After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Erik Bryan, 41, parked cars, worked maintenance, received HVAC training and certification through an apprenticeship at a casino, worked as a technician in both the industrial and residential sectors of the HVAC industry, and started his own construction company, which ultimately failed. It was that failure that led Bryan back to the air conditioning industry, answering the first newspaper ad he saw, posted by Precision Air & Heating, located in Chandler, Arizona, for $17 per hour. Within six months, Bryan became the company’s service manager, and, in just two short years, he ascended to the role of half owner and CEO alongside the company’s late founder, Paul Harden.
“I really was able to take some of the basic knowledge that I’d learned from the industrial side of air conditioning and the residential side of the business to help Paul implement some policies, basic housekeeping procedures, and things like that to take the business from where it was and put it into a profitable state. In my first year in charge, we went from just under a million in revenue to more than $3.5 million. We really made some good growth early with the business and that was kind of how I became half owner of the business.”
After losing Harden to a sky diving accident in 2010, Bryan became sole owner of the company. The North American Technician Excellence (NATE)- and Arizona Public Service (APS)-qualified contractor serves the Phoenix market and has won multiple awards, including the Mesa, Arizona, Contractor of the Year honor for the last three years running.
The company has thrived under Bryan’s leadership and was on track to earn $12 million to $15 million in 2014. Precision currently has 68 employees, 52 vehicles in its fleet, and averages 120 calls per day.
“A lot of times, being in air conditioning is not a commodity, it’s not an attractive thing — typically, when the air conditioning guy is at your house, it’s bad,” Bryan said. “Even if you’re doing preventive maintenance, it’s usually out of necessity and isn’t something people are excited about. But, at the end of the day, we do get the pleasure of leaving a customer’s house knowing we turned the air back on. Being in a hotter market, we get to see how extreme this is in the summertime. It’s satisfying to be able to provide immediate results for consumers. And you get to experience that multiple times a day.”
According to Bryan, one of the biggest challenges has been keeping up with technology. “The industry is becoming a lot more computerized, a lot more ‘techy.’ Just 15 years ago, we had more of a mechanic-type approach. You had guys that physically went out and mechanically worked on things. Now, we’re able to solve problems through technology. A lot of these systems are digitally controlled with smart circuit boards in them. And those small computers are able to talk to our computers. Technology has really changed the industry, and the acceleration — just the amount of technology in the last five years — has been more than the last 50 years, so to speak, and it’s growing even faster.”
Bryan said getting his technicians properly trained to be able to handle the fast-moving changes that are coming to the industry is a challenge, albeit a good one. “It allows us to faster and more accurately service our customers.”
Along with staying up-to-date on technology, Bryan said the biggest hurdle he’s had to overcome has been simply finding good employees. According to Bryan, many young job candidates lack basic social skills. “Regardless of the technology and all that, we are still a service-based industry. We service people. No matter how big technology gets, there’s still going to be a person servicing equipment when it fails, no matter how technically advanced that system may be, it’s still going to need a mechanic or some sort of service guy at some point. And this is a difficult concept with the new generation as kids are growing up with iPads and cell phones in their faces. Their number one recreation is playing Call of Duty on the XBox.”
Social skills have been so lacking, Bryan has begun to train his new hires not only on the technical aspects of the job, but also on how to interact with people.
“It’s how to shake your customers’ hands, look them in the face, and thank them for their business,” he explained. “How to take pride in the quality work the company’s doing and not leaving a mess. It’s common courtesy — put your booties on before you go into a house. We’re training on things that were common sense 15 years ago. Today’s youth is not as good at socially interacting with customers to make them feel comfortable about the services we provide.”
Cultivating Good Employees
Even though the talent pool is limited, Precision Air has been able to attract first-rate employees, including Tom King, the company’s new service manager. King, who has been in his position for less than a year, said he was attracted to Precision Air because of Bryan’s attitude, the way he runs the business, and the company’s overall atmosphere.
“There are not a lot of owners who are as involved as he is and as passionate about his people. It does not come as a surprise that the company is as successful as it is,” King said. “I’ve been out in the corporate world for the last 13 years working for billion-dollar companies, and it’s nice to come back to a family-owned business. When you need a decision made or you need to talk to the president or CEO, they’re in the office next to yours.”
King said his main focus since taking over the position has been recruiting and training. “We’ve been able to recruit some top talent, and by doing that, we’ve been able to increase our overall productivity and profitability. If you look at last year’s numbers compared to 2013, I think May and June were the largest revenue months we’ve ever had. At this time last year, we were not nearly as high in revenue as we are today. We’re moving in the right direction.”
One of Precision’s best recruiting tools is its employee referral fee. The company offers a bonus to current employees if they can recruit workers they know from another company.
Additionally, Precision Air offers several incentive programs for things like referring customers to the plumbing division. And, if a customer leaves positive feedback on social media, the technician receives a $25 gift card while the customer receives a discount off his or her next service.
“It’s a win-win,” King said. “It’s something the other companies aren’t doing. Bryan takes a different approach to building a service business. He acknowledges techs are not going to want to do this if they’re not getting paid. He’s not asking them to do anything other than their jobs, and if they do their jobs correctly, every time, he rewards them with a little extra money. These incentive programs make all the difference.”
Integrity, Quality, and Trust
Evelyn ‘Dolly’ McDonald went from working in the restaurant industry in Iowa to serving as Precision Air’s business center associate, where she processes accounts receivable, technician invoices, and more. McDonald said she likes the way the company focuses on customer service.
“I really don’t know how to describe it other than it’s an awesome place to work,” she said. “I love the camaraderie with the people here, even the technicians. It’s like a big, happy family. Erik is very much about taking care of customers and making sure they have the best possible service. Integrity is very close to his heart.”
King agreed, saying that the company motto — Integrity, Quality, and Trust — sums up everything customer’s get when choosing Precision Air.
“It’s what would attract me as a consumer looking for this type of work to be done in my home,” he said. “When you’re looking for a contractor, you need somebody you can trust. Precision is going to come in, do what’s right, quote you a fair price, and stand behind the work that’s performed. And the quality has to be there, because, no matter what kind of brand name or warranty the equipment has, it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not installed properly. We take pride in our accountability and integrity — everybody from the owner on down.”
Bryan said he’s always available to talk to customers. “We really care about making sure customers are treated correctly. It’s people before profits. I think a lot of people get that backward — they concentrate on how much they can make at a customer’s house versus how well they can fix the customer’s problem.”
Going forward, Bryan hopes to “maintain the integrity that we’ve established here in this market.” He also hopes to pass the business along one day to his son who is attending college in pursuit of a professional baseball career.
“At the end of his baseball career, whenever that may be, I would hope that he will step in and let daddy teach him about the business and keep it in the family,” he said. “This is a family affair for us. My wife, Gina, is my right hand and runs our administration. Keeping it in the family going forward, keeping the reputation of the company, and continuing to take care of people in the plumbing and air conditioning world is all I want to do.”
Publication date: 2/2/2015