Shortly after graduating college in 1978, Greg Gill left his home state of New York and purchased a small HVAC company in Southern California. He then spent the next 35 years building up Action Air Conditioning, Heating & Solar from a two-man operation into a successful 46-employee business that boasts a wide array of HVAC services in the greater San Diego area.

But Gill could not have done it alone. He credits hard work, innovation, hiring and retaining the right people, continuous training, and staying focused on the customer’s needs as the reasons for Action Air’s success over the years.

Filling a Need

At Action Air, the customer is always the No. 1 priority, Gill said, and being attentive to their needs is essential to a successful service business. But pairing that attentiveness with smart business sense is also necessary.

In the early 1980s, Action Air began offering IAQ services in addition to its other HVAC services, discovering a rich vein of untapped revenue. “When we got involved in duct cleaning, we saw that as an opportunity because it was a service not a lot of people were offering,” Gill said.

In the beginning, however, IAQ was less about keeping the consumer healthy and comfortable, and more about protecting the HVAC equipment.

“The first priority was limiting the amount of dust that was getting into the equipment, and, as more and more was learned about air quality, we thought, ‘hey, we have to do something to maintain the integrity of our systems,’” Gill said. “Then, in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, that’s really where we saw the big movement toward IAQ for health reasons. Today, all your key manufacturers have their own lines of IAQ products.”

Since then, Action Air has seamlessly integrated IAQ into nearly every sale and service call, both to preserve the quality of the HVAC equipment and to improve the indoor environment.

“We try to promote IAQ on every sale,” Gill said. “It’s a definite benefit to any HVAC installation.”

Offering Options

Bill Sanford, a senior service technician who has been with Action Air for 27 years, said the key to successfully selling IAQ solutions is simple: pay attention, offer it on every call, and never be pushy.

“We are either listening to see if the customer is expressing concerns about the quality of the air in their home, or we will just ask them in passing. We don’t ever try to push anything on anybody,” Sanford said. “If they have an interest, we’ll go further. If not, we’ll keep doing what we came to do. I think the customers prefer things that way.”

Sanford, whose job is to troubleshoot and fix things nobody else can, said he and other Action Air employees take great pride in their jobs and the company itself, which translates to excellent customer service.

“We really want to get things right, and we strive to do that,” Sanford said. “We make sure the equipment is installed right, and we listen to the customer, so if they have concerns about their breathing and stuffiness, we address that with all the options we have.”

Training employees — both in the latest HVAC technology and in customer service — plays an important role in customer satisfaction, said Action Air office manager Pam Ostmark.

“We train employees to focus on the customer, including offering IAQ,” Ostmark said. “After one of our managers left, we turned that training over to one of our office girls, and she doubled our air-duct sales because she cares so much about the customer.”

As a four-time winner of the Better Business Bureau Torch award for Marketplace Ethics and a six-time recipient of the Angie’s List Super Service award, Action Air has made it apparent that training and superior customer service pays off.

Looking Ahead

Gill said his current goal is to educate consumers on the importance of maintaining their HVAC systems, comparing it to the importance of maintaining a vehicle. This, he said, helps ensure that equipment will perform optimally while also securing valuable maintenance contracts.

“If you educate people and demonstrate the value, they see it, they understand it’s the better value option,” Gill said. “These tips make it more imperative for the customer to ensure that their filters get changed on a regular basis, which justifies more revenue.”

Action Air is “very much attuned to the maintenance contracts,” Gill added. “When we sell a system, we put in a maintenance agreement for two years. We also always put in a standard five-inch filter rack that goes on every installation so, at a later date, if the individual wants to upgrade to a better filter, it’s not a matter of having to pull the furnace out or unbolting the coils.”

Gill acknowledges that addressing all of a customer’s needs takes much more time today than it did 35 years ago, though the investment is well worth it, he said.

“This is a great industry that has certainly evolved with the times,” Gill said. “The equipment, the features, and the benefits we have to offer today are just tremendous.

“Due to the number of options, it is a little more challenging to educate the consumer. The old sales process was typically a 45-minute ordeal. This can now take anywhere from two to four hours, and in a lot of instances, requires two visits.”

Gill recognizes that what spells success for Acton Air may not work for every HVAC contractor, though he recommends contractors consider adding IAQ to their list of services, saying “you’re missing a big revenue stream otherwise.”

He added, “You’ve got to have a plan, and you’ve got to work on it. And if it works, you go for it.”

Publication date: 3/11/2013