Truly All American
A red, white, and blue color scheme, an eagle symbol, and a focus on God, country, and family distinguish this company and its owners.
By DEENA K. BOUKNIGHT Photographs by JAY BROWNE
Half of the employees of All American Heating and Air are family members, some employees are veterans, and annual charity support focuses on the military.
One employee quips that a reality show needs to focus on owners Gene and Debbie Royer as well as the blood relations and “work family” that make up the 20-plus-year-old West Columbia-based company. Turnover is low as the atmosphere at All American Heating and Air is a combination of hard work, integrity, honesty and fun. A few dogs accompany employees to work, and children or grandchildren sometimes hang out in Gene’s office and watch television.
A Family Affair
Gene Royer grew up with his hands on appliances. His father worked in refrigeration, and by the time Gene was 12 years old, he was changing compressors and welding. As an adult, his patriotic fervor motivated him to enlist in the Army with the hopes of fighting in Vietnam, where his brothers were. They were wounded in battle; he was stationed in Germany and never experienced war but was implanted with a life-long appreciation for the men and women who serve America. (One of his brothers is retired military, and both received injuries in the Vietnam War.)
After the war, Gene became licensed in plumbing, heating, and electrical. He attended and graduated from a six-month program at Whirlpool College, Michigan, in 1982. Eventually, he decided to open his own company – instead of working for others. Naming the business All American was a no brainer.
Gene’s wife Debbie is also ex-military. She was in the National Guard for 12 years and served as a military nurse. Besides hosting the annual Vet’s Christmas Charity Ride, which involves presents and donations to hospitalized veterans, All American offers a discount on products and services to military customers.
All American is not just about focusing on its own families – and military families – but they consider customers as extended family as well. Television commercials and informational videos highlight their family-owned and operated status, and tout this message, according to Debbie: “We are right here in their community with common interest and goals. We are here to get them the best equipment for their needs at an affordable price with the best warranties and service available.”
The company’s main slogan, in fact, is “Let our Family Help Your Family!” Even though Debbie says it might sound like All American is running for a political office, the words that truly define the company are quality work, professionalism, dependability and focus on family.
Two of the Royer’s sons and one of their daughters works at All American. The other two daughters, in college, assist with creative marketing ideas. Also employed at All American are a few nephews and a sister-in-law.
They also consider employees family and treat them as such. “We’re a party bunch of fools here,” jokes Gene.
The company throws a large Christmas party for employees. For Halloween, American rents space at Fort Wilderness Campground at Carowinds in Charlotte and treats employees and their families to [Scarowinds.] “We have a blast! We just want to treat people the way we would want to be treated,” says Gene.
All American does not employ a separate sales staff. Gene believes that in order to sell a product, he or she must know how it works and how to install it. “Our technicians are our sellers,” he says. “A technician that comes out of school and hasn’t worked on the product or installed it must get that experience.”
Technicians, some of whom are also installers, have the ability to sell – and are encouraged to sell. However, they are not paid on a commission basis. Gene believes commission-based pay results in “too much temptation for employees to be crooked. We pay them good salaries; we don’t want them to pressure customers for sales. We also pay bonuses instead of incentives.
“We want our guys to have the utmost integrity,” adds Gene, “not just try to sell customers on products just to get a commission. They need to be completely honest … look at a customer’s whole picture, and assess the situation. Someone with a problem might not be able to afford a completely repaired or new system right away. Our employees need to give them honest options.”
Adds Debbie, “Our employees have to be straight with our customers. They have to tell them the truth – always. A lot of people say things, as a company, but our employees really follow through. Customers know that. They trust us.”
With more than 80 percent of customers residential (about 20 percent is light commercial), the All American staff is in contact with homeowners daily. All American installs more than 500 products in homes annually. “One of our biggest issues is education,” says Gene. “We want to make sure they do not just buy our products, but they know how to use them to get the greatest savings when heating and cooling. Because our technicians, who are also selling the products, know how they work, they are able to educate customers on the spot.”
Once a week in a staff meeting, employees are provided with additional education information to pass onto customers; it is also time to talk about customer service issues.
For example, All American will explain to customers that keeping a thermostat at a consistent temperature saves greatly on bills. Gene points to the savings, from $5,000 a month to $3,400 a month, for a motorcycle shop just by updating some equipment and keeping the thermostat consistent:
“Customers need to know about the bells and whistles,” says Debbie.
Even the products All American carries focus on integrity. They are American made – a must. Plus, the main two products – Westinghouse and Goodman – carry the weightier warranties. “Westinghouse, in fact, will completely replace the product, not just repair it, within 10 years,” says Gene.
Besides providing heating and air units, All American installs, repairs, or replaces ultraviolet lights, humidifiers, attic insulation and duct systems.
All American keeps a warehouse stocked with these products – as well as replacement parts. Typically, the company provides same day or next day service. During inclement weather, when systems are bound to fail, All American technicians are on hand all through the night. Often, Gene is right there assisting technicians – or handling the call himself.
Weathering the Economic Storm
Gene and Debbie attribute their focus on honesty and integrity as being the main reasons they were able to weather the economic downturn and avoid laying off any employees. Plus, Gene says he “saw it coming.” He says that when builders began to have trouble paying for products, the writing was on the wall. He stopped selling so many units to builders “way before things came crashing down.”
The Royers also centralized a few others locations into one location in West Columbia. The headquarters and warehouse are now in two buildings totaling 10,000 square feet. Their trucks are dispersed daily throughout all areas of Columbia and beyond so that technicians are never too far away from a customer. IPhone and IPad are provided so that there is efficient communication to the trucks from the headquarters.
Plus, Gene and Debbie make sure every existing employee is working efficiently. “We have no dead weight,” he says.
Finally, the couples say a key has been to focus on what they know they are good at. “We want to be masters of our trade, not a jack of all trades,” says Gene.
Instead of enduring some of the drastic blows that other companies have experienced in the past few years, All American has maintained consistency. As a result, they have enjoyed awards, such as Angie’s List Super Service Award for the past four years. All American Heating and Air was also named Southeastern Dealer of the Year in 2010, and [Lexington Life Magazine’s] Best Heating and Air Conditioning Company for 2012 and 2013.