By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
To Brian Kremmel, delivering the perfect uniform service call is akin to executing the perfect play in baseball.
By “preparing, practicing and rehearsing,” a technician can turn what might be a cumbersome task into a reflex, Kremmel said. “It’s like the Cardinals handling a bunt: They know exactly what to do.”
Kremmel is president of the newly combined ALRO Heating & Cooling and Academy Air Heating & Air Conditioning, both based in northwest St. Louis County. The two firms are operating as ALRO’s Academy Air for now, but they will eventually take on Academy’s name. They’ve already moved into Academy’s building. The merger comes on the heels of another ALRO acquisition last year, Craig Heating & Cooling. All are BBB Accredited Businesses.
Kremmel and a local venture capital group, Visionary Capital, bought ALRO in 2014 from the son of founder Alfred Rosenstrauch, who coined the company name from the first two letters of his first and last names. Rosenstrauch was a refugee from Nazi Germany who came to the United States and joined the Army, helping to defeat the Nazis in World War II. ALRO’s logo includes an Army green tank: The firm used to advertise for customers to “join the ALRO Army” or “Call the old Sarge,” Kremmel said.
When Kremmel bought ALRO, technicians were still using citizen’s band radios to communicate, and they didn’t wear uniform pants or logo T-shirts. Kremmel said he has worked to modernize the company, adopting computer technology and emphasizing customer service.
The merger presents its own set of challenges: two sets of books, two systems for pricing and integration of two similar but different company cultures. Kremmel said Academy, founded in 1994 by Terry Silverstein, was built on the principles of respect and trust, which is what Kremmel wants, too.
Both companies are able to serve their customers now and probably would be able to do so in the next two or three years, Kremmel said. But the increasing sophistication of the heating and cooling business as well as the cost of new technology led to a decision that they could do it better together.
Terry Silverstein’s wife, Elise, remains on board as bookkeeper, and their son, Zach, who had bought Academy from his father, remains with the company in an ownership role. The combined company has 44 employees, more than twice the size of ALRO alone.
The company’s vision is to develop a “university” within the company to provide 30 to 100 hours of continuing education to each employee every year. “We don’t want employees to stop learning after they come to work here,” Kremmel said. “We want them to continue to build their skills.”
Kremmel said fewer than 10 percent of the 3,000 to 4,000 journeymen in the HVAC business in St. Louis get any continuing education in a typical year, partly because it’s offered at inconvenient times. He wants 100 percent of his employees to get that training.
Before buying ALRO, Kremmel worked for Service Experts, a division of Lennox that provides customer service training to Lennox dealers nationwide. He was doing well in that business when they asked him to move out of St. Louis. He moved, but his family wanted to come back. That’s when he decided to buy his own business.
Earlier this year, Kremmel adopted an open-book approach with his employees. Vice President Briana Britt led a meeting where the company presented its budget and goals for the year. The firm also conducted a financial seminar to show employees what a successful business is and what that means in terms of insurance, employees, owners and customers.
“We talk very openly with employees about their work and how it plays out financially for them and the company,” Britt said.
With customers, company policy is that, “No matter what the cost, we do what’s right.” The firm recently paid another contractor to redo a project at a church that ALRO’s previous owner had installed. The cost: $14,000. The payoff: a happy customer. In another case, the firm gave a customer dissatisfied with a heating system $1,500 to make changes beyond the scope of the original contract.
ALRO’s charitable projects include donating to a bowling event and a golf tournament, both of which benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a BBB Accredited Charity and that a charity dear to Kremmel’s business partner, Corey Spielberg. Beyond that, the company often makes donations to charities or activities based on employee requests. Academy Air has donated several hundred hours of labor and thousands of dollars in materials and equipment to Habitat for Humanity.
“If something feels good and one of our employees is passionate about it, let’s get involved,” Kremmel said.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.