Ricky Bennett, owner of Air Supply Heating and Air Conditioning
Originally published: 06.01.13 by Terry Tanker
HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker recently met with Ricky and Kim Bennett, owners of Air Supply Heating and Air Conditioning in Waldorf, Maryland. The Bennett’s are one of four 2013 Tops-In-Trucks Fleet Design Contest winners. They discussed fleet design, marketing, and managing a family business.
1. How did you get started in the hvac business?
While in the U.S. Navy, I was trained as an HVAC service technician and electrician.
2. What happened after the service?
After the Navy, I worked for a large commercial HVAC company in Maryland. Four years later, the company was sold and the new owner layed off a lot of the service technicians. Fortunately, I was one of them. That was the start of what is now Air Supply.
3. Did you always think you would be a business owner?
No, it never crossed my mind back then. Circumstances brought me to this place as a business owner. But, it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
4. Like many in our industry, you own a family business. Your wife Kim and son Anthony work with you. When did they join you?
Kim and I both worked for the same commercial company. We dated and married while working there together. Before Anthony was born, Kim left the company and became a stay-at-home mom. So, we literally started
5. What is your business mix?
Residential work is approximately seventy percent and light commercial roughly thirty percent.
6. What advice would you give to other owners about fleet design?
Limit the amount of graphic art, which can cloud who and what you are. Less is more. And, make sure to tie in all of your other marketing, from website to business cards.
7. How many fleet vehicles do you own?
We own four Chevy vans. They are our preferred brand.
8. Do you lease or buy your vehicles?
We purchase them and all are lien free!
9. How long do you typically keep them?
Six to eight years. We take great care maintaining our small fleet regularly.
10. When did you realize your fleet would be a good marketing tool and start to take advantage of it?
Right from the beginning. We understood the marketing value and the branding power based on how many impressions just one vehicle can make with the proper imagery. We have always had our fleet lettered and it has evolved, over time, to the full wrap you see today.
11. What type of investment do you make in each vehicle?
The wrap, as they say, is just scratching the surface. We also invest in extended warranties, and each vehicle is equipped with laptops, printers, scheduling software with real time connectivity to the office, digital camera, cell phones and a GPS system for tracking, route optimization and faster customer response times.
12. Have you been able to document a return on investment? Yes, we ask every customer who calls “how did you hear about us?”
After the vans were wrapped we added a ‘van wrap’ category because customers kept telling us they had seen our vans in their neighborhoods or on the road. To date, we’ve had over 240 service requests in just a seven month period.
13. What type of customer reactions do you get when they see your vans?
We’ve had a great response from customers, who tell us they love our van’s color, design and, most of all, the service technician pictured on the back: our son Anthony, who is one of our service technicians. We’ve seen photos and comments on many social media outlets, too. And, we’ve had two applicants for technical positions tell us if the van looks that good, it must be a good company to work for!
14. What do you think is the most important element in your design?
It’s the simplicity of the design. It stands out and you instantly know who we are, what we do and how to contact us
15. What do you enjoy most about managing the company?
The pride in knowing we built this company together. Working together as a family and a team. And, we have a great group of people working with us to achieve the same goal, and that is customer satisfaction.
16. How do you split management duties?
I have oversight responsibility companywide, and I handle the service techs and the shop. Kim takes care of the office, internal staff and customer service.
17. What is the most difficult part of managing a company with other family members?
After 20 years, I’m proud to say we really don’t have any. We all know and have a role to play within this business, and we just simply do it. And of course, we’ve learned over time how to make it work.
18. What advice do you have for other contractors who work with family?
Maintain professionalism and know your role within the business. Respect and patience for one another is key, and you have to separate family and business: keep personal issues at home.
19. What aspects of managing the company are most difficult?
Finding qualified service technicians. I know we’re not alone and this is an industry problem, but it’s very difficult to find the right people.
20. Do you have a succession plan in place?
Yes. Anthony has expressed an interest in eventually taking over the company. He’s great with customers and loves being a tech in the field. He would like to work closer with me in the office and take on more management responsibility in the future. He’s still young so, we have time to work through the plan and implement it in the coming years.
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