Terry Tanker met with Don Rackler, president of Jon Wayne Service Company in San Antonio, a 2016 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner. The two discussed company culture, hiring for attitude, learning leadership from his Army father and his company’s namesake, John Wayne.
1. How did you get into the business?
I didn’t enjoy school and didn’t want to attend college. My dad was in the military and told me I should learn a trade. So, my junior year of high school I took plumbing classes, and air conditioning when I was a senior. There was an organization called VICA, the Vocational and Industrial Clubs of America. They held skill contests. I was pretty good and took first place in many of the competitions, so I knew this was something I could be good at.
2. What happened after high school?
I was a pipe fitter and worked for other companies for 10-12 years, and then a mentor of mine approached me about going into business together. We called the company J&B Mechanical Service. We did commercial and industrial service on chillers, cooling towers, boilers and compressors. The problem was trying to make money just selling labor. That’s when I decided I’d like to get in on the residential side. I sold him my half of the business and founded San Antonio Air Conditioning.
3. How long did you have that company?
From 1986 to 1999, then I sold it to Service Experts. I remember thinking back then if I ever start another company I’m going to call it Jon Wayne Heat and Air. My friends told me I was crazy, but I thought it was a great name that people would remember. And, in 2001 we started Jon Wayne out of the barn at my house in La Vernia, Texas
4. Have there been any issues with the John Wayne estate?
We didn’t want to infringe on John Wayne Enterprises, and my attorney called them to explain what we do and why we wanted the name. They said they didn’t have a problem with that! We have a state and national trademark. And today, I have a national coexisting agreement with the John Wayne Enterprise people, signed by Michael Wayne, that I own that name, Jon Wayne Heating and Air, Plumbing and Electrical.
5. What does your business mix consist of?
We’re 70 percent heating and air, 20 percent plumbing and about 10 percent electrical and home automation — and it’s all residential; we don’t do new construction. It’s all either service or add-on replacement business.
6. What kind of growth has your company had?
We started in 2001, two weeks before 9/11, with no customers and did about $500,000 that first year. By 2006, we had grown to $7 million and last year we were at almost $22 million.
7. Everyone complains it’s difficult to find and hire service technicians — how do you do it?
It’s difficult because they’ve eliminated trade schools and set kids up for failure by telling them they can only be successful if they go to college, which isn’t true. I have my own school, The Jon Wayne Academy for Technical Excellence. We bring all of our people in and train them. We hire for attitude, if you want to learn, we can teach you the trade. The biggest problem today is so many candidates can’t pass a drug test.
8. Does your firm conduct mandatory drug tests?
Yes, we drug test right up front and we do it right here at our office. Truthfully, today, maybe one out of 15-20 pass. We want candidates to be honest and upfront. If they’ve done something, let us know, we’re understanding. No one is perfect.
9. How did you establish company culture designed for a growth company?
Our goal here is to supply our customers the best products and services, day in and day out, every day. We teach everybody we don’t do the easy thing, we don’t do the cheap thing, we do the right thing. And we do the right thing every time. And that’s the foundation of our company culture.
10. How do you establish that in the field?
Most homeowners don’t know what an install’s supposed to look like. But I’m a stickler for straight, level, square, plumb, neat and clean, and it’d better be that way. When customers open the closet door, or go outside and look at the unit, they ought to be able to tell it was professionally installed.
11. How do you ensure the quality of work you expect from your crews?
We conduct quality inspections (QI) on every job. We have three people who do nothing but QIs. They go back and check the charge, air flow, settings, thermostat settings, codes and ensure everything is done properly.
12. Where did you learn your leadership skills?
From my dad. He left school to help his mom when his parents divorced. He joined the Army at 16-years-old and retired as a Master Sergeant. He taught me if you lead with fear, there’s nothing to respect. And if you lead with respect, there’s nothing to fear.
13. In what areas are you seeing growth?
All aspects have grown. Our replacement business and service continues to grow (we have more than 13,000 maintenance agreements) and our plumbing and electrical business is growing really well too.
14. What management tools are you using to manage the growth?
We’ve invested millions in proprietary software that helps us run the business. We think we’ve created a platform and business model that would easily let us franchise the business, and we’re considering doing that in the future.
15. Congratulations on being a Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner — how was the design developed?
I had the name picked out so we started with a design for our business cards. Over time, it’s been developed and refined into what you see today.
16. Could you give us an overview of your fleet?
We have 93 vehicles — Chevys, Nissans and Hino, which ia a division of Toyota. I’m currently looking at some Fords too. We have vans, pickups, box trucks and flatbeds. We employ two full time mechanics that perform all the service for the fleet everything from simple oil change to brakes, transmission and engine repairs. A small company near us has been decaling the fleet since we started.
17. Your company does extensive marketing, including a first-rate website — who designs and maintains it?
We do. My son-in-law is our IT guy, and he’s the one who’s built the software program and does most of the website for us. We do have vendors who help with a few things, but primarily we handle it in-house.
18. How much of the site are you able to track?
We track everything. Even our phone system is integrated — if you’re an existing customer, our system recognizes your phone number and your entire history comes up on the screen.
19. The Rescue Club is a clever idea — could you tell us more about that?
The Rescue Club has about 13,000 members and is the group of people who have a maintenance agreement with us. We have several different versions depending on what’s covered, from basic once-a-year service on a unit to others that cover repairs.
20. How do you educate your customer on what systems do and what they can expect from your company?
We developed the Jon Wayne Customer Learning Center, which has dozens of videos, articles and comparisons. For example, under our complete home evaluation category we explain blower door tests and Manual J load calculations. We explain who our staff is, our company guarantees, partnerships and affiliations, credit and financing and much, much more.