Milt Baum and Barbara Keil, owners of Keil Heating and Cooling
Originally published: 04.01.10 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker sat down with Milt Baum and Barbara Keil, the owners of KEIL Heating and Cooling, Riverdale, N.J., and spoke with them about the keys to their success and becoming certified through the Building Performance Institute.
1. How did you get your start in HVACR?
Barbara: I was born into it. I am the third generation of my family to head the business.
Milt: I left the commercial real estate brokerage business when Barbara and purchased KEIL from her family in June of 1994.
2. Do you have an interesting customer-service story to share?
A car driving by our office was cut off by another and flipped over. Our office staff acted immediately, calling the police and ambulance while others ran outside to assist the driver. Fortunately, the driver was not badly injured. The next day the driver returned with a box of donuts and coffee to say thank you. Two months later he returned and asked us to come to his home to replace both his heating and cooling systems. He still stops in to say hello and schedule annual maintenance.
3. What is your business philosophy?
Make the customer happy — no matter what it takes.
4. What is your marketing strategy?
Tell your friends about us!
5. What strategy has worked best for you overall?
Going above and beyond what customers expect. We ask every customer to grade us with a report card after every job. If the customer doesn't rate us perfectly, we call to ask how we could have performed better.
6. How effective are the monthly promotions you offer via the Web?
At one point we took down the $25 coupon we offer on our website, and within a couple of weeks we heard from more than 50 customers that they could not find the coupon. We immediately put it back up.
7. Is your fleet painted with your company logo and contact information?
All of our trucks have the same graphics, which includes our name, logo, phone number and web address. Our graphics cover all four sides of the trucks.
8. What has been your most effective communication strategy with customers?
Our customer is always the boss.
9. What do you see for 2010 and 2011?
The model is changing. It's not about the box; it's about the entire home and the energy it takes to operate it. Any contractor continuing to focus on the box is going to be left behind.
10. Are there products, technologies or services that your company will focus on the next 18 to 24 months?
We are working on becoming a Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified company so we can move into the energy analysis segment of the business.
11. What can distributors do to help contractors be more successful?
Training. We are very big on all levels of training and take advantage of as much third-party training as possible.
12. What type of continuing education and training do you offer co-workers?
We have four co-workers taking the NATE exam for the first time. We have five taking air conditioning classes through the Eastern Heating and Cooling Council. Two others are taking a six-week sales course. We have three taking the BPI class to become certified on building envelope and heating. Finally, we have some taking the air diagnostic class being offered by National Comfort Institute.
13. What can manufactures do to help contractors become more successful?
We would like to see more Webinars and on-line training classes.
14. What is your biggest challenge as a business owner?
Cross-training our people so that we can keep everyone busy and productive during slower times. Anyone who only does installation or service is going to be left behind as our business continues to expand into new offerings.
15. How do you see the Internet helping contractors connect with customers?
The Internet will allow contractors to eventually pinpoint whom they advertise which products to. And, with more and more people using smart phones, new applications will be developed so we can be there for any customer any time.
16. Do you participate in any social media marketing?
We just hired a person whose only function is to get us involved in all aspects of social marketing. Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and our existing Web site will all be undergoing a complete transformation.
17. Do you network with other contractors and, if so, how has this benefited you?
We do this through our membership in the National Comfort Institute. Networking with other contractors has been a key to our success. Barbara is a member and past president of Women in HVACR which is also a great resource for networking and ideas.
18. Have the federal tax credits helped your business this year?
Before the credits, most of the furnaces we installed were 80 percent two-stage variable speed units. After the credits were put into effect, most all of the furnaces installed are 95 percent units. Our ac systems are still mostly 14 SEER units, as we don't have enough cooling hours to justify the added cost of the 16 or 18 SEER units.
19. What is your most important role?
Barbara: Planning for the future. The old adage is true, "People don't plan to fail; they fail to plan."
Milt: I have been focused on systemizing every aspect of what we do. From installing a steam boiler, answering the phones, pricing a humidifier replacement — virtually every single product and service we offer.
20. What aspect of running your business do you enjoy the most?
Barbara: The process of planning how we are going to make things happen. Pairing the installations with the installation teams, overseeing the dispatching of maintenance and service technicians, and seeing it all come together with little or no wasted time or energy.
Milt: Setting up systems to standardize how we do business. I find it very gratifying to see a system make everyone's job a little bit easier, a final product that operates better, and a customer with a really big smile.