New Family, Continued Legacy Business Insights on Franchising

When you become a One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning® franchisee, you not only keep your company’s history, you also gain an entire network of support

undefinedNot many HVACR contractors can boast a service history that spans seven decades, but the Peoria, Ill. area has been fortunate enough to have one of those companies.

Founded in 1948 as AAA Heating and Air and merging with Northgate Heating and Air in 1981, AAA Northgate Heating & Air, LLC, was purchased by Chris Baumann in 2012. With that kind of legacy, you can imagine his hesitation when he began talking to Clockwork, Inc., a Direct Energy® company, about the possibility of becoming a One Hour® franchisee.

“I spent about a year checking into them and doing my due diligence,” he says.

He first became aware of Direct Energy through a promotion it was running with smart thermostats. He had been looking into what the technology was all about and whether or not to provide it to his customer base.

“About two weeks later, I had a voicemail on my phone from someone at Clockwork,” Baumann says. “I called back and wound up talking at length with them about a franchise opportunity.”

After several phone conversations, Baumann flew to Clockwork’s headquarters to learn more. A year later, he flew back to sign the papers and become a One Hour franchisee.

HVACR Business spoke with Baumann about the challenges and advantages of becoming a One Hour franchisee.

What were your concerns with becoming a franchisee?

AAA Northgate was a strong local brand and had been for many, many years. When you have that kind of brand equity in the market, you get nervous about eliminating that. For the longest time, all of our vans and work trucks were red, and the business was branded on “We’re the guys in red trucks, and we can get to you quickest.” We’d built all that brand equity on being the guys with red trucks, but all of a sudden we were turning them yellow. It was a big struggle for me, wondering how our customers would react.

How did you communicate that change?

We took that opportunity to do a conversion ad campaign. We sent out conversion letters to our customers that addressed some of the changes. We also did a pretty heavy radio campaign, where I said, “Everybody on the street is always asking me, ‘Chris, why on earth would you switch from red trucks to yellow trucks after all these years?’ And the answer is simple. It’s to serve you better.” I then went on to list the things that the One Hour franchise brings to the table that I can now offer because we went to yellow trucks.

What was the deciding factor that convinced you to go with the One Hour franchise?

The one thing that really pushed me over the edge was One Hour’s involvement in being on the cutting edge of technology. I saw some of the controls they were working on. I saw these franchises working on these controls and their vision for the future. That kind of technological disruption is going to happen; it’s simply a matter of who’s going to do it and when. That was the biggest thing for me is to be aligned with the franchise brand.

What was another big benefit?

They’ve got unmatched training. I had no training before and now I have access to online training classes and I recently sent my service manager down to St. Louis for a two-day class on leadership. I didn’t have access to any of that before. But probably the most valuable piece in all of this —that I never really even thought of — is the ability to reach out to other franchisees. That has been invaluable to be able to pick up the phone, call somebody in a similar-sized market and say, “Hey, here’s what I’m struggling with. You’re excelling at it. What are you doing different?” And they just tell you! We’re all in this together to grow.

What’s the biggest misconception about becoming a franchisee?

Most contractors feel if they become a franchisee, all of a sudden they’re going to have a boss. I want to let everybody know that when you become a franchisee, you gain a partner, not a boss. I’m a control freak and the last thing I want is someone breathing down my neck. Now that I’ve been with Clockwork a year and a half as a One Hour franchisee, I find myself reaching out to my franchise business consultant when I need something, otherwise, he’s basically said, “I’m going to leave you alone and let you do what you do best and that’s run a business.”

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