Among the small towns of southeast Virginia - names like Boody, Gravel Lick, Mew, Open Fork, and Crabs Orchard - is the small town of St. Paul, population 1,000. It is home to T&T Sales & Service Inc., the HVACR residential service and replacement business owned by Terry Boone.

What does Boone have in common with other small heating and cooling shops? Plenty. Like many small business owners, he has struggled with controlling - and understanding - the cost of doing business. He continues to struggle with setting the correct price for his services and enabling his company to earn a respectable profit.

The problem is, Boone is not even sure if he has made any profit in the business he has owned and operated for 30 years. He doesn't have a good grasp of his overhead, and he hasn't had the time to figure it out.

You see, Boone has been too consumed with working in the business instead of working on the business. He finds himself running service calls at odd hours and putting out too many fires.

Sound familiar?

Understanding The Dilemma

Boone didn't come to The News asking for help. I first encountered him when he e-mailed a request for an installation checklist, which was referenced in an article I wrote recently. He explained to me that he wanted to get out of the field and begin to work on building up his business, so he could expand into a new market. (For more on Boone's story, see "Help For Business Challenges" in this issue.)

Boone acknowledges the problem he faces is one he created himself. Despite years of hard work, he hasn't taken the time to understand the nuances of running a business and making a profit.

Having heard his story, I could not help but think of the many small contractors like Boone who have faced the same hurdles. Many successful contractors have overcome these hurdles and gone on to run successful businesses. Many others have folded up their tents and left the industry, failing to understand what went wrong.

Boone knew he needed help, but didn't know where he could get it. Fortunately, there are many places to turn in our trade for expert advice.

Lending A Hand

I put Boone in touch with people who specialize in business management geared toward the HVACR contracting community. Their names are familiar: Ruth King, Adams Hudson, Al Levi, Mack Heaton, and Chris DiRe. All of these individuals and others have volunteered to give Boone some advice, free of charge. Some of these consultants have offered Boone discounts on programs and instruction.

With their help, and the help of other groups like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and some contractor mentors, Boone hopes to understand the cost of doing business and improve his business model. His business plans include opening a new office in nearby Abingdon and becoming an IAQ specialist. Honeywell is helping him with that goal.

The News will keep tabs on his progress. Having met Terry and his wife, Missy, I am impressed by their close family bond and their sincere desire to improve their business.

I believe that Terry Boone can do it - and that others in our industry can learn from it. Stay tuned.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 11/01/2004