During the last year, Defender Direct, a home security company based in Indianapolis, has made a bold move into the HVAC market. The company has acquired five HVAC businesses in the Midwest and is now working to integrate them into its corporate culture.

According to Scott DeNardin, vice president, Defender Direct, this expansion into the HVAC market is a logical progression from the company’s strong position in the home security market.

“For us, it’s a pretty natural migration of home services,” he said. “If you look at the needs of a consumer in her home, security is probably the first need of a family, and then the second need is comfort.”

DeNardin said that the five acquisitions are an accelerator into the HVAC market, noting that Defender has also established an organically grown HVAC business, branded as True Home Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing. All of Defender’s HVAC businesses are factory-authorized Carrier dealers.

HVAC Acquisitions

In October 2012, Defender made its first HVAC acquisition, purchasing Williams Comfort Air and Mr. Plumber of Indianapolis. This was followed by the acquisitions of four more HVAC companies in May and June 2013. Two businesses based in Cincinnati were acquired — The Service Pros Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling and Thomas & Galbraith Heating and Cooling — as well as two based in Louisville, Ky. — Jarboe’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling and Zipper Air Conditioning & Heating.

DeNardin, who oversees the company’s HVAC and plumbing home services division, said he is excited to be leading the teams of the newly acquired companies. He praised the “great history, great brand, and great customer base” that each of the acquired companies has brought to Defender.

Since the five acquisitions have taken place, Defender Direct is now focused on the process of integration. Although Williams Comfort Air is retaining its current name and brand, the four most recently acquired companies are being rebranded as True Home companies. The first priority during this integration phase, DeNardin said, is to “integrate and preserve the customers” so they continue to receive the level of service they are accustomed to.

Regarding leadership transitions, he noted, “All the owners that we have acquired are still with Defender in different capacities.”

Leadership Transitions

Joe Huck, former president and co-owner of Williams Comfort Air, explained that he has transitioned to an advisory role.

“I’ve stepped back from the day-to-day business operations and taken on more of a strategic role as part of an advisory roundtable,” he said. “The Williams Comfort Air leadership and management have been integrated into leadership and management roles within Defender Direct. Our branch managers are still leading their teams as part of this successful, integrated business model.”

Huck also explained that the former owners of Williams Comfort Air wanted to grow their company nationally, which made it a good fit with Defender’s goal to expand its HVAC home services division.

“We liked that Defender was another locally owned and -operated, privately held business with the resources to grow the Williams Comfort Air business model to additional locations. We were also attracted to Defender’s culture and commitment to developing leaders,” he said.

Summing it up, Huck said, “We are proud to have joined a nationally recognized home services company, also the second-largest security business in the U.S. and the largest ADT-authorized dealer, and have been able to build on the foundation of superior customer service Williams Comfort Air started. We’ve been able to leverage Defender’s marketing skills and culture to further develop our leaders. We look forward to future growth.”

Similarly, Michael Weber, former owner of Thomas & Galbraith, is now serving in an advisory capacity at Defender Direct.

“After being approached by Defender, I was immediately im-pressed with their professionalism and courtesy,” he said. Weber explained that he followed up by investigating Defender and doing his own due diligence.

“I quickly discovered that Defender’s values and culture lined up with how I wanted my company to continue on and, more importantly, how I wanted our employees and customers to be treated going forward,” he said. His main motivation for selling his company stemmed from his desire to do more mission work with his wife. “I now work only part-time with Defender, which allows me to spend more time on local faith-based service projects and short-term mission trips.”

Overall, Weber said the company’s long-term goals “are an integration of my previous business goals into Defender’s bigger picture. Defender will continue the same level of customer and employee trust and integrity that Thomas & Galbraith pursued. In addition, Defender now offers our former employees tremendous opportunities to serve and grow beyond heating, cooling, and plumbing. It has been a great transition.”

Company Culture

The employee growth opportunities mentioned by both Weber and Huck are a big part of the reason why so many owners have been willing to sell their businesses to Defender Direct.

“We have a pretty unique culture at Defender, and it seems to align and resonate with owners, especially our plans on how to treat employees and customers,” DeNardin said. “Our founder and CEO, Dave Lindsey, built this on a success principle that ‘Businesses don’t grow — people do.’”

Mike Lantz, chief learning officer at Defender, spoke in more detail about how Defender puts this principle into practice.

“We focus on developing our team members, not only in their trade, but in all aspects of their lives,” Lantz said. “We want our team members to be the best HVAC technicians in the industry, but we also want them to be the best parents, spouses, and citizens in their local communities.

“As we acquire businesses, we have continued to offer specific skill development opportunities to allow technicians to be world-class at their trade, but we have also added life skills development opportunities such as classes on relationship development, communication skills, time management, personal finances, and health and wellness, to name a few.”

Future Growth

Although Defender is obviously focused on growth and expansion in the HVAC market, when asked about future acquisition plans, DeNardin was reluctant to give a definitive answer.

“There are phases to this,” he said, acknowledging that another acquisition is certainly possible if Defender finds “a good growth company that’s attractive to us.” He added that Defender Direct will probably stay focused on the Midwest region. And with five recent acquisitions — four finalized just this summer — he pointed out that there is still a lot of follow-up work happening.

“There’s a lot of work to be done once you integrate, stabilize, and reset for more growth,” he said, noting that in the future, Defender Direct’s growth could be organic or based on acquisitions.

Publication date: 12/23/2013 

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