How One Contractor Reversed His Fortunes

Tom O’Connor talks about his company’s rise from the doldrums after two successive down years in replacement sales.
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Tom O'Connor has seen the good and the bad. He prefers his current state of business: good. The owner of Shamrock Heating & A/C in Carol Stream, Ill., an AirTime 500 member, recently told fellow members about how he turned his business around after struggling for a couple of years.

O'Connor said his replacement sales in 2002 were down 4 percent from the previous year. Sales in 2003 were even worse - down 5.7 percent from 2002. "I'm not a numbers person, but I could tell that things were tightening up," he said.

O'Connor said that at first he was reticent to ask for help, but finally he decided to tap into the resources of his contractor group. "If you are struggling, you can find incredible leadership with the people here," he said, referring to AirTime 500.

He called AirTime 500 president Terry Nicholson, who promptly told him, "You gotta run the program - it works!"

Turning It Around

O'Connor said his company was literally walking away from revenues during the down years. "We were walking away from 25 percent of furnace failures," he noted. "We've all been walking away from more furnace failures than we ever dreamed of.

"These were replacement opportunities that we didn't recognize. We were sitting on a gold mine of replacement sales."

O'Conner fell into the trap of thinking that organizational systems don't work and when the going gets tough, it is hard to believe in a selling system.

"For the person who says that systems don't work, they probably won't work," he said.

"I call that dumpster talk. Some of the systems we were only doing halfway. I never did any dispatch debriefing. We weren't going through the service calls and holding techs accountable."

O'Connor added it is important for contractors to charge enough to give their customers the most accurate information about the equipment and services, and to hold employees accountable for every service and replacement call.

One way that O'Connor turned his business around was by eliminating money losses throughout the company, i.e., eliminating unused phone lines, commission overpayments, double billing from vendors, etc.

He said another solution to sagging revenues was to boost company morale by adding a mini-staff meeting every day and handing out "attaboys" to service techs. "It wasn't my nature to pat people on the back, but now I go out looking for people to give ‘attaboys' to," O'Connor said.

Shamrock technicians were trained to find the furnace failures they couldn't find before. He said a new program called the "Professional Furnace Safety Consultants" would soon be available to AirTime 500 members. It is designed to help service techs diagnose every furnace failure.

The bottom line for Shamrock's replacement sales in 2004 was a 35.1-percent increase and a net profit of 16.6 percent. The total included indoor air quality product sales and a 67-percent increase in duct cleaning revenues.

Publication date: 03/28/2005

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