We'll Work for Fuel
This train of thought was prompted for me when I reread the story of Guglielmo Marconi. He’s credited with the invention of the radio, but at the time, his friends thought he was crazy. At one point, they even locked him up in a psychiatric ward. But Marconi believed in himself and his idea, and because of that belief, almost everyone today has a radio.
A similar test of faith is taking place in New Orleans as contractors struggle to return their businesses to the success they had before Katrina.
DISASTER STRIKESImagine having your business 8 feet underwater, losing 40 percent of your trucks, and losing 40 percent of your employees in one day. Imagine your market shrinking as homeowners leave - never to return.
These were the circumstances facing many New Orleans contractors, and Rob Boyd of Boyd Mechanical, Slidell, La., was one of them. Why did he decide to stay in Louisiana and open his business again? He had faith in himself, and that faith and belief were solidified the day he opened the door to his flooded office after the hurricane.
“When we came back, the smell was so bad. We had six inches of mud and decaying animals from the lake next to our shop just filling our office. When I looked up at our shelves, the Building an All Star Team video series from AirTime 500 was at the top. We later went home and popped in one of the training tapes,” said Boyd. “It was a great story of overcoming adversity that really inspired us.”
Of his 20 employees, several left for good and others had to be let go for other reasons.
“Some guys just couldn’t deal with what happened. We had to let two guys go because they started doing drugs. They were freaking out,” he noted.
Boyd’s team of 20 was down to 14 after the storm with many of his team members scared to leave their homes and come back to work.
“I had to go visit them at their homes or their FEMA trailer and tell them it’s going to be all right. We’re going to get through this. There was a pile of debris in front of the office as tall as the shop, but FEMA was helping us get it out of there, so there was hope.”
That hope is what pushed Boyd to rebuild Boyd Mechanical, but even with that hope, the challenges were steep.
“Two subdivisions in our community are still devastated. In our parish of 100,000, the population went down to about 60,000,” said Boyd. “Plus, we lost four of our trucks and $80,000 in our inventory that I didn’t have insurance on.”
“Our plan was to get in touch with our crew and make a decision 72 hours before landfall to move our trucks. On Friday night, the storm was supposed to go to Florida. I got a call that we were going to have to move our trucks, but everyone had left for the weekend,” said Boyd. “Saturday morning, I got up early and started moving trucks, but it was too late. The interstates were all clogged so we were only able to move four trucks out of our 10. Thankfully, two of the guys that evacuated moved their trucks with them, but out of 10 trucks, we lost four and everything in them.”
BACK IN BUSINESS?Boyd put his remaining trucks and crew to work shortly after the storm hit by calling all of his club members to see if they needed anything or if the company could help in any way. Next, they focused on using their trucks to make a presence in the community because their phones were down for nearly a month.
“We were just trying to make contact and then we would track what zones were getting power back based on whether the answering machines picked up. If the answering machine was there, they had power, and we’d get a truck to that area,” said Boyd. “At that point, we didn’t need phones because as you’d drive through a neighborhood, people would just ask you to fix this and that. I was running calls in our own neighborhood to generate some revenue. I never thought I’d be back in the truck again.”
A year and a half after Katrina, the face of the HVAC industry in the area has shifted.
“After Katrina, we went all to replacement,” noted Boyd. “We did very little maintenance until last year at the end of the summer. I anticipate that we’ll probably be replacing units damaged by the storm for the next three years.”
This backlog of work has Boyd’s crews busy, but the challenge he faces today is finding qualified employees to fill out his team. He’s still not up to the manpower he was before the storm. However, in October, he got a second install crew in action.
MAKING NEW PLANSWith the clarity of hindsight, Boyd has made plans to protect himself, his team, and his family when the next storm arrives.
“We bought a piece of land that’s on a hill north of I-12, which is the border for what is considered the safe zone for a category five storm. We put a container there, and now we’re going to evacuate 110 hours ahead of any storm, rather than 72,” remarked Boyd. “We’re also going to put our equipment and trucks up there and bring fuel. After Katrina, we were swapping out work for fuel. People would call us to do work, but we couldn’t get there because we didn’t have fuel.”
What kept Boyd going after Katrina was the belief he had in his company and in the systems he had in place. “We were blessed to be part of AirTime 500 and have the systems in place, or I probably would have closed the doors,” explained Boyd. “What I mean is that we knew how much money we were spending. I could go to my manager, who at the time was operating out of her home, and see where we were at with labor and materials, so at the end of the day I knew if we were making money.
“If the systems aren’t in place, you’re not going to make money. Today, other contractors are busy, but there are many going out of business,” he said. “Some of these companies aren’t charging the right amount. They think they’re making money, but they’re not.”
In spite of these numerous challenges that life has dealt Boyd Mechanical, it is thriving. It’ll finish out this year at about $2 million in revenue, and Boyd has his sights set on $5 million in the near future.
STOP AND THINKAs you reflect on your own challenges that you face in this HVAC business, think about Boyd and the other contractors and families in the Gulf Coast region. They’ve experienced challenges in the past year and a half that few of us will ever have to think about, and they’re rebuilding their businesses and communities on the belief and the faith that a bright future is just around the bend.
Be thankful for the many blessings and opportunities you have available to you and never lose faith in your ability to run a successful company. Believing in yourself is not only how you handle life’s challenges, but it’s how you make money every day.
Publication date: 04/30/2007