A Testament To A Million Dollar Salesman

May 26, 2004
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Two years ago, Tom McCart was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He now spends most of his waking hours in a motorized wheelchair. (Photo by Charlie Greer.)
[Editor's note: Tom McCart is considered the first HVAC residential salesperson to have sold over $1 million of replacement equipment in one year in a one-season market. Since that time, McCart has become a very familiar face in the industry. His experience includes work in sales and sales management, and his credentials include general manager and licensed contractor. He was also vice president of training and development for a multinational trade service franchiser with over 450 franchise locations. Two years ago, McCart was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Then, last year, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Longtime friend Charlie Greer visited McCart recently and filed this report.]

What's it like to watch history in the making? I learned in August of 1985. I'd been working at Modern Air Conditioning in Fort Myers, Fla., for five months when Tom McCart was hired as a new sales trainee.

With no prior industry experience, he outsold me and everyone else who'd ever worked in HVAC residential replacement sales by closing $1 million in sales in a single year. And, he did it his first full calendar year in the business, 1986. This earned him the moniker "HVAC's Million Dollar Salesman." (See "Super Salesman Tells $1 Million Success Formula in Southwest Florida," The News, April 25, 1988.)

As incredible as that accomplishment was (and still is), you have to know Tom McCart to truly appreciate him. Tom McCart is an incredible man.

The Early Years

Tom McCart was born into a poor, rural family, whose first home had a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing. He had polio as a child and was unable to walk from age two through age five.

The first $200 he made was running white lightning in the backwoods of Kentucky at the age of 14. He dropped out of college and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966, where he volunteered for the tank corps in Europe. When asked why he joined the tank corps, he responded, "You don't have to obey the road signs when you're in a tank."

After leaving the military, he spent a year selling real estate in Cape Coral, Fla., as he puts it, "at low tide." He then spent the next 15 years in retail store management and resigned when they handed him his tenth transfer notice.

McCart admits that he interviewed at Modern Air Conditioning in Fort Myers in 1985 not to find a job but to acquire a signature on his job search form so that he could collect unemployment compensation. The way he saw it, unemployment compensation was going to be the first paid vacation he'd had in his entire life.

A funny thing happened on the way to getting an unemployment check, however. Much to McCart's surprise, he was offered a position as a residential replacement salesperson.

Prior to McCart's arrival, the sales office at Modern was a quiet, reserved, and dignified place to work. He changed all that with his bawdy sense of humor, his practical jokes, and his ruthless pursuit of residential replacement sales.

McCart was "Staff Engineer of the Month" so many times in a row that the company realized the monthly distinction and plaque had become a demotivating force for the rest of the sales staff. As a result, the company ceased issuing the award. Looking back, McCart says, "I found myself working harder for that $7 plaque than I ever did for money."

The McCart Way

The general assumption is that it's easy to sell air conditioning in Florida. Southwest Florida has been called a "cooling only" market. Actually, that's not true. When I moved there in 1983, I lived for a solid year in a home with no heating or air conditioning, so neither is absolutely essential.

In 1986, Modern Air Conditioning's market area consisted of 410,000 homes, the vast majority of which were owned by "winter residents" who were gone all summer, the only season in which our products and services were required.

Modern was constantly in "recruiting mode," so we were always overcrowded with salespeople. This meant leads were few and far between, even in the summer. For example, the year Tom sold $1 million, he was issued a total of 337 sales leads for the year. He closed 303 of them.

(Note: I've heard whisperings that these closing ratios were due to Modern setting their prices too low. The average gross profit, after paying an average 7 percent commission, was in excess of 40 percent. Does that seem too low to you?)

Something that also needs to be taken into consideration is that not every salesperson at Modern had a high closing ratio. Over the approximately three years Tom and I worked there together, we saw a dozen salespeople come and go because our prices were too high for them to sell.

Since we'd go for weeks without any leads, Tom and I took it upon ourselves to generate our own sales. We knocked on the doors of homes where we'd spotted a window air conditioner and offered to install central air conditioning while consolidating their debts into one loan. In truth, we were providing homeowners with central cooling and heating plus increasing the value of their home, without increasing their monthly expenses.

We knocked on the doors of homes where we saw an older condensing unit and offered to change it out for them. We knocked on the doors of homes in neighborhoods where we recently completed an installation and offered to check their system over. We visited the homes of our service agreement customers and offered solutions to any indoor comfort or general service problems they were experiencing. We scoured the company files for people with older equipment and either called or wrote them, offering to lower their overall cost of cooling and heating with new equipment. We solicited people where we ate and shopped.

Ah, life was good.

Life After Modern Air

Shortly after his record-breaking year, McCart had a serious auto accident, which took him out of the field for the better part of a year. He left Modern within a year of resuming full-time work. He spent the next few years working as a combination salesperson/sales manager for a few local companies, then struck out on his own, hitting the national seminar/consulting circuit.

He gave up his private consulting practice and spent three years as vice president of training and development for Dwyer Trade Services, the parent corporation of Aire Serv and other service-oriented franchises.

From 1995 to 2003, he once again hit the road on his own, mentoring contractors, writing, and conducting seminars.

Three years ago, McCart suffered a serious heart attack while working in Pennsylvania. He allowed that to slow him down for all of about two months.

Two years ago he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is an incurable fatal neuromuscular disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness, resulting in paralysis.

Seeing his impending disability rushing toward him, McCart spent all of 2002 working like a madman, taking almost no time off, racing around airports and contractors' offices on a scooter, essentially paralyzed from the waist down.

Then, in 2003, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery and radiation treatment for the disease. Currently, he has lost all movement in his legs and arms and has a small amount of movement remaining in his hands. He's also experiencing some facial paralysis.

As ALS does not affect the mind or the senses, McCart is still sharp as a tack. Since his "total disability" began, McCart has still managed to conduct two multi-day seminars in Fort Myers, release seven new books and a software package, and shoot an interview for the DVD series "Service Contracting Superstars." He still writes.

He remains active on the Service Roundtable as a "Consult and Coach Partner," where he responds to member questions and comments on an almost daily basis. He mentors contractors over the telephone and via e-mail.

His Web site, www.nosecrets.com, is constantly updated by McCart himself, and now features free calculators, worksheets, forms, and downloads on nearly every page.

His seminars and consulting business has been turned over to longtime friend, colleague, and fellow million-dollar salesman, Mack Heaton.

Still, simple things we take for granted - like breathing, swallowing, and coughing - are extremely difficult for McCart. Amazingly, he bears it all without complaint. His beloved wife of nearly 40 years, Diane, to whom he credits much of his success, tends to most of his personal needs. He now spends most of his waking hours strapped into a motorized wheelchair in front of his computer.

It is difficult seeing a true living legend in this current condition. Even so, it is further testament to the fact that Tom McCart is still an incredible man.

Read Charlie Greer's personal tribute to Tom McCart, "Raw Truth About An Incredible Man," in this issue.

Tom McCart

Sidebar: What Did He Say? Glad You Asked

Here are some of Tom McCart's favorite sayings and words of wisdom:

On sales:
"Stop selling and start helping people to buy."

On success:
"Successful people will do what unsuccessful people are unable to or are unwilling to try."

On the secrets to his success:
"There are no secrets. Learn all you can about your product and learn all you can about sales. Set goals. Make them time-specific and make them mandatory. Then don't settle for anything less than success."

On his reputation:
"I wasn't trying to set any records or break new ground. I was simply trying to earn a living."

On the future of HVAC:
"The future of the HVAC industry lies in the technician. Without service technicians, there would be no HVAC industry."

On the service technician shortage:
"Our service technicians are not recommending this field to their friends, families, and children. Currently, in most companies, being a tech is a dead-end job. We'll continue to have a shortage of service techs until we remedy that situation. Additionally, we need to allow our techs to have a life outside of their jobs."

On his medical condition:
"What makes my situation easy to accept is that we were born to die. I had polio as a child. I was never supposed to walk. I walked for 50 years. It's not how many times you get knocked down. It's how many times you're willing to get up. Life, to me, has been one challenge after another. You've got to meet it head-on. You accept life for what it is, but you don't have to suffer from it. Be the best you can be. For me, survival is not an option. I want to win. I feel very fortunate. I feel like a winner."

- Charlie Greer

Sidebar: Milestones And Products, Courtesy Of Tom McCart

There have been some memorable "firsts" for Tom McCart. He was the first member of the Service America "Million Dollar Club" (1987), the first recipient of the "Thomas R. ‘Doc' Rusk Award" (2003), and the first recipient of the Service Roundtable "Servant Leader Award" (2004).

He has produced numerous books, as well as software and a DVD interview. A list of his products includes:

Books:

  • Selling HVAC Replacements to Homeowners.

  • The Selling Script Book for Overcoming Stalls and Objections.

  • Demand Service Operations Manual.

  • 240+ Low Cost Marketing Ideas for HVAC Contractors.

  • Service Agreement Start-up Manual.

  • Legal "Tell-Marketing" for the 21st Century.

  • Tom McCart's Forms Manual for HVAC Contractors.

    Software:

  • Tom McCart's Retail Replacement Equipment Price Book Software System.

    DVD:

  • Service Contracting Superstars (interview).

    All products listed above are available at www.hvacprofitboosters.com. Proceeds are used for Tom McCart's medical and long-term care expenses.

    - Charlie Greer

    Publication date: 05/31/2004

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