With temperatures above 80°F nine months out of the year, Florida has one of the largest number of HVAC companies in the U.S. — making it one of the country’s hottest markets.
Against this competitive backdrop, one company stands out: South Florida-based Air Pros, with its industry-savvy, customer-driven brand matrix and out-of-the-box marketing techniques.
In its first year, Air Pros made a profit of $2 million. By the end of its second, it’s slated to hit $5 or $6 million.
The NEWS spoke with Anthony Perera, the company’s founder and president, about what’s behind his company’s rapid growth.
The NEWS: How did you start Air Pros?
Perera: I’m actually not an HVAC guy. I opened my first company when I was 19. It was a magazine called Mud Life: mud trucks, swamp buggies, mud racing, all that stuff.
I grew that company from [selling magazines like] a hot dog vendor at events, to being sold in almost 15,000 stores across the country, with a big national event presence. I sold that company in 2011 to Source Interlink media, which at the time was one of the biggest publishing firms out there.
In 2011, I opened up a restaurant/bar concept in Florida. I sold the first one in 2013, kept the trade rights to it, opened six more across the country … and I sold that company in 2016.
My father had been in the HVAC trade for many years, so in 2017, I decided to help him open an HVAC company.
The NEWS: How has it grown since you started?
Perera: We started the company with one truck, one tech, and a garage on my property.
We now have 20-plus trucks and 35 employees in three different markets across the state of Florida. We service roughly 50 to 60 calls a day.
The NEWS: Do you service residential or commercial?
Perera: It’s really a mix. We have tons of commercial and residential clients. We have some national clients: Chase Bank, Bank of America, Sally’s Beauty Supply, NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. One of the biggest competitors in the market, who’s been around about 40 years, Service America … officially closed their doors in February. We acquired all of their phone numbers before they closed down, so every time a Service America customer calls, they’re now calling Air Pros.
The NEWS: I hear you offer free year-long service contracts to your former competitor’s clients. How is that sustainable?
Perera: We look at it as a marketing expense. The average cost for a customer acquisition is between $40 and $60, at least. I’m offering a cost service of roughly that, in the hopes that when their a/c units break or have issues, or need to be replaced, we are the company they go to. We generate about 100, 120 calls a day from Service America clients. A lot of them love the free service … and want to upgrade because they’ve never had an actual a/c company come out. Although Service America was an HVAC company, they also had a more home warranty kind of target. We are specifically an HVAC contractor, so it’s a little different. Obviously, we put our customers first, we offer same-day service, we’re definitely there when they need us. Our goal is to win the customer over for the long run.
The NEWS: Tell me about your marketing strategies and how they have proved successful in growing your business.
Perera: You can’t be afraid to market. A lot of people in this industry are afraid to spend a dollar; they get wrapped up in trying to chase Home Advisor, Angie’s List, or other lead-generation companies, and that’s not where people are searching anymore. People are searching on their phones. They’re searching for “a/c repair.” They’re searching for “a/c down.” So we market on Google and other online platforms, and focus on direct-to-consumer: direct lead marketing. We also do branding marketing. All of our vans are wrapped a certain way: They’re bright, they’re wrapped like tigers and cheetahs. It has nothing to do with the company whatsoever, but you see it on the road. A pink and black tiger-striped van driving by you definitely catches your attention.
EYE-CATCHING: Air Pros uses bright cheetah- and tiger-print wraps on their vans to make them stand out on the road.
Being innovative in a sea of other contractors is difficult, especially in this market, with over a thousand licensed contractors down here in South Florida. This year, we’re up almost 400 percent over last year. Our first full year in business, we hit $2 million, and this year we’re on target to hit $5 or $6 million. I know guys who have been in the trade 15, 20 years and have not hit a million dollars in sales. Today, it’s not being afraid to spend the dollars on marketing. It’s not being afraid to be innovative. It’s not being afraid to step out of the comfort zone and look for other ways to attract customers.
The NEWS: How is this different from the marketing your competitors do?
Perera: A lot of competitors down here, they all compete with direct mail campaigns. That all gets lost in the noise. When a customer needs help with their unit, the first place they’re going to go is online. They’re going to Google an a/c repair company, or walk up to their unit and look at the sticker from the last guy. So our positioning on Google search, our online reviews are really important.
The NEWS: Do you use technology to automate some of your work?
Perera: We do online booking. We also run on ServiceTitan, our internal software for the company, [and] track our calls. Our office is typically staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day, and after that, from 8:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., we have an after-hours answering service. It comes in to whoever the on-call technician is, via email or text message.
We’re super into keeping our customers informed. We call our customer when we’re on the way, then text them a bio of the technician being dispatched to them. All these things set us apart from our competitors. [Customers] love it. I can’t tell you how many times they text back, saying “Oh my gosh, I love that I got a picture of my technician, that’s cool — I know who’s coming to my house.”
The NEWS: Can you talk about what customers today are looking for?
Perera: I think it’s value — not just price, but what you’re getting for that value. For example, customers want to be kept informed. They want to have their system running and not have to worry about it. They want to not have to call you out 15 times to fix the same problem. We keep them in our email database, we send them updates on what’s going on in the marketplace — new ideas for IAQ. We’re always trying to touch the customer and let them know we’re still there for them.
The NEWS: I see you have round-the-clock service — do you have techs on call at night?
Perera: We do; it’s mostly for the commercial side of the business. We pay our technicians very well. We have sales techs, so our technicians are not necessarily commission-based, where our sales individuals are. They are getting an on-call shift pay.
The NEWS: What are your top three pieces of advice for HVAC contractors looking to grow their business the way you’ve grown yours?
Perera: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There’s nothing magical we do differently, except the fact that we commit ourselves 100 percent to it.
Look for other ways to attract customers, and give your customers value. And keep your guys wanting to work for you — create a culture inside your business that warrants growth. We have prize pools, with prizes for most service calls ran, most maintenance contracts sold, and we give away trips. For example, one guy is going on a factory tour [of a Texas company]. He ran the most service calls last month. Things like that keep the guys happy.
The NEWS: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the industry, and what needs to be done to address that challenge?
Perera: I think the biggest challenge is finding qualified and willing [employees]. I think we need to put a little more effort and emphasis into paying guys what they’re worth … getting wages up to a point where people want to go to school to be HVAC technicians.
Two, helping the schools out there build better curriculum for training the technicians coming out into the field.
I think that there also should be some pricing set for what these units can be sold for — at least on the equipment side. Some guys out there are pricing the equipment so cheap that companies can’t compete.
It’s a lot easier for a guy with one truck to go out there, put a unit in, and make a couple hundred dollars, where we’ve got to send a whole crew to do a job.
Publication date: 5/20/2019