National HVAC Tech Month Spotlight: Owning Your Own HVAC Business.

Rich Morgan graduated from the RSI Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in 1994. Today he is President of Magic Touch Mechanical, Inc., the nationally recognized and awarded company that he started in 1997.

To celebrate National HVAC Tech Month this June, Rich has provided some insight and inspiration for HVAC techs who might like to run their own business one day.

What advice do you have for HVAC Techs just starting out?

I’d say congratulations! This is a career that will put you in high demand and empower you with the potential to become a high earner!

But to start with, know your place and earn your stripes upon graduation. Yes, your RSI education gives you the foundation you need to get started, but there’s so much more to know and learn. In fact, none of us ever learn it all.

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When out in the field, absorb everything you can out from senior technicians, installers, energy auditors and sales people. Absorb everything you can from those in administrative roles like dispatchers, customer service representatives, managers, warehouse and inventory staff, and company owners. Be patient and the rewards will come. You will reach a place in your career where you become so valuable to the business you work for that they will invest heavily in your happiness.

How long have you had your own business? Tell us a little about it.

Magic Touch Mechanical has enjoyed massive success in the twenty years since I founded the company. When I started, I never envisioned the company would grow to where it is today. I started the business with a few thousand dollars, an old pickup truck, my tools and an ad in the Penny Saver—a newspaper that doesn’t even exist in the Phoenix area anymore!

In 1997, I didn’t even own a home. My office was the living room, and my shop was the 2–car garage in a house I rented in Gilbert. I was really “dipping my toe in the water,” as they say, and doing this as side work while still working for a small (at the time) air conditioning company in Phoenix. In short time, I knew I had to go all in, so I gave notice to my employer!

By the mid-2000s, Magic Touch had exploded in size. We had about twenty–five employees consisting of multiple AC install crews, HVAC service technicians, refrigeration technicians, multiple customer service representatives and dispatchers. We purchased a large commercial building in Mesa, AZ, with seven offices, a warehouse with 3 rollup truck bays and giant storage.

Today, we have department managers, a general manager, a human resource and recruiting department, bookkeepers, and even a weekend and evening customer service representative (we are open for business seven days a week). We continue to grow, but it’s controlled growth. We have no intentions of trying to be the biggest—only the best!

What advice do you have for a tech who’d like to start their own HVAC business?

Everyone, including myself at one time, thinks it’s easier than it really is to start and maintain a profitable business. I once heard a very wise person in this industry say, “We have too many owners and not enough technicians.”

While I feel very blessed now and am happy with the things I’ve accomplished in my career, I often think of how my life may have been different had I remained an employee, rather than become an employer. I know for a fact that I, still to this day, work more hours than most of my employees, and many of them earn the same money I do…for less hours. So, the first thing I would say is, be careful what you wish for!

With the shortage of HVAC professionals only growing year after year, you may be more valuable and have higher earning potential as an employee than as an owner. For those stubborn like me, who didn’t heed that same advice from others twenty years ago, my advice would be to educate yourself on everything it takes to run a successful business. As a beginning entrepreneur, you not only need to be an expert in your craft, but you also need to be an expert marketer, salesperson, accountant, wordsmith, manager, customer service representative, IT director and negotiator. Set yourself up to own a business, not own a job.

I would also recommend considering how your business life will impact your family and loved ones. There’s no rest for the weary! I would certainly never discourage anyone from running their own business. In fact, I have helped others in this industry with their journey to do just that. I would only encourage someone to be ready for it when they have decided that’s the path they want to take.

Have energy saving and efficiency practices changed your business, and the HVAC field as a whole?

As one of the leading energy auditing and home improvement companies in the state today, I would say efficiency practices have completely changed our business model. Whereas we once referred to ourselves as an HVAC company with an energy efficiency improvement department, we now refer to ourselves as an energy efficiency company with an HVAC department.

While the two go hand in hand, the “whole home approach” or “building performance” movement is now at the core of the best companies in the industry. We have grown vertically over the years through building performance and added services like insulation, solar shade-screens, air sealing, energy testing and modeling, air quality and ventilation, and so much more. Often, projects we do today don’t even involve the HVAC system.

Another game changer in the industry here in North America is the popularity and growth of VFR (Variable Flow Refrigerant) and ductless HVAC systems. I personally believe to remain relevant in the next decade, all companies need to become leading experts in their markets for this technology. Magic Touch will continue to invest heavily in training our staff to design, sell, install, repair and maintain this equipment, as we see it as our path to remain at the top of our game as the industry advances.

What kind of different opportunities are there in the industry now for people just starting out?

Opportunities for those just starting out are too many to list. A common misconception I hear from new applicants is that becoming a commercial or refrigeration service technician is the “Holy Grail”.

While there is, and will continue to be, a constant need for people in that role, there are so many more opportunities out there and so many niches an HVAC professional can fill. Often, I hear newbies say they don’t want to work in the installation department, for example. I’d retort with two replies:

  • One of our own employees who has been with us for well over a decade and has well over twenty years of experience. He only wants to work in the install department. That individual also happens to be one of the highest paid employees we have. He has all the skills, certifications and talent to fill a service position (including in refrigeration service) but has been around long enough to know his personal niche, and he knows he’s invaluable to the company.
  • In my thirty years, there’s really not a position I haven’t held. I’ve worked on everything from skyscrapers to window units. I’ve been a service tech, service manager, installer, install manager, low-temp refrigeration tech, salesman…you name it. The two positions I’ve enjoyed the most are residential salesman and residential installer. Keep in mind, my company has a long history of low temp refrigeration work, so I’ve done my fair share.

I make these points to say, everyone finds their niche in different aspects of the business. Some find it in the field, some in sales. Others find it not in a contracting business, but instead with a manufacturer or wholesale supplier. Keep an open mind. When you find what you love, do that!

Read more about how Rich, a self-proclaimed “troubled youth,” got started in HVAC and about his time at RSI in his Graduate Connection interview.