Darrell Gross, owner of MRS Heating & Cooling
Originally published: 09.01.15 by Terry Tanker
HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker recently met with Darrell Gross, owner of MRS Heating & Cooling in New Castle, Ind., our final 2015 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner. Gross, who started his company in 1993, discusses family businesses, partnerships, training and rebranding.
1. What's your favorite part of running the company?
Vacation. [Laughs] I didn't have to think about that one very long! The single most saisfying moment that I have is when a customer tells me what a great a job we did for them and how impressed they are with the quality of people we put in their home. I just love those moments.
2. How did you get the business started?
I worked for a mechanical engineering company that was financially troubled and knew I had to leave. My brother Jack was working for a company in Orlando that serviced restaurants. Our mother was sick and he wanted to get back home. We decided to start the business. I like the operations aspect and he's always liked fieldwork. It's a 20-year partnership that continues to work for us.
3. What's the secret to such a long partnership?
We both respect one another and know the other is very good at their job. And, fortunately, we both love what we do.
4. Has it been difficult to manage a family business?
In the beginning, we didn't want a family business because of the potential conflicts, our families are very close. That's changed. I have a son, daughter and two nephews who are in the company. The values Jack and I have built the company on is part of our family DNA. As a result, they all really understand customer service and hard work.
5. How do you keep it working properly?
We just keep a great balance. Everyone has a role in this company and there's no favoritism — there's no "me first" thinking.
6. Have you seen dysfunctional family businesses first-hand?
Yes, and I learned a lot. In many instances, I learned what to do and when to do it. I also saw things that were done improperly and wanted to make sure we didn't repeat those mistakes. You can poison the environment with just a few bad decisions.
7. What's the most effective way you communicate with employees?
We've tried a lot of different things, however, in-person monthly meetings still work best for us. It's catered and lasts a couple of hours. We review goals, service ratings and complaints. It's nice because everyone has a voice.
8. Can you tell us about your duct cleaning and attic insulation businesses?
We did a lot in the automotive industry, but that business left. We had to move outside of our comfort zone and knew the insulation business would help us sell the higher efficiency equipment. And, we knew duct cleaning would help us do a better job with the customer on the indoor air quality side of our business.
9. Where do you find new employees?
We try to hire two employees every year for our apprentice program so we always have fresh people coming in, and hopefully give them a career path. Not everybody has stayed with the company, but if you prepare somebody for life, and they go on and are productive in society — that's success.
10. What type of training do you offer?
We give everybody at least 100 hours of training per year. Some of that's done with manufacturers like Carrier at their factory in Indianapolis. Some of it's done at our vendors. And we pay the techs for the training as well as for the cost of the classes. We have a training agreement so employees understand this is an investment the company is making for our collective future.
11. Do you also train in-house?
Yes, we have an 800 square foot facility we use for training. It's set up for webinars with projectors, a sound system and big screens so we can bring people in. That's where our industry is going, so we made a large investment there.
12. What other uses do you have for your in-house learning lab?
YouTube is a great resource, even for quick tutorials on programming a thermostat. Manufacturers are doing great videos for training purposes. We also have working equipment in our lab so we can create problems and have the techs diagnose it.
13. You have 16 vehicles that include Fords, Chevys, Dodges and Nissans — why so many brands?
I've been a Ford van fan for a long time. (I also have a GT 500). Chrysler is at the heart of our community, so we've bought Chrysler vehicles to support our customers. We've done lots of work for the Chevy dealership in Muncie, and so our next vehicles came from them. And, the Nissan was requested by our lead technician. That's why our fleet is so unusual.
14. Do you have GPS units in them?
We don't have that in vehicles, but we're working on that. We track them through the iPads and the iPhones, which doesn't do a great job but it works for now.
15. What areas of improvement are you working on this year?
We are redesigning our website and improving search engine optimization.
16. What are your top two goals this year?
To get the branding integrated throughout the company and to have a better communication process, which we're doing through iPads and iPhones. I give myself a B on the first one and an A on the second one. We've implemented that extremely well.
17. How do you plan to reach the next level?
We intend to hire a marketing manager. To get to that next level, which is $3 million, we're going to need somebody to focus on marketing.
18. How did the creative process for your winning truck design start?
Honestly, we said, "Boy, it would really be nice to be one of the Tops in Trucks winners in HVACR Business." That was our goal and I didn't know if it was achievable or not, but that's how we do everything here. We start with a goal and work toward achieving it.
19. Are you the one driving the rebranding effort right now?
Yes. I've had a lot of input, it has been a huge project — bigger than I anticipated.
20. What do you do better than your competitors?
Simply put, we care. We believe we've hired the best people to do the right things. We've empowered them to make decisions, and they truly care about the customer. We believe if we do everything correctly, then the profit is going to be a byproduct of doing everything else right.