[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part
series examining young HVAC contractors and managers. Part one, “Young
Contractors Take Aim at HVAC Future,” is the cover story in this
Buffy Busik, owner of Mountain View Heating, Bend, Ore., is
one of the up-and-coming young guns of the HVAC trade. She is seen here with
her retrofit installation manager, Scott Lanning.
The future of the HVAC trade rests in the hands of today’s
youthful business owners and managers. Although there never seems to be a
shortage of people who hang up an HVAC shingle and call themselves
businesspeople, there does seems to be a shortage of young people who are
dedicated to a successful career in HVAC. There are many good ones out there.
But the HVAC trade is at the crossroads. With the declining
enrollment in HVAC votech schools and more of an interest in the professional,
nonservice trades, the HVAC trade needs to look for ways to replenish its
workforce and keep young professionals.
Derek Kean, of Peterman Heating and Air Conditioning of
Indianapolis, Ind., tells the bad and good about the HVAC trade.
“I am 27 years old and I worry about our trade’s future,” he
“Although I am still young, I have been in the HVAC industry
for 10 years and I have noticed there aren’t a matching number of young bucks coming in as the old guys heading out to pasture. I hope
our industry could entice some of those brighter, younger minds to enter our
field, but our area of expertise requires long hours, impatient customers, and
unpleasant working conditions. I think that is something that younger
generations with their poor work ethics may not find attractive.
“Our industry is continually changing - and changing for the
better. I like the increase in technology in our heating and cooling products.
I like to be able to offer a client exactly what they need for their home or
business that will make them incredibly comfortable and 100 percent dependant
on my services.”
The positive side of Kean’s answers is what Part 2 of
series on the Young Guns of HVAC will focus on why
young business owners and managers stick with their HVAC “guns,” despite the
lure of other career paths and pressure from family and friends to pursue other
Twenty-five-year-old owner Scott Crescenze of Crescenze
Cooling & Heating LLC, Massillon, Ohio, said that sticking with the HVAC
trade is a matter of pride for him. He cited a recent job that made him proud
of the trade.
“My greatest project and accomplishment took place a couple
years ago at a local screenprinting company,” he said. “It was a pretty large
company that made all the large banners and signs seen all over the country.
The company is where my dad worked for 30-plus years. The job came up after
many other companies tried and failed to provide proper preheating for the
signs and proper ventilation for the drying lamps.
“One day in the building, I made a simple comment about how
I would design and solve all the problems. Many employees felt that a young kid
is only going to make things worse. However, I stepped out of my comfort zone
and even guaranteed to save them money on downtime and scrap. They gave me a
chance three years ago and have never had a problem since then. The job has
paid for itself many times over. My dad is now employed by me and no longer
“That job is one of my proudest moments in this business and
also one of my dad’s proudest moments. My father makes it clear to everyone
that I own and run the business while he works for me. I find nothing wrong
with everyone assuming that he owns it; however he tries to stop the
stereotyping before it goes any further.”
For one contractor, being in the HVAC business means helping
people and helping the environment, among several other things. Buffy Busik,
24-year-old owner of Mountain View Heating, Bend, Ore., listed a few reasons
why she loves the HVAC business.
“I do it for the privilege of keeping people comfortable and
healthy, the opportunity to improve our environment by offering products that
are energy efficient, the reward of satisfied customers and getting paid what
you deserve for jobs well done, and the challenge of continually fine tuning
the HVAC facet of the construction industry to improve safety, efficiency, and
comfort,” she said.
IT IS ALL ABOUT PRIDE AND "OWNING IT"
Young contractors like Crescenze credit their passion for
the business to their families and being taught the right way to do things,
such as combining care for customers with care for the environment. These are
unique qualities that appeal to many young guns in the HVAC trade.
Ronald Stroh of D. Silvestri Sons Inc., Fishkill, N.Y., said
that pride is what motivates him the most. “I am most proud of all our
projects,” he said. “We complete each project with the same enthusiasm and
pride in our craftsmanship. There is no one single job that I was not proud of,
even when the project becomes difficult because of unforeseen problems. The
jobs still come out as good as any other and we can still be proud of it, and
proud to put our company label on it.”
“Even though I am a fourth-generation family-owned company and
manage it now, the biggest satisfaction I got when installing, and all our
employees get, is from making a customer smile when you leave the job,” said
John Ford of Columbus/Worthington Air & Columbus Mechanical, Hilliard,
“With the heat down here, homeowners feel desperate when
their system breaks down, and are looking for somebody to get their system
cooling as fast as possible. When we can take care of that need, it’s hard to
find anything better than making the homeowner comfortable again. Another
reason people make this trade a career is every service call or installation is
different. HVAC is definitely not a routine job, every system, problem, and
homeowner is different.”
Another way of “owning” it is to build up the business and
take responsibility for its growth. Young guns like Adam Sater, service manager
for Commercial Service of Bloomington Inc., Bloomington, Ind., has made
customer acquisition his favorite project.
“I am most proud of widening our customer base,” he said. “I
focus on establishing both new customers and building long-term relationships.
When I became the service manager, we had about 230 contracts, and now we are
closing in on 1,000. Many hands have helped make this number grow each year.
“We are very proud of our service accomplishments and the
team that we continue to grow and build. Our service revenue continues to grow
each year while hitting our gross profit margin goals.”
Growing a customer base and keeping them happy is also what
keeps Lewis Williams of Mike Williams Plumbing, Heating, & Air
Conditioning, Springfield, Ill., in the HVAC business.
“Success is easy because our competition really doesn’t want
the work,” he said. “We want the
work. We want to professionalize
our industry. We want to set the standard for customer service in our industry.
“Some of the old people in our industry just want a paycheck
and they feel like they have to have this job to get a paycheck. We don’t get up to go to work to get a
paycheck at the end of the week. We go to work to change our industry and
improve the lives of our employees. Our
success is, and will continue, to come easily as we strive to improve the lives
of our employees and work towards something higher than a paycheck and the
competition will fall off to the wayside.”
Adam Sater (right) service manager for Commercial Service of
Bloomington, Inc., Bloomington, Ind., passes along some of his young gun advice
to service tech Brian Gasque.
TRAINING KEEPS THEM HOME, TOO
The HVAC learning curve is never stagnant. Changes in
technology to include computers, programming, controls, commissioning, etc.
have kept interest levels very high among HVAC young guns. Being part of the
“touchy-feely” generation is more reason for future owners and managers to stay
on top of the latest trends in HVAC. Many of the young guns keep their interest
level up by attending ongoing training, both in the class and in the field.
To most, on-the-job training is the key to success. One
contractor bragged about his learning curve. “I realized how badly I failed in
receiving a conventional education and saw this as my opportunity to set things
right with myself,” said Paul Lockhardt of Champaign Heating & Air,
“I saw the limitless potential for growth and the high
demand for people who just wanted to learn. I also recognized the new
technology, which many contractors refused to acknowledge due to the old dog,
new tricks rule and saw it as a way to set myself apart in a very short period
“In five years, I went from the guy who sweeps the floor and
doesn’t know what a compressor is to running my own shop doing residential and
commercial HVAC as well as refrigeration and draft beer systems. I have now
been in business four years and looking at grossing $600K. Not bad for a high
Tim Pulliam of Arms & Cole, Traverse City, Mich.,
believes there is no substitute for training - and seeks out as much as he can.
“There is no replacement for on-the-job-training to pass on the true
craftsmanship of our trade,” he said. “Working with passionate, more
experienced journey people is what inspired me to strive for excellence in my
field. It also gave me the nothing is impossible outlook that keeps frustration
at a minimum while problem solving.”
Other young guns see the importance of a blend of classroom
training and field experience. One person took his field experience and worked
it into a classroom setting. Bryan Orr of Kalos Services Inc., Clermont/Eustus,
Fla., was approached by his service manager to teach an in-house training class
that would take totally green technicians and train them to do residential
system starts and preventative maintenance after about one month of classroom
and on-the-job training. Kalos was 21-years-old at the time.
“I was given this job with no curriculum and little guidance
other than to take employees hired by other managers
and produce results within approximately a month’s time,” he said. “Two years
and 50 service technicians later, I was hiring all of the trainees, training
them in the classroom, and managing them once they started on their own. The basic
concept is this: Find good people and train them in HVAC, instead of taking
people who know HVAC and attempting to make them into good people.”
In order to be trained, young people have to be willing to
step in the classroom first. If potential young guns know the real potential
for growth, they can win the numbers game.
And it is a numbers game for some HVAC technicians. At least
that’s what Jason Putnam of Pro-Air Services Inc., Decatur, Ala., thinks. He
figures that the declining enrollments in HVAC votech programs can be a bonanza
“I see this as a great opportunity for young people,” he
said. “This is a great market that is made even better with the decrease of
good, qualified people. A young person entering the trade will be in demand and
will earn a very good wage.”