Family Business

Tommy was finally getting over his anxiety about the acquisition of his employer, Komfort King. His boss and former company owner, Will Hayes said everything would stay the same, and mostly, it had. There had even been improvements. The benefits were way better. The growing sense of comfort made it all the worse when the text message hit.

His phone dinged Sunday night. The message read simply…

All Company Meeting @ 7:30 Mo. Attendance is Mandatory

As soon as he saw it, Tommy knew that, as a service manager, his own phone would get lit up. He texted Will to ask what was up. “No idea,” came the reply. “Just got the same text u got.”

Great. And right on schedule, his guys started asking what gives. He texted all of them. “Don’t know what’s up. Might not b bad. Might b good. Might b nothing.” His gut told him it was something else, something bad.

* * *

Tommy got to the shop at 6:30 a.m. as usual. He made coffee and started checking over the call board, even though it was no longer a “board,” but part of their field service software. He was also jotting down notes for the service meeting, which he would start promptly at 7:00 a.m.

The techs were filing in, giving each other grief in the way they always did. Tony was showing everyone the picture of a buck he took Saturday morning, despite the fact, everyone had already been texted the picture. Bill was taking it on the chin because the Lions lost on Sunday. He was good-natured about it. After all, the Lions almost always lost and Bill had learned to embrace the mediocrity,.

Tommy got everyone together and started going through his action items. He started with the supply chain issues. He went over a call-back, using it as a learning opportunity to review their diagnostic process. He had Tony up to talk about the features and benefits of a new UV light they were promoting as an add-on during cold and flu season. Tommy noticed the private equity guys through the window of the training room door and felt his stomach do a little dipsy do.

The door opened and two private equity guys filed in, followed by Will. Tommy interrupted Tony, who was doing a good job. “Guys,” Tommy said, “It’s time for the meeting, the other meeting. Let’s make some room.”

The technicians scooted their chairs to the side. Some stood up and offered their chairs to the CSRs and other office people who walked in a little bleary-eyed. Will walked to the front. “Everyone, this is Cooper Simmons and Smythe Lancaster from Riverrock, the company that bought us.”

Tommy noticed how everyone was shifting uncomfortably. Simmons and Lancaster didn’t fit and it showed. They were not the type of guys to go hang out at the tavern down the street after work to slug down a Leinenkugel’s over a game of pool or darts. They were the types who drank highly rated wine that cost more per bottle than most of the techs earned in a day.

Simmons stepped up. “Good morning everyone. First, let me express just how pleased and excited we are at Riverrock to have Komfort King as part of the family. It’s a growing family and that means opportunities for everyone. This morning we will close on Comfort Commander. Smythe here will update us on how this will impact the Komfort King operation.”

Lancaster took Simmons’ place. Tommy couldn’t help but notice an innate smugness in his Smytheness, as he called Lancaster to himself.

Lancaster began, “First, in order to optimize our solution execution structure within our business line operations we will be consolidating our regional environmental solutions under the Comfort Commander established organization and utilizing their considerable brand equity. This is not only beneficial but necessary for advancing our actionable administrative framework, so that we drive further congruence in our executional structure, streamlining and gaining efficiency in marcom, that’s marketing communications, and lending simplicity to our overall corporate and go-to field operations.”

Tommy was struggling to understand what he was hearing and if he was hearing it correctly. Based on Will’s stunned look, he was reading it right. Based on the glazed over looks of the rest of the team, no one had a clue what Lancaster just said.

Lancaster paused, smiled, and continued. “This action is critical to the establishment of a controlled operational approach, congruent with the need to align investment opportunities where robust executional outcomes are maximized to meet the EBITDA expectations we have set. Conversely, this necessitates the need for overhead and infrastructure optimizations to ensure we maximize the operational harvest in line with, if not in excess of planned growth. Accordingly, the requirement for some to be transitioned out of the organization is necessitated and will be communicated later today.”

Simmons stepped forward and nudged Lancaster back. “Well, that’s that. No one can lay out a complex institutional message quite as concise as a Harvard MBA like Lancaster here. If there are no questions, we’ll be off.”

Bill raised his hand. “I’ve got a question. Just what the heck did he say?”

Everyone laughed. Simmons did as well, adding, “Good one man. I can tell you are the wit of the operation.”

Before anyone could say anything else, he turned and walked out of the training room and deposited himself in Will’s office with Lancaster on his heels. Will mouthed to Tommy, “Get them on the road.”

Tommy said, “Alright, techs stay here for five. Everyone else get going.” Amid the murmurs and grumbles, Tommy announced, “Look I don’t speak Harvard any better than the rest of you. Let’s just get to work and I’ll get with Will. Now go!”

Tommy watched the techs head out and reassemble in the parking lot. Meanwhile, he could hear Will raising his voice in his office. He went to the warehouse and started taking inventory to keep his mind off of whatever the heck was happening.

* * *

An hour later Will called Tommy and Claudia, the office manager into his office. He sighed. “You heard what the guys from Riverrock said.”

“I heard,” said Claudia. “I didn’t understand.”

“Well, here’s the long and the short of it. We’re going to be part of Comfort Commander and both of your positions are going away. You aren’t being let go. You’ll keep your seniority, but Tommy, you’ll be a senior service tech again and Claudia you can choose dispatch or CSR.”

Tommy felt like his gut was being ripped out. He’d worked so hard to get to service manager and he thought he was doing a pretty good job of it. Not anyone could manage a bunch of service techs. In some ways, it was like herding cats, but Tommy was good at it. He wished now that he’d gotten his contractor’s license. If he had, no issues. He would start his own company. The problem was this was something he was going to do down the road. Unfortunately, he just ran out of road.

Tommy listened to Will and Claudia review options in a fog. Claudia would take what they offered. She was a single mother and didn’t have a choice. Tommy on the other hand was childless and according to the docs, he and his wife, Lynn were unlikely to ever have a child.

“What if I say no,” asked Tommy. “What if I don’t want to go back in a truck?”

Will leaned back and made an upside down vee with his hands and pursed his lips on it. “I can get you six weeks,” he said.

Six weeks, Tommy thought. Well, if he couldn’t find a service manager’s job in six weeks he could always go to work for another company as a technician. He wouldn’t be worse off than what Riverrock was offering and maybe he would come out ahead. “Done,” he said.

* * *

Tommy grabbed his things and went home. He’d have to tell Lynn, but it could wait. He wanted to be able to show progress in finding a new job before he told her he quit. Fortunately, she had a steady job as a teacher, so no matter what they had her income.

Tommy mentally made a list of the people he needed to call. He would start with Air Equipment Distribution. Before he could dial his phone, it chimed with a text. “Not now,” he thought. Word must already be spreading. When he looked, the text wasn’t what he thought.

He read the text…

Incredible Opportunity – Become the chief of operations for a storied family business, whose owner is looking to step down. Must have a servant’s heart, good management skills, practical technical aptitude, an ability to excel under pressure, and a tolerance for seasonal business variability. Excellent compensation package. Reply YES to inquire, NO to stop receiving texts.

Wow, Tommy thought. This is me. It was from an 800#, so he had no idea who sent it. He replied “yes” immediately. A second later, a new text appeared…

We have an interview available at 11:00 a.m. at the Yuletide Inn and Conference Center. Reply YES to accept.

11:00 a.m.? That wasn’t much time. It didn’t matter. He would make it. He could almost envision getting out of the need to tell Lynn he quit his job and instead, tell her he got a better one! He replied, “yes” before realizing he had no idea where the Yuletide Inn was located. Tommy knew the area like the back of his hand, but not this place. Almost as soon as he completed the thought, a text came in…

Click for directions.

He clicked and an app he didn’t realize he had, popped open. KringleMaps opened and gave him directions. It seemed strange. The directions led to a Highway 18 Tunnel and stopped. Where was he supposed to go when he got to the other side? He didn’t care. This gave him a goal to pursue, so he started his truck and put it in drive. He wanted to be in motion.

* * *

When Tommy arrived at the Highway 18 Tunnel north of town, the map hadn’t changed. Oh well, he thought, I’ll drive through and maybe it will kick in on the other side of the mountain.

Tommy had driven through this tunnel dozens of times, but he never remembered the light show. It must have been something recently installed. Waves of different pastel lights undulated around him. The tunnel was longer than he remembered.

Suddenly, Tommy emerged. He looked around. There was snow on the ground. Snow? Must be a microclimate, stopped by the mountain. Up ahead he saw a sign directing him to the Yuletide Inn and Conference Center to the right. Strange, he’d never seen the sign or road before. Must be new.

Tommy pulled up to the front of the inn. As soon as he got out, a black and brown Harley Davidson motorcycle came screaming down the drive and slid sideways for a perfect stop. A portly old man in a leather jacket, wearing biker boots jumped off the bike. Like a lot of middle aged bikers, he boasted a Duck Dynasty type beard. As he took off his helmet, his head was topped by a tied off red bandana.

“You must be Tommy,” he roared, extending a hand.

“Uh, yes sir. I’m here for an interview.”

“That you are, laddie. Come with me. We’ll get started,” said the man before stopping cold. “Oh, sorry. My name’s… well, you can call me Chris.” He extended a hand.

Tommy shook his hand and found he instantly liked the biker. He seemed naturally, well, jovial.

“Come on,” the biker said. Let’s go inside.

When they walked into the inn, Tommy did a double take. The inside seemed way larger than he thought it would be. There was a huge stone fireplace with a roaring fire. In the corner was a large Christmas tree.

“Come, come with me into the library,” said Chris. He turned and shouted, “Mary, oh Mary would you bring something hot to drink into the library? The young man I was talking about is here.”

Tommy walked behind Chris and took a seat when offered in front of a battleship sized conference table. It was covered with antiques of various kinds, from puzzles and small games to various nick-nacks. The walls were covered with old books, very old books. No sooner had he sat down than a woman bustled into the study with two cups and saucers.

“Here love,” she said as she placed one saucer before Chris. “I hope you like hot chocolate,” she said while placing the other in front of Tommy.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you,” said Tommy. He sipped the chocolate. It was amazing. “Wow, this is terrific.”

“Isn’t it delicious,” observed Chris. “Mary makes the best hot chocolate in all of the world.”

“Oh you,” said Mary, clearly pleased. “Well, I’ll leave you two to talk.”

“Now,” said Chris, “Let’s talk a little business.”

“Yes sir,” said Tommy. “Um, what is the business?”

“That’s rather complicated. Like heating and air conditioning, I’m in the service business.”

“Hey, wait-a-sec. I never said I worked in HVAC.”

“You didn’t? You must have. Or else, how would I have known?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it’s not important. Tell me what you think of running a service business.”

“We respond to people’s needs. We do our best to deliver comfort where people work and live. Or, well I used to.”

“Yes, I understand you left your employment.”

“How could you know that?”

“Clearly you must have quit or you wouldn’t be interviewing with me. Now, more about your philosophy of service.”

Tommy shifted in his seat. “Okay, the thing is that people need us when they need us and we’ve got to respond fast. But that’s only part of it. We have to understand what they really need and try to help them understand our solutions.”

“Oh?” asked Chris with a raised eyebrow. “How so?”

“A lot of the time we can fix a broken furnace or air conditioner, but that’s not necessarily in the homeowner’s best interests. We make the repair on an old system and while it’s working again, it’s still an old system. They’ll pay more in utilities than if they had a newer, more efficient system, face future expensive breakdowns, and still be confronted with the need to replace that old system in a year, two, or maybe three.”

“Is that always the case?”

“No. Sometimes people just want it fixed as inexpensively as possible because they’re planning on moving. Sometimes they just can’t afford the expense.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s not easy. We ask questions. Sometimes they tell us. Sometimes we have to feel it out. And if it’s something like affordability, we have to find a way to make it affordable with financing, for example.”

“Interesting,” said Chris. “Well, my business also requires you to perceive people’s needs and wants. Moreover, you must desire, sincerely desire to serve them.”

“So, what is your business?”

“Tell me about how you manage your crew?”

Tommy laughed. “It’s kind of a misnomer to say you manage service techs. You prepare them and point them. Really, you lead.”

“How so?”

“You better be authentic. They’ll sense it if you aren’t. You can’t ask people to do things they don’t believe in or that conflict with their values. You try to direct them to places where they can win. These guys are really good, but a lot of them are insecure. They try to bluster their way through or act cynical when they are out of their comfort zone. Take performance pay.”


“It’s new and some guys resisted it, even though they would make more money when they switched to performance pay and they would get more control over their jobs. So, I picked one guy who stood to do well under it and who was a vocal leader. I got him to try it as an experiment where he got the highest check of performance pay or straight time. He ended up selling himself and once he was sold, he sold everyone else.”

“Interesting. So what do you do when there’s a rush? I understand your business is somewhat seasonal.”

“Somewhat? It’s all seasonal. Will, the owner tries to fight it, but we still see a rush during extreme weather.”

“So what do you do?”

“You prepare. You balance out the peak season with the off-season. Make sure guys take off when the work slacks. But once the weather kicks in, it’s all hands on deck.”

“Our businesses are remarkably similar. We both have to lead groups who can be a challenge. We both serve others and have to perceive their needs and desires. We both face extreme seasonality, though mine is a tad worse than yours. And we both serve people in their homes.”

“So what business are you if you aren’t in HVAC?” asked Tommy.

“First Tommy, tell me what you want. I know you’re a good soul, with a good heart, but what is your heart’s desire? What do you want out of a job? Out of life?”

Tommy rocked back. Hmm. What did he want? “I want to make a difference,” he offered. “I want to do work that’s important and that makes people happy. That’s the great thing about HVAC. We leave people better than when we arrive. They’re happy to see us. I don’t mind the rush when it comes. It’s an adrenaline rush. I don’t think I would like it year-round, but seasonally? I thrive on it. But really, it’s doing work that matters that’s important.”

Chris looked at him. “So do you want to know what the job’s all about?”

“Of course.”

“I think I need to show you. Can you ride a bike?”

“Bicycle or motorcycle?”

“A hog. Great, big hog.”

“Let’s go.”

Chris led Tommy outside. Where his Harley had been, there were now two of them. Chris told Tommy to take the second. He jumped on, noting the model painted on the side. It read, “comet.”

Chris fired up his bike and told Tommy to follow him. As they streaked down the road, it almost seemed like Chris’ bike was running… with legs. Then, the bike lifted. Tommy’s eyes grew large. Chris was going airborne and he was following. The bike felt different. Tommy nearly fell off when he looked down. He wasn’t holding handlebars, but horns on a massive deer.

Chris spiraled down to an Alpine village on his deer. Tommy’s mount followed. When they landed, they were surrounded by little people with pointed ears. Elves?

“Santa! Santa!” they chorused. “Is this him? Is this the new Santa?”

“Well,” said Chris. “That’s to be determined. Give him room. I’m going to give him a tour.”

This isn’t happening, Tommy thought. Elves? Flying reindeer? Big reindeer.

Chris looked at him and pulled off his bandana. Freed from the confines of the scarf, with his white Duck Dynasty beard, Chris did look like Santa. He turned to Tommy and said, “It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

Tommy just gaped and nodded.

“Come on,” said Chris. “Obviously, I’m not the first Santa. He lived in the 3rd century and got his start in Turkey. Santas are granted long lives and typically serve more than a century, but eventually, even the longest lived must step aside. I’m the 17th. Chris reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a business card, which he handed to Tommy.

Kris Kringle XVII

Santa Clause

St. (unofficial) Nicholas

“When you accept the job, you would become the 18th. Technically, you will be our first Santa from the heating and air conditioning industry. I myself, was a plumber. The Santa before me distributed coal to people to burn to keep warm, as did the Santa before him. I think that’s where the idea of coal in the stocking came from.”

“Now wait just a second…”

“I know, I know. You haven’t accepted the job. But you will. I know these things. You know, ‘I know when you’ve been sleeping; I know when you’re awake,’ and all of that. Every century or so, it’s up to the current Santa to find an apprentice who, if things go as they should, will take over the family business. Follow me. Let’s start in the workshop.”

“You’re… you’re asking me to believe in Santa Claus? In a fairy tale?” sputtered Tommy.

“Believe what you see before you.”

When Tommy looked again at Chris or Kris or whoever he was, the leather biker jacket had turned into a red, fur lined coat. The motorcycle boots were simple black, leather boots. He turned and walked through the door of a storefront on the main street of the village. Tommy looked around and saw dozens, no, hundreds of elves looking back at him. He scrambled after Kris.

The door opened onto a landing that overlooked a massive toy factory. The ceiling was 50 feet high and the floor was 50 feet deep, despite the store being one story tall. Elves, elves were everywhere. There were elves working on boxes over conveyor belts that reminded Tommy of the luggage scanners at an airport. Only, here, brand new toys popped out, complete with their commercial packaging. It was all too much.

“Why me?” he finally asked, looking at Kris.

Kris smiled benignly. “You meet the requirements. I know you have a good heart. Remember, I KNOW these things. Yet, that’s not enough. You have a servant’s heart. You understand how to serve others. You have the natural intuition to see into people’s needs and desires that can be molded and developed with a little Christmas magic. You can lead and manage the barely manageable. Believe me, this will also take some development and magic. It’s a stretch to call a colony of elves barely manageable.”

The old man continued, “You also thrive on pressure. If you couldn’t handle the seasonality of the heating and air conditioning business, you certainly couldn’t handle Christmas. But you can. Now, I already knew all of these things, but I still needed to ask you. I like to check things twice.”

Head already swimming, Tommy asked, “If you’re real, I mean really real, how is all of this possible?”

“Ah. Well, there is quite a bit of magic around. This is Christmas magic, which is some of the strongest. Christmas is a holy time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is our greatest gift. We also remember how the Wise Men gave the baby Jesus gifts. The birth of Christ was a magical time for the whole world and the magic continues to this day.”

“And how do elves factor?”

“The elves you see here, well they are converts from the ancient gods to the true God. This is how they serve.”

“Wait just a minute. Are you saying these are ‘Christian elves?’ They believe in Jesus?”

“Why is that hard to believe? Even demons believe in Jesus.”

Tommy scratched his head. He hadn’t really thought of that.

Still, it was a lot to consider. A lot to take in. If Kris told him this, he would have written him off as a nutcase, but he showed him. Tommy turned in a circle. He thought of Lynn. “What about my wife? I’m married.”

Kris laughed. “Of course you are. It’s a requirement. You met my wife, Mary. She’s the 17th Mary Christmas. Lynn will be the 18th.”

“I… I’ve got to talk with her.”

“Of course you do. But she won’t believe in this any more than you would without visiting. Take her out to dinner tonight at the Inn.”

* * *

Tommy returned with Kris to the Inn that evening. When he emerged from the tunnel in his truck, he was shocked to discover that almost no time had elapsed even though he was gone for hours. He didn’t know if he wanted to take over from Kris or not, but he had to admit the idea was intriguing.

When Tommy took Lynn to the Inn, she seemed to immediately bond with Mary, like he had with Kris. Instead of Harleys, Kris suggested a sleigh ride with him and Mary. And what a ride it was, at least for Lynn.

As they stood in Santa’s village, watching the elves running back and forth under a gentle snowfall, Tommy asked Lynn, “What do you think?”

“I loved the little school with all of the elvish children. I think we could be happy here. Did Mary tell you that one of the reasons we were picked was we’re childless and both orphans?”

“No. I didn’t even think about that.”

“It’s sad in a way. No one would really miss us, but if we come up here, well… Everyone would count on us every Christmas, especially on you. You know what bothers me the most?”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t want to change my name,” Lynn said. “On the other hand, you’ve always liked helping people and I’ve always loved children and while you never say anything, I know we’re both disappointed we can’t have kids, but this way, all of the world’s children would be ours in a way.”

When the couple walked back to Santa’s cottage, he opened the door to welcome them. “Well?”

“We’re in,” said Tommy.

“I knew you’d be. I know things. You will too.”

* * *

Service contractors bring a little Christmas magic on every service call…

·      They serve people in their homes.

·      They have the hearts of servants.

·      They must identify what people need and want.

·      They must manage the barely manageable.

·      They must work well under pressure.

·      They must be comfortable with a seasonal business.

Merry Christmas everyone.


If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel. 

Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at or by mobile at 214.995.8889.

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