Bob Wilkos, Business Leader for Peaden Air Conditioning & Heating, talks with CAAG members about selling their company as the brand name.

SAVANNAH, Ga. - Bob Wilkos said he has probably sold every leading brand of HVACR equipment except one during his career in the trade. But he has always made it a point to sell his company as the brand and not the product he sells. Wilkos, business leader for Peaden Air Conditioning & Heating, Panama City, Fla., recently spoke to members of the Conditioned Air Association of Georgia Inc. (CAAG) during the group’s annual conference in Savannah. Wilkos stressed the importance of selling the business as the brand.

“A brand is not your logo,” he said. “What you do defines your brand. That could include having a solid reputation and a loyal following.”

Wilkos said it is important that contractors establish their own brand in light of events that have impacted the HVACR trade from the early ’90s, including utility competition, consolidation, big box retailers, and the changing distribution channel. “We’ve seen a lot of manufacturers who have bought distributors and contractors,” he added.


Wilkos pointed out that Peaden began as a one-man shop repairing room air conditioners and was eventually built up into a $7 million business due to quality service and because the name Peaden was becoming a TOMA (top of mind awareness) leader in the community.

He noted the TOMA rating for the Peaden name rose from 6 percent in 1997 to 36 percent in 2007. A lot of the recognition has to do with the eye-catching graphics the company uses in its ads and on its vehicles. The colorful Comfort Creature is a regular fixture in the Panama City community. In fact, people buy imprinted products with the graphic because it is so popular.

“We noticed that our stickers were disappearing from our service vans,” Wilkos said. “When we cruised the local high school parking lot we found out where they went.”

But it isn’t just the creature that has built name awareness and the customer base. Far from it. It has been the selling of service agreements - Peaden’s name for them is Energy Savings Plans (ESP) - and they have “changed us forever,” said Wilkos.

Peaden increased its ESP base from 1,500 in 1998 to 10,000 in 2007. “We do 20,000 tune-ups a year and have 14-15 techs who just do tune-ups 5 ½ days a week,” said Wilkos. “How did we do this? We stressed TOMA for our whole company.

“The HVACR industry, as a whole, has done a horrendous job of selling maintenance. We made it a priority.”

He added that TOMA is powerful because equipment breakdown can never be predicted. And when it does happen, people remember the Peaden name. “If you arrive in Panama City and don’t see our name somewhere in the first 48 hours, I would give you the money in my wallet,” he told CAAG members.

Name recognition also comes through the timing of TV or radio ads. Peaden runs its ads in the morning to keep the company on people’s minds throughout the workday.

“We are a community with 60,000 households,” Wilkos said. “And 10,000 of them have active service agreements with us. When a prospective customer calls and is told they can’t get service the same day, they are told we can come out that day if they have a service agreement.”


Wilkos listed several other things that Peaden does to maintain its leadership in the local HVACR trade. It starts out with not worrying about being the largest. “There is no pride in being the largest,” he said. “There is pride in being the best. When I arrived at Peaden this was the case. I even told the largest company that they were not the best, which was a brash statement.”

Peaden has carried its own brand of private label equipment and products for several years. It is another way of selling the company name and it has worked well. “We private label 75-80 percent of the equipment we sell,” Wilkos said. “We go to the market with five brands and two of them are ours.”

The company requires all of its service techs to be NATE certified, demonstrating to customers the importance of a well-trained staff. Wilkos also sends out a regular newsletter via e-mail, titled “As the Fan Turns.”

He knows the importance of good media relations and makes sure the customers who can spread the word about Peaden via the local media are put on a V.I.P. list. “That means we take care of them lickety-split,” said Wilkos.

He also reviews every maintenance ticket in the company and recommended that all CAAG members do the same thing. Wilkos reviewed 18,000 tickets in the last year.

Follow-up is very important at Peaden, too. “No matter what we do for a customer we call them back within 72 hours to see how they are doing,” Wilkos said. “We want to make sure they are satisfied.”

Publication date:05/26/2008