Talking IoT in HVAC
From automation to hiring to retention
FLOWER MOUND, Texas — Prior to joining the Service Nation Alliance, Triple A Air Conditioning & Heating had not been involved in the home automation business.
“We would not have been aware it was coming to the HVAC market and that it was such a lucrative area for us had it not been for our Service Nation affiliation,” said Dustin Neff, general manager, Triple A.
The NEWS sat in on a preliminary meeting between a homeowner, Triple A Air Conditioning & Heating, and a representative from Resideo as the group discussed the components and design of the system.
Carol Longacre joined Service Nation for the express purpose of heading up the connected home (automation) division. Now, she’s the connected home program manager for the organization.
“It was a perfect match,” Longacre said. “I had been familiar with home automation, as my husband owns a business in the segment, and the connection for HVAC contractors is a natural fit.”
Longacre especially likes the business opportunity the connected home presents.
“Contractors are good at selling service agreements, which people need but do not necessarily enjoy buying,” she said. “They want our connected home offering. This gives contractors products people are excited about. It gives them a technology that millennials are excited to work with, giving contractors a recruiting advantage. Best of all, it gives contractors an ongoing, steady cash flow from the recurring monthly revenue associated with the connected home.”
Resideo Technologies Inc. — a 2018 spinoff from Honeywell Intl. Inc. — is a global provider of critical comfort and security solutions primarily in residential environments, with a presence in over 150 million homes. The company is working with Service Nation Alliance members to establish connected home business offerings. Alliance members have the opportunity to receive both technical and business training to help contractors blend the IoT into their home services portfolio. Following are perspectives from Keith Neff, president of Triple A, and Dustin Neff — two of the contractor participants — about the constantly evolving HVAC business and, inevitably, a little discussion about the strategies of hiring and retention in an age of the workforce shortage.
The NEWS: Why do you care about home automation?
Dustin Neff: A lot of things we do now are going in a direction of automation, such as Wi-Fi thermostats or self-diagnosing equipment that notifies us or the customer that something is not running properly. The advancements in technology tie in to what we already do for our customers. We know how to run low-voltage wire, and we know how to work on this type of automated home security equipment; it’s going to bring in an additional line of revenue for our company. From a business standpoint, it would be unwise to ignore home automation.
The NEWS: What is the biggest hurdle for an HVAC contractor to be able to adapt this business approach?
Dustin Neff: Getting one’s existing staff of HVAC technicians to adapt and evolve with these technologies will be the biggest challenge. Those who are hired new into our company will have no problem understanding why we are in home automation, but for those who have been around a while, it will be a significant change. This should be especially interesting for the young 20-somethings that we may be hiring because they have grown up with technology, which is actually a plus for our recruitment efforts.
The NEWS: How did you learn about this opportunity?
Dustin Neff: We joined the Service Roundtable four years ago and grew into the Service Nation Alliance. That is when we first began talking about home automation, during that transition.
The NEWS: How did you come to be a Service Nation Alliance member?
Keith Neff: We joined the Service Roundtable, and after a couple of years, I reached out to the Service Nation Alliance and said, “Help, I don’t know what to do next.” I had realized I was getting burned out, and I wanted to get to a higher level with the business.
The NEWS: Walk me through your progression with the Service Nation Alliance.
Keith Neff: Once we joined, we were assigned to an advisory board, or A-B group. Initially, I was with [Service Nation Alliance Mentor] Ed O’Connell in the small contractors group. In the group, nothing is sugarcoated when they start coaching you. When you describe a problem you are faced with, the group comes back with an answer. You might not like it at first, but we all have to learn how to get out of our own way and start listening to the mentors. Next, we moved over to work with another group, under Ryan Snow with Western Heating & Air as a mentor. Ryan and the advisory board helped us grow our business tremendously.
The NEWS: When did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to join a group such as the Roundtable?
Keith Neff: My son Dustin was with me in the Service Roundtable from the very beginning. We realized that we would hire and train employees, and then they would leave. Retention was the main reason for us to join. One day, Larry Taylor sat down next to me and asked, “Keith, what are you doing to find new employees?” I thought I had the best answer. I said, “I’m always looking. Everywhere I go, I’m handing out business cards, telling people what we do. I might see a good server at a restaurant; I hand them a card, tell them what we do.” (But the problem is that we would find these people, train them, teach them about a career path, and then they would leave.) Then Larry asked me, “What are you doing to keep them?” I didn’t have the answer. So when we came back, we put together an employee retention plan. We created a health care and benefits package, and devised a plan to show employees how to move up in our company.
The NEWS: Did you already have some of this in place but just didn’t communicate effectively to the new hires?
Keith Neff: We didn’t have any of it; we didn’t have a business plan. I was real good at what I did as an air conditioning technician and just one day decided to start my own business. It wasn’t long before I realized the burnout had begun. I was hustling all the time but not getting anywhere with the business. From there, once we joined the Alliance, we have more than doubled in size.
The NEWS: Is retaining good employees a big part of a business growth plan?
Keith Neff: It’s a huge part. The longer employees are with you, and you start putting systems and processes into place so that you do something the same way every time, you see their revenue growth per employee.
Our plan now is to continue hiring team members (they are no longer employees, they are team members) and have them ride along in the truck with another technician to understand the basics. Then, we send them to spend time with some of the best trainers in the industry, such as Joe Cunningham and others from Service Nation. We’ve sent them to the Lennox Build-A-Tech, which has been a very good program for us too. And then we teach them what we call the “perfect service call.” Now we can put them in a vehicle as a maintenance tech, then progress them to a Level I technician, to a Level II technician, to a Level III. There is a road map now that shows people how to move forward.
Everything we’re doing now, we learned through the Alliance: A business plan, a marketing plan, an employee retention plan. The people we work with are amazing people. For example, I can call Ken Goodrich from Goettl Good Guys, and he will pick up the phone and talk for an hour. The list of people available to help just goes on and on.
For more information, visit www.servicenation.com.
Publication date: 3/4/2019