“We are dedicated to the success of the quality independent contractor. Our mission is to provide training and resources to promote that success, to raise the standards of excellence in the industry, and to ultimately increase the value provided to our customers.”
HVACR contractors formed The Unified Group in 1998 as a “hedge” against the growing consolidation movement. There are currently 32 members from across the country, including Marina Mechanical of San Leandro, CA (the company owned by current ACCA national chairman Jim Hussey), and YPS of Austin, TX.
“We are a fairly small, tight-knit group that is member driven,” said Tim Smerz of Air Comfort Corp., Broadview, IL, one of the group’s partners. “We depend on our members to determine the direction of the group.”
SHARING BEST PRACTICESAlthough the companies want to be able to compete with larger entities while remaining independent, Smerz said that fighting consolidators wasn’t the only reason for forming the group.
“A number of us were involved with ACCA [Air Conditioning Contractors of America] MIX Groups“ and we wanted to apply that concept on a larger scale and to share best practices as a group,” he said. “We looked at purchasing and training as side benefits of the group, too.
“A number of us were members of the United Service Alliance [USA], which was eventually sold to [former consolidator] GroupMAC, and we wanted to take the experiences we had with that group and apply them to The Unified Group.”
Smerz said that his group does not need to have 100 to 200 members like some of the larger independent contractor groups, because its goal is to “involve each member more closely. And we don’t want to invite competing companies to join the same group,” he said.
“For example, if you are a contractor from Phoenix, there will be no other group members from that area, which enables you to speak freely about the challenges in that area and share financial information, too.”
GROWTH IN STOREHowever, The Unified Group probably will not remain at its current member level. Smerz said that the partners are looking at 10 to 15 more geographical areas where they would like representation.
“We will probably top out in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 members,” he said.
“We want to make sure we grow with the right kind of companies in these given areas, not just to grow for the sake of growing.”
Smerz said that the group does not go out and market itself or advertise for members. Instead, lot of information is passed along by existing members or simply by an exchange of ideas at contractor or association meetings.
“We also try and get involved in some of the larger events like the ACCA show because typically the contractors at shows like that are the best in their market,” Smerz said. “We figure these people are there to get better and attend training sessions, and those are the people we are interested in.”
The Unified Group holds four training sessions per year, one of which is part of its annual meeting. Most of the principals and key managers of each company attend this. The group also offers sales training, financial training, and leadership training.
The group has a website (www.theunifiedgroup.com) where members can post questions on the member board and which are e-mailed to all members.
In addition, members of The Unified Group also benefit from the group’s purchasing alliance partnership with Trane and with W.W. Grainger on parts and tools purchases. “We have an agreement with a filter company, and with G.E. Capital and General Motors to offer discount truck purchasing,” Smerz added.
The Unified Group also has a Marketing Committee, which looks at different ways to market the group, explore national accounts, and it also shares ideas with all group members.
The next annual meeting is coming up in November in New Orleans, LA. “We invite six or seven prospects to the meeting,” Smerz said, “but we try to limit that and remain focused on the purpose of the meeting.”
Publication date: 08/26/2002