Rob Minnick is the CEO of Minnick’s HVAC, Plumbing, & Insulation in Laurel, Maryland. Minnick recently discussed the impact of past economic downturns on his company. He also talked about the importance of being a lifelong learner.

Minnick likes to say he was born into the business. His grandfather started the company in 1954. Minnick used to hang out at the office on weekends and after school. He started at the sheet metal shop in high school and then moved to installations after a few years. That only lasted a year when his father asked him to take over the sheet metal shop at 20.

ACHR NEWS: You’ve been through several downturns. What were those experiences like and how did they prepare you for this latest challenge?

Minnick: When I started, we had over 200 employees. We were doing a lot of new construction, a lot of housing tracts. We had 25-30 people in the sheet metal shop alone. In the’80s, we went all the way down to six employees. And four of them had the last name of Minnick. There were still some builders doing additions and a few new homes. But it wasn’t tract work.

In 2008, we had 35 employees. It didn’t hit us as hard, maybe five employees were let go. In 2005, I came to my two younger brothers and my dad. We were all working out in the field at that time. I had transitioned into doing manual Js, manual Ds. With the duct work and the installations I had done, it all started to make sense to me. My one brother was in service and my other brother was doing installs. I said to them that our father wants us to take over the business and one of us has to come into the office and learn that side.

They looked at each other and looked at me and said, ‘Good luck.’ When I started looking at the books, I realized we were making money on our existing clients and were losing money on the new homes. So I started to pull out of new-home construction before 2008.

ACHR NEWS: What was different this time?

Minnick: The PPP was a lifesaver, that’s for sure. The advice from my accountant was, ‘Don’t blow it all in eight weeks.’ He said the program was probably going to change and if it didn’t, you have to pay back the rest. I had some work, but I didn’t have enough work to put the staff I had back to work. I just spent what I needed to spend.

Luckily, the program was extended.

ACHR NEWS: You’ve been a lifelong learner. What do you do to encourage that in your employees?

Minnick: We train all the time on HVAC, home performance, and leadership. I’m learning leadership and management every day. It’s ironic, because when I was in school, you couldn’t get me to crack a book. I’d only crack a book to pass an exam in order to graduate.

To this day, my parents say they never imagined I would be who I am today. I was just doing enough to get by. Now I can’t put a book down.

ACHR NEWS: What are you doing for marketing these days?

Minnick: That’s constantly changing. I’m constantly trying to figure that out. It’s hard to hold anyone accountable. I just switched to another marketing company. What I like about them is that we have a monthly meeting to go over how our CSRs are doing and if we’re targeting the right market.

I recently read a book called “The Pumpkin Plan,” by Mike Michalowicz, the author of “Profit First.” It’s about putting laser focus on what your company needs and making sure you know what your customer wants. That way, you can focus on the customers you do really well with and weed out the other ones, because they are dragging you down. It’s still true that 80 percent of your income comes from 20 percent of your customers.

It’s about asking the right questions and making sure your team knows what to look for. These are the customers that don’t complain about price, that when you make a recommendation, they want it. You want to avoid the customers that gouge you on price, complain about everything you do, and don’t take any recommendations. They want the bare bones and they want it done now.

I’m doing interviews next month with our customers that give us that 80 percent of our income. I’m in a Pumpkin Plan group through Tap the Potential. The group gives me feedback.

I’ve been in the business for 40 years and I’m still learning. There are always issues and until you find out what the underlying problem is, until you really understand the customer’s pain, it’s hard to solve them.

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