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First Generation Business Takes Flight After Winging It

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The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) has several programs to help HVAC contractors grow their businesses and succeed in a highly competitive environment, but my husband I have benefited the most from ACCA’s MIX Group program.

Clay and I started Clay’s Climate Control in 2001 with our pick-up truck and Clay’s technical skills and craftsmanship. For the first several years, Clay and I worked together to find new customers and Clay would deliver the quality services that we promised.

As first-generation HVAC business owners, Clay and I had no institutionalized support from family members or corporate offices. We couldn’t simply call for help when we encountered new challenges or saw promising opportunities. Clay and I relied upon each other and often times we’d “wing it” and learn from mistakes we made along the way.

Perhaps I didn’t know this back then, but in hindsight, I see that we learned quickly from the mistakes we did make, and often times our instinctive approach to problems were correct. In fact, our customer base was growing and we were becoming recognized in our community for quality craftsmanship. However, as our company grew, we recognized that our “wing it” approach to business was not the most responsible way to manage our growth.

Clay and I needed the support and acquired knowledge that many multi-generation family business in our industry can rely upon. If we had grown up in a family business, we would have benefited from existing staffing and training programs and more engrained business management practices. As a biochemistry major, I was not prepared to manage these unfamiliar issues while Clay was maintaining our company’s reputation in the field.

Therefore, Clay and I agreed that we needed outside support to help us achieve our goals. We were interested in ACCA’s MIX Group program because we heard from other ACCA members about the excellent peer-to-peer learning opportunities that are available in MIX Groups.

However, we couldn’t commit to attending ACCA’s annual conference so we worried about the cost and time commitment of two more trips each year if we joined a MIX Group. We were also scared to share our business records with other contractors because they may have looked down on us for “winging it” for so long.

Reluctantly, Clay and I entered the MIX Group program and in 2014 the Res-Pro MIX Group interviewed and invited us to attend their upcoming meeting. We were instructed to bring our financial reports, marketing materials, performance indicators, employee benefit packages, and everything else about our business to the meeting. All of this, added to the fact that the Res-Pro Group consisted of a former ACCA National Chair and some ACCA Board Members, made us nervous. We were very apprehensive to compare our company with these well-established industry professionals.

Despite being anxious about our first MIX Group meeting, Clay and I went in with an open mind and we promised each other that we would accept whatever recommendations our colleagues had for us.

Clay and I gained a lot of practical knowledge and business experience from the Res-Pro Group. For instance, rather than “winging it,” we learned how to correctly analyze our financials, and what all of the numbers – gross income, gross profit, net income, and net sales – really meant. And, since we were with

non-competing companies, we could compare which pricing models and performance indicators would help us grow.

During the facility tour, operations reviews, and staff interviews, we had our first opportunity to look behind the scenes of another company and compare our staffing procedures, dress and uniform policies, fleet management practices, and company culture. We also heard from the host company’s managers, salesmen, and technicians about their goals and how they measure success – information we took back for our staff to consider. This was the peer-to-peer learning that we needed.

Although we learned new practices that we needed to implement, the most important thing we went home with was confidence. We learned from our MIX Group that our instincts were often correct and that even multi-generation businesses learn through trial-and-error. The Res-Pro Group, throughout our first meeting, assured us that the company we built was on a path of sustained growth. That feeling is priceless.

The advice and confidence that our MIX Group provides has allowed Clay and I to work ON our business, not just IN our business. We have grown to more than 20 employees and 14 trucks while maintaining Clay’s quality reputation – and still making a profit!

Most importantly, however, we learned that a MIX Group is more than a bunch of contractors crunching numbers. The Res-Pro members have become our best friends who encourage and support us. In fact, if Clay or I ever have a family emergency and need to step away from our business, any of my MIX Group colleagues would walk into Clay’s Climate Control and run our business the way we do.

Jennifer Pierce
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Opinion

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