Richard Weaver, owner of Best in the West Air Conditioning & Heating
Originally published: 08.01.15 by Terry Tanker
HVACR Business Publisher Terry Tanker recently interviewed Richard Weaver, owner of Best in the West Air Conditioning & Heating in Palm Springs, Calif., a 2015 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner. Weaver, who started his company in 1979, discusses starting from scratch, customer service and his love of animals and hot rods.
1. Your company has been around for more than 30 years — how did you get started?
I had beena service tech for several companies in Palm Springs, but most back then were only seasonal and I got tired of being laid off every winter. I thought I could do better and decided to go off on my own.
2. What were some of the hurdles?
The hardest thing was trying to get the business started — generating calls with no prior knowledge of sales or what to do, or how to do it. And, no one to turn to for help.
3. Did you do any advertising back then?
I tried the local paper and the local green sheet, white sheet type ads, the Penny Savers. I couldn't afford TV or radio spots then. It was a lot of beating the pavement trying to get the word out.
4. Did you have any employees back then?
Just me, myself and I [laughing] I was it. I barely made ends meet when I first started. But I kept at it. I persevered.
5. When did you hire your first employee?
Not until three years later. I was a single parent, so I had my son ride along with me and he helped. When he got his driver's license, I bought another van, filled it with stuff and gave him some tools and said, "go."
6. How many employees do you have now?
I've got 12 employees. I hire technicians to be technicians and I've trained them to make sure it's good money going into repairs, and not putting good money into a bad situation. If it is a bad situation, they give the customer three options, 1) This much to repair it; 2) This much to replace it; and 3) This much for a more efficient system to replace it.
7. Do you have any sales staff?
I don't have a salesman in this office at all. We don't go out to try to sell jobs. We're a service and repair company, and our basis is around customer service more than trying to generate the almighty dollar. The more you can treat people fairly and honestly, the more they're going to refer you to other people.
8. You've said, "If you don't advertise, it's like blinking in the dark; you're the only one who knows what you're doing" — Where did you come up with that?
From the teacher of one of the classes I took in college. The course was about advertising and different forms of communicating through media.
9. How has your marketing evolved?
We've cut back on our Yellow Pages ads and invest more money into the Internet and getting the best SEM/SEO part of it. We tried a lot of options, like billboards for example. In the end, they didn't work that well for us.
10. Do you document your returns?
Yes, and the Internet has just been pulling them in left and right. Our best source of client generation, however, are referrals.
11. Could you expand on that?
I love to be a second opinion on jobs. Company A goes out and says, "This unit is a piece of junk. You need to change it and it's going to be $12,000." So the customers call us out and we go out there to fix it and $600-$800 later, they've got air conditioning again. Or, we find out the unit is only 5-years-old and still under warranty. The way the other companies treat their clients, I'm surprised they have clients.
12. You're a firm believer in training and certification — why did you get involved with NATE?
To be NATE certified puts you above others who are just pretending to be qualified. I don't know any other field that has the same type of recognition for their abilities. It's something we talk about when we're on the phone with a client or if we're networking with different groups.
13. What other training do you offer?
We take advantage of manufacturer training. Often, when they're putting on classes for their particular product, the whole company will attend. We pay the $20 or $30 the distributor wants to hold the class. We all get the experience of this product or system, then everyone is on the same page.
14. Do you do any training in-house?
Yes, we've got our own training facility here, so once a month we have classes.
15. What is your involvement with the Humane Society and ASPCA?
We've fostered and adopted dogs; Sheba was the smartest dog we ever had and when she passed away, we wanted to do something for the animal shelter to help bring them recognition. We ran a promotion with them and the dog on the side of our vans is the one we adopted after losing Sheba.
16. Where did you get the nickname Dr. Cool?
When I was in the military, I got into the CB radio. Later, my son decided that he wanted to be on the radio too — that's how we communicated between the house and my service truck. He was Mr. Freeze and I was Dr. Cool.
17. What branch of the military were you in?
I was in the US Army and a Vietnam Veteran. I was a demolition expert. They taught me how to level 10 story buildings within their own walls. When I got out, there weren't a lot of opportunities for someone with those special skills, and that's how I got into HVACR.
18. You're a car enthusiast — can you tell me about your hobby?
Before I got married I always enjoyed racing — hotrods mostly. I really enjoy building cars. And, it was a great way to spend time with my son, who has also developed a passon for cars. We'd go racing every Saturday.
19. Do you have any hotrods now?
Instead of racecars, I decided to get an old car, rebuild it and modify it. We found a Z28 Camaro and put most of it into a 1940 Buick. That car now has a 480 horsepower Chevy motor in it and runs like a bat out of hell. I've got a 1969 Chevelle with a 650 horsepower low compression big block and a 1964 Volkswagen that looks like it should be in the movie Mad Max.
20. Do you tinker around with them?
Yes, my son and I still do. When he graduated high school, I didn't want him in the HVACR business, so I sent him to an automotive school, UTI. When he graduated UTI, he said he didn't want to do that for a living, he wanted to be in HVACR. His reasoning was that if he worked on cars for a living, he wouldn't want to do it for a hobby. I had to agree.