Stan Bassett’s strategy keeps his HVAC company growing and going strong
By Gus Pearcy
Business can be compared to many things, such as sports or the rearing of children. Stan Bassett of Bassett Services Inc. prefers to think of it as a military operation. And he has the dogged discipline to capture as much of the market as possible.
The program is working so well that Bassett Services has bought out competitors and continues to increase market share in central Indiana.
Bassett was working at the Allison Division of General Motors when he decided to work for himself. It was 1977, and he bought a small, one-man operation near his hometown of Clayton. Jim Alexander basically worked on oil furnaces. Bassett took that mostly rural business and built it up to a high of 400 accounts. Leaving a good paying job was a questionable move in the beginning.
“I probably didn’t get back to making what I was making there for about five years,” he said about his salary and the hardship of starting a new business. “(It’s tough) especially when you’re it. In 1981, I enrolled in ITT in a full-time, one year course. It’s four hours a day. So having to go to that for a whole year plus work … Boy, you talk about being committed to what you’re doing.”
After graduating from ITT, Bassett and his company started working on the new construction side of residential HVAC.
“I think at our peak we were doing 400 new homes a year back in the late 1980s or early ’90s,” Bassett said. “But to show you how our business has changed, we hardly do any new homes.”
Actually, less than 20 a year. What changed Bassett’s mind was the volatility of new home construction. In 1991, he saw that the market was unsteady. Seeing strong fluctuations in the new home market led Bassett to a class offered by one of his suppliers.
“We wanted to recession-proof our business,” Bassett said. “We got into a program called Dominant Marketshare: How to dominate your market. It revolved around maintenance on homeowner’s furnaces. It’s like you would have a maintenance agreement – we don’t call it a contract – where, for a fee, we come out twice a year. We come out once on your air conditioning and once on your furnace, and we service it. So what we did was develop a relationship with our customers.”
He liked the program so much that he contracted the presenter, who still works with Bassett Services today. Constant contact with customers made Bassett Services the choice of their clients when the big purchases were needed or repairs were inevitable.
Bassett said the three core parts of his business today are maintenance, service, and replacement sales. His field techs are trained at least two hours every week. They not only get product knowledge but advice on how to approach a customer, where to park at the house, and how to present two business cards when the front door is opened.
Statistics show that 27 percent of customers who call for HVAC service will convert to a service contract. About 75 percent renew that service contract. A sales call to a service customer is closed 76 percent of the time. Compare that to a cold call from the Yellow Pages, which closes only 25 percent of the time.
The results have been easy to see. Over the last four years, Bassett Services has seen a 20 percent jump in business each year. Bassett is uncomfortable talking about the business. He doesn’t want to sound like he’s bragging. He just wants to keep on focusing on maintenance and service.
But a good general never lets up until victory is at hand. Bassett brokered a deal earlier this year to buy Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning and Hession Plumbing out of Mooresville. The move was expected to increase business by 50 percent and expand Bassett into Morgan County. Although it is still early, Bassett said the deal was a good one.
Now that Bassett has built an empire, he is working on deeding it to his two sons, Jeff and Greg. According to Bassett, the deal will be complete in seven years. Greg jokes that it really is only 6 years and 9 months. The boys have their duties splitting the daily chores of accounting, sales, personnel and so much more. Bassett’s requirement is to continue to troubleshoot, train new employees on customer service and plan for the future.
Greg went through the same courses as his dad, and even had the same instructor. Jeff resisted for a bit after high school, but after a few months working for Rolls Royce, he called his dad.
“He called me one day and says, ‘Uh, I think I want to come into the business,’ ” Bassett recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’ ”
The next generation of Bassetts agrees that the hardest component of running a good business is keeping quality employees. Each has to be trained to follow the steps that are proven to increase business.