Ryan Kletz might hate titles, but his business card says Vice President of One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (VB, Nash & Pitt). Since joining his father’s business well over a decade ago, Ryan has made an incredible career for himself in the heating and cooling industry.
Unlike many contractors, Ryan has the unique experience of being a franchisee. There are different restraints, different growth models, and slightly different rules. What is the same, however, is that the keys to success remain constant across the board.
All the way back on September 1st, 1979, Todd Kletz (Ryan’s father) and his brother started their own HVAC company. Todd referred to himself as a schmo who knew heating and air, but not how to run a business. The pair would do anything that paid a buck including new construction, commercial, and residential, and Todd had put the family house on the line more than once to stay afloat. Eventually, like many other now highly successful contractors, Todd was connected with Jim Abrams and his crew including big names like Terry Nicholson and Darren Dixon. Todd credits Jim and co. with completely changing his life. He learned how to really make money in the trades by using his own intelligence and implementing their teaching into his business.
A few decades ago, Todd and Ryan’s uncle were looking into their exit strategy. At the same time, Jim Abrams was planning something big. This was during the Blue Dot era when lots of other groups were moving forward with the first huge roll-up. Jim was going to take One Hour public. This was a great exit strategy for Todd, and his brother wanted to be bought out. So, Todd moved forward and became one of the first handful of franchisees that hitched along with Jim Abrams.
At the time this was happening, Ryan was a teenager. He would go to college at Old Dominion University pursuing a degree in journalism with a heavy interest in sports. Ryan was a Division I swimmer himself and worked part-time for a local ESPN affiliate. He even worked as a referee– in some NCAA games to boot! After graduating college in 2005, he found a job working for Enterprise, continuing to ref and work part-time for the local ESPN affiliate. Ryan loved the job, meeting lots of his close friends and even his wife. His hard work would earn him some of the top metrics in the company as a Retail Branch Manager but after a while, he had enough. He didn’t get the promotion he wanted and in hindsight, Ryan feels like he acted childishly. He threw a temper tantrum and quit, deciding to go work for his dad. While he may have had the wrong reasons, this would end up being a great decision.
14 years later, Ryan is still with the company. He started out working in attics in the summer, moving his way up through service, customer care, dispatch, and just about everything else you can think of. Now, as owner and VP of the company, Ryan is focused on continuing to grow his now 3 One Hour locations.
Ryan’s company has been in Virginia Beach for 42 years, back when his father and uncle started it all. Since becoming a franchisee for One Hour, they’ve expanded to 3 locations in Nashville and Pittsburgh as well. Between all three, their revenue is at 35MM today, with Virginia Beach at about 20MM and the other two locations splitting the remaining revenue pretty evenly. Most importantly, though, is that all three locations are profitable. One of the earliest lessons Ryan learned from his father was that you can pick your size, but it doesn’t matter if you’re at 100MM if you aren’t making a dime. Together, these three locations make them the largest Any Hour franchisee.
Authority Brands, the franchisor for One Hour, has been really great to Ryan and his team. Ryan points out that of course there are things they might disagree on, but the basis of Authority Brands is to grow home service businesses and that’s a goal they are aligned with. The relationship remains strong. Of course, being a franchisee means there is a bit of a different set of rules to play by.
Ryan feels that the key is really just working together with their franchisor. Mostly, it’s just navigational conversations. After all, every he does as a franchisee can set precedents for future acquisitions, PE groups coming in, and quite a bit more. It’s a lot more on the line than just his locations, and he understands that. While it might take a bit more work to get to the finish line on things, it’s backed by the same values. The plus side is that he’s backed by an experienced team with a ton of expertise to offer, guidance and support, mentorship, and a clear plan for the road ahead.
Ryan is one who believes that we learn the most from our mistakes. Most of our big “ah-ha” moments come in retrospect, but you can always learn in the moment. He’s continuing to learn and grow with his business, but there were a few pivotal moments in his career where he made a mistake that has helped him be the leader he is today.
Growing up, Ryan looked up to the famous Indiana Hoosiers NCAA basketball coach Bobby Knight. Nicknamed “The General” for good reason, Bobby Knight was known for his fierce, in-your-face style of coaching. That was the way Ryan liked to be motivated, and it was very effective for him. He approached leadership early on in much the same way, and it sometimes got him into trouble. It was not effective for some of his team members; even going as far as causing certain people to be very upset with him.
Ryan had to learn that motivating people the way you like to be motivated isn’t always the right approach. This was the true beginning of his leadership journey. He attended a Dale Carnegie course that was life-changing for him. Now, Ryan understands that you have to be willing to open your mind and change. If you aren’t your business won’t change either! As a leader, Ryan is now trying to be more hands-off with his team and has worked hard to understand how to be the most effective leader possible for a range of personalities and needs.
Many successful contractors can relate to growing quickly and making some mistakes as a result. One thing that Ryan had to learn the hard way was that just jumping into a new market without having the right pieces in place can make it pretty hard to hit the ground running. When they went into the Nashville market, the plan was to operate it remotely. Ryan has 3 children, who were 5, 2, and 1 years old at the time. Traveling to Nashville every other week did not make his wife happy! He learned pretty fast he needed someone there to run it in person. After finding a great fit, they also found a great GM. But all of that took a year to get set up, and it was a lesson that Ryan is glad he learned. When opening the Pittsburgh location 4 months ago, he was sure to have a GM in place from the start.
When asked how he feels about the phrase “work/life balance”, Ryan gave some pretty choice words. He feels like it’s just a corporate buzzword. The better equation, Ryan, believes, is that Work + Life = Balance. In other words, work is a part of life, and life is a part of work. We find our balance, but the two are intertwined and not separate. If you’re a mother or father who is depended upon to put food on the table, isn’t work a big part of your life? You can live your job and still be the world’s best father/mother/uncle or whatever it may be. Ryan doesn’t believe in this separation of work and life, because it just doesn’t make sense.
Ryan points to a time when he had an employee call him in the middle of the night because he had been taken to jail. Now, Ryan could have easily hung up the phone and said “hey, it’s not 9-5, working hours are over”. But he didn’t. In fact, Ryan takes this as an incredibly high compliment. It speaks to the relationship he has with his team that they would call him in their time of need. The employee was relatively new and didn’t work for the company after, but Ryan took that opportunity and compliment to do what he thinks is right. If his team needs him, his phone is on.
Ryan’s first piece of advice for a new owner or anyone in the industry goes for the rest of us, too. Check your ego! He had a lot of success at Enterprise, was a Div 1 swimmer, and came into his dad’s business at 25 thinking he knew it all. There was a lot of learning he missed out on because of that. Checking your ego doesn’t mean giving up your confidence, but it allows you to open up your mind and listen.
The other thing Ryan recommends is getting a mentor right away. Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach! It can be someone who is where you want to be or someone you just look up to, but the important thing is that you’re learning. In the same vein, join organizations and events like ACCA or RYNOx. Keep learning and growing so your business can, too!