Gary Ward, owner of Gary’s Heating and Air Conditioning
Originally published: 10.01.11 by Terry Tanker
Recently, Publisher Terry Tanker ventured into the Lone Star State to interview Tops In Trucks winner Gary Ward of Gary’s Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. They talked about training, fleet design, and the relentless Texas heat.
1. What are you doing when you’re not working?
We have a large extended family of 18, so my wife and I always seem to be going to a birthday, ballgame, or dance recital.
2. When did you start in the HVACR business?
In 1974 as an installers’ helper. I took the job because they offered health insurance.
3. How did you decide to open your own business?
In 1977 my father suggested it, and at 25 I didn’t know any better. I was married with a child and had enough money in the bank for one month. I had my first employee three months later and an office right after that.
4. How many employees do you have?
We were at 35, but I’ve sold one company and sold the construction side of my company to a partner, so now we are at 16 doing only residential service and replacement.
5. Your wife recently joined your company, which is not uncommon
Paula is helping with advertising and marketing and is training to be a manager. She recently retired from a local school district where she had over 130 people reporting to her. She will quickly become an asset in many ways.
6. You were one of our 2011 Tops In Trucks fleet-design winners. How did you come up with your design?
It was an 18-month process. We wanted something patriotic and regional, so we picked the Texas flag. And the vans needed to have a message but not be too busy.
7. What were the “must have” elements of the design?
Once we decided on the flag, we knew our name and what we do — heating and cooling — along with our web address would be enough.
8. Why didn’t you include a phone number?
Our web address is easy to remember (Garys.com). We design our advertising to drive people to our web site. We also conducted research and asked people if they have ever tried to write down a phone number off of a moving van, and only two said they had. But we did put our number on the back of our vans for people who want to write it down when the van is parked.
9. Did you consider using pictures of equipment on the fleet?
We did, but decided to use our unique selling proposition — Fixed Right or It’s Free — which is a registered trademark. We know this is something that separates us from the competition, and feel that if someone sees our name and our unique selling proposition, they’ll remember us.
10. Did you employ a marketing firm to help you with the design?
No. I involved our employees in the conceptual and final design process. I wanted them to have ownership. We also worked with the vehicle-wrap company, and they generated examples on computers until it was exactly what we wanted.
11. Have you seen a return on investment from your fleet-marketing campaign?
New customers have called stating they saw our vans. And, we have been using the vans in our newspaper advertising, T.V. promotions, on our Facebook page, and for direct mail.
12. How do customers respond?
Customers have complimented our vans to our technicians and seem to always have a story about the great State of Texas! This alone has helped to develop rapport with customers.
13. What element of your fleet design helps you to stand out from the competition?
Our guaranty of “Fixed Right or It’s Free.” Everyone can say quality work, we’re the best, in business since 1978, and other shallow claims, but our proposition lets people know they cannot lose when they choose us.
14. What advice would you give other contractors who have not yet designed their fleet?
The best thing I did was get input from all the employees. I wanted them to understand we are a team. The other thing is we didn’t rush — we took our time and discussed pros and cons of different options until we found just the right one.
15. What is the biggest management challenge you face this year?
We were very big into new construction and have been for 30 years. Now we are exclusively in the “retail” business. That transition for the employees and company is the biggest challenge.
16. What are the major brands you sell?
Carrier primarily because Robert Madden Industries is a really good distributor.
17. Amarillo has an unusually low unemployment rate (around 6%). Have you had a problem attracting employees?
Even with our strict hiring policies, we have not had a problem finding talented people. We work hard to find and hire the right people. We spend all the time up front, and as a result have very low turnover.
18. What do you think sets your company apart from competitors?
We train five days a week. Obviously we train on the technical side, but we also train and teach things such as conduct, manners, workplace
safety, driving courtesy, motivation, and sales.
19. How do you find the time to train that often?
We’ve simply made it a priority and have built it into our workday.
20. Has the gentle Texas summer been good for business?
Yes. We’ve had over 50 days where the temperature has been 100 degrees or more. But even before the summer, we were on pace to have the best year in our history.
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.
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