Doyle James, president of Aire Serv
Originally published: 09.01.11 by Terry Tanker
Doyle James is President of Aire Serv, a global franchise organization providing installation, maintenance, and repair of HVACR systems. Early this summer, Terry Tanker met with James at Aire Serv headquarters in Waco, Texas.
1. What is your favorite movie?
“Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. The message is — if you want a better result, change what you do — don’t expect everyone else to change.
2. What do you do to relax?
Texas summers are really hot. My wife and I spend a lot of time on our ponton boat exploring the nearby lakes.
3. What was the last non-business book that you read?
The Appeal by John Grisham
4. How do you spend most of your time as leader of this organization?
My ultimate responsibility is to know our business and all other areas of responsibilities so I can find talented managers to move us forward. Most successful business leaders have worked hard to find and attract great talent. Once you do this, your job becomes much easier.
5. How has the slow economy changed what you do at Aire Serv?
We’re a little more conservative in our budgeting, but by far the largest change is moving to technology-based training. We are making extensive use of webcasts for training, and we’re able to reach more of our franchisees, more often — who doesn’t like that!
6. Has the economy hurt Aire Serv’s ability to attract new customers?
Competition for the customer is greater, so if you look and sound like everyone else — the low price wins. Our franchisees have tools to increase the perceived and real value they offer the customer, which helps them to close more jobs at better margins.
7. What were the three largest challenges facing you this year and moving into 2010?
The first is fear. Whether justified or not, fear can keep some people from taking action, but on the other hand, it has helped a lot of contractors make the decision to become an Aire Serv franchise. Another is access to capital. If companies are expanding or acquiring their competitors, they need money for investment. The final challenge is not to get too comfortable with where we are. We continue to have great results, but the competition is always right behind us.
8. Did you earmark funds for pet projects in your business plan this year?
Technology. With these investments, you must commit for the long term and look beyond what is possible today. I look outside our industry to see what trends we could adapt to provide us with a competitive advantage.
9. Why Aire Serv? What’s different about your company?
First, we work to integrate all of our systems, which are designed to complement each other. Second, we have hands-on support — dedicated individuals that work one-on-one with our contractor franchisees to get them to that next level.
10. How do you recruit new franchisees?
We try to be very visible in the industry trade publications. Contractors have relationships with publications like HVACR Business — they are tied to the content and are looking for ideas on how to improve their businesses.
11. What type of contractor are you looking for?
Contractors come to us in many sizes and shapes, but the one thing they have in common is at some point they have hit a plateau and need additional help and resources to move forward.
12. Your Web site shows 175 Aire Serv locations. What are your growth goals?
We have a guiding goal to be a $1 billion comfort-solutions company known worldwide as innovative experts in keeping the customer comfortable.
13. How large is the typical Aire Serv territory?
The largest territory we have right now is a little less than 2 million people. In rural markets, it’s a population of 50,000 or so. We developed a special program just for those smaller markets. Some of our most successful franchisees are the dominant player in a small town.
14. Do you find that it’s easier to attract more contractors once one is established in a region?
As a franchise holder, you have an exclusive territory, but a big benefit for us is being a part of The Dwyer Group, which also has Mr. Rooter, Mr. Electric, Glass Doctor, Rainbow International and Mr. Appliance. We have initiated a proactive program to help each of the franchisees in a particular market share their customers with the others.
15. Why are contractors attracted to a franchise?
Often the decision is based on time and/or money. When the business becomes all encompassing, and there is no free time, it just becomes a monster, and owners seek help. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of capital, and other times it’s a tradesman that realizes running a business requires a different skill set.
16. How are product brands selected? Are those decisions made at the corporate level or by each franchise holder?
Each franchisee is free to choose the manufacturers they want to work with. But, we do have strategic relationships with some vendors.
17. Why not consolidate buying power and limit the number of brands?
We are a conversion franchisor. Once a contractor becomes part of Aire Serv, our goal is to improve overall performance in a number of areas. For example, we want to improve sales performance, operational efficiency, and management skill levels without disrupting the entire organization.
18. So, is this initially a matter of trust?
Yes. Many people wrongly perceive a franchise system as dictatorial and that they will be forced to do many things they don’t want to do. But that’s not how we work. Many of the things that are a requirement in our system are things the customer wants from a service professional.
19. What other considerations come into play with regard to national purchasing and pricing?
One of the challenges is not all manufacturers own their entire distribution channel, so it’s very difficult for them to control pricing nationally and thus negotiate it with companies like ours. We’ve found that rebates work the best and are a great incentive for our franchisees.
20. Have you considered private labeling?
We have, and we did early in our history. There are a variety of ways to do that and many pros and cons. Ultimately, you have to be tied to an efficient distribution network. We have chosen to work with great manufacturers that are very good at what they do, while we stick to what we do best.