Productivity • Management • Operations • Business Tips • Technician Tips • 69 minutes

Great Dane HVAC Founder Forecasts Doggone-Good Growth

June 8, 2021

Episode Overview

“I don't manage people, I manage personalities.”

— Josh Bigelow

After more than two decades of ups and downs in the trades, Josh Bigelow is poised for growth. The founding owner of Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning in Greater Detroit has 42 employees and saw $7 million in revenue last year. 

Forecasting million-dollar growth in each of the next two years, Bigelow talks about managing personalities, investing in new hires, and the supreme importance of joining industry peer groups.

Here are Josh Bigelow’s top tips on managing any home services company:

You have to manage personalities.

Every employee is different, and trying to understand what motivates or focuses certain types of personalities is key to business, Bigelow says. 

“I don’t manage people, I manage personalities,” he says. “I hire people based on personality. Most of the people we hire don’t have experience, and we put them through apprenticeships and they learn. 

“I can teach you to do this job, but I can't teach people to like you.”

Realize that you have to invest in new hires.

Bigelow believes that new hires, as well as many employers, don’t stop and think about how much an employer needs to invest in a new apprentice.

“We offer a thousand-dollar tool package for every apprentice who comes on board,” he says. “We give them the tools we know they need. We don’t want them to go into Crazy Benzy’s or the dollar store to pick up tools that we know just won't work. 

“We know they're going to have about 150 hours’ worth of paid training that we’re going to be paying for. Plus, we have the equivalent of that 150 hours that we’re paying somebody else to do the training.”

The industry needs more apprentice programs. 

Bigelow’s advice is for owners and managers to sit down and create a list of what they want in an ideal service technician. At that point, they can design your apprenticeship based on the needs and skills everyone has agreed on.

“We need to start training people,” Bigelow says. “But every company’s personality is different, so the skill set that's required will be different.”

Startups can benefit from a clever company name. 

When he started his company in 1999, Bigelow didn’t want to name the business after himself. As he was considering a teddy bear as a mascot, his dog came rushing into the room. 

“We had a 3-year-old Great Dane that weighed about 240 pounds,” he says. 

That furry bundle of energy was the inspiration for his company name. 

After doing sketches and settling a dog paws logo, he had a prototype painted onto a van. Even before the van arrived at his office, he’d already had more than a dozen calls from locals who saw the logo and approved.

Create a showroom. 

Bigelow says his company has a 100% closing rate on customers who visit their showroom. 

“We ask people to come down and take a look at the equipment,” he says. “They can turn it on, they can hear it. It’s a unique opportunity. It makes us different. It works.”

Creatively invite people to visit your showroom. 

There were plenty of doubters about the viability of building out a showroom, Bigelow says. For an opening party, they sent out mailers and decided to do a giveaway with a $10,000 unit.

“In that three-day weekend period, we had 340 people come by,” he says. “It was like going to a trade show and everybody came to your booth.”

Even during a pandemic, look for opportunity. 

When Covid-19 hit, Great Dane Heating and Air Conditioning started offering a special maintenance agreement to customers—a buy-one-get-one-half-off filter deal. 

“We told people, ‘Don’t come here, we don’t want to see you, we’ll drop them off to you,’” Bigelow says. “That worked out great. We had over a thousand appointments just to drop filters off on people's porches, and they gave us credit card numbers over the phone.”

Peer groups can be lifesavers. 

Bigelow encourages all business owners to get involved with a peer group. 

“I joined a MIX group through ACCA back when Great Dane was having financial challenges back in 2008,” he says. “It’s companies from around the country that all do the same type of work. Those people saved my company and made Great Dane what it is today. 

“I’ve made lifelong friendships, too. We text and send messages at least once a week to check in on things.”

Recommended research and reading

HVAC Spells Wealth by Ron Smith The Go-Giver by Bob Burg

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