Clay’s Climate Control –A New Generation of HVAC
Clay’s Climate Control LLC in Linwood, NJ,is a family-owned and operated company founded in 2001 by Clay and Jen Pierce. Clay has a background in heating and air conditioning, and heads the company’s highly trained NATE and EPA certified technicians serving south Jersey and the Jersey Shore.
“When Clay and I met, we thought we could provide a company that could really change people’s perception of the trades and their experience with the trades –in which many companies just don’t call back, let alone show up on time,” Jen says. “We thought we could offer a more professional company and a more professional experience.”
To attract customers to the start-up, the couple made use of Clay’s “really charismatic personality”and his already extensive network of friends and colleagues in the area, she says.
As for Jen, her background was not in HVAC nor in business –rather, she was able to apply scientific research skills she gained from receiving a degree in biochemistry from Lafayette College in Easton, PA.
“I’m very detailed oriented and methodical, which really helped us in managing growth,” Jen says. “If you plan ahead and be very systematic in your planning, you can better maintain a high level of quality by making sure nothing falls through the cracks.”
For the first 10 years of the business, Clay was very involved in the day-to-day activities while Jen was in the background –her mother was working in the office while she was home with young kids, though Jen was able to remotely oversee the office management.
“So during this time we grew slowly,” she says. “In 2011 I jumped back in full-time, and then I realized how much potential we had –but were not maximizing.”
That’s when the couple joined the national ACCA. At first they were mainly utilizing the trade group’s online resources, mostly to help streamline processes and paperwork, but then in 2014 they joined one of ACCA’s Mix groups and also started attending ACCA conferences.
“In the MIX group, we’ve been able to network with companies, really picking everybody’s brain on how they did things,” Jen says.“The biggest benefit of the MIX group is when your company is the host. The MIX members evaluate your entire company and rank suggestions on how to improve. We hosted in 2015. That was a major turning point in our company.”
As ACCA members, the couple has also been able to glean insights from business consultants, as well as from additional resources introduced to them, such as the book, “Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business,” by Gino Wickman.
The couple learned “so many things”from their involvement with ACCA that they were able to grow the company’s revenues from $2.3 million to $5.8 million in five years, “by implementing as much as we could while still following a systematic approach.”
“Clay and I started our company without any business knowledge, just technical knowledge, so we were flying by the seat of our pants,” Jen says.
“We had no budget, no clear understanding of the financials, but by participating in ACCA activities, we learned how we could really maximize our previously untapped potential.”
The Challenge of Sandy
Along the way, the company in 2012 was met with a great challenge: helping people whose homes –and ductwork –were flooded due to surge of storm waters caused by Hurricane Sandy.
“I can’t even tell you how many homes had ductwork and outside equipment that was flooded,” she says. “It was at the end of the air conditioning season, but then it went into heating season, and people were without heat –so it was an emergency situation.”
At that time Clay’s Climate Control was a much smaller company and Clay was the only salesperson, but he scrambled to provide 13 to 15 estimates a day. All of the employees worked 10 to 12-hour days, six days a week, for about eight months.
“We also had to hire other HVAC companies as subcontractors to handle the work,” Jen says. “We tried to serve as many people as we possibly could in a time frame that was as reasonable as possible.
”For three years the company did consistent work due to the Sandy flooding, and “some homes to this day are still needing work.”
“Some people don’t live here year-round and some people did not have the resources until now to pay out of pocket before FEMA reimbursed them,”she says.
Recruiting & Training
These days, the main challenge is finding experienced HVAC technicians –a challenge across the trades in most parts of the country.So,like many other HVAC contractors, Clay’s Climate Control created its own in-house training program.
The three-month program is a combination of online video training, hands-on training and training in a lab that the company built complete with functioning heating and air conditioning units. The trainees also go on ride-alongs in the field during rotations in the company’s different departments.
For Clay’s Climate Control’s more sophisticated online training courses, the couple uses virtual reality technology so the trainees can troubleshoot HVAC problems in virtual situations.
“This really appeals to the younger generation –it reminds them of a video game,” Jen says. “In fact, when we go to job fairs at local schools, we bring the virtual reality technology. That attracts the students’ attention –and then we can start a conversation to get them aware of the trades.”
The company is also involved in a state program that provides structured learning experiences for students: the company partners with a local high school to enable students to leave for a half-day each day to either to work at the company or serve as unpaid interns to get exposed to the industry.
Innovative Marketing To Stand Out
Clay’s Climate Control is also known in its market for its extensive website, complete with blog posts and other useful advice for prospective customers, including “10 Questions To Ask Before Choosing A HVAC Contractor,” by Ruth King,a nationally recognized HVAC industry consultant.
“We really strive to make it as easy to do business with us and give potential clients all of the information they need to make decisions,” Jen says. “We pride ourselves on our communication, and our website is an extension of how we view communication and how we do business with customers.”
The company’s website also features a new, very unique initiative: First Annual First Responders Contest, in which the winner Margate Fire Department Lieutenant Chris Maher received a complimentary furnace and install. Linwood resident Seamus Carey, age 14, submitted a letter describing Maher’s “selfless” volunteerism in the community and his mentorship of Carey, and his letter received the most votes from the contest’s judges, local media celebrities.
Clay and Jen began the contest based on their own appreciation for first responders, after they experienced a fire in their first home many years ago.
“We were out of town but our pets were still home being cared for by a friend,” Jen says. “The firefighters and first responders were amazing. They found the pets, kept them safe, all why minimizing the damage of the fire and the water used to put the fire out. We have always remained grateful for that.
Like many people, couple wanted to recognize the individuals who work to keep to the community safe. In and effort to show their appreciation and coordinate a community driven show of appreciation for all that first responders do, Clay and Jen created the First Annual First Responders Contest with the winner being announced on First Responder Day, Oct. 28.
“The exposure was great,” she says. “Local radio stations and newspapers helped drive the awareness of the contest and the heart-warming story of the winner.”
The company’s website also posts customer testimonials featured on Angie’s List, Google and Facebook, including video testimonials.“Videos are really impactful –much more so than just words, as people can better convey their tone and passion when sharing experiences,” Jen says. “It also helps our SEO strategy –and we’ve even embedded our videos within other YouTube videos as ads –lots of people have told us they’ve seen them.”
Like many HVAC contractors, Clay’s Climate Control offers maintenance service contracts to customers in the form of its3C Club, which also come with priority service appointments, 12 percent discounts on parts and labor, and $50 in “Clay’s Cash”with each renewal to spend on equipment replacement or indoor quality products.
“This program is similar to what other companies do, but what we do differently is that every time a club member renews, we donate a portion to the local chapter of the nonprofit CASA –Court Appointed Special Advocates for children, in the customer’s name,” Jen says. “Our customers are so thrilled of the idea that we give back on their behalf and that it also goes to helping children in our local area.”
The company also offers customers $50 American Express gift cards for referring people who become customers, and even offers a mobile app so that people can book appointments and track where their mechanic is on their way to their home –the same way people can track Uber drivers on its app.
“I’m a busymom, all my friends are busy moms,and we all prefer either text or email,” Jen says.“So we know the busy people really appreciate the ability to do as many things on their phone on-the-go as possible.”
Clay’s Climate Control has received many accolades, including The Best of the Press 2018, Angie’s List Service Award for multiple years, TCS Dealer with recognition for growth, Mitsubishi Diamond Dealer and Technician of the Month for our Employee in The News.
Jen is also a board member of the PA ACCA, and recently joined the board of the national ACCA.
“My goal on these boards is really the same as the purpose of our company: to help change the image of the HVAC industry for both customers and for people who want to pursue a worthwhile career,” she says.
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