The more your business grows, the easier it becomes to lose the personal touch that helped make it successful in the first place. It’s a well-known and unfortunate dilemma many successful business owners face. When a large company maintains a level of customer and employee care that makes everyone feels as if they know the owner personally, it shows. And, it’s one of the reasons Reliable Heating & Air was named The NEWS’ 2015 Best Contractor to Work For in the Southern region.
Reliable is a large-volume residential Trane dealer headquartered in Kennesaw, Georgia. The 38-year-old company, which also provides plumbing and electrical services from its 65,000-square-foot facility, brought in more than $40 million in sales in 2014. While the company employs more than 300 people, it retains a down-to-earth identity carved in the likeness of owner and CEO Dan Jape and his son, company president Daniel Jape.
As Jeff Jahn, a customer who’s had Reliable perform HVAC work at both his home and his business, recently said: “Everybody feels as if they know Dan. He’s a remarkable guy, and when his people come to our house, they have nothing but praise for Reliable. So, I’m not surprised his employees would nominate him for this award.”
A SUMMER JOB THAT NEVER ENDED
Dan Jape hesitates to refer to himself as remarkable. He humbly admits that he fell into the HVAC trade “by proximity” when, as a teenager, he walked from his home in phase one of a development to seek summertime employment with a builder who was beginning work on phase two. The builder had the young Dan Jape help out on HVAC installations, and the rest, as they say, is history. He opened Reliable in 1978, and the founding principles he implemented three decades ago are still very much the heart and soul of the company.
In 2015, HVAC still accounted for about 75 percent of Reliable’s sales, but the company also provides plumbing, electrical, home- and building-performance, and duct-cleaning services. In addition, Reliable recently began providing restoration services and became certified in mold remediation.
Dan Jape credits a strong marketing program for some of the company’s success. Reliable advertises heavily through local television, radio, and direct mail and has hundreds of billboards along Atlanta’s notoriously busy highways promoting the company’s local roots and family image. Company reps also attend, support, or sponsor many local events in Northern Georgia.
In addition, Reliable visibly supports a number of local charities. Dan Jape is on the board of directors of Lanier Partners of North Georgia, through which Reliable sponsors an annual poker run. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the event benefit the Hall County Boys and Girls Clubs, Camp Sunshine, and Camp Twin Lakes, a local charity through which children with serious illnesses have the opportunity to go to summer camp. Reliable also donates its time, skills, and equipment to Sunshine on a Ranney Day, a charity that performs makeovers at the homes of children who have long-term disabilities.
“We’re all very proud of our involvement with those charities,” said Patty Carter, Reliable’s marketing manager. “Our people really want to do these jobs because they see the look on the kids’ faces, and it’s just amazing. They say it’s very rewarding to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
According to Dan Jape, the contracting company’s helped raise more than $1 million over the years for Lanier Partners. “The charity work is tremendously rewarding, and, from a business point of view, I would tell any contractor that anything you do to give back to your community comes back to you hundredfold.”
PREPARING THE NEXT GENERATION
Daniel Jape is poised to lead the company into the future. But, this is not a typical S.O.B. (son-of-boss) story. It was important to Dan Jape that his son learn the business from the ground up.
“I started out sweeping the warehouse and eventually worked my way to the field and then into sales,” Daniel Jape said. “My dad always said that if you’re going to be involved in this business, you’re going to have a full grasp of everything that’s involved in it. You have to know what you’re doing and understand the jobs before you can lead people.”
Daniel Jape learned his lessons well, and all of that knowledge now carries over when it comes to putting a good management team into place.
“One of the keys to Reliable’s success over the years has been making sure the managers we have in place are the right people,” Daniel Jape said. “They need to show empathy for and care about the people who work for them, because those people are face to face with our customers every day. If we take good care of our people, our people will take good care of our customers.”
THE VIEW FROM INSIDE
With upwards of 200 field service personnel on the road at any given time, James Baker, dispatch manager, has his hands full.
Baker was one of several employees to submit a Best Contractor to Work For nomination for Reliable. He said communication is what makes the company work like a well-oiled machine.
“Everybody knows their roles, and we all help each other out,” Baker said.
He added that about 75 percent of the company’s HVAC technicians are North American Technician Excellence (NATE)-certified, and the company is on target to become 100 percent certified by summer.
Mark Wall, director of customer service, said Reliable has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on social media sites, such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google, and Kudzu — a local service review website.
“We measure the success of our customer service on its timeliness, the value of the service to the customer, the feedback we get from our clients, and client retention,” Wall said. “Our ultimate goal is to turn customers into clients with one satisfying experience after another.
“A lot of the company’s success hinges on what Dan has set into practice,” Wall added. “He is very clear about it: Every home or business we step into, we treat it as if it were a family member’s home. And, internally, we truly are like a family here. We may have disagreements, and we may have individual goals, but we pursue them in the context of the overall business. We all have the success of the company at heart.”
Human resources director Matt Akers said, although the company provides the usual suite of benefits, such as solid health care and retirement plans, he feels what Reliable really offers is a chance for people to improve themselves.
“We really care about people,” Akers said. “We develop them and invest in them. Just as companies examine how they can improve their systems or their processes, we do the same thing with our people. They’re the foundation for making a company great, so we spend a lot of time helping them improve so they can meet their goals and, in the process, help the company meet its goals.”
Additionally, Jeremy Carlson, a master installer at Reliable, said what makes Reliable a great place to work is that the company is very progressive and forward-thinking.
“Dan and Daniel are not afraid of change,” Carlson said. “They have a big-picture view and are willing to try new things if they believe they’ll lead to bigger and better things for the employees and the company. They keep us trained as the equipment changes, and they make sure knowledge is shared among all the technicians. The way they make it all come together is impressive.”
SIMPLE KEYS TO SUCCESS
According to Jahn, Reliable’s family atmosphere and commitment to doing the right thing plays out quite well in practice.
“Reliable has always done a great job for us, and management is very creative in the solutions it offers,” Jahn told The NEWS. “I’ve never felt as if they were trying to push us into a certain type of system because they would make money off of it. I’ve always felt they were genuinely trying to solve an issue and do the thing that makes the most sense.”
Dan Jape says that’s the key to success, as simple as it may seem.
“We market ourselves as big enough to handle any challenge, but small enough to care. And we make sure to let our clients know we’ll be there if they need us; that’s why both Daniel and I put our home and cell numbers on our cards.”
He added that it’s rare for a customer to ever feel the need to call him. “We communicate well internally, and we strive to give every one of our customers a service experience that wows them, every time.”
And, Daniel Jape definitely “gets it,” which bodes well for the company in the future, said Dan Jape.
“It’s helpful that people know my father and I are involved and that we built the company as a family business,” Daniel Jape said. “We both grew up in this area, and people like knowing that they’re doing business with people who grew up here, just like they did.”
Tale of The Tape: Reliable Heating & Air
CONTRACTOR: Reliable Heating & Air
OWNER: Dan Jape
LOCATION: Kennesaw, Georgia
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 38
BULK OF MARKET: Residential
TOTAL SALES FOR 2014: $40 million
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 300
TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 200
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: More than 41 hours annually.
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: 401K
INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Conditioned Air Association of Georgia (CAAG), ACCA, and National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA). The company is certified by or affiliated with the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), Workers’ Compensation Risk Certification (WRC), Applied Microbial Remediation Technician (AMRT), the Comfort Institute, Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI), and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: Despite being a very large, high-volume dealership, Reliable has managed to retain its personal touch and commitment to providing outstanding service to every customer, every time.
TRANE REP: ‘IT’S HARD TO STOP RELIABLE’
Reliable is among North America’s largest-volume residential Trane dealerships, and Jason Lewis, Trane’s district manager for Georgia, appreciates the contractor’s professionalism.
“Reliable runs a solid business,” Lewis told The NEWS. “They hire right, train, and develop from within; they take good care of their employees. They also treat customers very well and will ask for referrals. They strive to develop customers for life.”
“They’re a marketing machine, have a strong online presence, and differentiate themselves by selling high-end products and accessories,” said Lewis, referencing Reliable’s numerous keys to success. “We’re very happy for Reliable and proud of all the things the Jape family and their team has accomplished over the years. And, I think the best is still yet to come.”
Publication date: 1/25/2016