placing fliers and business cards at various establishments, and visiting real estate agents and the chamber of commerce meetings to share their name.
Even though Martinez has run into some expected road blocks, he is pleased with how things have gone, and is excited to continue growing the business.
“I don’t punch a clock anymore and it’s not as aggravating working for yourself,” he said. “My wife still maintains another job, so we have another stream of income, so there’s not as much pressure to produce right off the bat because we’re not as dependant on having this business succeed immediately to pay the bills. That’s taken a lot of stress off of me. I’m working for myself now, and we’re going to make this thing happen, but it’s going to take time.”
Publication date: 6/24/2013