This is a continuation of The Jefferson Post’s ongoing series “What Makes Ashe Great.” It’s a weekly look at the places, businesses, events and people that make Ashe County a great place to call home.
FLEETWOOD-The owners of Fleetwood-based Scott Brothers Heating & Air, Chad and Randall Scott, stress one point above all others to their team of technicians and sales pros – customer service matters.
“People have to trust us, to understand that we know what we’re doing when it comes to installing or fixing their system,” Randall Scott said. “So we spend a lot of time training to make sure we can do that. But the more important point? It’s our job to make sure this entire experience, from start to finish, is better than people expect.”
At least one West Jefferson homeowner, Diana Hamm, said the entire Scott Brothers team came through for her in a big way last month.
Hamm, a mother of two, said her two-year fight against cancer has left her financially and emotionally drained.
When her home heating system began acting up this winter, she said the very last thing she wanted to do was pick up the phone and call a service technician to come fix the issue, but she turned to Scott Brothers because she felt she could trust the company’s reputation.
Hamm said she was crushed to find out what she thought was a minor compressor issue meant she would need an entirely new system, which would run into the thousands of dollars to install, according to Chad Scott.
“But they gave me a call and Chad said he understood my situation and let me know that they couldn’t imagine facing what we’ve had to go through,” Hamm said. “And they told me they were going to take care of it.”
In this case, “take care of it” meant the Scott Brothers partnering with vendor Trane to install a new system – worth more than $7,000 – for free.
“Never did I think they were going to simply replace that like they did,” Hamm said. “Since I’ve been out of work, these two years have been so tough. For somebody to step in like those guys did, without asking, I cannot say thank you enough.”
25 years on
Chad and Randall each acknowledged that helping out in situations like Hamm’s isn’t always possible.
“But we grew up here and over the years we’ve seen other people help in ways they could,” Randall Scott said. “I guess that’s part of what’s great about Ashe County and the people who live here. In this case, we saw someone who truly needed help and we were in a position to lend a hand.”
The company the brothers founded will turn 25 this October, according to Chad Scott, and both are frank that lots of blood, sweat – and the ability to shrug off a few beginner mistakes – have helped Scott Brothers reach that milestone.
But both said they’re also glad they listened to dear old dad back in the day.
“Dad had been a long time electrical lineman and always told us – this was in the early 1990s – that the list of heating and air contractors wasn’t long,” Randall Scott said. “He felt like there was a big need here. Turns out he was right.”
Chad Scott had the soul of a man who genuinely likes to fix things that are broken, and Randall Scott focused on many of the day-to-day operational headaches that trip new businesses up. It’s an arrangement the pair said they still embrace today.
Over time the brothers have helped grow the two man shop into an operation that’s survived two economic downturns – they’re proud they’ve never laid a man off – and today employs 13-full time employees. The single-most important lesson the pair said they’ve learned over that span? Invest in your people continuously.
“We’ve seen sweeping changes in technology over 25 years,” Chad Scott said. “So you have to work with your people regularly to make sure they’ll be able to solve these challenges down the line. Yeah, it means taking regular time out to teach, but you’re glad you’ve done it in the long run.”
Get in on geothermal. Now.
The Scott Brothers said improvements in technology have played in a big part in the company’s success.
The energy efficient systems last longer than conventional heat pumps and can slash your utility bills by up to 70 percent per month in some cases, but they’re more expensive to install, Randall Scott said.
How do they work? Conventional HVAC systems must heat or cool the outside air. In Ashe County those average daily temperatures can range from 20 degrees Fahrenheit in January to roughly 80 degree Fahrenheit in July. The larger the difference between the outside temperature and your preferred setting, the harder the system has to work.
A geothermal system, in contrast, uses the natural insulating properties of the earth, which usually falls between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit year round, to its advantage. Such systems circulate water through a pipe at a near-constant 55 degrees, and homeowners’ systems don’t have to work as hard to heat or cool a home.
The drawback is that geothermal systems are expensive, perhaps as much as $30,000-$35,000 for an average Scott Brothers install.
In recent years, the state and federal government have subsidized those highly efficient systems as a way to get homeowners to take the leap. But last year, North Carolina did away with its incentive package which effectively raises the price to install such a system.
The pair said they expect the number of geothermal systems they’ll install in 2016 to fall by maybe half, but they said a 30 percent federal tax credit is still on the table.
“Yes, the number of systems we installed was up over the past six years because of the state and federal credits together, but we’ve installed a lot of those systems since we started out,” Randall Scott said. “More than 300 since 1992, and it’s still going to make a lot of sense for some people.”
The brothers say they expect increasing demand for new ductless “mini-split” heat pump systems, however, like those produced by Mitsubishi to make up an increasing proportion of their sales going forward.
“I think the industry realizes that efficiency is what we have to drive for,” Chad Scott said. “It’s what people want, and it’s what we’re going to have to deliver.”