Featured Entrepreneur: Chris Hunter
Originally published: 01.01.18 by Pete Grasso
Chris Hunter’s roots in this industry started, like most contractors, when he was in high school. Although he took an HVACR class at the local trade school, he says he honestly had no real intentions of doing heating and air conditioning work at the time.
“I hate to say it, but I was a baseball player and was looking for an easy half-day. After graduation, I started my own tile setting business,” he says.
But then he had an opportunity to go to a yearlong electrical mechanical school and was hired by AT&T as a communications technician. Just after 9/11,the company had to lay off 10,000 people — and Hunter was going to be one of them. They did need an HVACR technician, however, and offered the job to Hunter if he could pass the test.
Hunter’s new job was to service AT&T’s central offices, and this is where he developed his philosophy on customer service.
“The communications equipment put off a lot of heat and, if a system went down, it had to be repaired immediately,” he remembers. “When they called, no matter what I was doing, I had to drop everything and run to that equipment.”
During that time, Hunter immersed himself in training, earning seven North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certifications. Anytime he could, he was taking classes and, in 2006, he got his contractor’s license.
After three years of doing work for friends and family after hours, he realized he was essentially working two full-time jobs and it was time to make a decision. That’s when he decided to go off on his own and opened Hunter Heat & Air in 2009.
Company: Hunter Heat & Air
Year Founded: 2006
Headquarters: Ardmore, Okla.
Work Performed: Residential & Light Commercial HVAC, Plumbing and Electrical
No. of Employees: 45
Annual Revenue: $7 million
For the first four years, he was a full-time technician, running his own company. But then, as his business continued to grow, he knew it was time to take the tools out of his truck and concentrate on building and investing in a team. With no business background to speak of, Hunter knew it was important for him once again to learn as much as he could.
“I looked at who was good at this business, and what could I learn from them,” he says. “I found Ron Smith’s book, ‘HVAC Spells Wealth,’ and got involved with The Service Roundtable.”
Hunter transitioned from a technician standpoint of solving one problem at a time to a business standpoint where he was solving problems from all different angles.
Today, Hunter Heat & Air — home of the Hunter Super Techs — uses training as a cornerstone of its success, just like it’s owner has throughout his career. And they don’t solely focus on customer service, technical skills and sales. Hunter offers employees training on life skills as well.
“I grew tired of seeing guys come to work who were battling their finances or going through a divorce without the skills to cope,” Hunter says. “If there’s trouble at home or something that’s dividing their attention, it affects their performance at work.
“So, if you can help improve somebody’s life and give them life tools to succeed, it comes back ten-fold on the work force side,” he says.
Hunter has created a family atmosphere and culture that is rare in most companies today, and it’s why he never worries about a labor shortage. He firmly believes if you know who you are, what you stand for and what your mission is — and you have fun doing it — you’re going to attract people who want to be part of the team.
“They may not have an HVAC background, but that’s fine,” he says. “I want people with the same values as us.”
As Hunter Heat & Air continued to grow, the business side also continued to challenge Hunter. Thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to always learn, however, he has managed to transform his business.
For example, a couple of years ago, Hunter noticed they were stuck at about 700 service contracts for about two years. They simply couldn’t get over that hurdle.
So, Hunter sat down with his management team and redesigned the company’s maintenance agreement plan.
“I realized it was my fault, due to not having a process in place to succeed,” he says.
After changing the way their process, they were able to get up to 2,600.