Aaron Poling has been in the garage door business since he was 10. He shares insight on what it takes to run a garage door business and what separates his company from the competition.
Many things must be in place for a company to succeed.
There must be a demand for your product or service. Customers must be satisfied with the value and quality of your offering. A well-trained team must be groomed to handle business growth efficiently. And the owner must have integrity, vision, a strong work ethic and the wisdom to adapt to changing circumstances.
Such is the case for Aaron Poling, owner of A.S.A.P. Garage Door Repair, 11351 Allison Ct., Huntley, who began learning his craft at age 10 from his father, Harold Poling. Harold had learned the craft from his father, Bob Poling.
“I was pretty much a little kid helping my dad put garage doors in,” recalls Poling. “I rode in the truck with him and helped put doors in and helped him sweep the floor.”
Now 47, Poling oversees a 23-employee operation that’s expanding both locally and into a second state. He works with homeowners and contractors, but also sells products wholesale to roughly 60 other commercial companies.
A.S.A.P. services residential and commercial garage doors, electric openers and industrial dock equipment, among other things, in a radius that encompasses downtown Chicago, its suburbs, Rockford and southern Wisconsin.
The business has moved to larger properties five times, and currently has three commercial properties, including a 12,500-square-foot office and warehouse space in Huntley.
“We also own a building next door with 6,000 square feet,” Poling says. “I bought the property next to us and we are designing an 18,000-square-foot building to go up over there.”
Poling’s son Aaron will be the fourth generation of Polings to lead a garage door business when A.S.A.P. expands into Eagle River, Wis.
“My son works here and he wants to manage his own location 330 miles away,” Poling explains. “He has worked here for about 10 years.”
Poling’s grandfather, Bob, worked for a garage company in Chicago in the 1960s. Bob’s son, Harold, started his own garage door company in the 1970s.
In 1993, after many years spent working for his father, Aaron Poling decided to venture out on his own.
“I went for broke,” he recalls. “I sold my wife’s car, used the money to buy a truck and started working. At that time I had a partner, Jeff Holtz, and we started this business from scratch.”
While “As Soon As Possible” comes to mind, A.S.A.P. means something else to the Polings. It stands for Aaron, (wife) Shelly and (son) Aaron Poling. Shelly, Poling’s wife of 27 years, came up with the name.
“In the 1990s, every business wanted to be at the front of the phone book. The name is original, easy to remember and something she came up with,” says Poling.
While Poling learned his craft early on, from his father, he also learned a great deal about running a business through trial and error.
“I learned as I was growing up how to fix things,” he says. “As far as managing and running the business, I learned a lot on the fly.”
Poling knew that, to be successful, a business must continue growing. The 2008 recession made this difficult, but Poling wasn’t about to give up. As other companies went out of business, he adapted to a new reality and changed his strategy.
“A lot of companies didn’t change their ways of doing business when the economy got rougher,” Poling says. “You have to think outside the box a little bit. Other companies started going out of business and going bankrupt and we kept filling in that void and growing.”
This is also when Poling decided to enter the wholesale side of the business. He expanded A.S.A.P.’s commercial service offerings and began working with national homebuilder William Ryan Homes. This created an additional revenue stream that kept the business going.
“Factories still had to keep everything working when the economy was bad, so we went after more of the larger jobs,” Poling says. “Instead of going after the small custom homebuilders, who were struggling at the time, we concentrated on repairs for homeowners, repairs for businesses and service work.”
As the business grew, Poling wisely stepped back and handed off responsibilities to other employees.
“If you don’t delegate responsibilities and let someone else step up, you don’t go anywhere from there,” Poling says. “Right now, I have a general manager (Jacob Swanson), a sales manager (Dewayne Berry), a warehouse manager (Tim Holleran), and a marketing manager (Deidra Busch). I’ve delegated a lot of responsibilities to other people.”
He believes many small business owners fail because they refuse to delegate.
“They want to buy everything, they want to pay every bill, they want to manage every employee and quote every job. I know a lot of people like that,” he says. “With that mentality, you can only grow a business to three employees at most.”
Poling promotes his employees from within. In 2005, he had two employees. Today, one is the general manager and the other is the sales manager.
To make sure each job is done correctly, new employees of A.S.A.P. must undergo an extensive training process.
“It takes about one to two years to get all the basics down,” Poling says.
Poling wants all of his employees to understand all aspects of the company and to realize what their long-term positions will be like.
The company deals with the unexpected and must be able to address any situation.
“Let’s say a semi truck just drove through a 24-foot-wide door that weighs 3,000 pounds,” Poling says. “We know how to put that back together. We do more than just fix the garage door on your house.”
A.S.A.P. currently operates from Huntley and is likely to stay put. It’s the fifth location the business has had in its history.
“We found a home in Huntley and we like it here,” Poling says.
Poling is happy about the road he has chosen, for good reason. His company is doing well.
“I’ve been fortunate over the years and things have worked out pretty well,” he says. “We’re an honest company that does good work and we charge fair prices.”