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This Husband-and-Wife Franchise Team Are Playing It Cool With a Successful HVAC Business Ray and Tina Bramble are so successful that they won 2015's IFA's Franchisee of the Year Award.

By Joan Oleck

Ray and Tina Bramble
Ray and Tina Bramble

Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email franchiseplayers@entrepreneur.com.

Ray and Tina Bramble, husband-wife franchisees with Aire Serve in Front Royal, Virginia, have been in the business of installation, maintenance and repair of air conditioners and heaters for six years now. En route, they've been successful enough to have won the International Franchise Association's coveted Franchisee of the Year Award last September. And their own company honored them with its Personal Achievement Award during the company's annual reunion in 2012. They've also found time to donate free services to charities in Warren County, Va., such as Habitat for Humanity and the Humane Society.

Name(s): Raymond and Tina Bramble

Franchise owned: Aire Serv of Bull Run, and Front Royal, Virginia.

How long have you owned a franchise?

[Ray replying] Six years.

Related: These Days, This HVAC Franchisee Is Cooling His Heels as a Successful Business Owner

Why franchising?

When you jump into franchising, you experience unmatched support. At Aire Serv, you're provided with a proven system, business coaching and monthly meetings with the company's franchise team, as well as support and advice from fellow franchisees.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I owned an air conditioning and heating company, LCI Services Inc., for four years. The company was very similar to Aire Serv; but, without a team or system in place, I wasn't able to expand the business and grow a customer base. I always had enough customers to keep myself busy, but it was time to take my business to the next level.

I joined Aire Serv through their conversion program, in which they allow entrepreneurs and small business owners to convert their existing air-maintenance companies into Aire Serv franchises. I brought my expertise and experience to the brand and in return was provided with the support and system that I needed to grow.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

Everyone at Aire Serv is genuine and supportive, not to mention the fact that they share a code of values with nine additional brands owned by Dwyer Group, Aire Serv's parent company, which not only outlines how they should work in a professional environment, but also how they should live their daily lives.

Additionally, the support [the company] provides is unmatched in the franchise industry. All franchisees gain access to immediate and ongoing training opportunities, such as hands-on training with the company's systems and technology, and training in marketing strategies and financial operations.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

We spent $25,000 for our franchise fee; $15,000 for the company vehicle; $5,000 for equipment, repurposed from LCI Services Inc.; and $100 for uniforms.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I received most of my advice from current Aire Serv franchisees and conducted an Internet search on other businesses and franchises. Once I joined Aire Serv, the company provided me with a franchise coach who shared decades of technical expertise and tested business systems to set me up for success.

Related: Married Business Partners Find Themselves Not in Kansas Anymore With Window Genie

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

I expected long hours but had a difficult time figuring out how to price my jobs to make a profit. Every franchisee wants to make sure they're running a profitable business, so I had to quickly calculate the cost of customer acquisition -- in other words what it costs to get in someone's door.

Aside from pricing, I also had a difficult time learning how to collect money and provide benefits packages to my employees. It was a challenge at first, but we eventually achieved all of our business goals.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

"Don't buy it, and then not work it." Aire Serv provides you with a proven model of how your business should function, but they don't force you to follow the model 100 percent. With a system like this in place, some franchisees can get lazy and not follow what was recommended or advised.

As a business owner, [I found that] the biggest and most time-consuming mistake you can make is not following the processes of proven systems. It's important to be proactive in your approach -- not just reactive.

What's next for you and your business?

I plan on expanding my coverage area and adding more core services to my business, such as security, plumbing, electrical, etc. I'm looking to create emotionally satisfied customers that come to us for all of their needs -- not just air system maintenance.

Several of our long-time clients have asked us for great plumbing and electrical recommendations, so I would love to start offering those services instead of referring them elsewhere.

Related: These Franchisees' Business Runs Off Batteries Essential to an Alaskan Winter

Joan Oleck

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor

Joan Oleck is an associate contributors editor at Entrepreneur. She has previously worked for Business Week, Newsday and the trade magazine Restaurant Business, where a cover story she wrote won the Jesse Neal Award.

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