As Mike Agugliaro puts it, there are a lot of consultants in the HVAC trade, but there aren’t many who are doing it while concurrently running their own contracting businesses. “There are a lot of people trying to help people, but there aren’t a lot of people trying to help people who just did it last week,” said Agugliaro, one of a few contractors who run businesses and offer business skills to others through coaching and consulting.

Agugliaro, president of Gold Medal Service, East Brunswick, New Jersey, started up ServiceKey in 2013 using the methods he used to take Gold Medal from a two-person operation performing only electrical work to a $23 million — and growing — business that added HVAC, plumbing, drain and sewer work, and generators to the mix.

Agugliaro said his consulting business started organically. Contractors constantly sought him out for advice and were asking to tour his facilities. While in high demand, he figured he might as well make some money while he was at it. So far, he’s held nine intense workshops/boot camps at his New Jersey building that focus on systems, branding, marketing, referral culture, and more. He facilitates most of the event while bringing in a few guest speakers.

Now, in addition to what he’s earning through Gold Medal, Agugliaro is on track to make $750,000 from his consulting business in its inaugural year.

“I would say we’re doing extremely well,” Agugliaro said. “My goal was to prove I could facilitate a $1 million business model my first year out, but I’m happy with $750,000. There’s not a lot of overhead for this, so this helps bring a lot of cash directly into the business.”

Business Boot Camp

He isn’t the only one using his talents to help further the industry.

Greg McAfee, president, McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning, Kettering, Ohio, a residential service and replacement company, received outstanding feedback from fellow contractors after having a few articles published in various trade magazines. Using this positive momentum, he branched into HVAC consulting.

Now, McAfee is a public speaker, offers HVAC business coaching, and runs the HVAC Business Boot Camp, which average 20-25 contractors per session, he said. The Boot Camp welcomes contractors to McAfee’s business for a two-day session where they get an inside look at how he runs his business along with training from McAfee and some of his top employees.

McAfee said he likes to focus on branding, marketing, advertising, budgeting, and strategic planning, as that’s where he’s found most contractors need the most help.

His business coaching generally consists of three-month terms over the phone where McAfee dissects the company’s issues for about 2-3 hours each month.

“I care about the people I help,” McAfee said. “I’m not just here to collect money. I care as much about their businesses as I do my own. I spend a lot of time with them. They can text me, email me. … Contractors don’t like to get locked into things, so we do three months at a time, and that seems to work out a lot better. We solve their problems, and once they figure out I know what I’m talking about, we talk for a few more times until they get over the hump. Going forward, if they need me, I’m always available for them.”

Established Success

Both Agugliaro and McAfee’s HVACR businesses have grown to the point where they essentially run themselves, which frees up time for them to pursue outside interests.

“I have a good team that can run things the majority of the time without me,” McAfee said. “I set the vision for my company and maintain the culture and dabble in the marketing and advertising, but the operations run itself here with the proper managers in place. Today, if I had to figure it out, I’m devoting about 75 percent of my tme with the business and 25 percent on consulting.”

Once Agugliaro and partner Rob Zadotti got their business running smoothly, Agugliaro, a self-proclaimed “delegation master,” saw an opportunity to expand into the consulting realm. “This industry is really starving on the business-sense side of things,” he said.

While Agugliaro is just starting with ServiceKey, McAfee said he is nearing the point where he would be able to live off strictly what he makes with his consulting business.

“When I started McAfee Heating, I didn’t pay myself for 18 months,” McAfee said. “I don’t do anything that really grows fast. Everything I do is very slow growth, but grounded and stable, and takes off slowly. But once it takes off, it’s very strong running, and that’s how I looked at this. It’s not a get-rich-quick thing, that’s not what I’m about.”

For both Agugliaro and McAfee, referrals have become a big part of their businesses, and as they both know when it comes to their contracting companies, there are very few things stronger than word of mouth.

“Referrals are a real big thing,” Agugliaro said. “Another is social media. Facebook works somewhat; people watch what you’re doing and talking about. LinkedIn allows businesses to communicate with businesses, and direct mail has a value. Those are the vehicles I’ve been using to get new clients.”

Nexstar Network

For the last three years, Garrett Cook, operations manager, Cook Heating & Air, Crawfordsville, Indiana, has served as a member/trainer for the Nexstar Network.

Cook’s commitment to Nexstar keeps him away from his business for long stretches, as he said he will participate in 12 Nexstar events this year at roughly 10 weeks of total time. Balancing his everyday management role and his consulting gig is a work in progress.

“It does take away from the company a little bit. We’ve tried to minimize that as much as possible, meaning that, as I do events, I’ll typically leave on a Tuesday afternoon and be there through Saturday. While I’m away, I’m in complete contact with my team, especially when outside of training hours,” Cook said. “We’re fairly electronic. Everything is emailed to me, so I’m able to keep tabs. Even though I’m not there, I’m able to interact like I am.”

Like Agugliaro and McAfee, Cook enjoys training because it fulfills a desire to give back to the industry. “I’m very passionate about it and feel like I’m pretty good at it,” Cook said. “I’ve met some great people, and we’re constantly sharing information. There are definitely a lot of things I can — as I like to say — shamelessly steal and take back to my company. I tell that to all the classes I lead.”

Come Together

No matter the means, there does seem to be a market for contractors who are interested in helping other contractors.

“I’ve helped several that were just about ready to close their doors. And now, not only have they stayed open, but they’re growing 20 percent and actually in the black making money,” McAfee said. “What’s most important to me is that I’m almost like a counselor. As business owners, we cause most of our problems. If there’s a major problem in a company, the business owner probably caused it.

“They are smart people. Once you get them on track, get the right systems in place, they sleep better at night. My goal is to help people sleep better at night.”

Publication date: 7/21/2014

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