While the HVAC and entire home services industry definitely got “sexy” last year when we kept our jobs and were deemed essential, it’s certainly not always been that way. Add to that the continued struggle to meet labor demands and the increasing cost of HVAC systems, and it’s clear why making the industry attractive to both customers and potential employees is a must. For Kevin Howard, President of Howard Air in Phoenix, AZ, this process is something he’s been working on for decades!
When Kevin was young, there was a time when his father decided to start his own HVAC company. He remembers the day when his dad, a service tech and great salesman, decided he was tired of working for his company and came home ready to branch out on his own. He was successful from the start, and Kevin was immediately thrust into the industry. While other children may have been playing video games and running around outside, Kevin was tagging along on service calls, getting into attics, and learning the ropes of the air conditioning world.
Back then, the industry was not perceived the way it is today. Framers, electricians, plumbers, and technicians were not viewed in the same light, and his mother did not want HVAC to be his future. He was encouraged to pursue higher education, and studied civil engineering. While in college, Kevin found a job behind a desk, and it just didn’t stick for him. He had already been exposed to the fast-paced world of HVAC; the interaction with your customers, not being stuck in an office, and the challenges. Sitting behind a desk just wasn’t something Kevin wanted for himself.
While joining the family business would have been an easy transition, Kevin’s father actually told him he couldn’t join the company. He wasn’t getting the easy way in. Since Kevin was still living at home, his parents continued to encourage him to finish school and “do better than your parents”. So, what did Kevin do? He went to work for the competition. He was working for four different AC companies, running calls during the day and taking classes at night. After a full summer of this back and forth, Kevin’s father finally accepted that his son truly did want to be in the HVAC industry, and allowed him to join Howard Air. Kevin brought his mechanical engineering, new construction, and sheet metal skills into the company and they kept moving forward. 44 years later, Kevin is still loving what he does, and is proud to have recently opened up the incredible Howard Air Showroom and Design Center, a multi-purpose facility that Chris Yano, host of To The Point and CEO of RYNO Strategic Solutions had the opportunity to see for himself.
Calling the Howard Air Showroom and Design Center simply a showroom doesn’t do it justice. You can take a virtual tour on the website to see for yourself. This is a massive 20,000+ square foot state-of-the-art facility that houses a showroom full of interactive, hands-on displays and systems as well as training areas, a sheet metal fabrication shop and more. It’s been designed in-house with intent behind every inch of the building, and the result is incredible.
It’s the kind of place that even a child would find fascinating, with blueprints and schematics of the building laid out, cutting-edge systems and technology to play with, and displays showing the craftsmanship and design behind the latest and greatest in HVAC. The Howard Air Showroom shows the “sexy” part of HVAC, and allows for a hands-on user experience. You can actually go and see for yourself exactly how a system works, how quiet it is, how much space it takes up, and how effective it is before you buy it.
Even from the outside, the facility is impressive. Beautiful pavers, giant windows, and a large parking lot with desert landscaping surround the building. When you walk in, it continues to impress. There’s a Wi-Fi wall with complete home automation products and information, 3 garage bays with different ductwork, condensing units to view, a wine room, and more to see and feel with your own eyes and hands. The facility allows the opportunity to capitalize on the hardware, and give clients the chance to see firsthand exactly what they are considering purchasing for their homes as well as additional ideas for improving their indoor comfort.
Part of thinking ahead is more than just what type of services, products, and experience customers will expect. Labor shortage is nothing new in our industry, and there have been all kinds of signs and data to support the problem becoming worse. Baby boomers that have been performing the majority of the work are retiring, and the upcoming generation simply isn’t joining the workforce at the same rate as before. Kevin put in place starting an academy 8 years ago. With the Howard Air Showroom and Design Center, the ingenious dual purpose is to give trainees real-world experience using the products and environments afforded in the showroom.
They did their research, looking at both what other training schools were doing and what they felt was what they’d like in a training facility. Millennials don’t want to sit in a classroom, and they want to be hands-on. Everything in the showroom is something they can work on, from the condensing units and mini-splits to an actual roof to work on. They actually take a ladder and a toolbelt and get that valuable experience for themselves, just as if they were in a client’s home.
In addition to a focus on solving the labor portion, the Howard Air Academy was designed to get the younger generation excited about HVAC. The trades are finally starting to be recognized as a “sexy” profession, and can be a much more rewarding career choice than many traditional paths like dental hygiene school or IT. There’s stress with HVAC, for sure, but the pay and lifestyle it affords can be difficult to find elsewhere. That message hasn’t really been conveyed to the younger generation, and when combined with the stability and opportunities the home services industry offers, it can be a really attractive package when marketed correctly.
Nothing says sexy like a firefighter! In fact, Kevin has taken a page out of the firefighter’s book and incorporated some of the processes and efficiency that he witnessed with the Phoenix Fire Department when thinking about joining in the 80’s. Think about it: when there’s a fire, it’s an emergency. The firefighters know exactly what to do, where their tools and equipment are, and the process for every possible scenario. Their trucks are kept pristine, and are designed specifically for their purposes. When one of your customers has no AC, it’s an emergency too! It does no good if your technician shows up unprepared and fumbling their tools. Kevin has modeled his processes with the efficiency of the PFD all the way down to using their sheet metal shop to customize their trucks.
Howard Air covers pretty much all aspects of HVAC. From residential and commercial to light commercial, complete wine rooms, garages, and more—if it’s HVAC, they do it. While the industry is certainly trending in the direction of multiple services, Kevin sees so much opportunity still in HVAC. Between using their own sheet metal fabrication facility to design and implement fast and accurate system installs, add-ons, and replacements, custom wine rooms, new construction, remodels, all of the normal service and maintenance and more, they stay plenty busy perfecting all areas of HVAC.
With around 100 employees, Howard Air is focused on providing service that meets customer expectations that are at an all-time high. Located in Phoenix, arguably the most competitive HVAC market in the US, it’s no accident they’ve been around and successful for as long as they have. Kevin points to thinking ahead and doing things proactively as key factors in their success. They were early adopters of digital and SEO marketing, and have been strategic during economic downturns. Instead of following the trends, Kevin and Howard Air focus on doing what they do best, and that’s everything that HVAC has to offer.