In the Contractor's Words: Great Lakes Heating, A/C, & Electrical

December 28, 2009
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NAME, TITLE: Michael L. Ritter Jr., general manager

COMPANY NAME, CITY, STATE: Great Lakes Heating, Air Conditioning, & Electrical Inc., 22189 State Road 23, South Bend, Ind. 46614

HOW LONG IN BUSINESS: Since 1957

BIGGEST CHANGE TO THE BUSINESS: “Customers used to appreciate when you did the little extras that were not standard,” said Ritter. “Now it is standard, and expected. That is why we are always trying to find those extra little things that are not expected. After all, our loyal customers deserve to get that little extra for standing by us.”

KEY MARKETS: Michiana area (South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Niles, and surrounding communities)

ASSOCIATIONS AND AFFILIATIONS: ACCA, President of Wise Guys MIX group, Indiana Heating & Air Conditioning Alliance, ABC

HOW DO THESE AFFILIATIONS HELP YOU: “The seminars are always great and we pick up one or two tidbits we can put in place or are reminded of ones we have slacked on,” Ritter said. “Bar none, though, my Wise Guys MIX group is by far where we get the most help. They hold us accountable to our stated goals and to improving our services to our customers and coworkers.” According to Ritter, “There is nothing like stating in front of your peers you are going to do something and know one or all of them will ask how you did that.” It helps ensure that you actually take action. “Nobody wants to say they failed or did not follow through,” he said. “Plus, the ideas we get from one another and hear what has and what has not worked is invaluable!”

BIGGEST CURRENT HURDLE TO OVERCOME: “I think someone would be hard pressed to defend any answer today other than the economy,” Ritter said. “A wise man once told me, ‘If you run your business like you are in a recession all of the time, you will flourish; when a recession does come, and one will, you will be prepared to make it through and come out stronger.’ I had no idea how true that was, but I am glad that was one of the few times I listened as a young know-it-all.”

COMPANY STATISTICS (number of employees in field, service, installation, office; number of trucks): Three comfort advisors, five comfort repair specialists, three comfort installation crews (consisting of a NATE-certified lead installer and a helper), one director of first impressions (receptionist/dispatcher), three office personnel, general manager

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE INDUSTRY: Without a doubt, Ritter’s favorite thing is the people. “Sure, there is always going to be that one customer who gives you a hard time, but the overwhelming majority of people out there we work with are great! Today’s media floods us with negative information, and we tend to forget there are still so many good people out there,” he said. “Every day in this industry we get to associate with the real majority - Americans that are honest, pleasant, personable, and caring. It is always uplifting to interact on a daily basis with them.”

SUMMING IT UP: The economy is rough, Ritter acknowledged, “but there are many good people out there who do not expect to get something for nothing. They do expect to get the very best service they can, and the little extra we have found they want right now really should not be the little extra. It is simply to have someone they can call, depend upon, and get quick responses from. Our customers understand that we are not perfect,” he said; “they do not understand when we have communication breakdowns on our end, and they should not have to.”

In addition, “We strive to make sure our comfort repair specialists and comfort installation crews are on top of their game by spending two hours every Monday working on real equipment in our showroom of over 20 pieces. More than that, though, we train on communication skills and go over what our customers want, relating to the specific scenarios each customer may be in.

“Any one of your customers should be able to get a hold of the GM at minimum,” Ritter said. “That is why my home and cell phone number is on every one of my business cards. With well-trained and empowered coworkers, you can do this with no worries.”

Publication date: 12/28/2009

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