Aston Air Conditioning and Refrigeration is a Brisbane-based Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Company that has evolved quite significantly over the 12 years it has been in business. Managing Director Shane Bradford, who is an Air Conditioning Mechanic, started the company in 1999 to primarily serve the domestic market. “To be honest, I’m not a very good employee,” Shane Bradford says. “I always wanted to own my own business. I started off when I was quite young. I was 25, and I had a plan to develop a service business – and it went from there.”
A lot has changed about the Company since its inception. At first, Shane Bradford estimates that their Installation Business was roughly 80 per cent Domestic Work and 20 per cent Commercial Work. As the years went on, the domestic market in Brisbane faded, so Aston Air Conditioning and Refrigeration shifted focuses. “The business has turned around on the Construction and Installation side to be 95 per cent Commercial now and five per cent Domestic. That’s where the change has happened, and how the business has evolved.” This has worked out, Shane Bradford says, because his Employees mostly prefer to work with Commercial Clients, as they tend to have a clearer understanding of what they are trying to achieve, and their payment terms are often a lot more robust.
Aston Air Conditioning and Refrigeration have grown over the last decade for two key, interconnected reasons. “I think the first thing is I have been very lucky with a couple of key people who have come work for us and are continuing with us,” he explains. “We have good staff retention. I think it’s a nice place to work for people and because of that people who come in tend to stay.” This retention and employee satisfaction has allowed Shane Bradford and Aston Air Conditioning to focus on their Customer Service, which is the second key attribute to their ongoing success. “We try to be very Customer focused and that comes from having good staff that are keen to look after our customers.”
Aston Air and Refrigeration is able to excel in Customer Satisfaction specifically by being attentive and having a “can-do” attitude. “What we do is respond to people’s requests,” Shane Bradford says. “Nothing is ever too hard for people working for us. If a customer asks you to do something you look at any way you can go about achieving what they’ve asked you to do, basically.”
Again, they are able to provide such exceptional service externally only because of the outstanding relationship that exists internally. Aston Air Conditioning currently employs about 25 people, and Shane Bradford describes his approach to Employee-Company Relations as being modelled from something he heard Richard Branson say in an interview. “I subscribe to his theory in that if you look after your staff, your staff will look after your customers,” he says. “There’s no silver bullet, but we try and do the right thing by our Staff. We have a very open policy – anyone from the top to the bottom can walk into my office and talk to me. We also try to make it an enjoyable place to work.”
By creating an enjoyable environment to work in, Aston Air Conditioning is able to make it so people enjoy coming to work – and that is ultimately reflected in their Customer Service. “The other thing I have done is opened an office up in Albion about seven years ago,” Shane Bradford says. “It’s presented as a professional business office, not as a showroom or a warehouse, and I think the people who work in the office appreciate coming to work because of that.”
A third factor behind Aston Air Conditioning’s success would be their maintenance and breakdown service, a division which Shane Bradford credits as being the most successful part of the business. This is evidenced by its growth over the years from one employee to 10. “It supports everything in the business,” says Shane Bradford. “The good thing about a service business is a lot of the Contracts are ongoing Monthly to Bi-Monthly, and you can be there to look after people’s equipment and make sure they are running to a high standard.” Aston Air Conditioning can offer such robust after-sales support, Clients are given more confidence that their installations will last and be looked after. The Company has a policy of same day response as well, so the maintenance staff is dedicated. “The guys are happy to and will work a substantial amount of overtime if necessary, as required.”
The biggest challenge currently posed to the Air Conditioning Industry at large is one of Energy Efficiency. Aston Air Conditioning takes that challenge on at the root by simply practicing good design. “We make sure we size the units correctly, so they’re not under or over sized,” Shane Bradford says. “We offer people a variety of different options and really try to steer them in the more energy efficient direction.” Aston Air Conditioning uses a lot of energy recovery ventilators, and implements a lot of VRV systems, which are more efficient. “We’re already seeing a shift down that path, and will continue to see it in a major way going forward,” he adds.
Another challenge to the industry is a shortage of skilled labour – energy efficiency skills in particular. Aston Air Conditioning is contributing to a solution by consistently taking on Apprentices, many of whom have remained with the Business long term. “I think anyone with a Business in the Industry needs to be training people, and training them to the highest standard possible,” Shane Bradford says.
Finally, there is the challenge of simply continuing to find and win work, a challenge that exists all over the world and in every industry, not just Air Conditioning. Currently, Shane Bradford says that Aston Air Conditioning is pursuing a few different opportunities in the Mining and Infrastructure Field. “I see big opportunity in the resources sector for Queensland over the next five years with the coal mine expansions,” he says. “The Gold Coast picking up the Commonwealth Games is also something I see as presenting opportunity.”
Another area Shane Bradford sees Aston Air Conditioning continuing to capitalise on specifically is the Service and Maintenance side of their Business. “One thing you find when the economy is not going as well as it possibly could be is people will maintain and repair older gear more than just look at putting new stuff in,” he says. “I think you see that everywhere. People don’t buy new cars; they keep their older cars. They don’t necessarily buy a new house; they stay in their older house and renovate it. From a Service and Maintenance perspective I think there’s a fair bit of growth opportunity there and it’s something we’ve been focusing on for the last couple years.”
Going forward, Shane Bradford wants to maintain the Company’s reputation for quality work, and quality people. “That’s something you always have to be working and focusing on,” he says. “And we’re trying to grow the business.” At Aston Air Conditioning, the aim is to be a “Sub-Major” Provider. At that size, Shane Bradford says they can maintain their high levels of Customer and Employee Satisfaction while being able to compete on a larger scale. “I’d like the business to be twice the size it is in six to eight years time. That puts us at a point where we’re probably annoying the big guys on a regular basis, and that’s where I want to be.”