Help For Business Challenges

October 28, 2004
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The owner of T&T Sales & Service in St. Paul, Va., decided to consult some industry experts to improve the company’s bottom line. In this photo, company employees Greg Blevins (foreground) and Lennie Ring install a new air conditioning system in a St. Paul home.
ST. PAUL, Va. - Many business owners face the same dilemma at one time or another - deciding when to stop working in the business and start working on the business. Terry Boone is no exception. In many ways, the owner of T&T Sales & Service in St. Paul, Va., typifies a scenario played out every day in the HVACR contracting trade.

Boone's company also faces the same challenges many other contractors face - a shortage of qualified help and an inadequate business plan. He recently contacted The News requesting information from a previously published article, and in the process he revealed a little bit about his background and outlined some of the goals he would like his business to achieve. What he didn't know was he would soon have the help of some of the trade's best-known business consultants to help coach him.

This article can be considered the "before" segment of a "before and after" scenario. Boone has agreed to trust some qualified industry experts to chart a course for his business and, in the process, he will take himself out of the field and move into the office, where he can begin implementing a plan to achieve solid growth. Boone hopes that his business can serve as a model that can be copied by other businesses in the same situation.

Terry Boone (left) chats with installer Greg Blevins (center) and service technician Lennie Ring.

Business And The Community

T&T Sales & Service, founded by Boone in 1973, is primarily in the residential service and replacement business, with a few ventures into the light commercial market. Boone employs a service technician, an installer, and a newly hired office manager. His wife, Missy, the company bookkeeper and Boone himself is an installer and technician. Last year's sales revenues were approximately $250,000.

Missy rejoined the company in April 2004, in part to reverse a downward business trend. Boone said, thanks to her, the company is in the black again.

Missy is also a very successful salesperson with Mary Kay cosmetics, having won two cars for her efforts. Attached to T&T's showroom is her own Mary Kay showroom, which also serves as a training room for Boone's technicians.

The company has a lot of warehouse space where Boone keeps test equipment for employee training. He also stocks parts for the equipment he installs be-cause the nearest distributor is 55 miles away. He does this for his customers' convenience. "I don't want any customer to be without heat," he said.

Boone said the weather and utility costs have made the region an ideal market for heat pumps. He noted that electric costs were relatively low, while natural gas prices were expensive in comparison. "In this little area, I have personally developed the heat pump market," he said.

"I do everything in my power to talk people into heat pumps versus gas forced air."

Lenny Ring (left) and Greg Blevins install a new A/C system in a St. Paul home.
His service area spans a 25 to 30 mile radius, which includes more populous communities of southern Virginia. One of those communities is the historic town of Abingdon, where Boone recently rented office space to expand into the market. And it is a good move, considering his base of operations.

St. Paul is a community of 1,000 citizens that has been on the decline for several years. Once a busy coal-mining community, it has now become a shell of its former self. According to Boone, about half of the town's population is retired and the unemployment rate in St. Paul and the surrounding counties is consistently the highest in the state. The town's last major employer, a manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture, closed down three years ago, and the plant sits vacant along the main highway running east of town. Boone said, "We have some of the finest, hardworking people around, but there is no major employer in the area and few prospects for development in the future."

T&T depends on its reputation and word-of-mouth to attract customers. Boone said he does little advertising beyond a Yellow Pages ad. When a customer needs service or needs to replace equipment, it is usually a phone call to the shop that begins the transaction. T&T has no service agreement customers.

Boone is well aware of the things he has done wrong and some things he should be doing. But the problem he faces is finding the time to implement changes. He spends most of his time in the field.

The only real competition for business comes from a company that shares a storefront with a gas station/convenience store, and a few other garage mechanics.

But being the most recognized name in this small town is not enough to ensure continued growth, so while not abandoning his hometown, Boone has decided to hang his shingle in nearby Abingdon, as well.

Terry Boone shows off some duct connectors in the basement of his St. Paul business.

The Future

Abingdon is the county seat and is known for its historic buildings and rapidly growing medical community. It is a neighboring town to "The Virginian," one of the most popular golf country clubs in Virginia and site of real estate developments featuring million dollar homes. There are also other neighborhoods nearby where almost-new homes are at the age when HVAC equipment will need replacing.

Boone is aware of the potential in Abingdon, and has installed several systems in the town, including some in the million dollar homes surrounding The Virginian. He has established a name for himself in the region and now feels it is time to focus his efforts on this growing community. He is very interested in offering whole-house IAQ evaluations. He has enlisted the help of his local Honeywell representative to set up displays in his rented building and to help with marketing IAQ testing and products.

"The market is here for servicing older, historic buildings," Boone said. "But I don't want to focus just on retrofit and service. I want IAQ to be at least 50 percent of my focus." He said there are only "four real competitors in Abingdon and none are doing any marketing in the area."

Abingdon is the right place for Boone to be - he just needs help to grow the business. He can't grow it if he is only running service calls in St. Paul.

Missy and Terry Boone pose in the showroom at T&T Sales & Service Inc.

Enter The News

In an effort to help Boone take the next step in his business growth, several leading consultants to the HVACR trade have offered to help "right the ship."

Al Levi is president of Appleseed Business, Inc. Levi is creator of a two-day Planning Power! visit that results in a comprehensive report, which focuses on what the contractor does well, what needs to stop, and what needs to be done. Levi is a regular contributor to The News' online "Extra Edition."

Levi's help was to provide analysis of Boone's business, including a free phone consultation. The call resulted in a summary report, which included some recommendations.

Adams Hudson is founder of marketing firm Hudson, Ink. Hudson is a regular contributor to The News and offers marketing/advertising consulting services to the HVACR trade. He has given Boone his Service & Maintenance Agreement PowerPack.

"We'll supply Terry with proven, turnkey ads and marketing strategies to gain fairly rapid lead acquisition while plugging any ‘hole in marketing bucket' with solid customer retention," said Hudson.

Mack Heaton is a consultant with No Secrets Training. Heaton is also a monthly guest columnist with The News. Heaton plans to help Boone by going over all proper pricing for profit, operational system functions and tracking, and financials to put him "on the road to leave the truck."

Chris DiRe, the marketing director of SuccessWare, is also an HVAC contractor. DiRe, whose customers include more than 500 HVACR contractors, intends to help Boone implement his software system designed to handle everything from "accounting to scheduling, and from purchasing to inventory management." He is waiving some fees to make this possible.

DiRe stated, "We're going to help Terry make more money and make life easier!"

Ruth King is CEO of ProNetwork.TV Inc., an information company serving the HVACR and plumbing trades. King is helping Boone start up a service agreement program, suggesting agreement formats and pricing.

Boone is also getting help from Mike Wise, his local Honeywell representative, to set up his new showroom in Abingdon and provide IAQ marketing materials. Wise and Honeywell have been instrumental in helping Boone on other community projects.

Finally, in keeping with its new mentor program launched this past year, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) plan to pair Boone up with a successful contractor who will be available to provide advice and guidance via phone and e-mail.

Boone will also be receiving advice from Matt Michel of the Service Roundtable and other HVACR contractors as the process continues.

Family Is The Motivation

On top of all of the plans to expand and change his business, Boone has something more important than anything else on his mind right now - the well-being of his son, Brenton.

Brenton Boone is a member of the U.S. Army, serving in northern Iraq. Boone has been allowed to speak with his son on a fairly regular basis and communicates through e-mail. Keeping up with his business is made more difficult by his son's situation.

But the situation is eased by the closeness of his family, which includes Missy, son Jason, and stepchildren Kellie and Kevin. "Missy has been the glue that has held me together," Boone said.

Boone has an honest desire to run his business properly and support his family. He is not afraid to admit that he needs help.

"For every big, successful company out there, there are probably 10 small struggling companies," Boone said.

"It isn't always the owner's fault for struggling. They may not have the time for training or may not be able to compete in their markets."

Look for more coverage of Boone's revised business plan in future issues of The News.

Publication date: 11/01/2004

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