Steve Schmidt, president of Frederick Air, Inc.
Originally published: 11.01.10 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker recently spoke with Steve Schmidt, president of Frederick Air, Inc., winner of the 2010 Tops in Trucks fleet-design award in the manufacturer-sponsored category. They discussed Edvard Munch, marketing budgets, and Home Performance Contracting.
1. The saltwater fish tank in your office is impressive. Is that your hobby?
Actually, I like scuba diving. Unfortunately, I can’t go as often as I like, so I thought I would bring the ocean to me.
2. Have you done any work for famous Washingtonians?
I designed and sold a ystem for a home in D.C. that houses a collection of paintings from the famous Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (The Scream). Each of the four levels required tight temperature and humidity control to protect the renowned paintings — a real challenge in a residential home that was retrofitted to be a museum.
3. Do you have a funny customer service story that you can share?
A woman was very apprehensive about an installation converting oil to natural gas. She confided that she was afraid because she lived in a home as a child that “blew up” due to a natural gas leak. I assured her that she had nothing to worry about because the odds of that happening to her twice were astronomical.
4. As we move into 2011, what three business goals do you have?
No. 1, make sure all of our technicians are NATE certified and our sales staff are all BPI certified. No. 2, become the leader in Home Performance Contracting in our county. No. 3, becoming entrenched in social networking/media.
5. What type of social media do you participate in right now?
Naturally we have a company website and have spent funds on search engine optimization (SEO). We also have a Facebook page, and I have several video clips on YouTube.
6. What type of results have you seen?
A large monthly investment in SEO has yielded lots of traffic to our site, and the Internet is quickly replacing phone-book directories as our largest source of leads behind previous customers and referrals.
7. What are the largest management challenges you will face in the next 12 months?
As a result of the poor economy, we now have a new generation of employees that are more appreciative to have a job and more motivated to do a good job. As employers, we need to find ways to keep them motivated and show our appreciation for a job well done. In addition, as our industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, we need to implement training programs to continually keep our team on the cutting edge.
8. How and why did you decide to make the investment in marketing your fleet?
After 18 years of creating a brand, we have established ourselves in our local market. The job now is to continually have “top of the mind” awareness. I considered using billboards to flood the market, but then I realized that I already had billboards driving around the county all day long. In the long run, it’s more effective and costs less.
9. Can you explain the tagline Where There’s Quality in the Air? (What about It’s a Good Call?)
When I established the company in 1992, quality was the big buzzword. I wanted to show that we were on the quality bandwagon. A few years ago, we redesigned our logo and created a new look; at the same time I wanted to choose a tagline that was a little more specific. We have a jingle that we include in all our radio advertising that sings the phone number followed by “It’s A Good Call.”
10. What are the components of your marketing/communication program?
Our goal is to brand ourselves as the industry expert in our local community. We are involved in the chamber of commerce, builder’s association, the local community college, the public school system, and numerous community organizations. We advertise through radio, and the local newspaper’s print and website editions. And, our trucks are always showcasing our message.
11. What percentage of total revenues do you spend on the program?
I always shoot for between 4% and 5%.
12. When did you begin in radio advertising?
13. How did you decide on 4% to 5% of total revenue?
When I started the business I obtained some financial trend information from ACCA [Air Conditioning Contractors of America]. It had a sample financial report that outlined what percentages average companies were operating at. The advertising percentage was 4%.
14. How have you kept employees motivated and focused the past 18 months?
We have kept the communication level high through bi-weekly company meetings and individual meetings every six months where we talk about the employee’s career path and shortand long-term goals for the future. Over the last year and a half, I have been very upfront and honest about where the industry is going and where we stand as a company financially.
15. What direction are you leading the company as the economy recovers?
We are moving into whole-home performance. It’s a huge opportunity to grow and offer customers products and services they need to improve comfort.
16. How will you begin?
First, training the service techs, making sure they can ask and answer the right questions about IAQ, humidity, and room comfort. Making sure they have the tools to perform static pressure tests for duct leakage and testing to make sure the system is sized properly and offering energy audits.
17. What type of annual growth have you had the past three years?
After enjoying 15 straight years of 5% to 15% annual growth, 2008 and 2009 were a real disappointment: 9% decrease in each of the years. I’m happy to report that we are on course to see a 12% increase in 2010.
18. How did you do it?
I have always attributed any success we have to faith in God, operating with integrity, and always keeping our word. Show up when you say you’re going to show up; do what you say you’re going to do; do your work with excellence; and charge a fair, agreed-upon price. It’s simple!
19. Do you use any type of financing?
We participate in the Bryant-sponsored financing plan using GE Money. This allows us to offer term loans and deals like six-months-same-as-cash.
20. What is the process like?
Very simple. The customer fills out a short form, and we call the information in from the customer’s house. We usually get approval in five minutes or less. After the job is complete, we fax in a signed completion form. We usually get our money in a day or two.