Contractor Focuses On Being Part Of The Community

December 12, 2001
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DECATUR, IL — The city of Decatur may have 85,000 people, but it has a small-town, everybody-knows-your-name feel.

That’s partially due to its Central Illinois, Heartland of America location. It’s not part of sprawling suburbia; it is, in many ways, a self-contained community. For the most part, the townsfolk have been around for many years.

So when lifelong area resident Steve Fisher set out to start up a heating and air conditioning company six years ago, he drew upon his familiarity with the community to find the right people to work for him and to develop his customer base.

“We consciously try to grow the business and be the best around here,” he said during an interview at a restaurant near his office in downtown Decatur. “Being the best starts with the employees and having the best people work with you.”

While TV, radio, newspapers and Yellow Pages are used, most business is generated by word of mouth. “We have our reputation and a sense of professionalism, honesty, and integrity. The town knows that.”

Fisher’s been in the industry for some 28 years, first working part time while in high school, then working for 20 years for another contractor in town.

In 1995 he went out on his own and formed Air King with an initial staff of four. Today, the company has 23 employees, including eight service technicians.

There are eight service trucks. The majority of business is within a 30-mile radius, although recently the company has been expanding into the more growth-oriented Bloomington-Normal, IL, area, where it has a branch office.

Air King does about 75% residential work and 25% light commercial. There is a 50/50 split between heating and air conditioning. New construction comprises only about 10% of the business; the primary focus is on retrofits and upgrades.

CUSTOMER CARE

The company is an American Standard dealer and has been recognized as one of the manufacturer’s Customer Care Dealers. To achieve such recognition, a contractor allows an independent third party to conduct surveys of customers to determine satisfaction and moves immediately to respond to any problems reported in the surveys.

According to American Standard, “Customer Care Dealers are among the finest heating and air conditioning professionals in the industry, because they meet the rigid requirements established by our program — standards not everyone in the business can live up to.”

Air King has been an American Standard dealer from the start. Fischer had been working for a Trane contractor before that. Since American Standard owns Trane and offers products under both the American Standard and Trane brand names, Fisher wanted to maintain ties to American Standard. “I was familiar with the line. I wanted to use quality equipment,” he said.

He met with Andy Holt of Holt Supply in Bloomington, which carries the American Standard brand, and a close relationship developed.

Remembered Holt, “Steve had an excellent business plan from the beginning. We took an instant liking to one another.”

A number of technicians who work for Fisher have received training at technical institutes in Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. Each spring and fall, Holt Supply hosts technical meetings that the Air King techs attend. Techs are supplied full uniforms and are expected to use items such as drop cloths and booties while working on a customer’s hvac equipment.

Overall, Fisher seeks to hire “people who are motivated. Then you can teach them the business.”

Outside the Air King office in downtown Decatur, IL, are (from left) sales manager Jeff Zerfkowski, president Steve Fisher, and Andy Holt of Holt Supply.

FLAT RATE PRICING

Air King use a flat rate pricing system. Shortly after forming the company, Fisher heard of the concept during a Holt seminar presented by industry consultant Ron Collier. Andy Holt recalled that Fisher did more than just show interest in the concept; he instituted it at his company almost immediately. Fisher said it was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

While Fisher carries the title of president, he said Air King is much more than one person. He noted all employees contribute to the success of the company. He especially acknowledged sales manager Jeff Zerfowski and installation managers Steve McQueen and Tom Lohmar as key players “as well as many others.”

Air King was being formed at the time consolidation was in full-speed-ahead mode. But Fisher noted he was never approached by such an organization, nor did he have any interest in the concept.

Fisher has a simple philosophy about the future of his ever-growing business. Air King plans to be a part of the community and surrounding area for many, many years to come.

Fisher says, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, “I’ll be here forever.”

Publication date 12/17/2001

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