In 1942, Chas and Alice Roberts founded Chas Roberts Air Conditioning Inc. in Phoenix. Sissie Roberts Shank, current president and CEO and granddaughter of the original owners, says her grandfather handled the repairs while her grandmother stayed in the office and answered the phones. “My grandfather was one of those men who could fix anything. Over time, they hired my uncle, and then the business just grew from there.”
While some company owners might look at their seven-plus decades in business as a good excuse to sit on their laurels and relax a bit, Shank says this is not the case for her company, now Chas Roberts Air Conditioning & Plumbing since the company added plumbing services about three years ago. “We are not stuck in the past, and we are always looking for ways to change the process. I know this sounds cliché, but for us, we always want to find a way to do things better, faster and cheaper.”
Living this philosophy involves keeping a finger on the pulse of both the air conditioning industry and the economy. “Some of the things we have done over the years have shown how truly adaptable we are,” says Shank, who has been CEO since 1999.
A good example of this happened during the recent economic downturn. At the time, 90 percent of the work Chas Roberts A/C & Plumbing did was focused on new home construction. Even before the housing market crashed, Shank says she and the company saw the proverbial writing on the wall and the impending decline in new home construction, and took a hard look at their costs and “where we had gotten fat.”
“We forecasted those market changes, and we made some cuts hard and deep,” she says, adding that although it was a difficult decision to make, they went by the numbers and did what they had to do to make it through the recession. “We did it well, and we did it fast, and we didn’t hide it from our people. We walked in with a white board and said, ‘This is where we are. We were making $20 million a month, and this month we will be lucky to make half of that.’”
Realizing that new housing construction was quickly going by the wayside, Shank says the company also pondered what it could do differently to survive. The answer, Shank says, was to change and expand the company’s specialties. For example, she says that when the management team saw how existing homeowners were staying put and making upgrades to their existing homes, the company diversified its services and began to focus on air conditioning servicing and replacement. “We encouraged our employees to get more education so they could start working in those domains,” she notes, adding that the company was willing to provide the necessary training.
Another key to the company’s success, Shank says, is its team of dedicated employees, many of whom have worked for Chas Roberts for more than 30 years. “You don’t really see that too much anymore; for us, we have a great team and they’ve helped to make us as successful as we are,” she says. “People stay because they are truly part of a large family, their opinion matters, and they make a difference. We have great benefits, but, most importantly, we care and we do the right thing by our employees and our customers.”
In addition, instead of focusing on making a quick sale, Shank says Chas Roberts has found success by working with its clients to find the best long-term solution for their cooling needs. “We want to have a contract with them, and continue to come back and service the unit over time,” she notes.
When consulting with homeowners, Shank says the team of service people will also keep their eyes peeled for indications that the home’s indoor air quality may not be up to par. “They might say, ‘Hey, I see you have an inhaler on your bathroom counter,’ or they’ll notice that they have pets, and then offer solutions on how the homeowners can make their air better.” Service technicians are kept up to date with their training through monthly classes at Chas Roberts, which are sometimes taught by outside consultants.
Shank says she and everyone at Chas Roberts are looking forward to the next 70-plus years in business. “We are very proud of the reputation that we have, and we want to continue to be the best.”
Keeping Their Cool
- The first 100-degree day of the year is typically the company’s busiest day, according to Sissie Roberts Shank, president and CEO.
- Shank’s husband is the company’s chief operating officer, and their children work there part-time. Shank’s brother also works in the company.
- When the company first opened in 1942, it handled both appliance and cooler repair. When tract homes started going up in the Valley, the company began to work in the housing market.
- The number of employees has grown to about 450.
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