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The Day in a Life of a Small HVAC Business Owner

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Small company owners have their perks. How many people in our society are lucky enough to sit in a chair one day and install a boiler or furnace the next? How about meeting new people almost daily; or having customers complimenting you for the work you did in their home 20-plus years ago? Many people in our society are relegated to the ‘same ole’ every day for 40 years.

Operating a small business has its challenges though. As I run daily operations, I oversee 3 full-time field employees, one full-time and one part-time office staff. The list of duties seems to be endless some days, yet in general I am making sure the ball is rolling with new installations (our main source of income), service customers, in-building inventory, and ordering major heating and cooling appliances. Of course the list keeps going with other items including vendor relations, trucks, keeping track of rebates and warranties. Then sprinkle in some general building/property related items, banking, talking with the IT company on occasion, the list really can go on and on.

Every morning consists of talking with the two-man install crew and the service guy. It’s a two-way street: I want to know various details from the previous day, making sure things are running at a basic minimum standard (which is not all that minimum). The guys need info from me, such as details I recall about certain systems (for the service guy) we have installed, and what type of detail I want to see and/or what kinds of materials, tools, and equipment they may need to get into the trucks before they roll.

The office staff is responsible for the office operations. Carol, the part-timer handles all payables, payroll, bookkeeping, insurance items, and more. Carine, our full-timer primarily takes care of all our customers. She sets up service calls, estimate appointments, plumbing/gas inspections, handles accounts receivable, and so much more. She and I work together on how to handle various situations. Our focused business philosophy makes it impossible for us to accommodate all incoming calls, yet we wish to handle everyone with a certain professionalism.

While I feel I’m a hands-on tool guy at heart, working my office duties does not come naturally. I would be thrilled if the office would run itself. However being very small means my thumbprint is on every transaction and conversation that takes place. I routinely hear myself saying. “that’s fine, next time can we say it this way”, or, “that was a tough lesson, we did our best, but next time we will know better”.

While most incoming calls and the seldom walk-in customer is handled by the office crew, of course, I jump in here and there. Carine insists on calling me ‘Boss’. Every so often she’ll call out, “Boss, I think you better take this one”. She is keenly aware of what types of callers will waste my time, and which one may lead to a small pot of gold. I respect her role, she does not have any general technical knowledge but still holds her own when callers are describing things which may be completely off base or inaccurate. Carol does a superb job with all of the back scene office duties, looking out for the dollars spent, calling vendors, and clarifying glitches, credits and mistakes, talking with the CPA every quarter, amongst a host of other details.

After 25 years, I’ve been around long enough to know we all, at times, wish we could have what the other guy has. It’s the American way. Yet, when it’s all said in done, I’ve got it made in the shade. Being small means being nimble, we jump when there’s a treat for our efforts. We deal with non-pressing matters (to keep loyal customers extra happy) when we are in our slower season, many times at no charge. We haul serious cash (relatively speaking) when it’s super busy. We shed cash when it’s slow, but not bone-crushing dollars that put people into the dog house (like I did when I had twice the staff). We temper the crazy 12 hours days with some short days around the shop. The employees know they work for a solid, well-established brick, and mortar contractor, with above-average rankings in the community.

Gary Wilson
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Money, Opinion

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