WITH little more than their trade certificates and a few dollars, two Western Australian refrigeration mechanics set out to create their own business.More than 10 years on, Andrew Ford and Kyle Doonan, the owners of Ford & Doonan Air Conditioning, run a business that turns over about $10.4 million a year, employs 45 staff and 35 subcontractors and has a cabinet full of business award trophies.The business has been a three-time winner at the WA Small Business of the Year awards, and was named the WA Small Business of the Year in 1997. Last week, Mr Ford was named Western Region Young Entrepreneur of the Year.Despite the success, the men are not satisfied with their wins or the business’ performance, and are pursuing growth opportunities in Queensland and rural WA.Mr Ford said the old clichés of customer service, keeping good staff and having fun, had helped the company succeed.“If you can keep your existing customers that’s half the battle won,” he said.“And by keeping staff it helps you build a good culture in the organisation.”However, keeping staff is difficult because there is a shortage of air conditioning service technicians in WA.Mr Doonan said the seasonal nature of the business also made retaining good staff difficult.To provide some stability, the company set up a commercial division to service office and apartment buildings. While the work is different from its core residential business, service technicians only need some cross-training to transfer to the area.Mr Doonan said one of the benefits of growth was having the ability to offer staff different work opportunities.The Western Power advertising campaign promoting reverse cycle air conditioning as an affordable heating alternative has not hurt either.Mr Ford said this winter had probably been more buoyant than any other.“The fact that an authority like Western Power is telling people makes a big difference,” he said.Mr Doonan said the company’s award wins had been a useful benchmarking exercise and also helped attract good staff.“It gives credibility for new employees,” Mr Doonan said.
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