A Wilmington, North Carolina, HVAC contractor has big plans to grow into a multi-location operation. The owners of Green Dot Heating and Air made their first acquisition on Feb. 14, 2020. Over the next few months they added operations in Columbia and Mt. Pleasant. Chris Jones, Green Dot’s managing partner, said the goal is adding five to 10 locations a year.
Jones and partner Bennie Sheally come from financial backgrounds. Jones worked in financial management while Sheally was CEO of an insurance agency. The pair met through their kids’ soccer league. Jones sold his private wealth management firm and was looking for a new opportunity. HVAC seemed a good choice.
There are a number of reasons for that, Jones said. One is that HVAC, like wealth management, is a relationship-based business. Green Dot does both commercial and residential work, but focuses on the residential side. Jones makes it a practice to refer to customers as clients.
The buying opportunity offered by HVAC also appealed to Jones. Green Dot’s first few purchases reflect what he expects as the norm. The owners were over 60, and their children showed no interest in taking over the business.
Jones comes from a blue-collar background. His dad worked for an electrical manufacturer, and Jones grew up helping around the house with improvement projects. When Jones grew up, father and son remodeled parts of his house.
“Those things are fun for me,” he said. “It is part of my DNA.”
A Military Mindset
Still, he lacks the expertise in HVAC. That’s where the third partner, Greg Nelson, comes in. Nelson learned the trade in the Coast Guard, working of what he calls “floating geothermal systems.” Nelson left the Coast Guard after 20 years of service, achieving the rank of chief warrant officer, and used the GI Bill to attend HVAC school to learn about residential systems.
Nelson contributes his military experience as much as his HVAC training as a partner. For example, he views the company’s uniforms as important to its success. He uses an old expression from his days in the Coast Guard, telling technicians they have two names on the front of those uniforms — theirs and Green Dot’s.
“We want them to act a certain way within the home,” Nelson said. “You’re getting paid for this, so be professional.”
This concept comes up early in the hiring process. Nelson said he sets expectations in the first interview. So far, there haven’t been any issues with this approach.
“Most people generally want to do well,” Nelson said. “They push me and we push them. We all hold each other accountable.”
Word Of Mouth Helps With Recruiting
One of the people hired since Green Dot launched last February is Wesley Tyler. Tyler joined the firm in the spring and now oversees service for all the locations while being the local service manager for Wilmington. He also still goes out on calls.
Tyler started out as an electrician before moving into building controls and residential HVAC. A friend told him about Green Dot and he met with Jones and Tyler. He found they all shared a vision of what an HVAC firm should do.
Most technicians come to work for a firm through word of mouth, Tyler said — the way he did. That makes treating employees well crucial to attracting more workers. Green Dot does this with various rewards, often geared at making the employee’s life easier, Tyler said. This includes tools and other incentives.
“Any time you can help the company out, most of the time there is some kind of reward or bonus,” Tyler said.
Jones plans on offering a stock plan at some point so employees can actually share in the ownership. For now, he said one of the most interesting perks is a kegerator in the Wilmington office. This came from work Green Dot did for a friend of Jones who owned a local bottle shop. In North Carolina, a bottle shop sells unopened bottles of beer, wine, and spirits. The friend obtained a liquor license before the pandemic, but found he would have to shut down if he offered service. So Green Dot wound up with the kegerator as part of its payment.
Green Dot also offers staff training through what it calls Green Dot University. The training mainly focuses on technical skills, but Jones also shares his knowledge of financial management.
Transparency for Staff And Customers
Beyond the various rewards offered, Green Dot management tries to make work life appealing to its staff through communication. Nelson meets with his team leaders daily to discuss how things went. He maintains an open door policy.
“It’s your job to bring problems, but you need to bring a solution, too,” Nelson said.
Transparency is a key part of Green Dot’s philosophy, with both employees and customers. The other two key principles are being diligent and being consultative. This means presenting the company in a professional fashion and following through, Jones said. It also means asking clients about their plans for the home. Is it a place they see themselves growing old in, or is it just a stop along the way? And it means being upfront about pricing, Jones said.
“HVAC is foreign to most people,” he said. “It’s not a comfortable subject.”
The Green Dot philosophy comes through in the company’s marketing efforts. The firm provides a regular column for the local business journal. It covers a range of topics, including IAQ and the ways HVAC can help the environment.
Jones also started an Instagram page that now has 1,300 followers. That’s low for a fashion influencer, he said, but really good for an HVAC firm. The posts are fun, informative, and even silly at times, Jones said, but always informative.
One of the main messages Green Dot wants to express to the public is an appreciation for the HVAC industry. Jones said people started to realize its value more during the pandemic, when technicians were deemed essential workers.
“There’s people who get their hands dirty and make the world run,” Jones said.
The firm now wants to bring a new level of professionalism to the business. Jones sees plenty of opportunities for Green Dot to expand in the near future. Some might consider this a tough time for a new business. Not Jones.
“Most people grow fearful,” he said. “I view negative situations as an opportunity.”