It’s that place many hvacr contractors seek.

A niche market might mean only installing furnaces in residential new construction. It might mean doing only air conditioning upgrades in upscale homes. It might mean supermarket refrigeration. It might be servicing large chiller systems.

Whatever the choice — and one is not necessarily better than the other — a niche market is a contractor’s safe harbor. It is place where the contractor knows how to do a good job and how to make profit.

But not all contractors are seeking the perfect niche. Some run virtually the entire gamut of hvacr possibilities.

Such a contractor is Jack Joyner Heating & Air Condition-ing of Clearwater, FL. Here is a company that installs air conditioning in 900-sq-ft homes and 2,000-ton chillers in hospitals. Here is a place where employees fabricate sheet metal and operate a controls division with projects throughout the state.

Diverse Portfolio

There are people at this company who have installed heat pumps in small homes, a chiller system in a 22,000-sq-ft house, and a 2,200-ton ice system in a church. Employees also build control panels for the airline industry and installed the comfort system that keeps those folks at the Home Shopping Network comfortable and smiling while they offer fabulous deals on the latest product you can’t do without.

That’s quite a plateful of projects for one company — especially one that was not planning a whole lot of growth when it formed in 1990.

According to Rick Joyner, he and his dad, mom, sister, brother, and brother-in-law formed the company after breaking away from a company where his dad had been in partnership for 35 years.

The new company started out with about six employees doing mainly new installations. “There was no way we were going to get any bigger. I ran the service department which was just me for about two years,” said Joyner.

One reason that may have initially limited growth was a commitment that the new company leaders made not to raid the customer list of the previous company that remained in business.

“As Christians, we refused to call our old customers and tell them we had opened a new business,” said Joyner. “We felt that wasn’t fair. We weren’t going to back stab anyone. Instead, we used word of mouth and advertising. “

Five years after opening, the owner of another company in the area that had formed some 40 years ago was interested in selling, and Jack Joyner Heating & Air Conditioning became interested in buying. The company up for sale had an established base of longtime customers. “So over-night our service department went from one person to six people,” said Joyner. To the new installation work was added considerable aftermarket jobs on equipment up to 20 years old.

Today Joyner Heating and Air Conditioning has 76 employees and 60 service vehicles.

The company’s approach to doing business mixes new trends in management with age-old Biblical principals.

“The customer comes first,” said Joyner. “Profits come second. In everything we do, we answer to Jesus first as to how we treat our customers.

“Our [service] warranty never runs out. We feel we do a quality job. We can’t warranty the materials we put in [which are usually covered by manufacturer warranties anyhow]. But we can warranty the way we put it in.”

The mixing of residential and commercial has a pragmatic aspect.

“Our residential service is our bread and butter; 99% is cash or checks that comes in on a weekly basis. With commercial you are looking at 30 to 60 days.”

One change in the billing battle has come in the company’s panel shop. “The shop has gotten so successful that where we used to bill 30 days after delivery, we now send bills to arrive when the panel arrives. We then give the customer a 2% discount to pay within 10 days.”

Like every contractor today, Joyner Heating & Air Condition-ing faces that double-header of challenging changes in the industry: the Home Depots of the world and campaigners for consolidation. So far, they have rebuffed both.

Even though Joyner is a Trane dealer and Trane also sells products through Home Depot and Sears, the contractor has no plans to offer installation and service work through retailers.

Said Joyner, “We feel we can offer our customers a much more complete job coming through us. We have all the financing and credit lines that could be imagined.”

The company’s owners were first approached about consolidation four years ago. “We weren’t interested even though that consolidator had brought up lots of companies in this area.” The problem, said Joyner, is that consolidators are often looking for previous independent owners to stay on and run the company while those owners are looking for a way to exit the business. Those that took stock options from a consolidator are also hurt, he said, when the stock takes a dive.

The Search for Techs

On finding technicians, Joyner said, “Yes, it is hard to get the good ones.” The company takes a pass on using newspaper ads. He said they’ve proven ineffective. Instead it relies on a marquee sign in front of its two-year-old building in a high-traffic area. A “position open” sign for technicians may yield eight or nine applicants in a week, he said. Joyner said the company would like to hire service techs with three to four years of experience and installers with tech school training. The company offers access to local factory schools and pays for the technicians to attend.

If training is required of the company, such as with a new product, the company conducts the training during regular hours with full pay or on weekends with overtime pay.

One major aspect of the company is its controls division that installs state-of-the-art technology. One ongoing job involves work at telecommunications facilities throughout the state. (Otherwise, the company keeps its travel to within 50 miles for residential and 100 miles for commercial.)

The company’s control work has recently received special recognition. LonMark has presented the company a special award for its ability to work with multiple vendors. Joyner said the company took an existing site that had some proprietary equipment and some open protocol and converted it to a true open system using a variety of interfaces.

And what of the future of Joyner Heating & Air Condition-ing? Among third-generation Joyners, Rick said his five-year-old son “is a computer whiz and helps me do some programs.”

But as to whether or not he or his cousins will some day get into the business, Joyner says with a laugh, “We hope not.”

But that may not be the final word. After all, Jack Joyner tried to talk his son, Rick, out of getting into the business.

Look how far that got dad.

This report provides information for contractors living in the South Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region of the United States. This includes Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. If you have information from this region, please contact Peter Powell at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 01/15/2001

Web date: 06/18/2001