Case Studies

Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Inc.

Employee-owned company provides high-quality climate control in Florida

Operating across most of Florida, the dedicated staff at Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Inc. provide a wide variety of heating and air conditioning services while supporting the top name brands in the industry. Headquartered in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, Del-Air possesses the ability to install, service and maintain systems for its customers year-round. With a fleet of more than 430 trucks and eight locations the company offers 24/7 service to light commercial and residential properties. Del-Air has also developed an impressive appliance business.

Founded in 1983 by Bob Dello Russo, Del-Air has grown into the largest residential and light commercial heating and air conditioning company of its type in the country. When the recession hit, Dello Russo’s strategy was to survive the downturn by growing the company and opening more locations. “When the market crashed we had a lot of people and vehicles,” recalls Dello Russo. “We decided to spread it out and opened locations in Tampa, Jacksonville, Melbourne, Fort Myers and Bradenton.”

Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Inc.

Recruiting lifelong customers

Originally from Boston, Dello Russo moved to Florida in 1978 and began working for a heating and air conditioning company. After five years, Dello Russo felt he could provide the best quality and service with his own company and launched Del-Air.

Del-Air strikes a balance between residential maintenance and the residential new-construction market with light commercial work as well. With each new project, the service department of Del-Air continues to grow. “Each year we’ll install 10,000 to 20,000 new systems, part of this is new construction and part of it is replacement,” Dello Russo explains.

In measuring the success of Del-Air on a job-to-job basis, Dello Russo and his team look to gain a customer for life. “We predict our service and retail business to grow every year because we keep adding so many more new customers. I think we’re going to be able to grow our Tampa market exponentially over the next few years,” he says.

Building a dream team

With the success of his company and the commitment and dedication of his employees, Dello Russo has decided to recognize his associates with an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). As of Jan. 1, 2016, Del-Air is a 100 percent employee-owned company, which also benefits each customer as every Del-Air employee they deal with is an owner. “We began the ESOP program back in 2005 with 47 percent employee ownership,” says Dello Russo. “When the market crashed we had to do some financing to keep it going. I’m happy to say that it is now 100 percent employee owned.”

As the largest residential and light commercial heating and air conditioning service provider, Del-Air has the opportunity to work for many high-profile clients and some of the most well-known national and local builders. Working with many of the single-family new construction projects in its service area, Del-Air has been involved in jobs for modest houses up to mansions. The company’s service and installations include homes owned by professional athletes such golf, basketball, football and baseball players. “We are also involved in most of the housing developments by many national and local builders,” says Dello Russo. Many of these builders also choose to buy their appliances from Del-Air.

While many companies in the construction business these days are hurting for skilled laborers, Dello Russo has combated that aspect by providing in-house training once the right person is found for the job. With a staff of more than 630, many of Dello Russo’s employees join the company at a young age and establish their careers with Del-Air.

“There are not a lot of trade schools in this area,” notes Dello Russo. “We bring the people in and train them and pay for any classes they need or want to take that will enhance their abilities. We’ve done a good job raising our own over the years.” Del-Air is always looking for good people and is even considering an exchange program for workers in northern climates.

Management plays a major role

The strong management team at Del-Air has played a crucial role in the company’s success. Richard Fortin, one of the best operations and service managers in the country, has been with Del-Air 32 years. He has played a large role in the success of the business. More recently three new managers were added to the Del-Air team. These include Tom Starnes, president and CEO, Bob Machaby, chief operating officer and Richard Clarke, chief sales and marketing officer. All three gentlemen bring years of business experience to Del-Air.

Starnes began his career in sales and brand management. After earning his MBA from Harvard, he spent eight years in real estate development, asset management and brokerage. Starnes joined Hughes Supply in 2000 as senior vice president of sales and marketing and was later promoted to president of the MRO division. After Hughes was acquired by The Home Depot in 2006, Starnes ran a high-tech startup and worked as general manager of residential brands for Interline Brands.

Machaby spent 40 years at Hughes Supply after his service in the U.S. Navy. Working in every area of sales and operations with extensive experience managing plumbing, HVAC and building materials distribution services, Machaby assisted in the transition when Hughes was acquired by The Home Depot and assisted in the integration of the wholesale and retail business and management of the private-label branding initiative in the wholesale sector of the business.

Clarke holds a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College and an MBA from Cornell University. In positions he held before joining Del-Air, Clarke had profit and loss responsibility for more than $1 billion of installed service sales at The Home Depot, helping to build the marketing and sales infrastructure for a $3 billion division. He was also vice president of sales and marketing at two Masco Companies, including Masco Contractor Services, the No. 1 installer and distributor of insulation products for the construction industry.

Bob Dello Russo remains Chairman of the Board and is still involved in the company. “Over 33 years I’ve made a lot of friends in the construction business across the state. As Chairman I consult with the executive team to help set our strategy and plans for the future, but I also call on some of our larger customers. I enjoy seeing old friends and helping our sales force,” Starnes commented. “Having Bob involved in sales and available any time to share what he has learned over his career is a big advantage to Del-Air. We hope he stays around for a long time.”

The fact that Del-Air has grown into the biggest residential and light commercial heating and air conditioning company in the country — due to the high quality work and customer service it offers — provides Dello Russo with a tremendous sense of pride. “It has been and always will be about doing the best work and taking care of our customers,” he says. “We have surpassed companies that were here before us because we take care of business and get the job done. The new blood in our company will help ensure the continued growth of Del-Air.” Starnes added, “Those of us who are new to the company are fortunate to build on such a strong foundation. With the ‘get it done’ culture we have and the close relationship with many key vendors such as Trane, Carrier, Lennox, Goodman, Johnstone Supply and Interline Brands, we feel very good about what is ahead.”

The future is strong for Del-Air as the company will look to acquire a few large residential HVAC companies outside of Central Florida. In preparation for growth, Del-Air has also upgraded its software for finance, warehousing and automated data collection. New hardware and software for field technicians will also be implemented with the combination of smart phones and tablets. The company recently gave new computers, software and dual monitors to each of its 20 estimators.

As the company integrates new systems and technologies, Del-Air Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Inc. will continue to build upon the principles that Dello Russo has used to guide the business: “do high quality work and provide 100 percent customer satisfaction.”

Published on: September 13, 2016


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