Michael Atchley, president of Atchley Air in Fort Smith, Ark., was working at his family’s HVAC company as early as junior high.
Now he’s a third-generation leader at the HVAC company, which his grandfather started in 1958, and his father and uncle took over in the early '80s.
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He still remembers those junior high days.
“I liked money and I guess I had a fairly decent work ethic,” Atchley says. “Every summer I was helping with duct work and crawling underneath houses. I was basically the helper, the grunt. That was my introduction.”
The hard work convinced him to stay in school, leading to an accounting degree and a spot at a Big Five accounting firm instead of the family business.
“I wanted to see what opportunities were out there,” Atchley says. “My dad, there was no pressure from him, but he always made it known that if I chose to do that, that I would be welcomed to come back.”
If you're in a residential trade, I feel like ServiceTitan offers many more features that matter to customers and that can help you with sales ... It's just made us a more effective sales organization.”
After four years, Atchley found himself ready for a change. “I called him one day and said, ‘Dad, I'm getting kind of bored. I'm thinking I might like to come and join the family business.’ He was thrilled.”
But a new career, like all changes, requires effort. So does growing a company and equipping it to be successful. Atchley has learned a lot, including what role the best HVAC software on a cloud-based platform, ServiceTitan, can play, in the past 15 years.
Here’s how Atchley navigated the path:
Change requires … embracing the future.
Atchley started out as the accounting manager, with other duties on the business side. The company was using an outdated home services software at the time, in a limited way.
“We had a bookkeeper at the time and an assistant bookkeeper,” Atchley said. “Both of them were good folks who knew how to keep a set of books. They did not know an efficient way to keep a set of books. The way they had been doing it was the way it had been done for 34 years.”
That meant green ledger paper, purchase-order books and carbon copies everywhere. Atchley set out to make things more efficient.
But even though growth and efficiency were the immediate goals when Atchley arrived, he didn’t act immediately.
“I felt like initially, the first year, I really shouldn't go in and make any drastic changes,” Atchley says. “We had employees that had been around a lot longer than I had. And so I didn't want to be the young kid that comes in and starts telling everybody what to do.”
Instead, he set about earning trust.
“After about a year and a half, and they'd started to see that, OK, he doesn't know everything, but he's smart enough to understand that,” Atchley says.
Put in charge of sales, he added a service manager. And he looked for other opportunities where leadership and technology could drive growth.
When Atchley’s father experienced health problems and retired three years later, in 2004, Atchley took over as president.
Armed with authority and trust, Atchley accelerated the pace of change.
Change requires … better technology
Atchley Air was using outdated home services software before Atchley rejoined the family business, a rudimentary mobile application that was launched “before iPads were out,” Atchley says.
Using devices Atchley says were “like a brick,” Windows-based mobile software, a bluetooth printer and a server in the office, the system was still a step forward from the paper ledgers.
“It was OK,” Atchley says. “It would allow you to process that invoice, take a payment ... but there was really no sales aspect of it. It was just a way to track what was already being done.”
That didn’t improve enough for Atchley, even with the current, tablet-based version of the program.
“It was a little easier to use, but it was still certainly not based on, ‘Hey, hand your tablet to the homeowner and let them look at all these options.’”
Without the ability to do good-better-best options for homeowners, or make presentations on an iPad with photos and videos to educate customers, the limitations were stifling.
“That was one of the first things that kind of got my attention about ServiceTitan,” Atchley says. “ServiceTitan will allow you to present options and let the customer kind of interact with them.”
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Change requires … knowing
A better sales presentation wasn’t the only improvement with ServiceTitan. Atchley Air had also struggled to track marketing efforts with the previous software. The company would train CSRs to ask how customers got their phone number, but the training wouldn’t stick.
“We would meet about it and say, hey, you need to ask this,” Atchley says. “And we would do a good job of it for about a week and a half and then it would go by the wayside.”
That left Atchley guessing again. He heard about ServiceTitan’s ability to run and track marketing campaigns through multiple phone numbers, automatically, and was intrigued.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that's pretty slick right there,’” Atchley says.
He contacted his old software provider, and the company offered a workaround.
“They said, ‘Oh, I hear you, call this guy down in Florida. He has an API that he can install for you and it'll do the same thing."
Atchley called, then spent money on a new phone system that would integrate with the old and the API.
It didn’t work.
“It was just a big letdown,” Atchley said. “It just wasn't adequate.”
Change requires … training
Another call to ServiceTitan alleviated the phone number concern and a few others, and Atchley Air was ready to take the plunge.
How did the Atchley Air staff respond to a new home services software?
“Technicians? No problem whatsoever,” Atchley says. “They looked at it and they felt it was easier to use and get around on than the (previous software) was.”
For office people, there was more to learn.
“Now, once you get into it and you get comfortable with it and then you start seeing all the ways that it can be customized—customized dispatch boards and customized dashboards—there's no desire to go back.”
ServiceTitan onboarding experts, Atchley says, were excellent teachers. The trade company software giant also helped with QuickBooks integration and importing the ledger, and with transferring all customer data and history from his old software.
That shocked Atchley.
“I was worried they weren't going to be able to pull the equipment in, they weren't going to be able to pull the work-performed notes in, and all that kind of stuff,” Atchley says. “I really didn't know what to expect. But lo and behold, they pulled in all of it.”
Change requires … results
ServiceTitan’s features thrilled Atchley Air residential customers.
“They thought it was cool,” Atchley says. “They love the fact that they're going to get a text message when we're on the way. They love the fact they can respond via text message, and then we can respond to them. They liked that they could track the technician.”
Sales presentation, follow-up tools and results tracking improved with ServiceTitan, Atchley says, including the ability to:
See in real time what estimates were presented by the technicians.
Make modifications or provide additional estimates, if necessary.
Alert managers in real time about new estimates and completed sales.
Run custom, automated reports on any aspect of the business.
And the ability to sell good-better-best options?
“Being able to email estimates and approve online, get financing from within the app … it's been a very positive thing from a customer standpoint,” Atchley says. “We love that part.”
Offering options has also increased the company’s average ticket.
“Before, we didn't present options, we didn't have multiple estimates,” Atchley says. “We'd go in and say, ‘Hey, motor's bad and here's how much it's going to be to change it.’ Now we've got some prebuilt packages put together.
“There are some people who still just have us replace the motor, but then there are people who say, ‘Oh, this next one up seems like a good deal and it has a better warranty on it.’
“So our average tickets have gone up noticeably.”
Atchley Air’s residential operation, about 60 percent of the business, did $4.3 million in sales in 2019, and was on track to hit a $5 million goal at the end of the first quarter. How the Covid-19 pandemic affects that remains to be seen, but Atchley is optimistic.
“We're still hanging in there,” Atchley said. “We're still doing pretty well with residential.”
Change requires … ServiceTitan
Atchley still has the commercial side of his business on the previous software. With parts of his business on both the old platform and ServiceTitan software, Atchley is in a good position to compare. And he says there’s no comparison.
“They're really on two different levels,” Atchley says. “There was a time where (the old software) was just a phenomenal product, and it's a stable product. What it does, it does very well. But it's a bit outdated.
“If you're in a residential trade, I feel like ServiceTitan offers many more features that matter to customers and that can help you with sales, which will ultimately help you with your profitability.
“It's just made us a more effective sales organization.”
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ServiceTitan is a comprehensive software solution built specifically to help service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and substantially elevate the trajectory of their business. Our comprehensive, cloud-based platform is used by thousands of electrical, HVAC, plumbing, garage door, and chimney sweep shops across the country—and has increased their revenue by an average of 25% in just their first year with us.