Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Business Feature: Chris Tellis – Southfield-Based HVAC

As part of something I’m doing to feature different businesses and help provide additional sources of business tips from multiple perspectives, I’m featuring different companies or organizations.  This time, I interviewed a friend of mine who owns a heating and cooling (HVAC) business.  Not only is he a smart guy, but he has been in business for 19 years.  So he definitely has some wisdom to share.

This Week’s Featured Business: Chris Tellis, Owner of HVAC Business (Southfield, MI)

If you live anywhere near Metro Detroit, Chris Tellis might be the guy you call when you need to fix your heating or cooling.  Tellis did not begin owning his own business.  He worked as a Sales Manager for an ABC Warehouse store, but he discovered that he could make more money by owning and operating his own business.

He has a story to tell, and there are things we can learn from him, especially if we own a business or are interested in starting one.

Before starting his company, he worked in retail sales at Fretter and ABC Warehouse.

An Introduction to Chris Tellis and his HVAC Business

Chris Tellis does heating and cooling repair, installation, and maintenance.  He has not always owned his own business, but he’s been in business for almost 20 years.  He shares some of the secrets of how he started his business and how he’s been successful enough to raise a family.

Chris and I met a couple of years ago, and he always has a lot to say.  He’s an incredibly intelligent guy who thrives on talking with people.  He has really good people skills, and that definitely helps him within his business. In fact, you could say that it’s helped him in every step of his building a career.  He started in sales selling shoes.  Then he started selling for Fretter (no longer in business), and then he started selling for ABC Warehouse, where he eventually became the store manager.

Notes from the Interview

Business owner Chris Tellis has a story to tell, and there are things we can learn from him, especially if we own a business or are interested in starting one.

In fact, he began the interview by saying, “I hope this will benefit those of you who are starting your business, and you just haven’t worked up the nerve to step out and do what your God-given gifts are, and I’m here to encouraged you today to do so.”

Started Company: 1996

Type of Company: Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) – Heating (Furnaces and Boilers), Cooling (Air Conditioning), Duct Work – Repair, Maintenance, & Installation

What made you decide to go into business for yourself?
“The hours in retail management were long, and I had a young family, and I decided to that if I am going to have an impact on my children and be a part of life and growing, then I need my own business.”

What were some of your biggest challenges when you first started?
“Not knowing about this industry, there was a great learning curve, and you hire a lot of people who say they have knowledge and you not having enough knowledge to determine how much knowledge they have.  You find yourself losing a lot of money (and) time…and actually a lot of trust from people…These are the some of the things you experience when you don’t know the industry yourself (going into a business).”

“(Getting to know your business thoroughly is) what I encourage anyone to do is know your industry from A to Z, because you don’t know the cycles of (that particular) business.  You can be hurt, seriously!”

How did you go about teaching yourself the knowledge you needed about your business?
“From hiring people and looking over their shoulder and asking them questions and learning and doing some hands-on over and over and bit by bit.  The pieces came together, but at the same time, you lose quite a bit of money in hiring people that really don’t have your best interest (in their hearts or intentions).”

How did you build your business and get clients when you first started?
“It helps to be sociable.  If (you are) sociable, you will find that (you will be able to contact) most of the people you’ve met in previous business dealings (are open to taking your business call).”

“First of all, I got some experience in the sales area with another heating and cooling company, and what that company did (was) they used telemarketing.  They used telemarketing in the morning and telemarketing in the afternoon that provided us with heating and cooling customers that had interest in any of those products.  Then we could go to their home; do a service on the furnace or air conditioner, and then if saw anything that was needed, we could begin to advice the sale (or replacement) of other items (i.e. humidifiers or chimney liners).”

What do you do to get most of your business today?
“Today basically is mouth-to-mouth, and you can’t beat mouth-to-mouth.  It’s the best thing out there to have customers that are pre-sold by people that they know….They that person (perceives you) as the right person for that job, based upon that recommendation.”

What, do you think, you do to make people want to refer you?
“Because I’m prompt.  I’m trustworthy, and I know what I’m doing.”

How do you gain people’s trust?
When making a call based on a referral, they’re often saying that Chris Tellis did a good job, and he is “prompt, and his price is reasonable.  That usually does it for most people, because that’s what they’re looking for…We’re looking for integrity.”

What makes you different than your competition?
He values people’s time.  “Being prompt seems to be a problem with a lot of people in business…If there are any changes, call them in advance to let them know.”

What do you suggest to people just first starting a business?
“If I had to start this business again, I would have started knowing this business from A to Z.  Don’t laugh at the secretary’s job, because she’s the secretary.  You need to know that position.  You need to know how to answer the phone.  You need to know what your secretary does.  You need to know bookkeeper does.  You need to know how to deal with the time clocks.  You need to know deal with the payroll service.  There is no small job in the business (from the service guy’s job down to your cleaning) personnel.  You need to know every position, because when somebody’s not there, guess what?  You being the owner, you have to fill in (that position for that day or time they are not there).”

Other Business Advice - General
“Crabs don’t want to see you succeed, but if you stick to your guns, and you stay diligent, you will succeed at what you’re doing.”

How to Connect with Chris Tellis, Owner of HVAC Service Business

Website: None

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