Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: Bomar Heating & Cooling

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Meet a company that values its long-term customer relationships, and find out why some of its first customers still call these technicians after 40 years.

The staff at Bomar Heating & Cooling: Brian, Mark, Carol Ann, Jason, Beth, Ryan, Tina, Bob and Rick. (Rebecca O'Malley photo)

Jason Rowland can’t recall a time when his family wasn’t involved with the indoor air quality industry. In 1974, right around the time he was born, his dad started Bomar Heating & Cooling, working out of the family’s Ridott, Ill., home.

“Dad came home and told Mom he had quit his job and was starting his own business,” Rowland says. “She had five kids at home, so it was a little scary.”

But as sure as there’s risk in business, there’s success for those who persist. Nearly 40 years later, Bob and Margaret Rowland’s initial garage enterprise thrives, now headquartered at 420 Meadows Dr., Freeport.

Though Bob retired and sold the business to Greg and Marilyn Freimuth in 2010, Jason Rowland maintains the company’s customer relationships, serving as general manager. Some of those customers have stood by Bomar for a long time. In fact, the company still services its first customer.

Jason operates by his father’s business values. “The mantra from way back is that we try to take care of people like they’re members of our own family,” Rowland says. “Just be honest and fair and upright and do the right thing.”

Today, the company has nine employees, who serve a vast swatch of northwestern Illinois, from Elizabeth south to Sterling/Rock Falls and east to Rockford. Its sister company, Allen Heating and Cooling Inc., 6576 Revlon Dr., Belvidere, is co-owned by Freimuth and services points east of Rockford.

Technicians cover everything from equipment installation and servicing to fireplace repair, air duct cleaning and generator hookups. Though Bomar specializes in Trane equipment, it services every model of furnace and air conditioner. That flexibility often comes in handy, especially when customers are unhappy with Bomar’s competitors.

Sometimes, Rowland says, doing the “right thing” simply means showing up and sticking around.

“The industry standard is to do a job the fast, easy way and get out of there,” he says. “Even with larger companies, you see that, and you scratch your head about how they do things. We try to slow it down and do it right, and be there later on if customers need something. We have a lot of customers who call us and say, ‘You didn’t put our equipment in, but can you take care of our service? We’re unhappy with the other guys.’”

As with any service business, customer satisfaction is essential to success, a fact Rowland keeps top of mind. It’s not uncommon for Bomar technicians to correct mistakes made by other installers. They also go the extra mile to ensure that homeowners get the most they can from their new units, says Rowland. The company recently received a call from a couple who complained about hearing noises at night.

“The only thing we could figure out was that when you put your hand up to the wall, you could feel a reverberation coming from the furnace,” Rowland says. “We ended up replacing the entire fan and blower assembly, and that solved the problem.”

Bomar guarantees its products well beyond out-of-the-box warranties. However, customers rarely need to invoke this 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.

“On the installation side of the business, if we can’t make a customer happy, we’ll take out what we put in and pay the customer back,” Rowland says. “We’ve never done that, and the reason is that we haven’t had to. We took care of any problems, so it never got to that.”

Listening carefully to customer feedback is an important component to success. Trane sends surveys to homeowners after installation and service calls, and Rowland makes it his business to see each one. He also follows up personally after every installation. When trouble arises, he addresses it on the spot, and raises the issue with technicians during ongoing training sessions.

“One thing I like about the surveys is that something I should know about occasionally comes back, when I thought everything was fine,” Rowland says. “The problem may be fairly minor, but the customer mentioned it, so we can address it. It’s always scary when you hear about customers who aren’t happy but don’t speak up – they’ll just go somewhere else.”

But in nearly 40 years of business, Bomar has lost very few customers, says Rowland. He points to neighborhoods where entire blocks of residents, and their extended families, are Bomar customers.

“We try to maintain long-term relationships, and over the years, it’s been interesting to see how we’ve done work for extended families,” Rowland says. “At the time, I didn’t realize who was related to whom, but I know now that most of those customers came from referrals. If you don’t take care of someone, they’re going to give you a negative referral instead of a positive one.”

Rowland has found it useful to provide extra incentive for customers to pass any referrals. When customers send friends to Bomar, they earn gift cards to a local restaurant.

Still, winning customers over isn’t always easy. Sometimes Rowland gets stuck in a rut or caught up in an unusual dilemma. When either situation happens, he makes time for a “reality check.”

“You can almost get a little out of whack,” Rowland says. “This has happened to me over the years. You have to do a reality check and never forget who pays your paycheck. It’s not my boss – it’s the customer.”

Sometimes Rowland seeks advice from others in the business. He networks with heating and cooling companies from around the nation, in online discussion groups, where professionals swap advice.

“You can learn a lot from hearing what they say,” Rowland says. “If you have something weird happen, you can ask how they would handle it. They’re all good companies, not competitors to us, so you can speak freely.”

He’s not afraid to ask hard questions and consider better practices, especially when mistakes arise. “Sometimes, you let a customer down,” Rowland says. “You can figure out what happened, why it happened and make changes. There’s always human error, but it’s important to learn from those errors and not let them happen again.”

Rowland maintains the long-term customer relationships at his dad’s company, but Freimuth oversees the big picture. He co-owns Allen Heating and Cooling Inc. with son-in-law Thomas Howe.

The former owner of a custom injection-molding manufacturing company, Freimuth understands the importance of efficiency and sound business practice. When he purchased Bomar, he bought new equipment and service vans, and made other improvements. Through partnership, the reach of both companies has expanded.

“If somebody calls from Belvidere, we refer them to Allen, and if they call from Pecatonica, we might send them to Bomar,” Freimuth says. “We did whole house generators. They did duct cleaning and fireplaces. Now, both companies do both services.”

In the people-pleasing business, customer relationships are the backbone for longevity and success, says Freimuth, who wants both companies to thrive beyond the next generation.

“Jason’s still got the first customers his dad ever had, and that’s impressive, because that means those customers have been happy for 30-some years,” he says. “They’ve referred this friend of theirs, and that relative of theirs. That’s king in this business.” ❚

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