Scott Jay started his career doing telemarketing for vacation ownership companies in Branson, Missouri. In 1999, he went into business with a friend who had a background in HVAC and founded Advan-Tech Heating & Cooling.
As an independent contractor, Jay was putting in 10- to 14-hour days in the field, and he never took a vacation. Then 2008 rolled around. The economy was hit hard — and so was Jay’s business. Jay had just converted to an Aire Serv franchise, but for several years, his main focus was just staying afloat. According to Jay, once he began prioritizing Aire Serv systems, he doubled his revenue in one year, then tripled it by the end of 2018. Today, he owns two Aire Serv franchises and still has enough time to take several vacations a year.
The NEWS spoke with Jay about how transitioning to a franchise affected his business.
The NEWS: Tell me about your business and the area you serve.
Jay: We have two different locations. Our Branson location serves two counties in the southwestern part of Missouri, and our Springfield location serves the two counties directly above that. At our Springfield location, we have about four service techs and two install crews … about five to six trucks. At our Branson location, we have about the same.
The NEWS: What’s your background?
Jay: I fell into HVAC accidentally. I had a [business] partner, and when we started Advan-Tech in ’99, I was supposed to do the marketing, and he was the technical side. I went on calls with him and found that I really love doing the technical, hands-on stuff. I basically started out as an apprentice at my own company and grew from there. I’ve done the technician side for about 17 years. I had to step out of the field because we’re so busy now; my job is to keep all my other technicians busy.
The NEWS: Why did you decide to join the Aire Serv franchise?
Jay: [Advan-Tech Heating & Cooling] was a small family-owned company. We weren’t extremely profitable. My partner actually stepped out because we couldn’t afford to pay both of us. I took over the business and all the debt. It was probably me and one other part-time technician, and we had to do everything. Then I got a phone call from a gentleman who wanted to talk to me about joining the franchise. I looked at the benefits, which to me was the paperwork side of it. Heating and air conditioning guys … tend to be great technical people, but when it comes to the books and the administrative side, we seem to be lacking sometimes. That’s one reason I joined the franchise: so I could provide my customers with a little bit better back-end customer service. The other part was, I was always in the field, so I didn’t really have time to work on the business. It always seemed like I was putting out fires instead of building a business. And I didn’t have the tools to train people to do the quality of work that I wanted done.
The NEWS: Did the Great Recession play a role in your decision to join the franchise?
Jay: We joined the franchise in 2008, started doing our rollout and really started working on the systems and getting everything going [with Aire Serv]. About September 2008 is when the recession hit. We live in a tourist area, where we rely heavily on people coming to our area. Suddenly we didn’t have people coming, so there wasn’t a lot of money here. Over the next year, we lost about two-thirds of our revenue stream. So we really didn’t implement everything the way we were supposed to. We went into survival mode for about three, four years.
The NEWS: What prompted you to commit to the Aire Serv systems?
Jay: I was frustrated. Even while I was in the franchise and not participating the way I should, I felt alone. I wasn’t living up to my potential.
Finally, I decided that I was going to try to do my best at it and see where it went. We have systems for our technicians, which teach them how to engage your customer, and let them know what’s going on with their [HVAC] system, and offer them solutions for it — which is, honestly, the main driving force of the Aire Serv systems: to get referrals from our clients, because we treat them so well. They tell their friends and family about us. And we get a lot more Google reviews. It all works toward our marketing so … if something were to happen as far as a recession, or when there’s a little bit more competition out there as far as pricing, you have a customer base that won’t go looking for somebody with a cheaper price.
The NEWS: Did it take some time to adjust to Aire Serv’s systems?
Jay: Yes, it does. As heating and air conditioning owners, we get into the business because we like what we do, for one thing, but we like how we do it. It can be a little challenging to take somebody else’s system and put it into place. At first, I didn’t see quite the importance of [the systems]. I did, once I really dug into them. Once you start implementing the systems, you see how the customers are starting to interact with you, and then you understand why we do the things that we do. Plus, back in 2008, we were still on paper. The way we interacted with computer systems was … a hard change. But it all worked out for the better. We all want to do the best for our clients, so whenever we see a better way of doing it, we follow that path. It helps us grow forward, instead of looking back. We’ve grown quite a bit since then and are looking to grow a little more. We bought our second location … we’re almost up to 23 people now. We’re doing great.
The NEWS: How do you credit the franchise with helping you get where you are today?
Jay: A lot of it is the support of the Neighborly company. I can focus on what my customers need here in my territory, and have a whole team of people working on marketing and product reviews and all the things that I don’t have time to do. The other thing is the other franchisees … just the camaraderie and having people that you can talk to about your business. When you’re a business owner and everybody out there is doing what you’re doing, nobody wants to give you advice. I’ve got 190-some people across the United States who I can call and talk to about how to make my business grow.
The NEWS: What would be your best advice on how to successfully convert an independent business to a franchise?
Jay: Follow the system. It’s the little things that help your company grow. As business owners, we’re kind of independent, and we like to do things our own way. If you try to do the best you can as far as following the system, then you’re going to succeed at it. It’s whenever you start picking and choosing what you want to follow [that you’ll run into issues].
The NEWS: What are some signs that an independent contractor might want to consider joining a franchise?
Jay: If you’re not good at the paperwork side of it, and you need help with that. If you’ve been stagnant for a while, and you’ve kind of reached your glass ceiling and need to break through. If you feel alone out there and don’t know which way to turn, that’s a good time to start looking for some accountability, and a franchise is a great way to get that. That’s what they do: They help you go farther than what you’re capable of on your own.
Publication date: 6/24/2019