In the wake of late June’s Supreme Court ruling that ended federal abortion rights, a Michigan HVAC contractor’s short, blunt newspaper ad commenting on the state of the country has gone viral on social media.
Prevailing wisdom says business and politics shouldn’t mix. Not so for Larry Kirchoff, the owner of All Star Mechanical in Lansing, Michigan. When the news from SCOTUS broke, he dashed off a message and texted it to his contact at the Lansing City Pulse:
“I can’t pretend like everything is ok. Gun fetishes are being prioritized, women are no longer in control of their own bodies. The earth is heating up. Black and Brown people are still being killed, brutalized, or otherwise harassed. Honestly, at this point, who gives a S--- about HVAC. But if you’re hot, give us a call.”
A Twitter user by the name of Biblically Accurate Hard Seltzer snapped a pic and tweeted it out: “All Star Mechanical more like No F***s Mechanical.” Since then, Kirchoff’s quarter-page message in the mid-Michigan alt-weekly has been picked up by Today and shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media.
But the ad wasn’t meant to draw in business, Kirchoff said.
“It was off-the-cuff and organic, because that’s how I feel every single day,” he wrote in a post he shared on All Star Mechanical’s Facebook page. “There’s a lot of silence out there and those are the ones that we need now. I’m looking to inspire the silent majority by showing that everyone’s voice matters, and can have an impact.”
TAKING A STAND
Kirchoff is unlike most small business owners in that he doesn’t shy away from controversy for fear of offending people with his views, which are progressive.
It wasn’t always this way, though. When Kirchoff started All Star Mechanical, now a five-person shop, in 2007, his goal was simple: doing the best HVAC work in Lansing. For a while, Kirchoff lived and breathed heating and cooling.
“I used to consider myself a bad date, because all I talked about was HVAC,” he joked in a phone call with The ACHR NEWS: “my color-screen thermostat, or Tuesday’s furnace.”
His attitude started to change when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. Kirchoff said he was really bothered by people stereotyping the unarmed black 17-year-old while defending George Zimmerman, his killer.
Then a few years later, Kirchoff watched football player Colin Kaepernick risk his career to kneel during the national anthem at a NFL game, protesting police shootings of young men of color. Seeing that inspired the HVAC contractor to use his own professional platform as a voice for change.
While he had already run several social justice ads in the Lansing City Pulse, printed anonymously through his business’ advertising contract — one was a full page that said simply “Black Lives Matter” — Kirchoff decided it was time to let business and politics mix. He went to his first Black Lives Matter rally, then came home and took a good hard look at his All Star Mechanical Facebook page. It was full of HVAC topics and posts promoting the business. That night, he typed out a three- or four-paragraph essay — the kind he had been posting on his personal page for a long time.
“Essentially, I just said, ‘All Star Mechanical unapologetically supports Black Lives Matter,’ and I called upon all of my business owner counterparts to use their voice and their platforms for change,” he said. “And when I when I got done, I mean, I just did it. I wrote it, and I published it.
“It was a totally different feeling when I put my business out there,” he said. “And it was powerful.”
It’s an unconventional approach, especially in a local market, but Kirchoff said people appreciate it. It also hasn’t tanked the business financially, something his wife was so worried about that she initially asked him not to post his stance on the business Facebook page.
Since the viral ad, Kirchoff’s phone has been ringing constantly. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.
“Although the negative ones are much louder, much more ... colorful. And exactly the reason why I will continue to do this.”
While the viral ad has generated some backlash in the form of fake 1-star reviews, which Kirchoff screenshots and posts with funny captions, he isn’t worried about losing customers; they already know where he stands. It’s not hard to figure out, and that’s the point. The company voicemail closes out with an inclusive message. Its Facebook page is a mix of before-and-after install pictures, customer testimonials, and commentary on topics like racism, gun violence, and police brutality.
“If you call and I don’t answer, and you get that message, and you don't believe in Black Lives Matter, then you're not going to call me back,” he said — and he’s OK with that.
“Honestly, if I needed to have my house painted and [the painter] had a Trump bumper sticker, I wouldn't call them,” he said.
That’s no surprise. According to a 2021 study by Ipsos, more than half of American consumers shop with their political or social values in mind. In other words, HVAC contractors tend to lean more to the right, but liberals need heating and cooling, too.
Kirchoff hopes his messaging will break through to people the way Kaepernick’s did for him — and maybe get some calls for a/c along the way.
“People always say you have to keep business and politics separate. But honestly, I think they're one and the same, because if you're not political, that's actually a political statement in itself,” Kirchoff said. “I know we can do better, and silence is apathy. And I just can't be silent.
“The more people that are vocal, the more the narrative changes,” he continued. “I’m saying what’s been said for generations — nothing I’m saying is new. I just think that it's gonna take more people to speak out. If I'm inspiring anybody to do that, I've done well.”