William "Bill" Lewis, Owner of Southern Air Pros
Originally published: 06.01.19 by HVACR Business Staff
We sat down with Bill Lewis, owner of Southern Air Pros in Woodstock, Ga. Lewis, who is a 2019 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner, discussed finding his path in the industry, coaching his team and finding a clear direction for his winning truck design.
1. Can you tell us about your background?
I was an advanced electronics technician in the Navy, and then I got out and tried to find my place. I ended up helping part-time with a local, single, one-man-in-a-truck guy, and I really enjoed the troubleshooting side of it. So that’s how I got started in the business. I rode with him for about five years. And then I went to one of the major players and started doing commercial work.
2. When did you start your own company?
We incorporated in 2014, but we didn’t actually start anything until our first full summer in 2016.
3. What’s your business mix?
We started off doing residential and commercial, because I could do both and I like commercial. We’ve kind of phased out the commercial side of it and only do residential now. It is service, maintenance and replacement. So that’s our niche. We do try and focus within about 10 miles of the shop.
4. How would you describe your management style?
I’m more of a team player. Anybody we hire, we hire them based on their attitudes and then we train them up from there. It’s pretty much a two-way street. If one of the guys catches me shortcutting, they’re welcome to speak up and say, “Hey, that’s not how you taught me to do it.” So that’s the style. I don’t do a lot of micromanaging, but I spend a lot of time training up front.
5. How do you motivate your team?
It’s more of an encouragement, like a coach-type style of motivation. We do have some small spiffs that we offer, but primarily it’s more that coaching style motivation. For example, we’re doing an event this weekend, and everybody that’s showing up is volunteering, so they’ve all bought into the program. If they do something worthwhile, they’ll get something out of it.
6. Can you give us an example?
One of my guys wanted to go to the Lennox factory training in Dallas for a month, and he figured out how to do it on his dime. So when he came back, I bought him a whole new set of tools. I do a lot of little stuff like that to let them know when they do well, that there’s something on the backside, but I don’t promise anything. I don’t do the carrot/stick thing.
7. What was the learning curve to owning a business?
The learning curve was, honestly, challenging, to say the least. I knew the technical side of stuff that needed to be done. When I created all my forms and field procedures, that part was fairly easy, but when it got into the actual running the office, that was the side that was a challenge. So I started doing a lot of reading. I would get up and read every morning, and I still do now.
8. What other resources have you found helpful?
I found a great mentor who had a commercial and residential company. He’s since sold off his residential side, so there’s no real competition. He and his wife have sat down with my wife and myself, and we’ve had some pretty good dinners, and talked about some of the things that they went through, and helped us stay on the right track.
9. What do you view as the most important aspect of your job?
Building a culture and making sure everybody understands that it’s not just a job. It’s not just a paycheck. We do a lot of community involvement. Our driving force is: Do the right thing. If it’s painful, if it’s costly but if it’s the right thing, that’s what we do.
10. What are your plans for growth in the future as a company?
There’s money growth, there’s personnel growth and there’s territory growth. Honestly, our main focus is we want to own our back yard. The idea is to have, essentially, two strong teams, each having a technician and a install crew so that they feed each other and, once again, going back to that whole team concept where you’ve got one individual directing a couple of teams and each team works together.
11. What do you see as the most exciting things going on in the industry?
The most significant growth I see is home automation, and the exciting thing is seeing the technology of our trade catching up to it. I’m also super-excited about the inverter type technology, and that probably has a lot to do with being an advanced electronics technician. It excites me. When I first saw it, I was like, “This is the greatest thing that we should have been doing years ago.”
12. What made you decide to redesign your fleet?
My original design was a burgundy van with a compass on it, and just Southern Air Pros, and we used the southern point on the compass and tied it together. But it wasn’t getting anybody’s attention ... It’s a rolling billboard and nobody was seeing it. So we reached out to KickCharge Creative for a new design.
13. What was it like to work with KickCharge?
Dan Antonelli’s ability to get in your head and figure out what you want is pretty amazing, and his team is great to work with. His commitment is mind boggling, but just working with him was as easy as it could be and he has a good way of getting you to understand what you may not want to hear.
14. Can you give us an example?
With my previous logo, he was like, “What’s the story with the compass?” And I told him I was in the Navy, and it reminds me of direction, and it ties into our name. And he goes, “Okay, what’s that got to do with air conditioning?” It really made me think, because I didn’t know.
15. What kind of research did you do?
As far as the color scheme, KickCharge did all the research on that. They requested that I send them my competition so that they could consider the logos and color schemes that were prevalent in our area, so that there weren’t any overlaps.
16. What kind of feedback have you gotten?
It’s a good, positive energy, not a hard sales pitch or anything like that. And that’s the feedback that we’re getting from our customers. It makes you feel good when you see it. It doesn’t feel like somebody’s trying to come in and sell you a bunch of stuff. It makes you feel like you’re dealing with a fun, positive group of people.
17. How has this new design paid off?
It’s a force multiplier, because it does stick in people’s mind. And because our vehicles are different, even though there’s not a lot of them, they’re different, it gives us the image that we’re trying to grow … we’re not a mom-and-pop shop. We’re major players in this area, and that’s where we’re going.
18. What’s your favorite aspect of the design?
It’s a cross between the colors and the smiling sun. The colors are unique and different as far as our industry goes. And the emotional relationship to different colors, once I researched the colors I felt good about that. But also that smiley sun face, it’s who we are. We’re trying to make people happy, and when it’s hot, we want to make you cold, and when it’s cold, we want to make you hot.
19. What else do you like about the logo?
The rays of the sunshine kind of look like the compass points. I asked Dan to leave the compass in at some level and that’s how he incorporated it. That was one thing I said, “I have to have it, just because it does remind me we have a direction and it keeps us on track.”
20. Do you track leads based off customers who see your trucks?
Yes, but I don’t have a clear percentage. That being said, I keep a mental lock on that. We just make note when a customer mentions it.