20 Questions With Bobby Miller, president of Grande Aire Services Inc.
Originally published: 05.01.08 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker, publisher of HVACR Business, traveled to Florida’s Boca Grande Island to visit with Bobby Miller, president of Grande Aire Services Inc. The two met during the area’s short-lived tourist lull — right after snowbird season and just before Tarpon fishing season. They chatted about ambitions, customer service and marketing.
1. When you leave the office Friday night, where are you headed?
I’m headed for home. I’m up early Saturday for boating and fishing.
2. How would you complete this sentence?
My father always said….Hard work won’t kill you.
3. How would you complete this sentence?
My mother wanted me to grow up and…Be a good person.
4. Can’t leave home without it?
5. What is your secret ambition?
It’s not such a secret. It’s to have the best air-conditioning company in South West Florida. Not the biggest, but the best.
6. What is your business mix?
40% new construction, 60% service. However, new construction is down 15% and service change out is up roughly the same percentage. Our light-commercial business is doing pretty well.
7. How did you get your start in business?
I worked for a friend’s father’s business when I was young and really enjoyed it. Then I attended Sarasota County Technical Institute. I worked for another company here in Florida and helped them expand their business, but they only wanted to grow to a certain level. I finished out the year with them and started my own company. I was able to take some of the business areas that I developed that he did not want.
8. What is your biggest challenge this year?
The decrease in new construction.
9. Have you had to face employee layoffs?
Yes, unfortunately. We had 80 employees and are down to 57. The crews that worked on the condominium projects were let go.
10. What is the most important lesson owning your own business has taught you?
Patience, because you shouldn’t worry about things you can’t control. You need to take your time and make sure you make the best decisions for your company.
11. What do you spend the majority of your time on each day?
Customer service — making sure our customers are 100% satisfied. The other aspect of the company I work on the most is marketing.
12. Do you have a good customer-service story?
We had a customer call just before a storm hit. She had a set of French doors at her home that had blown open and she couldn’t close them. She called everyone for help, but no one was able to come. Even though the service call wasn’t related to air conditioning, we went over to help.
13. How do you market IAQ?
The first thing we do is interview the customer and find out what their needs are. It’s a case-by-case basis, but we make sure to discuss it on every call. We’re trying to provide solutions for the customer rather than a one-size-fits-all mentality.
14. What roles have IAQ products and higher efficiency equipment played in the success of your company?
Customers have become much more knowledgeable regarding SEER ratings and IAQ because of the Internet. They are more educated and that makes our conversation and product recommendation much easier, which in turn has helped our company grow.
15. Do you sell service agreements?
Yes, we have approximately 14,000 customers on service agreements.
16. How do you market and sell them?
Our salespeople have printed brochures available for use during sales calls. Prices vary because we are a state-licensed insurance company and we sell warranties. We’ve got several levels customers can select.
17. You have a significant investment in fleet vehicles, all of which have your unique logo and full contact information. What is the pay off?
Brand identity and recognition. We have 41 trucks on the road that run from Sarasota to Ft. Myers, but the majority of work is done in a much smaller area. With that many vehicles we have significant concentration.
18. What have you learned over the years you wish you would have known from the very start?
Always think through a problem or situation rather than thinking you have to respond immediately.
19. What management duties do you hang on to but shouldn’t?
I still review all of the tickets. I’ve got managers that do it — but I still look at every one of them.
20. Other than health care and gasoline, what is the most difficult cost for you to control?
Unapplied time that we can’t charge for — we do specialty work that requires research. For example, we just installed a wood-burning pizza oven with lots of specialty piping. We find unique equipment on service calls and locating parts for repair sometimes takes longer than we would like. These are costs that we can’t fully pass along, but the research does expand our knowledge base for the future.
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