20 Questions with Dick & Dave Slife, Owners of Slife Heating and Cooling Lakewood, Ohio
Originally published: 08.01.06 by Terry Tanker
Contractors for hire — Publisher Terry Tanker sat down with Dick and Dave Slife owners of Slife Heating and Cooling. The brothers operate a residential and commercial contracting company in Lakewood Ohio and have been in business for the past sixteen years. We explore their tips for success, challenges they face in the market and their predictions for the Cleveland Browns.
1. Two Cleveland boys — so is it Browns, Indians or Cavs?
Browns for sure.
2. Dog Pound Seats?
Sometimes — but often we are guests of a vendor and we have watched the games throughout the stadium.
3. You’ve got a unique logo, what are the music notes all about?
Customers would say, “That’s Slife.” It’s a take off on the Frank Sinatra song, “That’s Life.” I (Dave) sing barbershop; the notes on there are right.
4. You come from a large family, nine brothers and sisters, where’s the rest of the team?
Dave and I are the only two in the heating and cooling business. One brother is a local painting contractor and the rest are business and health professionals.
5. Dave you
I had been working for another contractor for twelve years, I felt like it was time to go out on my own. Six months after I started the business I was called up for Desert Storm, I was in the Army Reserve. When I returned, I still wanted my own business and with the help of some friends I started again.
6. There’s a story here, what was a typical day back then?
The one man, one truck story. Sell the job, install the job and service it too. I worked out of the house and had a sheet metal set up in the garage. I out grew that in a year and moved into a small shop with another small contractor. He was more new construction and I was service and retrofit, so we both went our own way. When I moved to Madison Ave. in Lakewood the business was starting to take off. That was my fifth year I had the business. I started to grow the business one employee at a time. When my brother Dave came on board I was able to leave the tools more and start running the company as a business.
7. How quickly were you able to grow?
It was challenging the first few years, but we have grown and have eleven employees now. So once some of the higher hurdles were cleared we were able to grow roughly one employee per year.
8. What is Slife Heating & Cooling’s main product line?
9. Why Lennox?
They really stand behind their products with great technical and engineering support. Our TM, Chris Spencer, has been instrumental in our growth. The business and tech support classes from Lennox have been invaluable.
10. What one principle have you built the company around?
Service. We go the extra mile to make sure every customer question is answered and make them feel part our family.
11. Besides lots of hard work what has been the key to your success so far?
12. Can you explain?
A lot of our business has been generated and sustained because we are active and visible in the community we serve. We participate in all of the local events in town. As a result our name and our brand are well known and that is the basis for many of the calls we receive and the referrals that are sent to us.
13. This sounds like marketing and advertising, do you have a formal plan?
Yes we do. It’s grown as our business has. We support local teams as their sponsors, advertise on billboards, have a direct mail program, and advertise in local newspapers. The informal part of the plan is how we network within the community at different events. It takes time, but we find it’s very effective.
14 Where is the growth potential for your company?
Currently 20% of our work is commercial; we would like to see that number grow to 50%. The residential market has been and will continue to become more and more price sensitive.
15. Are there key trends you see in your market?
Most definitely, indoor air quality (IAQ) and zoning. In fact the Arzel zoning product in the front of your magazine is the one we use — it’s very good. We want to offer more than a furnace and air conditioner change out. We sell the total comfort package. We offer high efficiency air filter products, humidity control and duct sealing on all jobs.
16. What’s the biggest challenge you face in the future?
Qualified technicians. It’s been talked about a lot the last few years but it’s true and every owner feels the pinch.
17. How are you going to meet this challenge in the future?
We’ve had good success identifying the right types of individuals, even if they didn’t have an hvac background. We make sure they have the aptitude and then apply the “home grown” method.
18. Home grown?
We train our techs and installers from within using our own facility, local wholesale schools, Lennox and Weil-McClain training seminars and other industry service and installation classes. We are also an active member of ACCA.
19 What is the larges problem you face?
Something we’re seeing more often are unlicensed contractors. I believe the state and local building departments should go after the contractors who do work on weekend and evenings without a license or permit. I think the local licensed contractors should start to boycott the wholesalers that sell to our employees and the unlicensed people. As long as they continue to sell to these guys we won’t be able to clean up this part of our industry.
20. Final question — Are the Browns finally going to have a winning season this year?
Of course they are…
We would like to know what you think. Send your comments or questions to us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terry has over 23 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming Hutchinson Tanker Ltd. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace.
In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, AMCA, and ABMA. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the American Boiler Manufactures Association (ABMA) and as chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.
Articles by Terry Tanker
Brent Schroeder, President, Air Conditioning Business at Emerson
Two Longtime Contributors Publish Books
Both Ron Smith and Theo Etzel have written new books — proving once again their commitment to advancing the HVACR industry.
The Problem with Listening to Customers
Customer insight is about short term tactics that lead to deeper discounts, price matching, improved service, less inventory and more automation.
Chris Hunter, owner of Hunter Heat & Air
Michael Meier, VP/COO Meier Supply