EAI Member Wins Makeover Contest

January 13, 2005
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Al Levi (left) discusses some warehouse procedures with Aladdin owner Wayne Beck.
Excellence Alliance Inc. (EAI), an alliance of independent HVAC contractors headquartered in Cincinnati, recently sponsored its first "Business Makeover Contest." The contest was co-sponsored by York Heating & Air Conditioning and The News.

Aladdin Air Conditioning and Heating of Newbury Park, Calif., was chosen the winner by John R. Hall, The News' business management editor, and Al Levi, owner of Appleseed Business Inc., Paradise Valley, Ariz. Levi is also a regular contributor to The News' "Extra Edition" at www.achrnews.com.

Levi visited with Aladdin owner Wayne Beck for a two-day assessment of his business. The visit was part of the reward for winning the contest. Ninety days of follow-up support is also included. The assessment will form a basis for the makeover. On his contest entry blank, Beck said his primary reason for entering the contest was to "develop systems and training for his employees that would help them understand and be empowered to accomplish the goals of the team."

Levi stated, "In only four years since Beck left his job as a tech at another company, he has grown his company to a total of 18 employees. But, he is having growing pains.

"He wanted to win the contest because I could put him in the position of putting the systems in place that will allow him, should he desire, to smoothly transition out of the day-to-day operation of the company 10 years from now feeling confident that his staff and customers are well cared for."

Beck told The News that his biggest challenge is "finding good people to bring into our company and then finding the time to train them so that things are done the Aladdin way."

Aladdin owner Wayne Beck checks out the inventory on one of the company trucks.

Improvement Sought

Beck felt his business needed a "systems approach" to success. He felt that if all his employees were used to consistent policies and procedures, they would be able to buy into the Aladdin system.

"Al and I spoke about business, and I quickly realized that there are a lot of different philosophies for setting up and running a successful business," Beck said.

"I also learned the reason that a lot of great ideas I had never got implemented. We talked about how, without systems in place, I was doomed to inconsistent performance.

"Also, I found out that with every new great idea I would want to put in place immediately, I was whipsawing my staff through an ever-changing set of priorities."

Beck said it is possible for employees to lose their focus without discipline. "I knew I'd been fortunate to attract and keep great people who are as enthusiastic as I am," he said. "Unfortunately, people's enthusiasm only gets you so far. We knew we needed to get on the path of creating real written policies, procedures, and systems, and have the discipline to work on the right priorities at the right time. In short, we wanted all of this and more."

Levi said that Beck's enthusiasm for improving his business is genuine, and he is striving to get better. He is also aware of his shortcomings.

"Wayne is smart enough to know he's outgrown the existing ‘stuff' he has, so he's now ready to try the new things he needs to go to the next level," Levi said. "Wayne is much tougher on himself than he needs to be. He was already doing some really good things when I arrived. My goal was to help him go to the next level.

"He is also anxious to share his experience with his fellow contractors. He feels that talking about what was going on at his company, what he's gone through and is already changing, will benefit others."

"I believe that Aladdin mirrors a lot of companies by how we decided to start on our own," Beck said. "For a lot of us, this happens when a tech wakes up one morning and says to himself that he's tired of working for someone else and he is ready to do something about it."

Customer service representative Nikki Hughes takes customer calls and inputs data in the Aladdin CSR office.

The Process Begins

Prior to Levi's visit to Aladdin, Beck started to lay the groundwork for his company's makeover. "We started the process by sending all our forms, memos, invoices, and employee handbook to Al so he could get a better feel for how Aladdin was operating," Beck said.

"Al responded quickly and inserted insightful comments that told us what we're doing well and what we need to change. This made for clear communication that resulted in our changing the materials for the better - immediately."

Levi's visit to the 1,200-square-foot shop (which Aladdin shares with a general contractor and a plumbing company) came during a flurry of activity.

"Al visited my shop on Nov. 29 and 30, just in time to find sunny Southern California in a deep chill," Beck noted.

"This put all my staff and me to the acid test. When Al arrived after the Thanksgiving weekend at precisely 8 a.m., as promised, it was the coldest day of the year. Some employees were out sick, an employee decided to quit over the weekend, and others had just come back to work after working all weekend long. The phones were ringing off the hook.

"Al could easily see that our people and systems were being strained to the limit. We were in full firefighting mode and busy putting out fires burning all around the place both in the office and in the field.

"He made several recommendations right on the spot, but only after careful observation and thought-provoking questions to make sure he clearly understood. He toured the office and the warehouse, met and interviewed key staff members, and provided a thorough inspection of our fleet of vehicles."

Beck said the following things have happened as a result of Levi's visit:

  • A new lease has been signed and Aladdin is moving to a larger office. "Al timed his visit so he could help design the new office," said Beck.

    "He figured out how to create an area to hold meetings and conferences with all our employees at least once a month, a private meeting space for the senior staff, and how and where to build our hands-on live training center, that will allow us the ability to train our techs to deliver service the Aladdin way consistently, each and every time. He also found a way to lay out the new office so it'll be quieter for the CSR [customer service representative] and dispatcher."

  • Warehouse and truck stocks will have, for the first time, a standard layout. The items will each have a minimum and maximum to ensure that only what is needed is ordered. "Al wants us to get out of the warehouse business and so do I," said Beck.

  • There is a renewed emphasis on communication. "I will now be able to have one-on-one conversations with staff and provide the coaching sessions they want," said Beck.

    "Our new environment says, ‘This is important.' It also says, ‘We're making changes for the better.' There's no reason to be afraid of failing because we're going to give you all the training and support you need to succeed."

    Beck told The News that it is now important for him to start working "on" the business, rather than "in" it.

    "I want to create a real company that runs in an organized and predictable way and produce a predictable profit to any potential buyer," he said. "I feel if all you do is work ‘in' your business you will do nothing more than create a job that nobody would want (12-hour days, six days a week with constant money worries)."

    Watch The News for future updates on the Aladdin makeover story.

    Al Levi's company, Appleseed Business, specializes in business systems. His operational manual contains policies, procedures, and checklists designed to ensure consistent business performance. His workshops and consultations help owners and managers run their business with "less stress and more success." Visit www.appleseedbusiness.com for more information.

    Publication date: 01/17/2005

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