Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning

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Dave Musial grew his business from a one-truck, part-time job to a force with 350 trucks helping an estimated 100,000 customers. Discover how quality work and personal service drive this dynamic businessman’s growing company.

Since 1994, owner Dave Musial has taken his company from a staff of one to a staff of 600 during peak seasons. (Chris Linden photo)

The term “slow day” isn’t in Dave Musial’s vocabulary.

Since he bought his dad’s heating and air conditioning repair service in 1994, the phones haven’t stopped ringing, and his company hasn’t stopped growing.

Musial’s dad, Ken, started Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning, 5701 W. 73rd St., Chicago, in 1971, as a way to fill his time off as a firefighter. Then, when preparing for retirement, he sold his truck and tools to Dave, who decided to boost business by placing some ads. The response was overwhelming.

“We had one of those old answering machines, with the push button and the tape on it with the recording, and it was 60 minutes long,” says Musial. “My mom would go to the grocery store, and by the time she got back, it was full. So I’m like, ‘Wow, this is getting crazy. I need to find some help.’”

He hired a few friends, but business kept exploding. His parents soon suggested Musial move the business out of their home near Midway International Airport. He did so, but quickly outgrew the new location. Three service trucks became nine, then 30, then 80, then 200. His office locations also kept growing.

By 2004, he had moved into his fifth location, a 100,000-square-foot warehouse near a CSX intermodal hub. Today, Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning owns more than 350 trucks and manages between 500 and 600 employees, depending on the season. It serves nearly 100,000 customers per year from six Chicagoland locations. Technicians keep the trucks at their homes, which means speedy deployment to every corner of Chicago and its suburbs, including northwest Indiana. Musial says that about 95 percent of his customers are homeowners in need of repairs and installations.

Last year, business was up 30 percent. So far this year, it’s up 6 percent. In fact, Musial says he has never had a down year. So how does he do it?

“Our customer service and our follow-up turns into satisfied customers, which then turns into referrals,” he says. “That’s it.”

A closer look reveals that there’s more to this picture. Consider, for example, that Musial insists upon hiring only the most qualified staff members. Every technician participates in a rugged 20-week paid training period that includes spending time in a Four-Seasons classroom and being supervised during on-the-job work. Even if technicians are experienced in the industry, Musial insists they follow his training program.

“It’s mind blowing, because some have been in the industry for 10 years and they tell us, ‘What do you mean I have to put on booties? What do you mean I have to put down a tarp? What do you mean I have to sweep up when I’m done? What do you mean you’re going to call and ask them how I did?’ That’s what we’re about. Some people will say, ‘No thanks, I don’t want to work here.’ That’s fine with me, because that’s not the type of employee we want.”

All technicians at Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning undergo a 20-week training period and practice on pieces of in-house equipment like this one.

Inside Musial’s headquarters is a fenced-off classroom, where technicians work hands-on with the same equipment they’ll see in customers’ homes. There’s a simulated utility room, a practice attic and a basement crawlspace. The classroom is filled with equipment new and old, and technicians must uninstall, reinstall and repeat for each scenario.

Before they even reach the classroom, prospective employees must pass Musial’s stringent hiring requirements. Drug testing, background checks and physical fitness evaluations are standard. Not everyone passes, and it’s worth the cost, says Musial.

“If they can’t pass, then they’re not going to be the type of people I’d want in my home, and they wouldn’t be the type of people who can do what we expect,” he says. “We require a job to be done properly.”

Musial prides himself on giving customers a good experience, and he’s not afraid to ask how his staff is doing. A follow-up team surveys every customer. For installations, an inspection team visits the home to assess the good, the bad and the ugly. Mistakes are fixed promptly, and technicians who make errors are reassigned to the classroom. There’s even a bulletin board in the office to show inspection photos of good work and bad work. Nearby is a list of the top 20 technicians, rated according to inspection reviews and customer surveys. The highest one garnered a 99 percent.

“If I let someone in my house and I’m trusting them with my money and my comfort, I’m expecting them to do the job right,” says Musial. “I don’t want to take money from anybody and not do the job correctly. When you know as an installer or a technician that someone’s watching you, you’re more likely to toe the line and do the job correctly.”

His standards are tough, but he’s tough on himself, too. Musial never went to college, but has developed his business acumen out of practical experience. Mistakes, he says, are the most expensive, yet most worthwhile, educator.

“I’ve learned to listen,” says Musial. “I’ve learned to realize that I’m not always right. I don’t always have the best ideas. I’ve learned to be humble, to admit when I’m wrong and to be willing to try new things and implement them. I learned it all through trial and error.”

Musial never stops learning. He’s formed his company into a nearly self-sustaining system. Everything from vehicle repairs, oil changes and car washes, to training and recycling is done in-house. Even his mechanical parts supplier is based inside the warehouse, in a fenced-off 20,000-square-foot section.

“If I need something, it’s right here,” says Musial. “So we cut out the travel cost, the cost of tracking it down, everything on top of that. I get to charge my supplier rent and the parts are right here.”

He’s even thinking green. Musial shows off boxes containing nearly 5,000 pounds of scrap metal from old units, waiting to be recycled. Used motor oil is burned to heat up the warehouse, and, says Musial, it pollutes no more than an old furnace. Even old air ducts are recycled, cut up into parts for new ducts.

The down-to-earth manager is so focused on his customers that he’s looking for new ways to maintain the relationship. In 2004, he launched Four Seasons Home Service, which specializes in air duct cleaning and minor home repairs. The service was so popular, says Musial, that it doubled in its first year, and it’s quadrupled in the time since. He now employs 13 full-time handymen, 30 air duct cleaners and a licensed plumber. He plans to launch another home improvement business this fall.

Relationships are a big deal to this dynamic business owner, and the customers have taken notice. Four Seasons maintains the highest rating from the Better Business Bureau, and it’s received a top award from Angie’s List, an online consumer ratings service. He also points to a wall of nearly 50 different service awards from a variety of manufacturers, recognizing his company as a top seller and installer.

“What I tell each and every one of our employees is that we want to give people the type of service that you expect,” says Musial. “Talk to them like you’re talking to your grandmother. Respect them like you respect your mother. Don’t forget who pays you. I don’t pay you. The customer pays you. Without the customer, there is no Four Seasons.” ❚

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