MUSKEGON, MI — Last spring, Don Bowen was happy to learn that his company had won The News’ “Do You Want to Grow Your Business?” contest. Now that the business consultation portion of the contest has concluded, Bowen is equally pleased and happy — but he just hasn’t had time to enjoy his good fortune.

“I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger,” he joked. Bowen has been used to a brisk pace; his company was doing well before he entered the contest. Now he is really busy.

To recap, Bowen Refrigeration, Heating and Cooling won a marketing/business consultation with Ruth King, president of American Contractor’s Exchange, Norcross, GA. King is a well-known and respected consultant to the hvacr trade. Over the course of the past six months, King has evaluated the Bowen’s financial statements, business/marketing plans, staffing, and software programs.

King also acknowledged the big workload facing the Bowen’s every day. “They are busier than ever,” she said.

Recommended Changes

King recommended several changes — most of which have already been implemented by Don, his wife Jennifer, and the employees.

In her wrap-up letter to the Bowens earlier this month, King outlined some of the highlights of the “new” business plan and discussed the future.

“With the taste of success that you’ve gotten with new residential service agreements, I know you will continue to sell them,” King said. “The goal for the year 2002 should be to generate at least 300 service agreements. Since you are over 100 now, I don’t think this is an unreasonable goal.

“To add to this, now is the time to get started on the commercial service agreements. You’ve already seen a lot of seasonality evened out simply because of the agreements you have, and when residential customers don’t need their a/c or heat, commercial customers do.”

Bowen said he has noticed the difference. “Having service agreements has eliminated our peaks and valleys,” he said. “We are planning to start selling the commercial agreements.”

“The Bowens have taken the residential preventive maintenance program and really worked hard on it,” King said. “They have been very pleased with the progress.”

Bowen also implemented some of King’s advice when it came to business management software.

“We brought in new software on her advice, and it has given us a better handle on inventory control and job costs,” he said.

King recommended that the Bowen’s hire a part-time marketing person, possibly a co-op student, who would be responsible for mailing out letters and following up by setting up appointments. Bowen is looking into filling that position soon.

Through this whole experience, Bowen has learned some valuable business tips that he wanted to pass on to other hvacr contractors.

Bowen Gives His Own Advice

“Being able to track everything has made a world of difference to us,” he said. “I suggest that owners look into getting a good business software program. You will be able to manage your business and your time better.

“It’s good to be able to track all of your service calls — to see how billing is done and where money can be made. “The other thing is to make sure you have the right personnel, and treat them the way you’d like to be treated.”

Bowen technician Steve Dietz services a rooftop unit.

Summing Up

In her letter to the Bowens, King stated, “Based on our estimates, you should grow another 15 to 20 percent next year. I would imagine that the majority of growth will be through service agreements and replacement work as a result of those service agreements.

“With your dedication to [service agreements], I’m sure you’ll reach the goals we set.”

King also has recommended that Bowen turn to a flat rate pricing system for their service calls, but she said that could wait until they have more time to work on it.

“The last thing I want to do is to impose any more changes on them at this time!” she joked.

And Bowen is ready to ask for King’s advice as his company continues to grow.

“I’ll use Ruth’s advice again down the road,” he said.

When asked about the whole experience, six months later, Bowen summed it up this way. “Winning the contest was great for us,” he said. “It really helped us improve the business.”

Publication date: 10/15/2001