April 19, 2022
Live from Lennox Live 2022 in Philadelphia, we welcomed Ross Albert to To The Point! Owner and President of Arctic Air out in Central/North New Jersey, Ross has done an incredible job growing his family business both through residential service and big box store success. From his 12 consecutive Dave Lennox Awards to Home Depot Service Provider of the Year awards, there’s no shortage of evidence that Ross and his team are doing things the right way.
Arctic Air is truly a family business. Its roots trace all the way back to 1977, with Ross’s father, Howard Albert. Howard was a high school math teacher out in New York that needed some side income. A humble, hard-working man, Howard was always working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. Howard decided to be a service tech during the summers when school was out, and began to provide service in his community. After two summers of an internship at a local company making nothing, his wife told Howard that if he wanted to do this, he needed to make some money.
Howard would begin his own company, and Ross would help each summer. Ross hated the business. Every summer Ross can remember quitting the job; handing over his keys and heading to the beach to chase the girls. After going to college for finance, Ross’ mother-in-law encouraged him to give his father’s business a serious try. She told him there is nothing better than a family business. Ross decided to quit his blossoming career and go work for his dad, who told him if he quit once, he was never coming back. Ross agreed to the terms, and it’s been 25 years since!
After graduating in 2004 and leaving his internships at Morgan Stanley and some other finance companies, Ross went all-in on the family business. It wasn’t an easy transition. Howard had Ross start at the very bottom of the company. Ross was literally sweeping the floors of the warehouse. It was brutal, and he hated coming into work every day. He had just graduated college, and here he was with a broom in his hands. The other employees remembered Ross as a kid, too, and recalled the several summers where he quit. They didn’t think he was going to make it.
After some time, Ross moved “up” into being an installation helper. According to Ross, there’s no worse job than being a helper on an installation for your father’s company. They put him through the ringer, sending him into every crawlspace and attic. Still, he stuck with it, in part due to his commitment and in part due to his wife’s encouragement. Ross eventually became an installation mechanic, and then service technician. He simply loved being a service tech. Ross found great satisfaction taking care of the customer, and it taught him how to be a better leader and better salesperson. By 2007, Ross had found a passion in residential sales. When he had started in 2004, Arctic Air was doing 1.4 million in revenue. Now, they were doing 7 million – all through organic growth.
In 2009, Arctic Air partnered with Home Depot. They initially wanted Ross and his team to take on 19 stores, but Ross decided to start with 2. Home Depot wanted to be aggressive in that space, and Arctic Air had a really strong brand, making it a great combination. Every year since then, they’ve picked up another store. Currently, they’re sitting at 22 Home Depot stores in the country.
In the very first year, Arctic Air did 1 million dollars between those two stores. Ross says it’s all about creating a great partnership. It’s about cementing your foot in that store, and creating great relationships with store managers and employees. You have to show what you’re doing, why you’re different, and how you’re going to provide a great experience for their customers that they haven’t been given before. Arctic Air has used this big box retail success to grow their service side as well. With each new store, they’re picking up internet marketing and direct mail in that area. Instead of relying solely on leads from the retail side of things, Ross knows that the key to long-term, sustainable growth is focusing on the core business and their brand.
The Recession hit, but Ross has established a solid foundation and weathered the storm okay. In 2013, he and his team decided to add plumbing to their heating and cooling offerings. They had an opportunity, partnered with a licensed plumber, and forged ahead. Ross hired a plumber manager that was fresh out of college and hungry, but was more of a plumbing tech than a manager. In the first year, they did about a half million dollars, but it didn’t really pick up. By 2018, Ross was ready to either figure out how to make it work or drop plumbing altogether.
Ross’ business model has always been to do things the right way. He doesn’t want his team to be good at something, he wants them to be great. After working so hard to perfect HVAC, he wanted their plumbing to be on the same level. So in 2019, right before COVID hit, Ross brought in a rockstar plumbing manager and did 1.5 million with just their existing core customers. This year, Arctic Air is projected to his 4.5 million with their plumbing offerings.
After superstorms Ida, Sandy, and Irene, there was a lot of opportunity for generators in Ross’ market. Ross found the right partner and, learning from when he added plumbing, moved forward adding electrical into the mix. They did 1 million in their first year, and are now proud to offer a full suite of top-tier home services to their customer base. Ross gives full credit to his team for the success of Arctic Air. In 2004 when Ross came onboard to sweep the floors, Arctic Air was doing a million dollars. In 2021, they did 42 million.
Ross has been quick to adapt new technologies into the business, and has also been willing to take risks to solve problems he faces in business. While Arctic Air was growing, Ross had trouble finding enough of the right people fast enough to keep up with the business. His customer service level was dropping and reliability was on a downswing. While they had always recruited well using their relationships with local vocational and technical schools, that wasn’t always sustainable. People at the schools would retire, technicians were coming out of the schools unprepared or with poor ethic, and Ross wasn’t getting what he needed.
About 3 years ago, Ross was talking to his service manager about what they would need to build their own school. He knew it was going to be expensive, but that reinvestment back into the company and its future would pay off. After all, the Yankees don’t simply recruit, they have a farm system as well! So he hired a full-time trainer to just recruit, train, teach, coach, and mentor.
Arctic Air runs open houses for Arctic Air University, and is taking on anyone that wants to learn regardless of their current knowledge. It’s a 3-week service tech training program that covers Arctic Air core values, their partnerships, HVAC knowledge, and has in-field mentorships and ride-alongs. At the end, there’s even a graduation ceremony complete with cap and gown.
Moving from 1 million to 7 million, Ross says it just took good old-fashioned hard work. Of course, getting to 40 million takes more than some elbow grease. In 2013, Ross found himself losing 10% of his employees year after year due to unions, other shops paying more, and plenty of other factors. His employee retention rate was poor, and he was explaining the situation to his wife. She told him Ross, you’re good at cultivating relationships with Home Depot, Lennox, and other partners. Go do that with your employees and make them feel appreciated.
Ross took her advice to heart. He didn’t really know what it meant at the time, but started devoting his time and energy into making Arctic Air the best place to work for in New Jersey by taking care of his people. He started building a great culture and truly recognizing his team for their hard work. Now, it’s common for Arctic Air to host holiday parties with food trucks and live music. Each month, there’s a Friday where employees of the month are recognized. Pajama days and other fun events are held routinely with their internal cultural committee.
Ross now understands that it’s not about the dollar anymore. You have to create an experience for your employees and make sure they feel appreciated. He has to make sure they can experience that same family feel that Howard Albert started with over 40 years ago. Once your team buys in and shares common goals and values for the company, you have a very powerful force. Arctic Air is a family business started by a high school math teacher handed down to his son, and now they’re all bought in together with the same purpose. Your team wants to share in the pride of providing a best in class experience for your customer, so recognize them for it! If you say you care about your employees, when was the last time you told them?
In today’s world, your customer expects a certain experience. It’s not simply about pricing and products anymore. Ross knows that giving customers a best in class experience is the secret to a long, sustainable business. To illustrate what this looks like, we look back to when the pandemic was in full swing. Arctic Air had started offering virtual sales calls so that their customers could get a price without needing to have someone in their homes. In fact, they still offer that today along with a multitude of options for customers to connect with them.
Virtual sales calls are nothing extraordinary these days, but a virtual service call? Arctic Air had a homeowner call in with a furnace that wouldn’t work. It was 15 degrees outside, and she had COVID in the home. They couldn’t send a service technician out, but they didn’t want to let this poor woman freeze. They told her we’ll call you back shortly. Be near your furnace, and we’ll Facetime you and see if we can help. It turns out it was just a dirty flame sensor, which the Arctic Air team successfully walked her through how to clean. In no time, the heat was back up and running.
Of course, there are some liability issues to consider and it’s not like Ross is recommending teaching your customers how to fix their furnace. The point is that they could have told the homeowner “sorry, nothing we can do. Call us back in a few weeks”. But they didn’t. The team went above and beyond to help, and received a letter shortly thereafter in which the homeowner expressed her gratitude.
Ross wants to hammer home the message that in the home services industry, you have to be a company that can be trusted. You have to give your customers a real, personalized experience with their best interests in mind. That’s how you build lifelong customer relationships.
If you’re just starting out, Ross wants to emphasize being all in. Be all in with your customers. Be all in with your employees. An all in mentality is something that works. He’s focused on establishing and maintaining a level of trust in the home services industry. He wants to bring that back. Ross wants Arctic Air to be the company homeowners know will do the right thing for them time after time. Clearly, this approach is working!
If you’d like to get in touch with Ross, he loves giving back and helping others in the industry. You can find him on social media, active in the Service Avengers Facebook group, or you can email him at [email protected].