January 19, 2012
Air conditioning is often regarded as something of a luxury, but in Southwest Florida, it is very much a necessity of life, not only in terms of personal comfort, but in the way one safeguard’s the value of a home. Home purchases, more often than not, are the single most important, if not costliest, purchase one will make. Air conditioning is a critical means of preventing the destructive forces of mold and mildew that are also well known, but painful factors of life in this climate.
Sanibel Air Conditioning has been serving the Sanibel community for more than 20 years. Owned and operated by two brothers, Todd and Bryan Hayes, the company started as a small appliance repair operation launched by Todd and Bryan’s father – Daniel Hayes.
Originally from New Jersey, Daniel’s career had initially revolved around the sale of manufacturing equipment. When that company was later sold, he and his wife Jan elected to move to Sanibel following some prompting from other family members that were already situated here. Todd Hayes was 13 years old at the time, and like any teenager confronting separation from friends and familiar neighborhoods, says the transition was a bit rough at first. Fortunately, he had a fondness for fishing and enjoyed playing baseball; it didn’t take too for him and Bryan to make new friends.
As his father’s business grew from repairs into a full fledged air conditioning enterprise, Todd would graduate from High School and go on to enter studies at University of Central Florida where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance. Not long later, his father approached him about taking over the family business and Todd says he decided to give it a try. That resolve has lead to a enterprise which today has close to 600 service contracts with area residents as well as commercial customers. Beyond Sanibel Air Conditioning, Todd and Bryan also have a sister enterprise in Sanctuary Island Electric, a licensed provider of electric repair and installation services. While Todd manages Sanibel Air, Bryan is chiefly responsible for running Sanctuary Island Electric.
There are certain advantages, or realities, of working in a family business that Todd acknowledges. “Not everything is so cut and dry like what happens in a lot of businesses,” says Todd. There’s emotions and matters of communication which have to be taken into account, because as Todd says, you’re not just dealing with employees, but family. And staff, he says, even if they’re not related, are very much like family. These include people like Installation Manager Chris Brightman who has been with Sanibel Air Conditioning for eight years and Office Manager Carol Schipiro who has been there for more than ten years. For that matter, customers are not just customers, but neighbors and friends of the community the company serves.
Todd shares a story about how the company grew right after Hurricane Charlie. At the time right after the storm, only people who lived or had an office on the island were allowed to return on to the island. Todd and his staff made a point of driving from home to home, just to check-in on people. As power had yet to return, there wasn’t much they could do in terms of getting the air back running, but they busied themselves helping other clean-up, removing A.C. units which had been strewn about like so much other debris. They took time to make sure neighbors had come through the storm safe and they provided help wherever they could. When the power returned, Todd says they found themselves busier than ever.
Their commitment to the community is manifested in other matters too. Sanibel Air Conditioning has supported a range of area not-for-profits that include the Lion’s Club, American Business Women’s Association, the Children’s Center Preschool and Ronald MCDonald house through the donating of air conditioning systems. Todd and Bryan are also very involved in youth sports where they have served as coaches for area teams. They also find time to play on a softball league where Sanibel Air’s team routinely matches up against team from other business, Todd and Bryan respectively playing first and second base positions, or pitching. Todd says this activity has more to do with fun than real competition. However, in speaking of the company’s growth over the years, he offers some insight that might serve anyone looking for a way to gain over the competition. He says their success has come from focusing on the market they serve, namely Sanibel; through understanding the needs of the market, and making connections not mere contacts.
He says such connectivity, and giving customers choices, options in terms of products and services, has helped Sanibel Air remain fairly cool in the hottest of economic times.