Family pride, fierce independence

July 13, 2000
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A recurring theme throughout Oklahoma City hvacr businesses is “family owned.” That is certainly true of Drabek & Hill, run by second-generation family member Claude Drabek. Founded by his father in 1961, the company has two offices serving the greater Oklahoma City region and employing 50 workers.

Drabek believes in the concept of a family-owned and family-run business, stating that he is “fiercely independent and plans on staying a family business.”

Drabek has two children. His son works summers at the business. Drabek would like to see him become the third-generation owner, but he is not pushing him.

“I don’t want to trap my children into being in the industry if they don’t want to be,” he said. “I had the choice and I chose this. It was a great move to go into hvac. It is an exciting business and we’ve been on cloud nine.”

Drabek is the first to admit that he has been keeping an eye on some of the new competitors in town, namely Service Experts/ Lennox and Rescue Rooter/ARS.

“Service Experts came in and bought my largest Carrier competitor, then they turned around and bought about six other companies in this market,” he said. “And then ARS bought my largest Lennox competitor.

“They actually wiped out some of the lower-end competitors so it’s been all right in that sense.

“They have contacted me and I’ve said ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ We didn’t build this company to sell it. We can grow it our own way.”

Drabek is also concerned about impending competition from big box retailers like Home Depot, companies that will try to cut into a profitable part of his business.

“We don’t want to go to where we just sell labor,” he said. “We like to sell a finished, installed product because I can’t exist on just labor hours. I have to make a profit on the rest of it.”

Drabek saw the writing on the wall and decided it would be best to “tie up” his customers for the long haul by selling products with longer-than-usual warranties.

“We’ve seen this coming on for a long time so every 12 seer system we sell has a 10-year parts and labor warranty on it and every 10 seer system has a five-year warranty,” he added.

Drabek recently went back and got his plumber’s license, and with an existing electrician’s license, he can now diversify and offer customers a number of services.

Even with fewer competitors, finding qualified employees is still a problem. Drabek stated that with a healthy local economy and a solid workforce, the hvacr trade has a tough time finding qualified help.

“We have a state license that says every lead person in the field has to be a journeyman,” he said.

“And it’s a hard test to pass. The test discourages a lot of guys after taking it a few times. The test is all book and no mechanical aptitude and the pass rate is six percent.”

Drabek added that the state could attract more hvacr workers if it passed “right to work” legislation which would allow union and non-union people to work on the same project.

Regardless of the tight labor market, which is Drabek’s big concern for future growth, he believes the success of his business will hinge on keeping customers coming back and strengthening the referral business.

“Our reputation has got to be there,” he said. “Eighty percent of our business is repeat or referral.

“Don’t be afraid to work. Offer 24-hour service, good product lines, and stand behind your word — whether it hurts or not.”

Sidebar: A catchy tune goes a long way

How often to you find yourself humming a tune from a popular television or radio commercial? Think of famous ones like “A sprinkle a day help keeps odor away” or “Did somebody say MacDonalds?” And then there are slogans like “Where’s the beef?” and “It’s the real thing.”

How about these: “Often Imitated…Never Duplicated!” and “It’s the Service and Installation That Really Count!”

If you live in Oklahoma, chances are you know the last two. That’s because these slogans have been registered to Drabek & Hill since the early 1960s.

“When my salespeople walk up to a door, the kids in the house are singing our song,” said Claude Drabek. “It sticks with everybody, and it is not an obnoxious song.

“We tag these slogans to almost everything, including fleet vehicles, billboards, newsprint ads, not to mention television and radio spots.”

Drabek pointed out one familiar face in the hvacr industry that many consumers are familiar with and how his own symbols have helped his company.

“Dave Lennox has been an icon for Lennox, and our penguin and jingle have been an icon for us,” he said. “Television companies have run surveys and ours is the number two most recognized jingle in the state behind a jewelry company that has been in business before statehood.”

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