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Finding the fix

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A slogan is prominently displayed on Anthony's Cooling-Heating-Electrical trucks — “You don't need new until we say you do” — and it's a philosophy the company lives by.

“We fix things that other people like to condemn, and we're getting a lot of notoriety for that,” says company President Michael Zeppi. “People will call us when another company says that they need a new system. And typically we get an extra two to three years out of every system that we go to behind someone else.”

Helping customers save money and buy time to formulate a longer-term plan has led to some significant growth for the company, which was founded in 1988 and is based in Manatee County. It's on track to reach $3 million in sales this year and has averaged 10% to 15% growth each year for the past five years.

“It's been one of those things where if you go to work every day and put your nose to the grindstone and don't give up, eventually good things start to happen,” says Zeppi.

He took over the firm in 1998 after his dad and company founder, Anthony, passed away. “His absence is really felt,” says Zeppi. “You find out who you are when you don't have anybody to rely on. And you either sink or you swim.”

He's done the latter, with help from his 28-employee team. “I'm so proud of my staff,” he says. “One of the things that I believe in is I take good people and teach them air conditioning or accounting or sales. I find that it's easier to take a good person and teach them skills than it is to take somebody who has skills and teach them how to be a good person. And there's always room for another good employee here.”

Many employees work out of the company's Palmetto site, while sales and marketing staff are based at an office on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton that's helped get the firm's name in front of potential customers. “It's great exposure and beats the hell out of the phone book for advertising,” says Zeppi.

Zeppi has also worked to change the perception of service technicians, placing an emphasis on professionalism in both their work and appearance. Think clean-shaven techs who voluntarily don shoe covers before entering a client's home.

“I remind my guys that they're the doctors of air conditioning, and if they carry themselves that way, people will respond,” says Zeppi. “Our philosophy is to take care of customers the way you'd take care of your mother. If you do that, you'll do the right thing by them.”

The company's technicians are paid hourly, not on commission, which takes away the incentive to push new equipment rather than repair existing systems. “As long as you have commissioned technicians, you're going to have companies that are focused on sales rather than doing the right thing for the client,” he says.

When he needs new staff members, Zeppi often finds he's drawing from a limited labor pool, especially now that building has picked up in the area. He's involved with technical schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties to raise awareness of trade jobs. He says he would like to open his own air-conditioning school down the road. “It would be where we could teach not just the technical aspects of our job but also the soft skills that so many young people are lacking,” he says.

He's also doing what he can to keep the good staff he already has by creating management career tracks for employees to work their way up with the firm. That includes options like the opening of new territories.

“I don't want to lose my good people to other companies,” he says. “So I see them as being partners with me in other territories where I would be involved but giving them the opportunity to run with their own leadership style.”


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