Stretching from the “City of Trees” to the “Silver State,” AC Pro stakes its claim to nine locations in Southern California and three locations in Nevada. This family-owned and operated distributor is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Since 1986, change and innovation have been at the core of AC Pro, yet its distinctive culture is the cornerstone that continues to set this company apart.
AC Pro’s past
“My wife and I were married in September of '85, and we started the business three months later,” recalls President Dion Quinn. From an early age, Dion envisioned going into business for himself, and that became his focus when he got his first full-time job out of high school. At that time, he was working for a supply business that also did contracting work. That experience sparked his desire to be independent and become an entrepreneur. “So, that’s what we did just a few months after we got married,” he adds.
Most business owners would agree that running a business presents a unique set of challenges, and the recession in the 90s (both nationally and in California) only added to the pressure.
AC Pro weathered that storm with just one location in Southern California, and by 1990 started producing sheet metal products. In 1994, the company opened a second fabrication and supply location in Las Vegas, allowing for expanded fabrication and a dedicated will call.
AC Pro’s primary focus from 1986 through 2007 was residential new construction, supplies, fabricating sheet metal and linesets; however, with the recession of 2008, the company started adding additional products to serve the residential and light commercial replacement customers. The company began carrying more HVAC equipment, service parts, and supplies for both the new construction and add-on/replacement markets.
Since 1998, the company has opened what Dion calls “regular branch locations” throughout Southern California and parts of Nevada. “As we observed the effects of the last recession on the new construction side of our business, we recognized the need to diversify by opening more branch locations and serving the replacement and service side of our business,” says Dion.
The following decade saw unprecedented expansion, as new locations opened throughout Southern California and Nevada. In California, locations include Anaheim, Chatsworth, El Cajon, Escondido, Laguna Hills, Ontario, Palm Desert, Riverside, Signal Hill, and Fontana, which serves as its home office. Nevada locations include Las Vegas, Las Vegas North, and Henderson.
As a business grows, so too does the need for innovation. Staying fresh and up-to-date is a growing topic of concern among many in the industry. Fortunately for AC Pro, it had just the person to spearhead those efforts.
Blake Quinn is not only the second generation of AC Pro; he is also the vice president of e-commerce and marketing for the business. Blake’s mission and vision are to propel the company into the 21st Century while maintaining a comfortable platform for customers. The company’s website was, and still is, priority number one.
When you go to www.acpro.com, you’re met by an easy interface, plenty of resources, and a link to the online store. This should not be a breaking ground moment for our industry, but some distributors shutter at the idea of online selling.
I asked Blake a few questions as to how he got started, what’s in the future, and what we can all expect.
Danielle Galian: How did you get started with the website?
Blake Quinn: It was a very long and bumpy road; one of those projects where you don’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel for a long time. We went through multiple solutions and multiple agencies before deciding to pull the development in-house. Simultaneously while building our platform we began working on the content and layout of the site, which took years to gather and organize, and it is now something we consider a core strength of our online store. Before we started development of our online store, we only had product titles and SKUs in our ERP. We didn’t have product descriptions, PDF documents, photos, etc.
DG: Where do you see it going?
BQ: We see online sales continuing to grow, though I do believe our industry will see a slower transition than some other industries. We have had many customers transition their business online, and we see new customers joining every day. In part, I think we got lucky because of how late we were to the online space. If we had launched the online store years ago, not only would we have been trying to get customers to make their first B2B purchase online, but probably their first personal online purchase, too. Since almost every customer we talk to makes purchases online personally, it is very natural for them to begin purchasing online from AC Pro assuming we provide the same level of quality in our content and ease of use they have become accustomed to in the B2C space.
DG: What are some interesting developments happening now?
BQ: I was amazed to see customers choose to buy almost exclusively online. I assumed customers would probably not pass around 70 percent of their business being transacted online, but that has not been the case.
The user base of the platform was one of the many surprises along the way. I had assumed it would primarily be more tech savvy customers that would use the online store. Surprisingly, we have found it to be appealing to both techie and non-techie customers, as well as all age groups.
We have developers on staff, so we are making enhancements and adding new features to the website every day. One of the features we implemented in early spring was our “Express Pick-Up” system. This feature saves customers time by allowing them to place an order online, and have it ready for them in a designated pick-up area, skipping the checkout line. As you can see, the online store is an ongoing project that will never be complete, and that is what we love about it. We have so many incredible new features and enhancements that we plan on adding to the site in the coming weeks, months and years that I wish I could share with you, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I really can say the best is yet to come.
Blake came into the business the way most do. He started at one of the branches as a salesperson and then became the marketing manager before taking on his current role. “I'm the bricks & mortar and sheet metal guy, and he is the marketing and technology guy,” Dion chuckles.
“The culture at AC Pro has and always will be heavily focused on our team. Over the years we have developed programs to care for the well-being of everyone at AC Pro, both while they are here and after. We strive to offer a safe and welcoming environment, where our associates can feel comfortable bringing their kids or spouse to work and referring their loved ones for employment opportunities,” explains Dion.
As a family business, Dion gets to work alongside his kids nearly every day, a perk he fully enjoys. The company encourages its associates to carve out part of their work day to attend those events that are important to their children. “We don’t want our associates to look back over 20 years and realize they missed time with their families,” adds Dion.
To help ensure families have downtime, AC Pro turns off email and ERP access while its associates take week-long vacations. This idea wasn’t very popular when it was rolled out; the team thought they had to be connected while on vacation, but this all changed when they told their families about it, many of the associates expressed how much their families appreciated this new idea.
Professionals with purpose
God’s Kids was founded by Dion and his wife Petra in 2002 in response to the needs of orphans worldwide. The first orphanage they supported was in the Philippines; the orphanage was about 20 years old and in need of remodeling. This project would turn out to be the catalyst that inspired them to start their own charitable initiatives overseas. “…and so, as we got into this project, we decided that if we were going to do this, we needed to be on the ground and more involved. So, for that reason we started God's Kids,” Dion explains.
Since then, God’s Kids has served in India, Mexico, Philippines, and Thailand. The organization assists with medical intervention, disaster relief, education, and construction projects. “We started in Mexico first because of its proximity to Southern California. During the summer of 2003, Petra and I packed up the kids nearly every weekend and headed off to Mexico to help an orphanage move out of their small warehouse and into a new home. Along with a team of friends, we spent most of the summer upgrading the house, and more importantly, we gained a better understanding of the kids’ needs,” Dion says.
God’s Kids partnered with another orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, and then through friends, they got involved in Thailand in 2003. The orphanage in Thailand was built in response to the many children being left behind in an adult care home by their parents, many of whom were unable to look after their children due to the ravages of ongoing insurgencies within Burma.
Through other contacts, Dion traveled to Liberia to meet with orphanage directors. The civil war had left the country in dire need of assistance and orphanages struggled to provide for the basic care of the kids. Also, Liberia’s education sector had experienced a major setback due to the war, resulting in inadequate schools and a lack of qualified teachers. God’s Kids became involved by providing food, medical care, and playgrounds for the kids. Over time, God’s Kids implemented a school program within some of the orphanages. They sent two American teachers to Liberia to hire and train additional instructors and to apply the curriculum. There is currently no staff in that region, so the organization works and provides through their contacts.
God’s Kids mission also stretches from India to the Philippines. “We met a pastor from our local area in California, so we decided to work together to build an orphanage when he returned home to India. Similarly, another person from our local area moved to the Philippines to form a ministry there, so we assisted with the purchase of the land and the funding of a building for an orphanage, and over time that's how we worked,” explains Dion. People often ask him, "How do you manage to operate in four or five different countries?" And his answer is simple: “Because we’ve been fortunate to meet and work with people we know and trust.” In addition, God’s Kids sends dedicated members or partners of the organization to the orphanages to assess the children, evaluate their medical needs, review their educational progress, and determine what resources are needed. Whether it’s the need for new materials or textbooks, the reviews provide an all-encompassing look at the work they’re doing. “We realized after a few years just how vital it is to teach these children and ensure that they're getting an education. If not, we’re not making an impact or changing their lives. A good friend of mine, Christine Norman, said ‘If you teach a child to read, they can learn anything.’ It took me maybe another year to realize what she meant by that. It's really true. It's that simple, and it's that hard. It is very hard to teach a child to read, but once you do, they can learn anything. Our goal is to ensure that every child receives an education and life skills, so by the time they leave the orphanages, they are well equipped to become productive members of their communities,” Dion explains.
Along with this work, AC Pro associates also dedicate time to other causes: The Troops to Trades organization and the Dreams Program. Troops to Trades helps veterans returning from deployment to obtain training, scholarships, and job placement within trade jobs. “AC Pro is thankful for the military men and women who have sacrificed so much of themselves to protect our freedoms. We believe that our veterans deserve the best possible start as civilians and a real opportunity to provide for their families.” The Dreams Programs is a small program that works through friends to locate families who have children with chronic or life threatening conditions, and gives the family a day away from the hospital to visit a local amusement park. The families get to visit the park for 10 hours with a tour guide. The guided tour allows them to go to the front of some of the lines, and get special viewing at parades and shows. “AC Pro considers it a privilege and an honor to help families going through such difficult times make unforgettable memories,” adds Dion.