Dave and Julie Adams
Dave and Julie Adams won the 2011 Aire Serv Franchise of the Year award.

One of the biggest fears of anyone — including HVAC contractors — is the fear of change. For business owners that fear is multiplied when it comes time to steer their businesses into different directions and markets. Changing a business direction and a business plan takes a lot of initiative and, in some cases, causes a lot of pain.

One of the biggest changes in the past decade has been a move from the new construction market to service and replacement. The floundering new housing industry has forced many HVAC contractors to rethink their markets and go after the existing home market. This transition requires a lot of retooling, including turning an installation department into a service department — not an easy task.

In recent years, during the latest economic downturn, the reoccurring theme has been to rely heavily on service and repair. Now, the winds of change are blowing contractors into replacement markets again and that has prompted some to once again rethink their business plan.

In Indianapolis at the recent 30th annual reunion of the Dwyer Group, which operates several franchises in the service industries, Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning franchisees heard ideas of how to overcome the fear of change and steer their businesses into new directions. Tom Dougherty, Aire Serv retail sales director, said that fear takes on several different faces: fear of failure, loss of security, loss of control, and a change in a person’s beliefs. “You need the motivation to change,” he said. “If you can’t change how you feel and think about your business, you will never change your business. We fear change in life and business, but without it what kind of life and business would you have?”

Dougherty believes that fear and change are intertwined. It seems that a person can’t have one without the other. “Change is a very scary word,” he said. “We like to play the games inside our comfort zones. For example, moving from service and repair to replacement requires a lot of change. For years, our comfort zone has been service and repair.”

There are several things that HVAC contractors can do to initiate change, which Dougherty said is the mechanism needed to move forward. “Take a look at stagnant water,” he said. “Nothing happens to it. It never changes. You need to change if you expect to grow your sales and profitability.”

The Four-Legged Chair

The key to making changes is to have a solid foundation to work from, according to Dougherty. That foundation consists of four solid parts: administrative, sales, service, and installation. “Think of these four parts as four legs on a chair,” said Dougherty. “The business plan is only as strong as the weakest leg of the chair. You can have the best game plan in the world but you won’t succeed without four strong legs.”

“Focus on all four legs. List three to five things that must change or improve. Set a timeline and make an action plan.”

Dougherty listed a few things that should be included in the four-legged chair theme, the first starting at customer service. “It doesn’t take too many lost calls every day to make you miserable,” he said.

“Have a customer service representative trained to answer the phone right away — and the right way.

“Secondly, marketing can’t be reactive. It has to be proactive. You have to be prepared to make the phone ring with marketing during off-peak times. And you need to track your leads.”

He noted that making your sales goals should not be the sole focus in any business plan. “I will never say that sales are the most important part of your business,” he said. “All four legs are important.”

When it comes to change, Dougherty said the only thing holding a person back — besides fear — is the person him or herself. “The only lid on your success is the lid you place on yourself,” he said.

Tony Kelly, an Aire Serv franchisee from Tallahassee, Fla., said that he had to go through two rounds of change before he finally settled on a successful business plan. Kelly joined Aire Serv in 2008 but wasn’t impressed at first.

“We reached $1 million in sales but we were at a point where we were ready to walk away,” he said. “After our first year it just didn’t seem like it was working. This is a family business and it took us a while to embrace the Aire Serv concept.

“But Doyle [James] told us that if we failed, then he failed too. They wanted us to use the system.

“Aire Serv told us if we used the resources we would succeed. I believed that if we gave the system two to four years to work, we would succeed and never leave. This last year has been our best ever.”

Sidebar: Franchisee Conquers Fear

Dave and Julie Adams, owners of the Aire Serv of Victoria, Texas, franchise, know all about change. They are the winners of the 2011 Aire Serv Franchisee of the Year award. Their beginnings required a lot of change.

“Many of us got into the business because our parents handed it down to us,” said Doyle James, president of Aire Serv. “Dave spent eight years as a service tech and was asked to take the business over by his father. But his father did not support his decision to become a franchisee and it caused a lot of problems in the family.”

Despite the opposition, Adams stayed the course and became an Aire Serv franchisee. And the rewards of his decision were realized during the award presentation ceremony.

“I always sat in the back of the room during awards presentation and wondered what it would be like to be up front getting an award,” he said.

In addition to being named the 2011 Aire Serv Franchisee of the Year, the Adams received the Market Penetration award for having the highest per capita sales in the region. “It is rewarding and humbling to be recognized as the Franchisee of the Year while also receiving the Market Penetration award,” Adams said. “We could not have received either award without the dedication of our employees and the quality service they provide on a daily basis. We owe our thanks to all of them.”

Publication date: 01/09/2012