Service is a mindset. It requires a targeted focus on the customer and on doing what is right. When Vince DiFilippo bought the service business from his brother’s HVAC company in 1989, Vince’s mission was to provide something that no one else in their marketplace was providing.
He wanted to provide service performed by educated and certified technicians with a focus on customer comfort and safety.
DiFilippo’s Service Company, Paoli, PA (a western suburb of Philadelphia) is in a heavily saturated HVAC market with very tough competition. He wanted the company to stand out in a way that mattered.
“Our focus, almost from the beginning, was to be highly trained and certified. We pride ourselves on that. Our logo even says we are ‘Certified Home Comfort Experts,’” Vince says.
“We believe people need more than just heating and air conditioning,” he continues. “They are investing in a relationship with a company that shares responsibility for their family’s comfort and safety. We’ve learned that our clients want reliability, honesty, and integrity.”
In the Beginning …
“When I bought the service division from my brother, I was the only employee. I shared an office person with my brother.”
His newlywed wife Laura (they married the year he bought the service business), held a good job at Vanguard Investments. That was a good thing because in the beginning, Vince didn’t take home a paycheck for the first seven or eight months.
“I kept re-investing everything back into the business,” he explains. “Laura was working all the time. I was working all the time. I sold my car because I wasn’t using it and we needed the money to live.”
Today the family-owned company employs 14 people and five service and two installation vehicles. Vince is the company CEO and handles sales and the technical side of the business. Laura is the company president and manages the operations and financial side. Together they built the company into a state-of-the-art high-performance contracting business.
Let There Be Light!
Since those very early days, education and training were focal points for both DiFilippos. They agree that training is the light that helps separate their company from the pack.
While Laura takes charge of the business training, Vince handles all technical training. He even built his own training laboratory right in their headquarters building. In fact, he says that it is all the training that helps them find and keep good field and office personnel.
“In this day and age, the HVAC Industry suffers from a shortage of technicians. This is particularly true in our area,” he says. “All the good techs are already employed someplace. Many of those not employed may look good on paper, but that doesn’t always translate in the field. We find it is just better for us to ‘grow’ our own technicians.”
Vince adds, “We take young people with basic knowledge, and we pay for them to go to technical training. We train them from the ground up. We teach them to do things the DiFilippo Way, not the industry way.”
“Our staff is very young. But they seem to take well to The DiFilippo Way,” Vince explains. “We hire based on attitude and train for aptitude. Our technical expertise is really a draw, especially when we conduct interviews.”
“During an interview, if they are excited about training and are anxious to learn more, then our lab is the hook. The lab is the lottery ticket for them.
“Plus, we pay for outside training. We bring in outside people — from manufacturers to consultants. I’ll do some training. But it isn’t enough. We want our technical team to be certified in certain disciplines as well.”
Vince focuses on safety training and certification – combustion and carbon monoxide (CO) safety is key.
Says Laura, “From the beginning we started with CO training and certification. No one else in our market was even talking about it.”
Technicians at DiFilippo’s carry certifications from both the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and the National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI). The company is also affiliated with a number of trade organizations including:
- Better Business Bureau
- The Service Roundtable.
Laura says it can be very expensive to join so many organizations and send team members to their training. But she also says, “I think the HVAC industry has done a really poor job preparing people to work in this industry.
“The kids we get out of trade school come to us unprepared. Over the years we’ve watched some bigger and very successful contracting firms like Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning in Rochester, NY create their own universities to train their people. They are walking testaments that this approach really works. So, we model our company on those concepts.”
Being the Best
Because of this approach, it is little wonder that DiFilippo’s Service is one of the most expensive HVAC contracting companies in town. After all, as Vince likes to say, “You get what you pay for.”
“When one of our technicians comes to a customer’s house, we are confident that 98% of the time he will find the problem and resolve it,” Vince says.
“This goes way beyond turning screwdrivers and replacing parts. It is about truly understanding the system, not just the individual appliances. This means they know the interrelationship between the ductwork, the equipment, and the home itself. It is all connected. And I think this is what sets us apart and why we have been successful.”
Laura DiFilippo says training means different things to different people. She says, “We operate in a high-end residential market. We don’t want our techs in front of customers until we are positive they are confident and know what they are doing.
“It can take up to six months before we have a technician ready to be in a truck, by himself, just to do maintenance,” she adds.
Communicating Well is the Secret Sauce
The DiFilippo Way includes helping everyone in the company to become better communicators. For field technicians, Vince says that means asking a lot of questions and listening to the answers. He explains that many of the questions are part of scripts learned at NCI training.
He says, “So many clients tell us we ask questions that no one ever asked them before. Our proposals include information that few of my competitors include in their proposals. The secret is to present information in terms customers understand and that is much harder to do without the right training and coaching.”
Vince adds that the measurement and diagnostic techniques – as taught by NCI –makes things easier.
“It creates ‘aha’ moments with our customers. This is especially true when proposals from other contractors call for complete box or duct changeouts and we can resolve customer issues without so much bruhaha.
“We are replacing undersized down drops, increasing some returns, adding some vents here and there. We are doing this based on measurements and testing. Everything is based on proper airflow.”
Laura points out increases in new housing developments where many mechanical systems aren’t being installed correctly.
“Vince finds a lot of ducts that go nowhere, with caps missing, and runs that have holes in them. Consumers buy these magnificent homes at outrageous prices and can’t figure out why they aren’t comfortable,” she says.
“The opportunity is that we can go in and figure out what the problem is without always needing to replace equipment. Customers LOVE that,” Vince says.
Of course, CO testing and combustion safety also differentiates DiFilippo’s Service, even though some of their competitors do offer it.
“The difference is that our technicians are trained in not only how to conduct the tests, but how to help the customers understand what is happening,” Laura continues.
“All our technicians carry CO testers and printers. They print results on two tapes – one that goes with the invoice and one that stays with the packet in the unit.
“They show customers the printout and explain what it means to their comfort and safety. And when another of our techs comes out for service, they start with that tape for a baseline before they do any more CO testing.”
“Again,” Vince says, “very few of our competitors do this.
Working in a Family Business
Many HVAC companies are family-owned and operated businesses. For the DiFilippos, being a husband and wife team poses many potential problems. Laura says it can be super hard.
“Being a husband and wife team can blur the lines between family, business, and your marriage,” she explains. “We make a great effort to separate work with family. We look out for each other. And we stay in our lanes – me on the business side, Vince on the sales and field side.”
Vince adds that being in business together is also a matter of great trust. He says, “Who can I trust more than my spouse? Plus, Laura brings this completely different part of the process together that I don’t like to deal with. She handles the numbers and human resources. She is the contact and the personality.
“I like getting my hands dirty. I don’t like to be in meetings. Laura likes to run meetings. We have this nice balance. And again, there is a cut off.
“When we go home, we are done talking about business. We make it a rule to not talk business for the rest of the night or over the weekend.”
“We have a great deal of respect for each other,” Laura says. “The fact that we stay in our own lanes and respect each other is key. We also aren’t afraid to ask for help – from our peer groups, from business coaches, and so on. This industry has provided an amazing life for us. But we work it together, as a team,” she says.
The DiFilippo Way
What is the DiFilippo Way? It is everything explained above. And it is also Vince and Laura’s take on High-Performance Contracting. It is about service and being the very best in terms of training and certification, so they can provide customers the very best in comfort solutions, energy efficiency, and safety in their homes. As Vince says, it is about doing things properly – each and every time.
Which is why DiFilippo’s Service in Paoli, PA is the September 2018 Contractor Spotlight.