20 Questions with Ray Grimm, Owner of A.W.E. Air. Water. Energy.
Originally published: 07.01.11 by Terry Tanker
Publisher Terry Tanker met with Ray Grimm, Owner of A.W.E. Air. Water. Energy. The two discussed corporate re-branding strategies aimed at meeting your customer’s needs, growth strategies, and pushing retirement dates into infinity.
1. How did you get started in this business?
The first half of my career was in retail. Then, I became involved in HVAC sales. In 1989, I bought an existing business that opened its doors in 1911 and incorporated it as THE Air Conditioning and Heating Company.
2. What made you change your mind about retiring in 2010 and instead reinventing your 100-year-old company?
The economy started shifting into uncertain territory, so I decided to stay and take the company in a new direction ... and added plumbers and electricians. It was also important to me to not downsize as I had valuable people that depended on me for their livelihood.
3. Before making the commitment to the company what type of conversations did you have with your family?
Since all the kids are gone, I only needed the blessing from my wife. I thought I could pull this off within a couple of years. It has worked out well and I have increased my travel schedule and fly back and forth to Florida in the winter.
4. What research did you conduct to ensure you were building a viable business model?
We engaged market research consultants to analyze both our existing clients and the broader market place. We looked at education, incomes, buying habits and what products and services they wanted. We also surveyed our clients internally and asked how they would rate our service and value.
5. You had solid revenue growth when you were an hvacr-only company, but you were still concerned about the future. Why?
By 2008 we recognized the world had changed. We believed we had the responsibility to transform our business to survive and grow in this new world by providing better service and higher value to our customers. Not to mention the added services we knew we could offer.
6. How does the new name — A.W.E. Air. Water. Energy. — reflect your new business model?
We evaluated our position and identified a business model allowing us to increase our service offerings while expanding our ability to help homeowners maintain their healthy homes. Doing so involved those three elements.
7. What services and skills did you need to add?
Plumbing and electrical services, energy audits, air quality testing, and solar panel installation, and getting involved with geo thermal testing.
8. What were the tactical elements of your strategy?
We acquired another company (Hansen Mechanical and Pluming), hired licensed electricians, installed and implemented a new management software system, and developed an overall marketing and rebranding plan.
9. How do you position this new company to co- workers and customers?
I like to think our technicians are like being doctors for the home, intent on promoting preventative care that helps homeowners avoid costly repairs, while improving operating efficiency, and extending the life of a home’s core systems. I also knew we had a solid group of core employees.
10. Did you expand your management team?
Yes. I added a General Manager, expanded the IT department. There were also a few changes to job descriptions with our new software in place.
11. Can you give me an example of how you emphasize the health aspect of your services?
One of the biggest health concerns a homeowner can address through a home’s vital systems is allergies. Annual medical expenses can top $18 billion dollars, not including time lost to sick days. Homeowners can combat this by installing a central air filter to remove allergens before they enter the air.
12. You invested $1.2 million and hundreds of hours over one year in this transformation. What kind of ROI do you expect?
I expect our company will triple revenues over the next five years. We currently have 46 full- time employees, but that will increase. My goal is to have a 15% profit and triple sales in 5 years.
13. Most businesses have had difficulty finding access to capital. How did you fund your company makeover?
We funded our transition through cash reserves, increased revenue and reinvesting profits. We did not borrow money to make the transition. I utilized the money I also had in savings.
14. Are you selling higher-margin products with this new model?
Margin is a challenge in today’s marketplace. We have increased the size of the average job we do by offering high efficiency energy saving solutions to meet our client’s needs. Solar has become a larger part of what we do. Expanded services have helped grow new revenue sources we did not have in the past.
15. One thing you didn’t change while re-branding was the color of your 37-vehicle fleet. Why?
Our bright yellow color has become a recognizable part of our company, and it is incorporated into every piece of the marketing and branding campaign. Everyone recognizes our trucks.
16. What advice would you give other contractors who want to grow but don’t know where to start?
If you want to grow, you have to take calculated risks that are backed up with fresh ideas that make good business sense, and the courage to believe in your mission. Do your research and don’t be reactive.
17. Can you describe your Member Value Program?
Members receive regular maintenance visits to ensure all of their home’s systems are properly installed, operating efficiently, and are ready to provide top indoor air quality.
18. Can you describe your strategic marketing program that attracted new customers to your company?
We began within our own client base offering new services and providing a $100 gift card (for 100 years of service) to our clients to try any of our products and services. Then, we hired a great PR firm with creative ideas.
19. Year over year what have you found to be the most difficult business challenges and how have you overcome them?
You have to continually reinvent yourself to meet the needs of an ever-changing market. We address this by listening to our clients and we go out of our way to make them feel appreciated.
20. So, have you set a new retirement date?
(Laughing) Well, No. I believe it has become clear to others that I will never retire but always be a part of the company. That makes a lot of people happy, but probably not all of them. My wife is now convinced I will never retire, just cut back.