The office for his Warren Heating & Air at 200 Bleich Road is a home; the former childhood abode of his wife, Michelle Warren.
“This was my wife’s bedroom,” Warren said at his desk in an interior office in the renovated structure, which dates to the 1950s. Original door knobs and other fixtures remain where Warren renovated the house more than a year ago. The newer office complements the sheet metal shop out back where Warren has steadily grown his business for more than 26 years.
Heating and air conditioning service is Warren’s business, and it’s difficult to be more locally-focused and entrenched than he strives to be.
Warren said 90 percent of his customers are within a 10-mile radius, and working with them is an intentionally low-key, familiar affair.
“A lot of my customers will call with a problem, and they’ll say, “The back door’s open,’ or ‘Here’s the code to get into the garage,’” Warren said. “It’s really informal and I tell all my guys, ‘It’s really important you treat the customer like you want to be treated. If you abide by that it’s pretty simple.’”
Warren began dating Michelle in middle school, and studied electrical engineering at Paducah Community College after graduating from Lone Oak High School. But as local entrepreneurs know, being local and friendly doesn’t ensure success and growth. Evolving and being progressive in industry changes is a must, and it’s been a focus for Warren.
Kentucky Home Performance
The latest example of Warren’s business evolving is it gaining the Kentucky Home Performance certification in January. Warren studied in Louisville to be an approved contractor and inspector in the program that seeks to create more energy-efficient homes, lower home utility bills and to provide incentives for homeowners to use certain energy-saving services.
Federal and state agencies, and the Kentucky Housing Corporation, sponsor the program. The incentives for certified contractors and service providers, such as Warren, are that they learn how to make homes more energy efficient, and use that as a selling tool to customers. For instance, qualified businesses can use the Energy Star label in marketing materials.
The program’s incentives for homeowners can include rebates and below-market loans.
- Consumers may be eligible for a $150 rebate if they have their home tested by one of the program’s businesses. Certified businesses run tests of a home’s air circulation and energy use.
- If a homeowner installs any equipment or pays for improvements to the home, he or she can qualify for a rebate of up to $2,000. The program’s website (kentuckyhomeperformance.org) claims homeowners may receive a one dollar rebate for every four dollars of personal investment of qualified improvements.
- People in single-family residences may qualify for below-market, unsecured loans instead of the rebates for installing energy-efficient measures approved by the program. The program will give a low-interest loan (at a 4.99 percent rate through June 15) to pay for energy-efficient measures. Those loans come with qualifiers, including loan terms can’t exceed 10 years of the life of the equipment installed and a minimum credit score of 640.
The lender for the program’s customer incentives is AFC First Financial Corporation based in Allentown, Pa. The money available for rebates through the program is limited. As of May 23, $141,150 remained for the $150 rebates.
Warren Heating & Air is one of the only businesses outside of Lexington and Louisville to obtain the certification, and the nearest not in those cities is in Nicholasville, about 13 miles south of Lexington.
To invest in the training, and some of the program’s testing equipment, which includes blower doors and infrared cameras, was a conscious effort to stay in front of new developments in heating and air, Warren said. It was another step in a growth process that began about six years ago by accident.
“We’ve had consistent growth for the past six years,” Warren said. “One of the deciding factors for me to grow was really due to accidents.”
Though Warren has had some long-term help from stable, reliable employees — he hired Anthony Graham when Graham was 19 and he’s still with the company — Warren chose to do much of the literal heavy lifting himself. Crawling into 80-degree attics to repair air conditioning units and toting gas pack units took its toll after a while.
Warren has had back vertebrae fused, a rotator cuff torn and an Achilles tendon surgically repaired.
“Each time that happens I’m off work for several weeks,” Warren said. “I realized that I had to do something because I couldn’t handle not being able to provide. Not working is not an option.”
Starting in 2006, Warren expanded to 10 employees racing to customers in eight company vehicles.
He homed in on cutting down the response time to reaching customers, especially when they called with air conditioning problems.
“When people come home from work, they walk into the house and it’s 80 degrees, well, they’re not happy,” Warren said.
And most recently, he’s settled into the new office/home away from home.
“I really like that,” said Michelle Warren about the renovation of her childhood home.
“I like going over there and it’s exciting that he was able to do that rather than tearing the building down.”
Michelle is an accountant in Benton who is used to being surprised by Steve.
She said she expected both of them to work 8 to 5 jobs after they wed in 1981.
“It takes a different kind of person to say, ‘I’m going to go into business for myself,’” Michelle said. “It takes guts and hard work and a lot of extra work. ...But (Steve) loves what he does and that job fits him well.”
For Steve, the new office is a nod to all of Michelle’s help in the beginning.
“Her job enabled me to grow my business,” Steve said. “I was fortunate enough to have a wife who was able to help take over some responsibilities.”
Contact Adam Shull, journal editor, at 270-575-8653.
“We’ve had consistent growth for the past six years. One of the deciding factors for me to grow was really due to accidents.”
Owner, Warren Heating & Air