Subscribe to our newsletters & stay updated
“I don’t know where I originally read it,” says Charley Boyce, president of Paschal Air, Plumbing & Electric, based in Springdale, Ark., a ravenous reader of business books. “But for us, it’s just people and processes.”
And to reiterate his point, Boyce repeated the phrase two more times in rapid succession during our recent Zoom call.
As an example, take good old-fashioned customer service.
When Boyce bought Paschal in 2012, the company employed around 20 people and just did HVAC as it had done since 1968.
A decade later, employment is well past 200, with some 80 service vehicles hitting the road from seven locations covering Northwest Arkansas and one branch in Missouri.
And while the lion’s share of the business remains residential HVAC service, Paschal has since diversified into residential plumbing and electric, and seen company sales triple.
“We’re really good at taking care of customers and making sure Mr. and Mrs. Smith are happy,” he adds. “That might be easier to do when we were small, but harder to ensure as we scale up our ways to continue to grow our traditional HVAC business, make sure we have the right people as we move on to providing more home services and open in different locations and in different states. People and processes is a very simple concept, although it’s very hard to put into place, but we just always come back to it.”
Plumbing, in fact, is currently the company’s fastest-growing department.
“Overall, the company has averaged 20% year-over-year growth in about the first eight years, and in the last couple of years, we’ve had growth rates even higher,” Boyce explains. “Now we’re getting to where we’re doubling every 24 months.”
Long gone is the old Quonset that housed the original business, which now has more room to grow from inside its new 45,000-square-foot headquarters. (Since our conversation Paschal acquired Mize Heating & Air, which opens up Central Arkansas. The deal became official a week after we spoke to Boyce so we’ll exclude it from this feature. But if you want to read more about the deal, log on here: bit.ly/3Pwfvxv.)
Boyce also takes care of his “internal” customers, aka, Paschal employees, in part, with an innovative four-day workweek for his techs as well as tuition-free, 90-day training program where new techs are paid and guaranteed a job after graduation. Last year, the company was named a 2021 Arkansas Best Place to Work by the Arkansas Business Journal.
“As long as we have the right people on the bus and make sure we’re all in the right seats, then as long as we are taking care of customers, we’re taking care of our employees; and as long as we’re taking care of employees, we’re taking care of our customers.”
Not surprisingly, Boyce’s collegiate athletic career provides more color commentary on how he’s nurtured his business.
While attending the University of Arkansas, Boyce set pitching records that stand to this day. He helped take the Razorbacks to the College World Series in 2004 and was voted the team’s MVP in 2005.
“I was raised playing sports,” Boyce adds, “and I was fortunate enough to be a part of some really, really great teams. So, I can’t help but think of Paschal as a team.”
For Boyce, that means that no matter how good one person may be, the entire staff is interconnected. Paschal wins (and loses) together, regroups and learns from its wins and its mistakes. And that attitude is what keeps the ball rolling.
“For us, that just places more emphasis on knowing what the customer wants and delivering that to our customers,” Boyce says, “and looking out for our employees and providing them what they need to get their jobs done. It’s just one big team sport, for sure.”
In fact, a number of former Razorback baseball players, including pitchers and outfielders, all work together at Paschal with many of them crushing it in sales as “comfort specialists.”
Raised in the trades
Boyce was not only raised playing sports, he was also raised in the trades. His grandfather and grandmother, John R. and Louise Boyce, started Airco Service Inc., Tulsa, Okla. in 1961, which has grown from a single pickup to a multimillion-dollar plumbing and heating contractor.
After college, where he earned a business administration degree, he returned to Airco, but always wanted to be in charge of a business he could call his own.
“Nothing against what my family has accomplished,” Boyce adds, “but I would say I’m pretty stubborn and independent and just wanted to do my own thing. Let’s put it this way: I think I’ve made a name for myself in Arkansas. Back in Oklahoma, I would say I am John Boyce’s son, whereas in Arkansas, he is my dad.”
(Incidentally, his father and uncle still run the company, but sold to a consolidator last year.)
After working at Airco for a couple of years after college, Boyce headed to Besco Supply Inc. in 2008. While the wholesale-distributor is based in Tulsa, Boyce was hired to open a branch in Fayetteville, Ark. As general manager, Boyce opened the site from scratch, hiring six people and bringing in $3 million in sales by 2010.
“Besco put a lot of trust in me,” Boyce says. “I learned a lot about staffing, business technology and just dealing with vendors. It just gave me a much deeper understanding of the marketplace. Plus, being on the distributor side gave me a whole other perspective of how important it is for contractors to have really good relationships with a wholesale-distributor and its vendors. Now, that I’m back on the contractor side, it’s a great experience to have sat on both sides.”
During his stint at Besco, one of his accounts was with Paschal and owner Harold Kimrey. In 2010, Boyce joined Paschal, with the goal of buying the business from Kimrey, who was planning for retirement.
“We had a great relationship when I serviced the Paschal account,” Boyce adds. “It wasn’t like I was a stranger to Harold. But at the same time here I was a kid in his late-20s walking into a business owned by a man in his late-60s, and saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to buy your business.’ No one’s ever said I lack confidence.”
Boyce just wanted to be sure his intention was known. And with that understood, Boyce worked as a salesman and after working with Kimrey for the next couple of years, and felt he’d “earned the right,” as Boyce puts it, to buy the company in 2012.
The ‘new’ Paschal
If anything, Boyce sure picked a tremendous place to see what he could do running his own business.
Paschal’s homebase of Springdale is the state’s fourth largest city and more likely termed as the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metro Area, a fast-growing community where exactly one town ends and another begins is hard to tell.
Think Wal-Mart. Think Tyson Foods. Think J.B. Hunt. Think great-paying corporate jobs that have helped increase the population of Springdale by 133 percent between the 1990 and 2010 censuses.
“I think it’s safe to say that if you were born and raised in Springdale, you knew who Paschal was,” Boyce adds. “However, if you were new to the community, and thanks to the economic growth of this region, there are a lot of new people coming here, then in that case, the Paschal name was new.”
And those new folks from “somewhere else,” may very well have also brought along a different level of customer service they expected from home service contractors.
“I think Paschal was still doing things the same way that it had been doing things for the past 20 years,” Boyce explains. “We weren’t, for example, great at marketing. So one of the first things we did was go to work and focus on the customer. There was just so much more market share to be had from HVAC for all our customers if we turned some big operational knobs and tried new ways to service the customer.”
In addition to focusing on operational excellence, Boyce also set his sites on implementing a good marketing plan to drive brand awareness.
“There was a lot to be done just getting our name out there,” Boyce adds, “branding the company, telling our story and earning that ‘top of mind’ with consumers that’s so important. I think at some point we felt we were getting really good operationally, but that’s not good enough if not everybody knows about you. So we had a lot work to do in marketing Paschal.”
From 2012 to 2016, however, the work paid off and Boyce says Paschal experienced solid organic growth just by focusing on hiring the right people and putting in place the right processes.
In 2017, the company readied its new, much larger facility.
“We were definitely getting spatially challenged, particularly since we wanted to add plumbing and electric services,” Boyce adds.
Paschal added the two new home services in 2018.
“We always planned to add those services,” Boyce explains, “but I will add that as we got better at providing HVAC services, those customers kept asking us whether we could recommend a good plumber or a good electrician.”
People and processes
We started out our story talking about Boyce’s catch phrase. But he’s the first to admit that it’s hard to separate the two.
After all, Paschal could have the best people, but they’d be lost without the best processes. Likewise, Paschal could have the best processes in place, but they’d be futile without the best people.
Still, let’s try to break down some of the Boyce’s thoughts on the matter to see where they both fit into the Paschal game plan.
“I read a lot of business books,” Boyce adds, “and one other adage that guides us is, ‘Money flows where friction is low,’ ”
This adage typically concerns itself with customer service: lowering friction makes it easier for customers to spend their money. In the end, this means speedier sales, fewer complaints and more repeat business.
“I think the basic idea is that contractors are used to thinking, OK, this is what works for us,” Boyce explains. “So then they try to fit their customers into that model. Whereas for us, we model our operations around the customer and what they want.”
Let’s take a look at a few other ways Boyce tries to keep Paschal winning the game:
Human Resources: Most business owners think of their HR departments to be reserved for benefits, administration, compliance, etc. All important to-dos, for sure, but Boyce thinks HR can do much more.
“I view HR as an offensive weapon,” Boyce explains. “I think of it more as being a director of player personnel. So, recruiting new people; growing existing people and developing our managers.”
Before investing in HR, Boyce admits to doing the same old same old when it came to developing his players.
“Our managers were busy running their departments, but they were also responsible for screening and hiring candidates,” Boyce adds. “What we found out was that we actually did have a good amount of candidates for hire, but maybe they applied when we weren’t necessarily actively hiring. And so the resumes would end in a folder somewhere and then three weeks later when we did need to hire people, well, many of those people lost inside a folder had already been hired elsewhere.”
But put an HR specialist in that role, as Paschal did, and Boyce says these professionals will start figuring out where and when the company needs help, and also start figuring out a career path for those already working at Paschal.
“It helps immensely to get all applicants in a single place and handled properly,” Boyce says. “I keep talking about processes and here’s a case where we didn’t have any process in place to consolidate resumes, centralize prescreens and conduct initial interviews.”
Now, department managers are just responsible for running their departments.
“This way the HR department does much of the legwork,” Boyce explains. “And then when the final interviews need to be done, the department manager can be pulled in to do that and reach a decision quickly. That means the managers are not only focused on growing their departments, but HR is focused on growing our workforce.”
HVAC Training: When Paschal started investing in an HR department, it was a natural next step to build out a training facility to turn recruits into certified HVAC maintenance techs.
After some beta testing, last year Paschal opened its 90-day paid HVAC training program staffed by full-time instructor David Cleek, an industry veteran with decades of field experience. Not only do the students get a paycheck while learning, they are also guaranteed full-time employment at the end of the 90 days.
“We ran a couple of test classes with a few people and that helped us refine the curriculum,” Boyce adds. “We still have some work to do, but we’ve run about five ‘official’ classes since with around 10 people, men and women, and we have them headed on a great path to a solid career, which is always cool to see.”
The training center includes regular classroom facilities along with a lab with fully functioning HVAC equipment. The students also join Cleek and regular Paschal techs to do ride-alongs.
“I’d like to get to the point where we can run many more students through the program,” Boyce adds. “Right now, we’re just teaching HVAC, but we plan to add separate plumbing and electric programs, too.”
Four-day workweek: We’ve seen more and more formal training programs like Paschal’s at other plumbing and heating contractors as many businesses take on the labor shortage directly to train their own next generation of tradespeople.
However, Paschal offers one benefit we don’t think we’ve seen before and that’s a four-day workweek for its techs.
In a nutshell, techs get four days on and three days off with maybe the only bugaboo being that working on a Saturday, depending on the flexible schedules, is treated as how most contractors treat any regular weekday.
“I’ll admit to being raised old school,” Boyce says. “And that typically means that the customer is No. 1, followed by employees and the company. Now, we look at our employees as No. 1, followed by customers and then company.”
Boyce was in the field as a tech himself back when he worked at Airco.
“I made great money,” he adds. “But I was also working 60-plus hours a week and on call. That comes with a lot of sacrifice, and I just think that techs can still make a great paycheck and have a tremendous career without having to work all those hours and running themselves ragged.” l