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Service decision made the difference for McInvale

HVAC company grows from humble beginnings

It seems a most unlikely business story.

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) company sets up shop in an accounting firm with a total of one employee, and today employs more than two-dozen workers housed in a large, purpose-built facility serving commercial and residential clients scattered across Central Mississippi.

(l. to r.) Mike Turner, Tony McInvale and Joe Jones have changed directions and are driving residential HVAC work to continue to grow annual revenue and raise profits.

But then, McInvale Heating Air Plumbing & Gas Inc. always intended to be different, and it has shown resilience when faced with adversity.

The story begins about a decade ago when Tony McInvale, an experienced HVAC professional, met Sonny Davenport, who at that time was a principal in a successful accounting firm that was heavy in the construction industry. McInvale was working for a large Jackson HVAC company, but wanted to go his own way. Intrigued, Davenport bought in, and McInvale began operating out of an office at Davenport’s accounting firm.

The plan was to run a small, cash-only organization — basically McInvale and a truck. But success wrecked that plan.

McInvale began to quickly add clients, and was soon joined by Mike Turner. The two had worked together at the aforementioned Jackson HVAC outfit, and they formed a nice team — McInvale was a service specialist while Turner’s expertise was in installation.

Early on, the two decided the company would be more service-oriented than construction-focused. This would allow McInvale to avoid hard-bid construction jobs.

It proved wildly successful. McInvale Heating & Air outgrew the accounting firm, relocated and promptly outgrew that facility, as well. Eventually the company landed in its current locale on School Street in Ridgeland in the modern, two-story facility that Davenport had commissioned. (Ironically, Davenport today is a principal in the financial planning firm Davenport & Watts, LLC, which has an office in the McInvale headquarters.)

However, there were growing pains. The firm had great technicians and a wealth of clients. But the back office staff found it difficult to keep pace with the firm’s success, leading to invoicing woes and other issues.

Looking for help, Davenport called in an old friend with a background in steering fledgling businesses.

Joe Jones is an accountant by trade, and through his “previous life” met Davenport. By that time, Jones had already helped several new businesses find their footing. Jones is probably best known as the former owner and publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal.

Jones had just sold the MBJ and was looking to do a little “light consulting work” when Davenport called in late 2007. Jones agreed to come in, merely as a consultant.

Among the issues Jones identified was a need for strong leadership. He recommended a CEO. Davenport promptly congratulated Jones on his new position.

“I wasn’t applying for the job. In fact, I didn’t want a job at all,” Jones said. “My wife tried to talk me out of it. Heck, I tried to talk me out of it. But I love business, and the company has some great folks. I was the fly caught in the spider’s web.”

Jones began implementing changes. One key he points to was the promotion of Nikki Richardson from dispatcher to general manager. Richardson came to McInvale with 11 years of HVAC experience under her belt. Jones said Richardson can “talk the talk,” and she has provided a steadying presence.

The company also looked to cut turnover through a number of measures, including the creation of an “overtime bank.” This allows McInvale workers to “store” there overtime hours, giving them a cushion during the slow winter months. The hours are banked at time-and-a-half, but the workers “withdraw” them at straight time.

Still, all of these changes increased costs. The company had to pick up sales.

This led the company is a new direction — residential. Jones found research that showed every 1,000 residential clients equal $1 million in revenue when counting installations and maintenance contracts. While McInvale still has large and light commercial customers (the Electric and Heritage buildings in downtown Jackson and the Levi plant in Gluckstadt are good examples), the company now is driving residential business.

It has proven a winning strategy. McInvale has nearly tripled its residential customers in three years. Over that time, revenue has grown at an annual rate of 20 percent.

The residential growth was boosted by a 2009 acquisition. In February of that year, McInvale bought the residential business of Bolton-based Metro Mechanical Inc. That purchase gave McInvale clients from Jackson to Vicksburg, a market that Jones is eyeing for more growth.

Today, McInvale has 25 workers on the payroll. The firm has been upgrading its fleet, and currently has 15 trucks and vans servicing customers from Madison, Rankin and Hinds counties west to the Mississippi River.

“It hasn’t always evolved without conflict, but we are working together to make things better,” Jones said.

Photos by Wally Northway

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