Publisher Terry Tanker met with John Barbour, owner of Union Mechanical in Fort Myers Fla., to discuss advertising, his company's award winning fleet design, business growth and challenges facing his company in the coming year.
1. Secretly what talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could play an instrument. I have no musical ability whatsoever.
2. How would you finish this sentence? I need a new…?
We just re-designed our offices, everything in here is brand new. We need a new vacuum cleaner now.
3. What is the one thing you wish you would have said yes to?
Twelve years ago, I was invited into a group of contractors being formed to build new homes. I turned them down because I was afraid I lacked enough experience with new construction. I completely missed that bus.
4. How did you get your start in this industry?
My father started an air conditioning business in this area in 1987. I went to work for him when I was 19. He made me go to HVAC school at night for years and then pressed me to get my Contractors License.
5. How large is your company?
I have 10 employees and 9 trucks on the road. We had $1.2 million in sales for 2011. We are on track to have $1.5 million in sales for 2012.
6. So, you're growing even with a slow economy?
Yes, we've been growing an average of 15% per year for the last 3 years. We want to continue that pace for the next few years.
7. What is the most significant challenge facing you in 2013?
Finding quality customers and quality employees. Our customers are the finest people I could hope to service and our employees are handpicked to reflect our desire to put customers first. I've given up a few customers and employees because they were not the right fit.
8. What aspect of running the business do you enjoy the most?
Honestly, I love every bit of this business. I get excited putting together bids; I love to work in the field with my employees and the interaction with customers. If I had to pick one thing it would be knowing that my employees have good jobs in this uncertain economy. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from that.
9. What is your management philosophy?
It might sound cliché but I do not expect my employees to do anything I would not or have not done.
10. Your company won one of the five Tops in Trucks awards. How did you develop your design?
I researched designers online for a while. When I saw the work GraphicD-signs was doing, I knew immediately I had to have them create my design. I told them I loved the Timo's Air and Allegiance Air designs. They took it from there and gave me this masterpiece.
11. You've very effectively carried this unique design over to your website. Which one generates more leads for your company?
The wrapped trucks without a doubt.
12. What type of feedback do you hear from customers?
They love the new design of the trucks and our new uniforms with the logo.
13. Your last name is Barbour — did you consider some type of theme with a barbershop pole?
I got over the Barber shop correlation in high school. I'm sure you can imagine how many times I heard "Hey Barbour, where's the barber shop?
14. Did you consider negative repercussions of "union" in your name?
I worried about it from day one. I still worry about it, but I took a chance and it has been great so far. I get more comments about Onion Mechanical than any Union association.
15. How did you determine this was an investment you should move forward with?
I did a lot of reading on the importance of marketing and advertising during a slow economy. I decided I had to set myself apart from the rest of the crowd. I knew I wanted that for my business. The cost was a secondary consideration.
16. Have you been able to determinean ROI?
To date my return is approximately five times my investment. We are still riding the wave from our new logo and advertising efforts, by my calculations we'll be over 15 times our original investment.
17. What other forms of advertising and marketing do you invest in?
We have brochures that we mail and hand out to potential customers. We do other coupon mailings and have inserts we add to the invoices we mail out and, of course, our website.
18. What gives your company a unique competitive advantage?
The years we have invested in building a good reputation built on quality work and that gives us the greatest advantage. Word of mouth recommendations combined with our beautiful new advertising materials has been very powerful.
19. Do you have a funny story you can share?
Well, I'm not laughing but it seems everyone else is. One of our box trucks apparently broke down the other day. We spent a few hours trying to figure out what was wrong with the truck. My service manager decided to put some diesel fuel in the tank and it started right up. I think it's time to get the fuel gauge fixed.
20. This was an extremely hot summer, what were some of the challenges you faced in South Florida this year?
We were doubly challenged this summer. We saw a significant increase in business based on our overall advertising, and then the unusually hot weather had our company running at 100 percent. Scheduling and prioritizing service calls were probably the biggest challenge and our dispatchers have outperformed all of my expectations. We relied on their depth of experience and they truly came through for us.