Little Guys Have Staying Power

In John R. Hall’s column on “big box heating and cooling” [“Welcome To Big Box Heating & Cooling — Maybe,” June 24], he named two well-known service companies — Roto Rooter and Orkin. Interestingly, there is a company called Service Master that has Rescue Rooter, Terminex, and ARS (an HVAC company) under its corporate umbrella. I can’t help but wonder how well the HVAC division is doing.

Here is some food for thought: How hard is it to train someone to spray bug killer and rod drains? I think a lot of the consolidators put us in the HVAC industry in that same category. Big mistake. I’m sorry, but this business is a lot more complicated than bug spray, carpet cleaning, lawn care, rodding, etc. I will argue this until my last breath. These companies saw a fragmented, largely cash business, full of “mom and pop” companies, and salivated at the potential profit. However, they forgot the last point.

There is some history of mass marketing in this business, but it has not affected the mom and pops. Look at the history of Sears, Holland Furnace, and some utility companies. Why are the little guys still here? I think it boils down to personal attention, superior customer service, and better control over the employees in the field. Who has more control — the guy with 10 people in the field or Sears? If a customer has a complaint, who is going to respond quicker and better? The little guy has a lot more on the line and a lot more to lose.

Lastly, attention to details and really listening to the customers’ needs are both very important. I can’t really imagine that a big consolidator really cares about the bedroom upstairs at Mrs. Jones’ house that won’t get cool enough. Well, I do. I can make it cool, I will get paid to do so, and because of that, I will always be here.

Dave Charles, John J. Cahill Inc., Evanston, IL

Problems Stem From Shoddy Work

[Editor’s note:This letter is in reference to John R. Hall’s June 17 column, “This Guy Doesn’t Like Forced-Air Systems; What Say You?”]

I read John Hall’s article, and I wish I could say that Jeffrey May was completely wrong. I, too, have seen everything that he has mentioned. I have been to new homes where the ducts leaked so badly that when you pulled up the crawl space cover, you got blasted by air, and you could feel air coming around the plug-ins trying to make up the air loss.

Unfortunately, that is why I started my own company. I was tired of seeing so much shoddy work and could not find one company within a 75-mile radius to work for that did things right. I started my business six years ago with a tool belt and three credit cards and the desire to do things right. I consistently sell my jobs for a lot more than my competitors and have had customers wait eight weeks for me to do their work. Now I am faced with the task of hiring good people to set up a team to take care of my customers. Everyone tells me that it is hard to find good help, but from my standpoint, I found it hard to find a good place to work — so hard I had to create my own.

Keep up the good work.

E.J. Bear, Bear’s Climate Control, Payette, ID

Bad Apples Spoil The Whole Lot

I just finished reading John R. Hall’s column “Feeling Unappreciated During A/C Appreciation Days” (July 29, 2002), and I couldn’t agree more!

The local TV stations have been running “sting” operations in our area with varying results, mostly skewed to the sensationalism of the sting. Yes, there are unscrupulous individuals, as in any other profession. But again, it’s the same old story of a “few bad apples.”

In my experience, I have found that most contractors have a high sense of integrity and are genuinely honest — sometimes to a fault. Some contractors, as in any profession, practice dishonesty and deceit. Some simply freeze under the microscope of a TV camera and a taunting reporter, and appear to be inept or culpable. They are hot, frustrated, and possibly behind schedule, with customers pleading for their help — only to be viewed as bandits or thieves after the problem is resolved and the cooling restored.

Technicians are certainly capable of error in diagnosing the wide variety of systems, designs, installations, and control strategies. And add to that the stress of the job, the details, paperwork, regulations, heat of the day, the economics of the repairs, and the customer’s reluctance to spend money on things they don’t understand.

What a time for news crews to conduct interviews — in the middle of the busiest part of the year with the most potential for problems or a misdiagnosis. In all fairness, contractors should be interviewed when they have the time and composure to respond to accusations with the same degree of preparation that the news crews had in preparing and editing the 10-second bite.

Rick Watts, National Accounts Inc., Scottsdale, AZ

Publication date: 09/02/2002