Jeff Bolton had been in the HVAC business for nearly 20 years when he’d finally had enough.
Frustrated because he couldn’t come up with answers to problems he was experiencing, Bolton decided to get involved in building science — and his commitment to home-performance contracting has been unwavering ever since, paying big dividends for his company, J.R. Bolton Services Inc.
“I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been doing heating and air conditioning, you can’t look at a house and know what size equipment goes in it, and you can’t look at the ductwork and know if it’s leaky or not,” Bolton said. “Heating and air conditioning replacements have to be engineered. If you don’t engineer the system, and you don’t test, you’re just guessing at what the customer needs, so we refuse to guess.”
|Jeff Bolton of J.R. Bolton Services Inc., Sugar Hill, Georgia, turned his company around by committing to home-performance contracting and quality installations. “It took a few years to get it to where (home performance) became an everyday occurrence with us,” Bolton said.|
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Bolton, 49, incorporated the Sugar Hill, Georgia-based business 30 years ago at the age of 19. However, things didn’t really take off until he dove into home-performance work in 2004. While he went all-in, it did take some time before the company, which now has 11 employees, followed Bolton’s lead.
“Quite frankly, it took a few years to get it to where (home performance) became an everyday occurrence with us,” Bolton said. “Once you get a business going in one direction, changing boxes and doing all that stuff, it’s like turning a battleship around. It was a bit of a struggle for the company culture to slow the process down. Now, everybody that works for me is focused on building science and testing, not guessing.”
Going all-in with home performance, Bolton has joined many associations because it assures the company stays up to date on the latest news and technology. He’s a member of the Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI), National Comfort Institute (NCI), Southface Energy Institute, and the Comfort Institute. Additionally, he is an ACCA member and participates in ACCA’s Quality Assured program. All of the company’s service technicians and installers are North American Technician Excellence (NATE)-certified.
Bolton said adding home-performance work has absolutely made his company better, helping build it to more than $2 million in annual revenue.
Bolton never advertised his services until 2005, surviving strictly on word of mouth and repeat business. The company’s home-performance addition boosted its customer referrals. Not only that, but his average ticket has skyrocketed, which Bolton said is another benefit following the increase in referrals.
“The next biggest thing is the average ticket before was about $5,000-$6,000 on a typical change out,” Bolton said. “Now, our average ticket is about $17,000, because it’s not just equipment anymore; it’s insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing, crawlspace encapsulation, and more.”
Bolton related a time when he went to a customer’s house and they were simply seeking a third estimate for a change out, focused fully on the equipment. After Bolton got done testing the home’s thermal envelope, everything changed.
“By the time we got done with all our testing, they’d forgotten about their equipment and were more focused on their ducts leaking 25-30 percent, or adding insulation,” Bolton said. “They’re so focused on trying to contain the air they’re paying to condition that they’ve almost forgotten about the equipment.”
Better than the Rest
Outside of home performance, Bolton considers geothermal systems and water heaters his key markets. Additionally, he also has a fireplace retail store, where he sells high-efficiency fireplaces and woodstoves.
“One of our big things is going above and beyond what everybody else does,” Bolton said. “If you make customers happy, they may call you back, but if you make them ecstatic, then they’ll talk to other people about you. My biggest business philosophy is differentiation.”
Molly Sylves, service manager, J.R. Bolton Services, said Bolton really combs over every detail on a job, and is always thinking. She quickly saw how dedicated Bolton was, especially with home performance.
“Jeff does not believe in Band-Aid fixes,” Sylves said. “After seeing how many homes we have had to go back to fix other company’s Band-Aid fixes, I would have to agree. I always get positive feedback from our customers when they see the difference in how comfortable their home is when the job is complete. This is why most of our business comes from customer referrals.”
That sentiment was echoed by Freddie Williams, department chair, air conditioning technology, Lanier Technical College, Oakwood, Georgia. He has known Bolton for nearly a decade.
“Jeff has always had a systems approach when it comes to residential customer servicing,” Williams said. “And the concept of the whole home was a natural progression in his philosophy. Jeff’s company has been considered a high-quality service company for over a decade. He has the reputation of doing it right or not taking the job.
“Jeff is uncompromising on quality issues. He has a calling to improve something every day. And that is what we need more of — trade workers who think good enough is never good enough.”
Bolton said his biggest hurdle to overcome is finding applicants with outstanding work ethics and attitudes who can be trained and educated in the company’s way of doing business. He also considers government uncertainty as an issue.
Overall, though, Bolton is looking forward to growing his business because he has a passion for the HVAC industry, as he considers it a fun hobby, not a job, and loves helping customers. That’s what continually drives him.
“When you’re done, and everything is working right, the customer is extremely happy and you walk away happy because you know you’re saving them money and energy,” Bolton said. “That’s the big thing for me. When the customer calls me out there, my focus is getting the customer comfortable and doing what’s right.”
Publication date: 6/23/2014