Pluses and Minuses of the One-Man Shop

Editor’s note: The following letters are in response to Angela Harris’ July 26, 2010, article “Is There Room for the One-Man Shop?”

One Man’s One-Man Shop Experiences

During my one-man shop years, all of my business was from word-of-mouth advertising. Ninety-nine percent of my customers were industrial and commercial. I even advised wholesale house representatives. Eighty percent of the 99 percent [industrial and commercial customers] were from clients who were totally not satisfied with the service they received from large companies. The 1 percent residential customers were people who had called several companies that couldn’t fix their problem. The other 14 percent [out of the 99 percent industrial and commercial customers] were people who called me to fix their problems, then went back to their big companies, mostly on my recommendation.

I was well known as a refrigeration specialist; cooling was all I did. Why did I close shop? A very large pharmaceutical company made me an offer I could not refuse.

Richard H. Parker Jr.
Tarboro, N.C.

Unethical Practices and Licensing

After reading the article inThe NEWS“Is There Room For The One-Man Shop?” there was one thing that was not mentioned - licensing.

I’m not sure about the other parts of the country, but in Lee County, Florida, many of these one-man shops are unlicensed contractors performing installs and repairs. Also, there are owners of companies that work under a license but the owner of the company is not the license holder, thus limiting responsibility and liability to the operator and increasing the responsibility and liability to the license holder. Many companies perform unethical practices, and all they have to do when they get caught is change a name and work under another license.

I think there is room for all types of HVAC companies, I just feel it’s our job as the legitimate HVAC contractor to inform and educate the customer and bring business practices back to honesty, integrity, craftsmanship, and professional customer service.

Bernie Stiller Jr.
General Manager
Independent A/C Inc.
Cape Coral, Fla.

Caring for Your Customers

I have been in HVACR for almost 30 years now, 10 years in SMWIA, and another 10 years in UA plumbers and pipefitters. Working for a large shop meant being under a middle management team that was largely incompetent. Some employees had a mechanical engineering degree but never left the office. There were project managers that never visited the project. We lost several million dollars on a job because the project engineer never bothered to read the job specs. Every screw-up was blamed on the field mechanic.

The small one-man shop can be great for the customer as long as the one man knows what he is doing. I make the call on what I do, who I work for, and how it is done.

When I worked for the large company, I didn’t care about the customer, I cared about getting a 40-hour paycheck. The poor customer was already screwed before I even got involved.

Joseph Riggs
Quest HVAC and Refrigeration Mechanical
Ukiah, Calif.

The Benefits to Customers, Owners

Is there room for the one-man shop? I say absolutely! I appreciate dealing with the owner, knowing who’s performing the service, the consistency of the quality, and the value.

If a contractor loves the trade, loves to work, savors real independence, desires to be creative, and feels enriched by the personal relationships with the customers, being a one-man (or -woman) shop can be a great fit, and I firmly believe there is solid market for the one-person operation.

That being said, there are certainly caveats regarding being small, as well as being large. After all, large companies may be regarded as impersonal, overpriced, too aggressive, and concerned more about numbers than people. It can also be frustrating never knowing who’s going to show up to do the job or how much experience the technician has.

There are people in this business who really love working with their hands as well as their heads, who did not get their license so they could be a boss, they just don’t want to have a boss - except of course for the customer.

Thanks for running a great article!

Bruce Dix
Dix Air Conditioning & Heating Inc.
Bradenton, Fla.

What's Going on in the Classroom

I read with interest Angela Harris’ editorial in the June 21 issue titled “Bridging the Gap: HVACR Should Use i3D Technology.” Unfortunately, the editorial content is incorrect, or is very dated. In Harris’ reference to the material that is offered to students in HVACR instructional classes, she stated: ‘Occasionally there will be a video or two, but this is not enough for the potential technicians who have been using computers since they were four. What they require is connectivity and interactive learning experiences …”

In reality, HVACR students across the country have been using interactive computer-based simulation software since the early 90s! In fact, our company, Simutech Systems, has been supplying simulators to the HVACR education industry since 1992, including to the college you mentioned in your editorial, Fayetteville Technical Community College.

You are correct in stating that three-dimensional technology is very new, and I agree that it would be useful to the students. However, there is certainly more material currently available to students besides textbooks and a “video or two.”

Steve Griffin
Simutech Systems Inc.
Beaverton Ore.

Send correspondence via e-mail to

Publication date:08/30/2010