Ohio Contractor Views Change as an Unlimited Growth Opportunity
When you walk through the door of Kettering, Ohio-based McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning, you’re greeted by a stylish, comfortable-looking reception area complete with a bubbling fountain — not your typical HVAC contracting company. The company moved into the building in August 2016 after a complete renovation.
“Image is everything,” said Greg McAfee, president and owner of the company. “When someone does come in here, I want to hear, ‘Wow, this doesn’t look like a heating and air company.’ You don’t see gas valves laying around. It’s not dark and dingy like other companies I’ve worked in. That was important to me. And I want my employees to be comfortable. That’s the culture we’ve created. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great environment to grow in, and it’s unlimited to what we can achieve.”
McAfee started his business in November 1990 from his kitchen.
“I didn’t go to college,” he said. “I went to work for Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., like my dad and grandpa. I worked there for about five years, and realized I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”
So, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. When he was in the Marines, he took a class on refrigeration and liked it. When he got out, he took a year to go to trade school, and it became very clear to him that he wanted to open his own business. After completing the program, McAfee took a 50 percent pay cut to go into HVAC.
“I started the company out of my kitchen — we had my schedule written on Post-it notes across our cabinets, Monday through Saturday,” he said. “We built a garage behind our house, and it was split down the middle — half was office, half was warehouse, and we worked out of that garage for seven years. The last year we were there, we came close to doing $1 million in revenue out of that garage.”
When it came time to expand, McAfee went to five different banks before he found one that would give him a loan for a building.
“I had zero debt, and I hadn’t established enough credit, so I heard a lot of ‘no’s,’” he explained. “But I kept going. That’s what I tell other contractors today. You don’t stop at the first ‘no.’ You just keep going.”
McAfee purchased property, waited until he paid it off, then broke ground on his building. He spent 18 years in that location, eventually purchasing three other buildings.
“We ran out of warehouse space completely, so I bought a warehouse to which some of our crew reported to,” he said. “We also had a sheet metal shop and a satellite location. I had no real desire to buy this building we’re in now because it was kind of run down. We had looked at it, and it was just a mess. But then, the realtor had called me and said the price was reduced. At that point, I thought if I could fix it up, I could sell my other buildings and get everything under one roof. That thought entertained me. So, I made an offer, it was accepted, and we had a building.”
Today, McAfee has grown to 45 employees, 32 fleet vehicles, and cleared nearly $8 million in revenue in 2016. The company does 95 percent of its business in the residential service and replacement market.
“We have a sense of urgency that started out of the garage,” McAfee said. “It probably came from my impatience, but I didn’t want a customer to have to wait. So, there’s always been a sense of urgency to get things done — and get it done faster than we were able to yesterday. What was fast yesterday has to be much faster today, kind of like a computer. You don’t just keep doing what you’re doing and expect the same results anymore. Things change so fast.”
CHANGE AND INNOVATION
Since the beginning, McAfee has constantly been innovating and changing with the times.
“We got into air duct cleaning at the right time in 1993,” McAfee said. “We started way before anyone else, and we appear to be the leader in air duct cleaning in our area.”
McAfee also started the ‘8 to 8, same great rate’ deal around 2004, and it was huge. While most companies closed at 5 p.m., McAfee Heating was taking and running calls until 8 p.m. for no additional charge. The company still does that today, however, they don’t advertise it anymore.
Most recently, the company has created an online filter delivery service for its customers.
“We were talking about how many filters we were delivering for customers and how they would get dirty or bent in a truck,” McAfee noted. “And sometimes we pulled the wrong ones. It was becoming a mess. We had to do something different. I saw all these other companies with different filter delivery services and thought we could come up with our own. So, we created McAfeefilters.com.”
The company has earned over $20,000 from filter delivery in the three months the website has been live.
“You’ve got to think different,” McAfee continued. “What got us here won’t keep us here. We’ve got to constantly think different.”
Angie Downey, operations manager, started at McAfee 15 years ago as the front desk clerk, or as she puts it, “the” customer service department.
“It’s hard to identify the biggest change because we’re always innovating,” Downey said. “Change is the only constant. In my younger years, I wasn’t much for change. I liked things the same way. Since my time here, it rather excites me now. Technology has been one of the biggest game changers. When I first started, I was scheduling appointments with pen and paper. That evolved into a scheduling platform, and then that evolved into tablets for our service department, which evolved into full-scale barcoding with inventory, which led to McAfee filters, which is now an online e-commerce store where we sell filters to customers nationwide. Everything we do is to raise the bar, not only for ourselves, but for the industry as a whole.”
McAfee has also been hosting HVAC Business Boot Camps for fellow HVAC contractors.
He started sending articles into magazines, like The NEWS. As they were published, people were responding, asking if he did any consulting or coaching. That led to him publishing the book, “It’s (My) Your Dream,” which led to training inquiries.
“So I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s try one,’” McAfee said. “The first one had about 20 people, and that was over six years ago. We do two a year, averaging anywhere from 20-30 people. I love to help, I love to coach, I love to teach, and I love small business.”
SKY IS THE LIMIT
McAfee offers its employees unlimited resources and potential, according to Downey.
“The sky is the limit,” she said. “You can do whatever you want to do. I’ve probably had 15 positions since I’ve been here — one kind of just evolved into the next, and so on.”
Downey says the work environment at McAfee is a class act.
“We’re truly a team, and we truly care about each other — not just how we’re performing here at work,” she said.
Chris Bryant, technical manager, has been with the company for 24 years, starting while he was in high school. After attending technical school, he returned to McAfee.
“What haven’t I done?” Bryant asked. “I’ve been a cleaner, installer, service technician, and a lead technician. And now, I’m in a position where I get to help others grow, help them through their day-to-day tasks, answer questions, train, make sure the service techs are taken care of and that they are doing what they’re supposed to do.
“We have a lot of great people who work here,” he continued. “It’s friendly and very family oriented.”
Shirley Howard, installation sales coordinator, has only worked for McAfee for about eight months, but she’s been in the HVAC industry the past five years.
“I heard this was a fantastic place to work with opportunity to grow from friends who worked here,” she said. “I like working here because, honestly, you always see Greg here. He is passionate and dedicated. Other companies, you really don’t see the owner. He is here every morning before I get here. Honestly, I can’t remember a day that he’s not here. He’s even here on Saturdays. I like that he cares. He cares about what his employees think and feel, he gets their input about things. He makes you feel like you’re important, and you’re input is valued.”
NO FINISH LINE IN SIGHT
According to McAfee, the biggest change he’s seen in his business has been millennials.
“We had very little turnover for the first 10 years or so, and we worked a lot of hours because we did whatever it took,” he said. “Today, it’s just a different world. Not too many people want to work long hours. They’re hard workers, but they just don’t want to work anymore than 40-45 hours a week. And that has changed, because it used to be 50-60 a week. And when you’re in the HVAC world, and everything’s an emergency, sometimes you have to work late, especially during peak seasons. So, working with a different generation has been a challenge. But, we’ve worked around it and figured out how to do it.”
McAfee has no plans of slowing down in the near future.
“We plan to continue to grow at the level we have been,” he said. “We push the bar by constantly coming up with things like the filter service — that’s the most recent — and other things to make it easier for the customer.
“There is no finish line,” he continued. “You never get to the point where you think, ‘we made it.’ That doesn’t exist.”
Publication date: 2/12/2018