Most people identify “Mom and Pop” shops for their welcoming charm. Yet despite a reputation for exuding a comfortable feeling, many end up closing their doors. Whether the challenge is big-box competitors, an economic slump or limited resources, making ends meet can be tough. But for Precision Air-Conditioning of Memphis, Tenn., the family business figured out the secret to staying open for 37 years and counting.
Just as individuals have a story, so do businesses. Ten years ago, asking Kathe Stewart if she would ever work in the family business would have resulted in a firm “no.” As a practicing lawyer, she never imagined she would one day be chief operations officer of her father’s air-conditioning company.
But in 2002, an unfortunate event changed the course of her life and the direction of her father’s company.
Human nature leads us to follow the crowd because it’s comfortable and, let’s face it, that’s what we do. But when there’s an economic downturn that batters your industry, following the crowd is what you want to avoid. Then it’s time to be different if you don’t want to share the pain of declining sales and profits, says Bill Jones, who with his wife, Deb, owns Jones Service Co. a plumbing , HVAC and electric company that services the Hudson Valley.
Many business owners experience difficult times — periods when sales are low and cash flow is a dribble. But when a business is on the brink of closing, it takes hard work to keep the doors open. And a little bit of faith.
Bill Campbell, 56, has been in the HVAC business for 33 years. While Campbell describes himself as a “worker,” in 1993 he took on the title of owner and founded West Deptford, NJ-based Campbell’s Comfort System.
The 17-year-old business has seen its normal peaks and valleys, like any other HVAC company. But in 2008, as the recession worsened, Campbell’s business almost closed. Campbell recalls seeing the oncoming recession in early 2007.
Rick Picard walked curiously into the company’s sales meeting. His company had hired a consultant to help sales reps increase their revenues. A top performer and no stranger to seven-figure annual sales, Picard was not required to go. But he went anyway. After the meeting, Picard knew his life was going to change.
A Webster, MA, native, Picard began his career doing plumbing repairs and installations after he completed trade school. Picard worked hard to support his wife, Monika, and their four daughters, Ashley, Austin, Gabrielle and Kaitlin. The family moved to Coventry, RI more than 10 years ago.
In 2003, he had the opportunity to join Lincoln, RI,-based Gem Plumbing & Heating’s residential service team.
For six years, Picard has been a successful sales manager at Gem. From 2003 to 2005, Picard estimates that he was selling as much as $2 million annually, which is more than three times the industry average.
When was the last time somebody asked you, “How can I make you smile today”? When Danielle answers the phone at “72 Degrees Air Conditioning and Heating, Your Comfort Experts,” she asks this very question with sincerity.
“It all about building rapport,” says Doug Clay, 42, sales and general manager for 72 Degrees. “Danielle’s job is to let customers know that we are their allies. We’re here to provide a solution for their needs.”
Clay is the co-owner of San Clemente, CA-based 72 Degrees, who along with his wife, Edwina, manages the office. Together, they have built a successful heating and air-conditioning company with 14 employees (including their daughter Danielle) and a second location in Longview, WA