Rick Haller, CEO of Lititz, Pennsylvania-based Haller Enterprises Inc., jokes that he got his start in the HVAC industry at the ripe age of 16 because the labor laws were different than they are nowadays. In 1981, at age 23, he had left that company and started his own business, operating out of his garage.
“I worked alone until I hired my first employee in my second year,” he said. “By the end of the third year, I had several employees. I was an electrician by trade, so I got started really doing electrical work. My second year in business, my first employee was a licensed plumber. I jumped right into doing plumbing and electrical work. During my fourth year, I started doing HVAC work as well. We grew all three departments from an early point in the company.”
In the beginning, Haller Enterprises operated primarily in the residential and new construction markets. Today, about 50 percent of its volume is in the service and replacement market while the other 50 percent is in new construction.
“Interestingly, since the 2007-2008 recession, we’ve transitioned from doing a high volume of residential new construction to more and more in the commercial arena,” Rick Haller said. “We’ve gone to where the opportunities are, particularly with our new construction business. We do a lot of work with multi-housing structures — everything from student housing and apartment complexes to senior living. We also do a broad range of commercial new construction. We have a competitive advantage because we use both residential and commercial technicians. A lot of those projects require skill sets in both arenas. The fact we have techs here that work efficiently in both residential and commercial arenas bodes well for that type of work.”
Today, Haller Enterprises employs 400 individuals and operates more than 300 fleet vehicles. The company’s revenue totaled $62 million in 2016, and the it budgeted $70 million for 2017.
“Our growth has been pretty steady year over year,” Rick Haller noted. “Early on, it was obviously higher percentages, but as we’ve gotten larger, we’ve grown at a 10-12 percent rate year over year. We’ve only had a couple of years in the entire history of the company that were totally flat. That was back in that 2009, when the economy changed. And even then, we were able to maintain the volume, and that was partly because of our effort shifting into other arenas where we found opportunities. We’ve been very consistent over the years.”
The company has won a number of honors and awards, including several Lancaster Newspaper 2016 Readers Choice Awards for plumbing, heating and cooling, electrician, duct cleaning, and more; 2016 Harrisburg Magazine Readers Choice Award for HVAC; Susquehanna Style Magazine Who’s Who 2017 - Best Heating and Cooling; and ACCA 2014 Commercial Contractor of the Year.
In addition, Haller Enterprises belongs to ACCA, National Comfort Institute (NCI), Pluming-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), and Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC). The company also sits on ACCA’s Joint Futures and Technology board.
“[In belonging to these organizations] We get to be around like-minded contractors focused on excellence and raising the standard,” said Edward McFarlane, vice president of marketing at Haller. “We can share ideas, bring them back to the company, and implement them with the team very quickly, and we believe that gives us an edge.”
Austin Haller, an executive with the company, also started working for his father’s company at a fairly young age.
“Apparently the child labor laws didn’t change that much,” he joked. “During high school and through college, I worked summers at the company in various positions, really getting a good feel for the business and how it operates both in the field and in the office. I studied economics and finance for my undergraduate degree. I came back and started working full time after graduating in 2010. I led a little start-up division in renewables. Back around 2010, the solar industry was taking off. There were all kinds of incentives in place to subsidize renewable energy, so we took advantage of that phase in Pennsylvania, and I led the charge here at Haller. We went from zero activity to $6 million in an 18-month period. And just as quickly as we built that up, it went away as the government incentives dried up. Fortunately, we just shifted the in-house resources to other projects.”
From that point, Austin Haller’s position at the company has varied from overseeing material management to purchasing to logistics to focusing on internal processes. Most recently, his focus has shifted to technology.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t necessarily see myself coming back [to Haller Enterprises] right after school,” he said. “But the opportunity presented itself to be part of that renewables start-up venture, which is one of the things I’ve always admired about my father — his entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to start his own business. I had the chance to do something similar at Haller Enterprises.
“My reason for coming back and wanting to stay is mostly due to the caliber and diversity of the individuals we have here,” Austin Haller continued. “It’s not your traditional mechanical contractor that is made up of managers and executives that have all come up through the field. We have a variety of backgrounds here. There are people who were chefs, pro-golfers, etc. They’ve all come together to make Haller what it is today, which makes for a really dynamic and interesting place to work. Getting the chance to interact with all of those individuals as a young professional was the direction I wanted to pursue.”
Additionally, Austin Haller noted that he saw an opportunity at Haller Enterprises and within the HVAC industry to be great.
“There is always going to be a need for this business,” he said. “The stability exists here, unlike in other industries. There are constantly ways to improve and grow, and we’ve been able to take advantage of some of those. It’s been fun to be part of that growth.”
McFarlane joined the company 11 years ago in the special projects department.
“My background was as a service technician working in the area,” he said. “Haller had a very stable reputation as a good place to work. The company’s values are things that are important to me. When I was hired, I worked primarily in the field, and then I moved to residential and commercial training over the last few years. Now, I’m currently in marketing and development.”
“We brought Eddie in, and he has really helped us,” Rick Haller added. “We were really focused on our process development in order to scale our service and replacement business and really focus on delivering service. He headed that up for us and developed our brand-new sales process. When he started here, there were maybe two salespeople in the replacement arena. Today, as a result of the systems and processes that were implemented largely by Eddie, we now have 20 salespeople.”
Haller Enterprises’ mission is to enrich the lives of its employees, customers, and the communities it serves by delivering unparalleled commercial and residential service and solutions.
“One of the things that has given me energy over the years, the thing that is most satisfying, is the opportunity the industry presents for employees,” said Rick Haller. “I think the barrier to entry is relatively low, and the opportunities are really tremendous. We have hired quite a few employees right out of high school and local career technological schools. They got started in the field. Today, they are holding management positions within the organization. The opportunity for someone to get involved and develop an incredible career really exists within this business.”
Rick Haller admitted finding skilled and qualified technicians is always a challenge, but he continues to fight the battle.
“We’ve had a lot of success hiring really good people,” he said. “It really helps once you gain that momentum and your employees are referring other people. We’ve built a reputation. I think a lot of it goes back to our company vision, mission, and values, because they really resonate with people. Obviously, with our continued growth every year, it’s an ongoing challenge. However, the encouraging thing is we’ve been able to find the people we need to continue to build our company.”
Haller Enterprises connects with local trade schools to ensure newcomers entering the field are aware of the opportunities the company presents. Additionally, Haller also continues its search for people with experience.
“One of the things we’ve put a lot of time and energy in is training and putting robust training programs together, which is something Eddie specializes in,” Austin Haller said. “That sometimes allows us to hire people who don’t necessarily have experience but have the right personalities. It really opens up the pool of individuals we can hire from because we can teach them what they need to know.”
“It also attracts people once they become aware of the training offered,” Rick Haller added.
There’s no doubt the HVAC industry is changing and evolving, which is something Austin Haller finds exciting.
“The opportunity for the next generation is significant,” he said. “It’s not all going to be based on the traditional way of doing business. The industry is continuing to evolve and enhance the way we do our work with the utilization of technology. It’s a space where the use of technology in not only running a business internally but also facilitating a relationship with customers is increasingly important. As a millennial who resonates with that type of dynamic within a business, that’s exciting to me.”
TECHNOLOGICALLY MEETING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS
Haller Enterprises has been through many changes over the years — so many that it was hard for Rick Haller to decide which was most significant.
“I think one of the most important changes — and one we’re facing right now — is the continuing evolution of customer expectations,” he said. “Customers are becoming accustomed to the use of technology in other industries, and as they see that technology available in other places, it raises their expectations in all of the service arenas. And, clearly, it’s impacting our industry as well. People expect immediate service, and they want it done well by someone they can trust. The changes that are necessary to accommodate and deliver that type of service have really been significant.”
That customer expectation is perhaps a good thing for the HVAC industry, as it’s elevating the industry by forcing HVAC and mechanical contractors to focus more on their customer service, Rick Haller noted.
“The contractors who get this and understand customer service will find ways to make it easier to do business,” he said. “They are the ones who are really going to succeed in the future.”
Customer expectations were what led Haller to change its internal processes, focus on training its employees, and even develop its own mobile app software.
“We’ve done a fair amount of research over the last couple of years on what specifically our customers were looking for in regards to technology,” Austin Haller explained. “We wanted to see what was happening in the space and what technology even existed for customers. All we saw were some of the larger companies, like HomeAdvisor, are really the only companies taking advantage of this opportunity in the market, which is to provide a more modern customer experience. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we want to be controlling our customer experience — that was the top priority for controlling our future.”
Haller spent about two years in research and development, four months of which was spent strictly on developing the software.
The finished product, Schedule Engine.com, was launched in May.
“The face of it is a mobile app for homeowners,” Austin Haller said. “It allows homeowners to go into the mobile app, quickly diagnose whatever issue they may be having, and get linked up with a qualified technician. They can book service within the app, and it’s fully integrated into our system. It’s automating the entire process of creating a work order internally and assigning a technician to that work order, just as if the customer would have called in and spoken to a customer service representative [CSR].”
To ensure they’ll get the right person for the job, customers are encouraged to shoot a video or take pictures that can be reviewed by dispatchers and technicians. The cloud-based scheduling system picks a qualified, available technician for the job, optimizing its selection based on proximity, which saves contractors driving time and money.
“One of the fun things about this whole process for us was automating some of our internal processes — the lower value tasks that employees have to do — and then reallocating some of those employees to new tasks,” Austin Haller said. “For example, some data entry for incoming service calls can now be automated. This allows our customer service reps and dispatchers to focus on more important things, and, ultimately, allows us to be more efficient as a contractor. It’s really turned out to be a win-win scenario for us.”
After a customer has booked an appointment, he now receives status updates on the day of service.
“The whole purpose of this technology is to streamline and simplify the booking process up front and then provide real-time status updates to the customer through completion of the job,” Austin Haller said. “It starts with automated text messages and then ends with the real-time GPS location of the tech coming to the house. Clearly, our inspiration for a lot of this was Uber. We asked ourselves if we could create an Uber-like experience for our customers through a mobile app. And this is something we’re sharing with contractors across the country.”
“The biggest hurdle we face as a company is continuing to find ways to meet and exceed customer expectations as we scale the business,” Rick Haller added. “We’re working on that now by turning to technology to help provide a better experience. We’re pretty excited about what we believe to be our solution.”
As for long-term goals, the vision at Haller has not changed.
“Our vision statement is to be trusted by every homeowner and business by redefining the contractor/customer relationship,” Austin Haller said. “We believe, one way or another over time, that if we want to grow as a contractor and redefine that contractor/customer relationship, we must make it easier for our customers to do business with us. Part of our vision is this technology and sharing it with other contractors across the country who are interested in enhancing that customer experience and doing it in a way that enhances their efficiency as a business.”
Rick Haller explained the ‘redefining the contractor/customer relationship’ line was a recent addition to the company’s vision statement.
“I would argue that it’s one of the things Austin and Eddie — the next generation here — have really identified as a vision for the future. For us to continue to be trusted as the best solution of value, we absolutely have to work on enhancing the relationship that meets and exceeds the expectation of today’s consumers.”
“We need to stay relevant and realistic,” McFarlane added. “In this technology-driven world, where people don’t necessarily have to converse with other people, we need to make sure we’re not sticking our heads in the sand and allowing other companies to come in and interfere with our personal relationships. We want to ensure that however the customer wants to interact with us, whether it’s on the phone, computer, or app, they can.
“We’re at a crossroads where companies like Haller, which have served people for decades, are being threatened by big technology companies that are coming in and reducing what we do down to a price,” continued McFarlane. “We need to meet that challenge at that crossroads head on with our eyes open and a plan for the future.”
Austin Haller added that the future of the industry will depend on leading contractors stepping up to meet customer expectations by using technology effectively.
“If our industry can do that, it’s going to remain a thriving, profitable market in the future,” he said.
Publication date: 10/9/2017