‘Wizards of Comfort’ Thrive in Small-town Texas
Schneider’s 72 Degrees strives to keep customers satisfied
Schneider’s 72 Degrees Air Conditioning & Heating in Fredericksburg, Texas, has undergone substantial changes since it was founded in 1986, including new ownership, a new name, and a new mascot. Originally called Schneider’s Refrigeration & Appliance Service, Brad Schneider and his wife, Jennifer Schneider, took over the company from his parents in 2004 and soon decided it was time to make a few changes.
“People didn’t recognize we did air conditioning because of the refrigeration name,” said Jennifer Schneider. “They just thought we did commercial refrigeration and residential appliances. So, that’s when we decided to change the name and took on 72 degrees.”
“We settled on 72 Degrees because it is the perfect, ideal temperature,” Brad Schneider added. “Anytime you see a thermostat displayed in a box or in an ad, it’s always set at 72 degrees. If it’s not 72 degrees where you’re at right now, you’re not comfortable. It’s also easier to remember than a company named after a first or last name. And, with names, people think it’s more of a mom and pop shop that is not open on Saturday or Sunday. And, we felt geographical names limited us to one area.”
In addition to the name change, the Schneiders added a cartoon character mascot — a wizard using a thermometer as a wand — with the tagline, ‘The Wizards of Comfort.’ They chose a wizard because Brad Schneider is affectionately known as ‘The Wizard’ around the office.
“We wanted something recognizable — a character we could change up for different times of the year,” noted Jennifer Schneider. If website visitors look closely, they will see The Wizard takes on a more festive appearance during football season, the Fourth of July, Christmas, and more.
Since 2004, Schneider’s 72 Degrees has grown from six employees to 21. The company offers 100 percent residential service, repair, and replacement services with 13 vehicles in its fleet. It ended 2014 with just under $3 million in sales. The company will very likely hit the $3 million mark this year, according to Jennifer Schneider.
Though Schneider’s 72 Degrees operates in a small town with a population of 10,820, it has a 50-mile service area reaching close to 80,000 people. The company continues to grow by a minimum of 10 percent each year, according to Jennifer Schneider.
The Schneiders attribute some of their success to joining AirTime 500, a membership organization for residential HVAC contractors. “AirTime has helped us grow the company with advertising and business training. The organization’s taught us to work smarter, not harder,” said Jennifer Schneider. “We’re about an hour from any major city, so we can’t get to local ACCA meetings or anything like that. Through AirTime, we have a lot of contact with other contractors around the nation. These are companies of all different sizes, but we all have the same struggles no matter where we’re located. It really helps us hold each other accountable to our goals. We’re having our best year so far.”
The company boasts numerous accolades, including several presidential awards from Goodman Distribution. The company was also chosen by AirTime500 as the Market Dominance Company of the Year for 2008 and 2009, Business Professional of the Year and Service Company of the Year for 2011, Club Membership by Percentage for 2012, and Service Company of the Year in 2012. In addition, Schneider’s 72 Degrees was awarded with the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics last year.
A DIFFERENT CULTURE
According to Jennifer Schneider, staffing has remained consistent over the years, and the company has many long-term employees.
Greg Surma, service manager for Schneider’s 72 Degrees, is one of them, having worked for the company for the past 20 years.
“I like the atmosphere; it’s very family-oriented,” Surma said. “I enjoy my job. I like fixing things and helping people. It’s a small-town, family-led business.”
Schneider’s 72 Degrees’ hiring practices are unique among other HVAC companies because it does not require its technicians to have previous experience when hiring. “We’ve gotten down to the point where we hire technicians for their attitudes, not their skills, because we can train them on the technical work,” said Surma. “We’re different from your typical contractor. We’re very focused on customer service and big on building a rapport with the customer.”
“Currently, not one employee has come to our doorstep with adequate experience when they started,” Brad Schneider added.
Having the right attitude and good people skills are more important than experience, Surma said. “Those people are a lot more willing to learn new ideas and skills. In this trade, you have to be open to new ideas because technology is constantly changing and you have to keep up with it. You can’t change a person’s attitude, but you can train the individual. It’s easier to train what’s there.”
One of the company’s technicians has a pre-law degree. He went through school and completed an internship before figuring out he didn’t want to sit at a desk all day, noted Jennifer Schneider. “He’s a great guy and loves his job. Technicians now have the ability to make more money than college graduates because there are so many graduates without jobs. The skilled trades are going to pay more in the future. Our technicians make a lot of money, as long as they’re willing to do the training and keep on learning.”
Brad Schneider said establishing a good company culture is vital to keeping employees happy. “Jennifer and I won’t ask our employees to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves.”
Additionally, the Schneiders don’t keep secrets from their employees. “We let all our employees know what our budget is, what are goals are, and how we plan to get there,” Brad Schneider said. “Each employee knows his or her KPIs [key performance indicators] and performance numbers are tracked and displayed on a daily basis. It’s key that they know how they’re doing. It’s like driving a car — if your dashboard is blocked and you can’t see your miles per hour or your gas gauge, it’s pretty scary driving down that road. You have to monitor progress and performance.”
Schneider’s 72 Degrees experienced an influx in calls from new customers this past summer simply because other service providers could not get to them. “They called us and told us their experiences with these other companies and how they never showed up when they were supposed to,” said Jennifer Schneider. “They were just happy we showed up. Our main goal is to be there for the client when it’s convenient for them, not for us.”
Additionally, the company backs everything it does with customer guarantees. “A lot of contractors have guarantees, but it has to be more than just having that little blurb in your yellow page ad — you have to back it up,” said Brad Schneider. “We’re showing it to the homeowner in writing during every visit.”
Schneider’s 72 Degrees technicians are very customer service oriented and wear white, ironed uniform shirts and shoe covers. The crew is also very clean cut.
“I would never have a doubt in my mind sending any of these people to my own mother’s home,” Brad Schneider said.
Because the company is in such a small area, the Schneider’s plot an aggressive marketing plan for the following year, strategically targeting both existing and new customers. “It’s all about getting that low-hanging fruit,” Jennifer Schneider said. “We have to get creative in marketing and advertising to get new clients if we want to keep growing. We reach out to our existing clients and club members four times a year with newsletters and email blasts. Our Home Comfort Club has about 2,000 members right now. Those are guaranteed clients for us; they’re going to call us when they need service. You have to stay in front of your clients and in front of the people who aren’t clients so that when something happens, you’re the company they call.”
Community involvement helps the company gain recognition, Brad Schneider added. “In the smaller areas, everybody knows you and sees you at the grocery store or church.”
The company is active in giving back to the community, regularly donating to local charities, such as food pantries and The 100 Club. Most recently, the company held a school supply drive with the goal to fill 100 backpacks.
Additionally, Schneider’s 72 Degrees works to stay up-to-date on new and upcoming products. “We don’t want to get into a rut,” said Jennifer Schneider. “We stay up with new technology and what we can offer the client. Things are constantly changing, and you have to keep up with the times. And, we like to help our clients and feel as if we’ve accomplished something.”
“It’s more than just making the homeowner hot or cold — you have to address every desire the homeowner has in the house,” Brad Schneider said. “What makes us successful is that we do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it, how we say we’re going to do it. In this world, nowadays, everything is so hectic, and we’re offering a convenience to the modern homeowner. We let them know about our club membership program and help them live a happier, easier life.”
In the near future, Schneider’s 72 Degrees will be able to monitor its customers’ equipment remotely through Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats. “Homeowners love it,” said Jennifer Schneider. “Nobody wants to be inconvenienced, and wouldn’t it be nice to know ahead of time if there is a problem with your HVAC system before you get home?”
The Schneiders plan to continue to grow the company and provide customers with top-level customer service. “We want to be the premier air conditioning company people come to for service and to work for. We want people coming to us, and we’re almost to that now,” said Jennifer Schneider.
At some point, the Schneiders said they may decide to sell the business, but plans for that are much further down the road.
“The business is very systematic; it runs itself. We’re able to take the time off we need and go on vacation,” she said. “Everybody knows their job and does their job. They care about the company and want to see it succeed. You have to work on your business, not just in your business. We all fill in where needed — it’s a company-wide effort.”
Publication date: 11/16/2015