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James River Air’s Not So Secret ‘Secret Sauce’, The Key To Their Success

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Ask Hugh Joyce to describe his work life, his staff, his customers or even life in general, and he’d likely do it all with just one word, his favorite word – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Coined from the famous musical Mary Poppins, Joyce says the word, which means wonderful, or extraordinarily good, perfectly sums up his philosophy, that a life spent focusing on the positive, always aiming to give of your best, and living in service to others is a wonderful, or extraordinarily good life.

And that’s the premise Hugh’s dad, Joyce Sr. built James River Air on. Joyce Jr. has followed suit, and his staff of over 190 have also taken up that mandate to be an HVAC company with a difference.

In operation for over 50 years, what sets James River Air apart from the competition can be found in their “secret sauce”.

“Most contractors are highly technical companies. They engineer and build things, and that’s important,” Joyce said. “But for us, we are equally a marketing company, a people company, and a good will building company,” he said.

On the business side, James River Air currently earns a revenue of $35 Million – up $3 Million from last year – from services that include heating and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, solar, duct cleaning and energy audits. Customers are evenly split with the commercial and residential sectors.

Another key component to the company’s success is training, and the first and most important thing they train for monthly is safety, “because the secret sauce doesn’t work if our team members are not safe, so we start there,” Joyce said. Technical training is ongoing, and includes working closely with manufacturers to ensure staff is well equipped with the skills needed to provide quality service.

The staff tool-training day held each spring is one of Joyce’s favorite events. Vendors come in with the latest industry tools to give all day classes for the James River Air team of servicemen and women, and technicians who not only learn to use them, but are given money to purchase new tools.

“So the vendors love it, because they sell a lot of tools,” Joyce said. “The guys love it, because they get training and tool credits, and we love it because when the guys upgrade their tools and training they are more efficient in the field and can take better care of our customers.”

And in an industry dominated by men, Joyce says the other component of his secret sauce is bringing as many women in as he can. To this end, the company has designed outreach programs and a free boot camp geared specifically toward recruiting and training women.

“It’s critical because there is a shortage of newcomers to this industry and we think it’s a great industry for women to come into,” Joyce said. “So we do everything we can to bring them into our organization, and we’ve got eight female technicians, one female installation mechanic and five female sales reps.”

While the company employs several other women, these positions are particularly notable because men typically dominate them.

One of Joyce’s biggest goals is ensuring the HVAC industry is alive and well whenever he retires, and, in addition to bringing women into the fold, he’s working with schools, typically seniors in the 17 to 19 age range, to quell the dearth. But Joyce wants to reach kids at a younger age.

“We can’t have them out in the field until they are 18, so we are limited. But we are advising the schools that they need to talk about opportunities in the trades of heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical,” Joyce said. “We need to join forces to really work with elementary and middle school kids, because by the time they get into high school, they are already programmed for other things.”

A well-trained tech earns well Joyce said, in the region of 60 to 100 grand a year.

In a “secret sauce” that incudes a positive attitude, staff members who share your vision, a focus on hiring women and millennials, and top of the line training, there is one other ingredient you may consider to be the magic in the sauce, and that is charity. It’s ingrained in the James River Air ethic, and the team doesn’t need to be reminded to be charitable. Giving back, and assisting those in need is always on their mind, perhaps because they have a boss who leads by example. But Joyce doesn’t take credit for this. He’s simply been blessed, he says, with the most amazing team of workers.

“Some of my guys came up with a scheme, called ‘James River Gives Back’”, Joyce said. “For our Christmas banquet, we gave every member of the company a $25.00 Visa gift card, and we said go out and do some random act of kindness, and the stories we’ve been getting back are the damnedest thing that you can ever imagine.”

They’ve been leaving extra tips for their servers, buying gifts for the Salvation Army Angel Tree, making donations to their favorite charities, paying for the groceries of unsuspecting shoppers and buying food, clothing and other essentials for the homeless. And where that $25.00 was not enough, they’ve been happy to chip in with money and items, such as furniture, of their own to help those who need it.

Whether it’s buying lunch for anyone who recognizes him from TV, other random acts of kindness, or the numerous “pay it forward” programs his company employs, Joyce believes being kind to others should be every person’s mandate, and, it’s also the best form of advertising he said.

Habitat for Humanity, the Virginia Commonwealth University, the local children’s hospital and children’s museum and the Boy Scouts are just a few of the organizations that have benefitted from the company’s charitable giving. But perhaps the biggest or most notable outreach is their Comfort and Safety Program.

“That is where we go into the community and find people who need our help, and we install somewhere between eight to 10 systems a year at no charge for folks who can’t afford to get a new one,” Joyce said.

The retail value of the work Hugh and his team do yearly through this program is somewhere in the value of $70,000.00 to $100,000.00.

And with that, the secret sauce is complete, and we see that it’s not really a secret after all that has contributed to the success of James River Air. It’s hard work, dedication, attention to detail, love and respect for staff, customers and the community, and, in recognition of this very success, paying it forward to do their part to help someone else achieve theirs.

That is the James River Air way!

Posted In: ACCA Now

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