18 May Middleton celebrating 40 years of service
by Sonja J. Keith
It’s been 40 years since Middleton Heat & Air began in a small home in Bryant, but its founding principles of customer service and value are still as relevant today.
The company is headquartered not far from the small home where Chuck Middleton and his former wife, Anita, started the business in their carport. Along the way, they were helped by their three children. Chuck and Anita still work for the business, with their son, Mark, serving as the managing director.
Mark, who was 14 when the business started, recalls he and his siblings were the original labor force. “My earliest recollection was having to get up early in the morning and work, and come home after school and work, and have to work on the weekends,” he said. “It wasn’t an option. It was a requirement. It was survival, too. Our only family vehicle was our work truck.”
Chuck had worked in the industry for a number of years and had taught in the sheet metal trade school. Anita went to nursing school to support the family and provide the seed money to start the business. “The family had some financial difficulties, so we moved to Bryant,” Mark said, adding that the couple was trying to make ends meet. “At the time, I don’t think there was a vision to build a really large HVAC company. Mostly, it was an opportunity to earn income to live on.”
Today, Middleton is a full-service, licensed and bonded HVAC and sheet metal contractor. Licensed in 12 states, the company is predominantly Arkansas-based and provides service throughout the state. Middleton has served Central Arkansas for decades, with offices in Bryant, Conway and Hot Springs.
“We have a full-time staff in Conway and a number of employees who live there and are active in the community,” Mark said. “We’ve acquired a couple of different businesses over the last several years that have helped build our base in Conway. It is a real growth market for us, Conway and the surrounding areas.”
Middleton has a workforce of more than 250 employees.
Chuck’s strong technical knowledge of the industry and experience are a nice fit with Mark’s degrees in finance and law. “I think we complement each other,” Mark said, adding that he enjoys working with his dad. “He’s a great resource for me.”
While their backgrounds are different, they share a deep commitment to the customers they serve and their employees. “We have a common philosophy on how a business should run and what its value systems should be. It is probably singular to the success we have had here,” Mark said, adding that a lot of companies say the customer comes first but fail to deliver in service.
As a consumer, Mark points out that it is increasingly difficult to find businesses that will do what they say they will do and deliver what the customer needs. “That’s showing up on time and giving you a quality product and standing behind the product if there’s an issue. It’s being on the customer’s side and treating the customer like they are a valued asset to a company. It’s a very difficult thing to do.”
Another key to success has been Middleton’s employee base. “Our goal is to hire the very best people who are technically sound but who also believe in the same philosophies we believe in,” he said. “They are top-notch and embody what my mom and dad stood for as they built the business. They approach our mission with integrity and always do the right thing.”
The goal at Middleton, according to Mark, is to provide a great product and customer service for a fair value. He said the company strives to meet customer expectations, which he described as a “Walmart price, UPS punctuality and Tiffany quality.”
Another expectation is timeliness because customers are oftentimes calling when they are uncomfortable and unhappy, and they are about to spend money. “We have to go the extra mile because we’re walking into a situation where you have to solve a problem and you’re dealing with someone’s indoor home comfort,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility. It’s one we take seriously and one that we have to perform almost to perfection to make people happy.”
Middleton has made an investment in technology to help technicians meet those customer expectations. GPS tracking helps in deploying technicians so Middleton can arrive more quickly than competitors.
Technicians also receive the customer’s service history and equipment information downloaded to their handheld electronic device to provide more efficient service.
“We have a complete arsenal of information at our disposal,” he said. “That helps us create value for our customers because the faster we fix it the less it costs.”
The Middleton business has grown and expanded since the early days in the family home. It features an impressive state-of-the art call center and a metal manufacturing facility. There is also the Middleton Heat and Air University, where training takes place on every aspect of the business for new and current employees.
Mark said the industry is changing rapidly, with advancements in products and the use of more technology. In addition to controlling the temperature, heat/cooling units can adjust for humidity and help remove air pollutants as well as detect safety issues like carbon monoxide. “There are so many things we have the ability to control,” he said, adding that there are safety, health and comfort components of the work. He pointed out that if consumers will go to the expense to purchase a bottle of water to ensure quality, why would they not be concerned with the quality of the air that they are breathing?
“I love the business and I love the industry because you really can help people, do good for people and improve people’s lives at a fairly insignificant cost.”
Mark anticipates that the industry will become an even more technical field in the future, adding that some customers want to be able to control indoor comfort via mobile phone. Thermostats can also “learn” living patterns and adjust settings for time of day, etc. “Our business is changing so rapidly,” he said.
Mark envisions that the role of heating and air conditioning companies will be as indoor comfort solution providers.
“We think this business is going to change aggressively the next several years. We have the ability today and it will become enhanced to remotely diagnose problems with people’s systems before they know they have problems. We do that in commercial buildings now.
“It’s really a little bit archaic, if you think about it, that you wait for something to break before you fix it.”
He added that most customers would prefer to handle issues before they become a crisis, at a time that is convenient and not disruptive.
“There are so many technological changes and advancements with our product that we have to be in the forefront of in order to provide the consumer with what they want — to be comfortable and not to be inconvenienced.”
Mark said the company’s objective is to be a first-rate service provider. “We understand that the air that they breathe and the environment inside their home is a sacred place. We take it seriously. We have so many abilities to enhance that environment . . . There are so many things we are able to control.”
Fifty percent of a consumer’s energy bill generally is tied to a home’s heating and cooling system. “We basically are an energy manager,” Mark said, adding the company has to do everything possible to mitigate that expense. “There are so many things we do that affect your comfort or your pocketbook, which I think are the two most important things in life. If we do our job well, we are a tremendous value to the consumer. And that is what our objective is.”
Mark said 40 years in business is a milestone for any company.
“Any business that has survived for 40 years is obviously doing something fundamentally right. The real quest is will you be here for another 40 years. Being able to survive multiple generations, the odds become less and less with time. That’s why the core values that we live by here are so important. That’s why they are instilled in every employee who works here. We think that’s fundamental to the continuation of a successful business.
“We are really blessed to have had 40 years in this industry.”