Company was able to grow business during the pandemic
A.J. Perri, a residential HVAC firm in Monmouth County, New Jersey, marked 50 years in business this year. The doors opened in 1971 with three employees. Today, A.J. Perri employs more than 300 people and is part of the American Residential Services (ARS) network. Despite its current size, the firm strives to deliver personalized HVAC and plumbing services to its customers.
ARS purchased A.J. Perri about seven years ago. It proved a good investment. The last two years have been record years for the firm, with sales on track for $79 million in 2021. That’s up from $53 million in 2019.
“Given the circumstances, I couldn’t be happier about that,” said Christian Dunning, ARS’ division vice president for the New Jersey market and general manager of A.J. Perri.
Dunning said the firm accomplished this growth with a focus on providing premium-level customer service. A.J. Perri uses a net promoter score to measure its performance. This metric is designed to capture a customer’s likeliness of recommending a company to someone else. The score is in a range up to 100.
A.J. Perri currently rates a 71. The score rose 10 points during the pandemic. Dunning said the average for the construction segment, which includes HVAC and plumbing, is 43.
“What’s exciting is when you grow and your customer score goes up,” he said.
Commitment to Customers
One key to A.J. Perri’s success is having a dedicated crew of senior service technicians who answer no-heat and no-cool calls. Anton Cunningham, the firm’s demand manager, oversees this group. Cunningham said they can dispatch to a home in hours while other companies take days.
The pandemic turned into an opportunity, but it didn’t seem like that at first. Just like every other HVAC company, A.J. Perri’s managers worried about the demand from consumers at the outset. Dunning said there was plenty of anxiety on both sides about going into people’s homes.
Even once the demand for services increased, this meant an extra investment in keeping everyone safe and healthy. Dunning said the firm spent 10 times more than normal on PPE and sanitization. One way A.J. Perri continues to ease consumer concerns is transparency. Every technician arrives at a home with a sticker that verifies a temperature below 100 for that day.
Part of the firm’s success comes from a commitment to keeping up with customers’ needs and concerns. In addition to traditional HVAC and plumbing services, A.J. Perri offers IAQ products and services. This includes everything from whole-house humidifiers to duct cleaning. A.J. Perri also installs a range of Nest products. This includes thermostats, doorbells, and cameras.
Dunning said the firm is considering bringing back electrical services, a segment it discontinued a few years ago. That means finding qualified workers. Finding workers in any of the trades is difficult, Dunning said.
Missing The Personal Touch
There just aren’t enough young people entering the field, he said. One of A.J. Perri’s plumbers recently attended a continuing education course, Dunning said, and everyone in the class was over 40.
“That’s a staggering statistic,” he said. “There aren’t new people coming into the trade.”
Those who join A.J. Perri find they can have a career there, instead of just a job. The firm provides advancement opportunities for its employees. Kevin Watson started as a driver 11 years ago. Watson moved on to the warehouse, then purchasing, and now is the head of maintenance and IAQ. He has grown the duct cleaning business to seven trucks from three.
Team development has been another challenge for A.J. Perri in the past year, as it has for every company. Dunning said the firm would rent out a hotel ballroom to host an event for the entire staff before the pandemic. Now he said it’s impossible to find such a venue, even if he wanted to. A.J. Perri hosted plenty of virtual events in the past year, but Dunning said video conferencing just isn’t the same.
“The difficult thing is you lose the personal touch,” he said. “We’re anxious to get back to that.”
One return to normal this year is people attending live events. That’s good for A.J. Perri because the firm sponsors the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, a minor league baseball team. Dunning said the firm did get a good return on its digital and television marketing last year when consumers were stuck inside.
Health Care Heroes
A.J. Perri also spends some of its ad budget on radio, including co-sponsoring various charity events such as the St. Jude Radiothon. The firm gives a lot back to the community. This includes providing free installations to veterans and first responders. Last year, that program expanded to medical workers.
The first two recipients were both well-deserved. Carla Biondi, a nurse and two-time cancer survivor who contracted COVID on the job, received a water heater. Nicole Miller, a certified nursing assistant who missed her daughter’s first birthday because she quarantined in order to serve her patients and protect her family, received a free HVAC system.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, so many healthcare workers and emergency first responders have sacrificed their own needs and risked their lives to help and serve others,” Dunning said. “Giving something back, and showing our gratitude, is the right thing to do.”