Originally published on 1/23/2017 by Nicole Krawcke for theNEWS.
Like many women in the HVACR industry, Angie Snow, owner and vice president of Orem, Utah-based Western Heating & Air Conditioning, never aspired for a career in the trades. However, she now owns and operates her own company along with her husband, Ryan Snow.
“HVACR was never my first intention; it was never something I planned on doing when I was younger,” Angie Snow said. “My husband has been doing it for more than 20 years, and he worked his way up through the industry. My education was in elementary education, and I was a school teacher for several years. We had an opportunity to buy a business about nine years ago, and it was something my husband really wanted to do. It was always something he kind of worked toward, and he wanted me to come run the books, since I had a master’s degree in math education. So I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I kind of went into it to help him and support him with his dream of owning his own HVAC business, but once I got into it and started working on it with him, I realized I really enjoyed the business side of it.”
From there, the Snows joined Service Roundtable and Service Nation Alliance and took classes and boot camps to learn best practices for owning and operating a service business.
“HVAC is an interesting industry, and it has become a passion of mine now where I had never envisioned it being a path I would take,” Angie Snow said. “Now, I love it, and I enjoy doing this with my husband. We work really well together as a team, and we worked really hard to get to where we are right now. It’s been really fun.”
Angie Snow was most recently named Woman of the Year at the Inaugural Service World Expo in Las Vegas in October.
“That was really cool; she definitely earned it,” said Ryan Snow. “Being a school teacher, she came into our industry without knowing what to expect. Now, she’s very active in the industry and loves going to trade shows and business meetings. She’s serious about the industry and a great representative for it. She’s been able to recruit other women to come into our organization, which is generally hard to do on the technical side. She definitely deserves it. She’s got some big plans and is always trying to give back to the industry and help others have some success as well.”
FOLLOWING A DREAM
Ryan Snow found the industry by following in his brother’s foot tracks.
“We grew up in a small, rural area in Utah, where the big economic force is coal mining. My brother was caught in a cave-in inside a coal mine and was really fortunate to make it out. Afterwards, he decided he didn’t want to go back, so he got into heating and air conditioning. A couple of years later, he got me into it, as well. The original plan was to go into business together and move back home. Only half of that happened. We didn’t end up going into business together. Instead, all these years later, Angie and I elected to start our own business.”
Ryan Snow said he was torn over the decision of whether or not he should own his own company. “My first job was through a big national HVAC company, and I really enjoyed my time with them. I got a taste of moving up the ranks of a big company, as I became a general manager for them. I gained experience running my own branch out in Fresno, California, and had 30 employees. But, there was a lot of uncertainty. If my boss changed, I was unsure what would happen to my employment. I felt like there was a little more security in starting my own business and seeing what I can bring to the table.”
The Snows moved back to Utah and ended up purchasing Western Heating & Air Conditioning in 2007.
“The previous owner and I had known each other before I moved to California,” Ryan Snow said. “He had turned 60 and was at the point where he needed to start hiring more people to grow the company, and he didn’t want to do that, as he was ready to retire. So, we looked at the business and decided to move back and buy the business from him.
“I love the challenge of it,” he continued. “It’s an evolving industry that’s always fascinated me. I really enjoy working with customers, which I don’t do quite as much now. Now, I look at my employees as my customers and do whatever I can to make them happy and successful — that is what drives me. Our greatest success is our employees’ success.”
The Snows decided to keep the company name, but needed to put a lot of work into revamping it.
“There wasn’t a whole lot the previous owner put into the branding other than the logo,” Angie Snow said. “We worked really hard to build a Western brand with images, values, and different slogans to show who we are. It’s been really neat to watch our brand grow. More and more people recognize us, and I think that has been a big contributing factor to the growth we’ve had over the last few years.”
When the Snows took over the company, there were four employees on payroll. Today, that number has grown to 20, with 15 vehicles in the company’s fleet. Additionally, the company’s 2015 revenue has risen from $2.7 million to about $3.6 million in 2016.
“We’re looking at about a 30 percent growth rate this year,” said Angie Snow. “It’s been awesome. Some of it comes from branding, but a lot of it comes from our culture. We’ve set up a very positive culture and work environment here. We try to take really good care of our employees, so they can take care of our customers. We all just pull our weight and work hard. And, of course — work hard and play hard.”
Western does about 80 percent of its work in the residential market and 20 percent in the commercial market. The company operates in Utah County, south of Salt Lake City, and just started serving Salt Lake County, as well. the goal is to keep expanding and start covering more of Utah, Angie Snow commented.
Angie Snow is a member of Women in HVACR, while Ryan Snow is the president of the Rocky Mountain Gas Association (RMGA). The company is also active in the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations.
“Involvement in these organizations is huge,” Angie Snow said. “Community has been one of the driving factors along with our culture that has helped us grow. We’ve been partnering with different businesses and charities to really try to give back to the community. Meeting these people through different connections and networking has really been a lot of fun. We find new opportunities and doors have just been opened for us. It’s been a big blessing.
“My favorite thing about being in the industry is all the people I’ve met,” she continued. “The other successful contractors and businesspeople who have helped us — the relationships I have with them are priceless. I learn a lot from them, and I’m looking forward to meeting with them and sharing ideas for years to come.”
The Snows have worked extremely hard to build a strong culture.
Sharee Landers, system advisor for Western, said the company is definitely the most personable place she’s ever worked.
“When I came here five years ago, they were pretty small,” she said. “I built a really good relationship with Ryan and Angie, because we didn’t have many techs. They’ve always been there for me. And watching them interact with employees is amazing. They keep an open-door communication policy, strive to connect with each of us, and help us grow. They keep us interested in working. Everything they put into the company is amazing.”
Landers, previously a school bus driver, became interested in the industry after taking an online refrigeration course and attending a hands-on training session.
“One of the teachers there had been in the industry for a long time and told me there was big a demand for women,” Landers said. “Of course, I was the only woman in there. He just really got me excited because he was like, ‘You just don’t know how many things you can do in this trade.’
And it would be so great to have more women in HVAC. I came back and thought I was just going to go for it. I applied to a few places, and Western was the first place that offered me an interview. I was offered a job and took it right away.
“My favorite thing is helping people —the customer service side of it,” she continued. “I enjoy fixing people’s problems, especially hidden problems like air quality and heating and air that people are not really aware of all the time. I like helping them feel more comfortable and healthy in their homes.”
Landers said she absolutely loves working for Western and the Snows. “They are very open and welcoming. If anybody has opinions, they want to hear them, and they actually will apply them. They’re very good when it comes to listening to their employees, and they take feedback really well. It’s a very healthy environment — there’s not a lot of negative going around like you see in other companies. If there’s an issue, we always keep lines of communication open and try to settle it between all of us. And, personality wise, we all just mesh. We did a personality test last week and everybody is kind of on the same level. We make sure everybody is happy. I think that’s helped a lot, because we have so many people who care deeply about the company. We’re very family-oriented here.”
Like most contractors, Western is having a difficult time recruiting experienced technicians.
“Finding the right type of people who fit into our culture is challenging,” Ryan Snow said. “At our company, we’re very particular about who we bring on. We’re recruiting all the time. RMGA is a good group that has trade schools represented on it, and we’ve developed good relationships with them. They’ll send us referrals for guys just getting started in the industry. Additionally, simply advertising our culture has been a powerful recruiting tool.”
Angie Snow affirms that no matter what challenges arise, it’s important to remain flexible. This flexibility helped Western survive the Great Recession, which hit right after the Snows purchased the company.
“We look at every hurdle as it comes,” she said. “When the recession hit, we thought we were in a really good place. We really didn’t feel the effects until 2011, which is when it hit our company really hard. And when that hurdle came, we had to really sit down and look at every part of our business, from marketing to employees to cost of our services. We had to take a good look at insurance and what we could do. I just feel you really have to be flexible so that no matter what hurdle comes your way, you’re willing to bend, mold, change, and adapt to get through it and move forward. Sometimes, changes are not easy to make, but we did it, pushed through, and we’ve seen more success over the last several years because of it.”
The Snows said their goal is to make Western into the premier heating and air conditioning company in the area.
“Utah County is our first and foremost goal,” Ryan Snow said. “And we’re working toward that. We want to set up small branches throughout the Salt Lake area, which is exciting for us as it gives our employees new opportunities to grow. It will also make it so we can respond to our customers faster.”
Angie Snow said she is excited for the future.
“I feel like we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I’m hoping to start making a bigger impact in the community and start making HVAC seem a little more glamorous, because, right now, contractors are sort of looked down upon. I’m hoping we can raise HVAC to a whole new level of expertise and class, because that’s the kind of people we have in our industry. I would love to see this industry raised to a higher level of respect. When people go into a nice steak house and order a steak, they don’t say, ‘What’s the cheapest price you can give me for this steak?’ I would love for people to call us and say, ‘I need a tuneup. Give me the best one you have, and I’ll pay whatever for it.’ That’s how respected our industry could be. I see a vision for that. We can do it.
“I just want to leave a lasting legacy of good, quality service. We want to be recognized as the company that always did the right thing,” Angie Snow added. “I want Western to have a good name, if nothing else, even if we don’t grow throughout all of Utah. I just want to be known as a good, reputable company.”