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John Miller, Owner and President Retires After 42 Years

John Miller, Owner and President Retires After 42 Years

I’m John Miller, president, and founder of Aqua Services and Aqua Plumbing & Air. I started Aqua on a wish and a prayer, and now after 42 years I am ready to retire and sell to two of my key managers, Chuck Jacobson and Skip Stanton. Chuck has been with me over 30 years and Skip for 18 years.

I grew up as a shy, quiet kid, in a family that did not have much, I always wanted something better. I always loved to read and at a young age I read two books that had a great impact on my life. The books were “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie and the other book was “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Vincent Peale. Later I read “Think and Grow Rich” by Napolean Hill. After reading those books I realized that my thoughts could control who I wanted to be in life. Positive thoughts could guide me toward positive circumstances, so I always painted a picture of success in my mind.

As an apprentice plumber, my first job was installing the plumbing in the tallest building in Sarasota and Manatee County – PLYMOUTH HARBOR. Many of the buildings I helped install plumbing in as an apprentice are now customers of Aqua Plumbing & Air today. I worked for Patrick Plumbing for several years. Patrick was primarily a commercial plumbing contractor. We installed plumbing systems in schools and high rise buildings. I was promoted to estimator and supervisor after a couple of years which really strengthened my knowledge of plumbing.

In the early seventies, Sunstate Builders from Tampa, was developing Carrollwood Village, bought out Patrick Plumbing and it became Sunstate Plumbing. I moved to Tampa and all was well for a couple of years, but I dreamed of moving back to Sarasota to start my own company. By the end of 1973, I got my opportunity. The country was going into a huge recession. Construction was at a standstill. There were long lines at gas stations, and there were half finished condominiums abandoned.

It may not have been the best time to start a business, but I felt it was then or never. Ron Foxworthy, who owned Rusty Plumbing and was my former brother-in-law, encouraged me to get into the plumbing repair business in Sarasota. I will forever be thankful and grateful for the help and encouragement he provided. Rusty Plumbing was the most successful plumbing company in Sarasota at that time. Ron introduced me to the professional people I would need to run a small business: Insurance agents, bankers, attorneys, and my accountant and consultant Merry Willis who is still with me criticizing and questioning my every move. She has been and still is instrumental in Aqua’s success.

So, there I was like a deer in the headlights, not sure which way to run. I certainly wasn’t over educated; I had learned my lessons from the school of hard knocks. I was also introverted and had social anxieties. So how in the world did I ever become so successful? I guess now that I’m retiring, it’s okay to share my secrets to success.

1. I didn’t do it alone. I knew I had to surround myself with quality people both inside and outside the company. I stayed very loyal to those people around me. I was fair to employees and showed them respect. I was loyal to vendors that I was doing business with. I didn’t change a vendor just because someone else promised to charge a little less.

#2. I was too dumb and naïve to know better. I listened to self-improvement tapes and went to seminars. If it sounded good I believed it. I did not think I could fail. For example I read an article in a magazine that questioned why plumbers didn’t offer a lifetime warranty on water heaters. They had no moving parts, they sat in a corner and made hot water and according to statistics 70% of most home owners moved every 5–7 years. The lifetime warranty would be good to the original owner. The manufacturer gave a 5 or 6 year warranty. I thought this was an incredible idea. I not only implemented it but I also advertised it by taking out a FULL page ad and ran radio commercials. The state eventually made me stop. I guess my competition complained and said I had an unfair advantage. I was okay with that. It worked for 2 years. Today I still have a couple of customers who get a free water heater every 6 or 7 years.

#3. I had to make people like me. Being an introvert I knew I could never BS my way to success. It would have to be done the old fashioned way, with hard work and with quality work that became Aqua’s motto for many years. “Quality Plumbing for a Cleaner Environment.”

#4. I became a good listener. I would never become a public speaker but I could make myself look intelligent with intense skills and nodding my head in agreement when the speaker said something important. My plan was working. Within 3 to 4 years Aqua was beginning to enjoy some success. We were not only doing repair work but also some new construction. All of a sudden things seemed easier. Work was booming, customers were happy. I was soon able to build our own shop which was located at 1760 East Avenue.

As Aqua continued to grow I realized I couldn’t do everything myself. I wanted to promote from within, so I trained and promoted employees to key positions, such as a plumbing estimator, new construction supervisor and a service manager.

Then I may have gotten a bit too ambitious. I wanted Aqua to have one of the area’s first plumbing showrooms. It made perfect sense to have a place where customers could come and actually see, touch and feel the plumbing fixtures and trim for their new home or remodeling project. We named it Total Kitchen and Bath Designs. We were now in the remodeling business.

Then trouble came calling. Our competition was giving work away. We couldn’t land a job with profit in it no matter how hard we tried. If we wanted to be the successful bidder on a job we either had to take it with no profit or make a bidding mistake. There was a time in the late 80’s early 90’s when I thought builders were our worst enemy. They wouldn’t pay us for the work we did do at cost, plus we couldn’t find good help. A lot of our plumbers had left and gone in business for themselves. We seemed to be left with plumbers who couldn’t do the job right.

Things were terrible. My day started with negative expectations. If someone asked me how I was, I gave them an earful of how bad things were. I literally didn’t know if I would survive another 30 days. I didn’t realize I no longer had a positive personality. I had become a negative person with negative expectations. It seemed almost impossible to turn things around. I was desperate for answers. I got the thought that maybe I could find them in church. I needed my faith back! One Sunday morning I decided I would go to this church I had heard a lot about. Laying on the back seat of my car was a tape series by Neal Dwyer that I had been listening to. The tapes were titled, “You will see it when you believe it.”

Well that Sunday, the pastor, who was quite a charismatic individual, grabbed the mic and yelled, “You will see it when you believe it”. I got goose bumps and knew I was where I needed to be. One of the first things his message taught me was the power of the tongue. My negative comments and expectations were guiding my ship into stormy waters and if I wanted to change I would have to change the words and thoughts that were coming out of my mouth. I had an epiphany. I didn’t just believe it, I knew deep inside that things would change if I changed.

Monday morning I came to work with a smile on my face. Someone asked how I was doing and my answer was, “I am fantastic, business is great, we have the best customers in the world. It couldn’t be better!” And things did instantly change. Plumbing material suppliers were our largest expense. I went to a couple of our largest ones and asked if they could work with me paying them a little late, which they were happy to do. And I can say I’ve never been in a financial bind since.

Aqua continued to grow and expand. In the mid-nineties Chuck Jacobson was promoted to VP and General Manager of Aqua’s New Construction which he took to a new level. In 1997, my trusted consultant Merry Willis urged me to buy a small A/C company, which then became Aqua Plumbing & Air.

In 2002 we promoted Skip Stanton to VP and General Manager of APAS. Together with Merry’s help the A/C division became a huge success! In 2001, we built the facility we are currently in now, 8283 Vico Court. Continuing to grow, we then purchased a small electric company in 2009 which is managed by Andrew Kicklighter, and has become very successful. While the economy was booming during the early and mid-2000, I had learned from experience that the economy would continue it’s up and down cycles. I also learned that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem.

Because Aqua was financially diligent and responsible with its finances when things were good prior to the great recession, we survived while many businesses did not. As the economy improved and turned around a few years ago, Aqua was in a great position for continued growth. In 2013, we had the good fortune of hiring Ken Jackson as the General Manager of the Plumbing Service Division. He has been a great addition to our team and has helped our service division become even more successful. Because Aqua is so diversified and not only dependent on new construction, we are able to survive most downturns.

It’s never easy, but with the right people, the right culture, and the right attitude I believe Chuck and Skip will continue to guide Aqua in the right direction for continued success in delivering the best plumbing, HVAC and electric services. I’d also like to extend my thanks to all of our valued customers, who helped build Aqua, and have allowed us to become more like family in our community.

Aqua Plumbing Thanks Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida

John used a trusted, local bank, Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida to help them through the sale of Aqua Plumbing & Air. Gateway Bank of SWFL financed the acquisition of the business as well as the commercial real estate through the use of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) program which promotes the preservation and growth of small businesses.

“We were delighted to help two long time employees acquire the business that they have been instrumental in growing,” said Jordan Hallam, Director of Business Bank – Group VP at Gateway. “As a community bank we recognize the importance of locally owned companies. Therefore, keeping Skip and Chuck with Aqua and maintaining the rest of the jobs in Sarasota rather than selling to an out of town corporation was an important factor in our decision to lend to the Borrowers and fits right in with the mission of the SBA.”

Use a Programmable Thermostat to Reduce Summer Cooling Costs

One of the best ways to minimize summer cooling costs is with a programmable thermostat. Turning the temperature up when you’re not home saves energy, and the savings add up with consistent and regular use of energy-saving setbacks in your programmable thermostat.

Unless some other factor is involved, such as air pressure differentials, heat always travels to cold, and when you’re home is warmer, it will gain less heat from the outside. The warmer you keep your home, the closer the indoor temperature will be to the temperature outside. So when you’re gone for hours at a stretch, the rate of heat transfer will slow as it warms up. A Summer Savings 5programmable thermostat can help you manage temperature changes in your home, so that it stays warmer and uses less energy while you’re gone. Unless your cooling system is too small or running inefficiently, your A/C should be able to cool off your home to a comfortable temperature before you return home.

Curbing summer cooling costs with a programmable thermostat can help a good deal, especially if you’re routinely gone during the day. These thermostats take the work out of adjusting your thermostat, something that’s easy to overlook as you leave home.

Programmable thermostats are available with a variety of characteristics, from those that simply use a timer to adjust the temperature setting to those that monitor your home precisely and can be accessed anywhere you can get an Internet signal. Some can be wired into your home while others use batteries.

7-Day Models

If you want the most flexibility, choose this model. It lets you have a different setting for each day of the week, or you can keep the settings the same for each day if your schedule doesn’t change daily. If you work at home or are retired, this kind of programmable thermostat can be set for energy-saving temperatures when you’re asleep, or programmed ahead of time when you know you’ll be gone for the day. After all, you can’t stay home all the time!

5-2 Day Models

If you’re away during the week, home on weekends and keep the same schedule during both periods, this type may be the most convenient for you. Any family member who comes home unexpectedly can override the settings temporarily.

If you take advantage of time of use pricing from Florida Power and Light (FPL), this type of thermostat might be a good option for you. Peak rates from FPL start at noon and run through 9 p.m. from April to the end of October, from Monday through Friday. Setting the thermostat to keep your home cooler after 9 p.m. until noon, and having it automatically switch to a warmer setting after noon will reduce your cooling costs. You can set the thermostat to be cooler over the weekend, when you won’t be paying peak rates.

5-1-1 Models

A household that has the same weekday schedule but different weekend schedules can use this type of programmable thermostat. Even if you’re away routinely for several hours on a weekend, you’ll benefit from this model by not cooling your home as much during your absence.

Once you’ve selected the model that suits your occupancy habits, you can move on to deciding the capabilities of the programmable thermostat to control summer cooling costs.

Types

The four types available include those that you program yourself and have no WiFi connectivity, those with WiFi connectivity, “learning” thermostats that program themselves, and intelligent recovery units designed to work solely with heat pumps.

Manual Programmable Thermostats

These units need to be programmed by an HVAC contractor or the homeowner. Over time, they’ve gotten easier to program and are usually an affordable solution that help you manage energy use.

Wi-Fi Connectivity

If you use a smart-phone or computing tablet, or want to monitor your home’s temperature settings remotely, this type of thermostat will give you access wherever you can get an Internet signal. Some of these units allow you to change the current settings online and even lock the thermostat’s keypad to prevent being tampered with when you’re not home.

Learning Thermostats

If you don’t want to do any of the programming yourself, consider a learning thermostat that gradually learns your temperature preferences and schedule, and stores the information so it can begin automatic programming.

Intelligent Recovery Thermostats

If you have a heat pump, as many Florida homeowners do, choose this type of programmable thermostat to manage summertime cooling and winter heating costs. It works just like other programmable thermostats in the summer, but will change how the heat pump functions in the winter. A heat pump has an auxiliary heating coil that operates much less efficiently for home heating than the regular heat pump operation.

If you turn your thermostat up more than two degrees for heating, the coil will turn on, increasing energy costs. An intelligent or adaptive recovery thermostat stops this coil from working, and calculates when and how much the heat pump has to run to keep your home’s temperature stable, regardless of the thermostat’s programmed settings.

Features Available

When choosing a programmable thermostat to help you with summer cooling costs, you’ll find models that have a variety of features, including:programmable thermostat

  • Filter check lights. The filter for the air handler has one of the most important tasks associated with cooling system maintenance. A light on the thermostat will turn on when it’s time to check the filter. This feature helps you avoid running your system with a dirty filter that will increase the cost of cooling your home.
  • Motion or light sensors. Found on WiFi thermostats, this feature helps your learning thermostat adjust the temperature based on occupancy. Some even come with sensors you can place in each room so the thermostat can better learn your home and its thermal characteristics.
  • System check light. This light tells you when something in your air conditioning system isn’t running as it should be. A malfunctioning system drives up your cooling costs and can cause a more expensive repair down the road.

Other features that are useful may include:

  • Real-time clock.
  • Touch pads.
  • Battery-check light.
  • Daylight savings time adjustment.
  • Outside temperature display.
  • Humidity level monitor.
  • Voice-programming features.
  • Daily energy consumption.

Thermostat Placement

Where you put the programmable thermostat has an impact on controlling your summer cooling costs. It needs to be in a location where it won’t receive sunshine and is away from drafts from windows or exterior doors. It shouldn’t be too close to the kitchen or bathrooms, where temperatures can be higher than the rest of your home. Don’t block access to the thermostat with furniture. If you have a two-story home, place it on the first floor.

Zoning Placement

A zoning system divides your home into separate cooling zones based on thermal characteristics. If you have such a system, each zone needs its own thermostat that connects to the control panel that triggers the zone’s operation.

Installation

An HVAC contractor can help you choose and install the best thermostat for your home. Some of these models state that you need a professional to install them. It’s a good idea to read the instructions for the thermostat, along with the warranty conditions, before undertaking the job yourself. In order to operate properly, the thermostat needs to be perfectly level.

Operation

  • Programmable thermostats let you override the current settings, but doing so frequently can raise your electric bill. The thermostat may not return to its original programming until the next 24-hour period.
  • When you’re going away for more than 48 hours, set the temperature and use the hold or vacation feature to save energy.

The pros at Aqua Plumbing & Air can help you manage summer cooling costs with a programmable thermostat. Contact us today to learn more. We’ve provided superior HVAC services for Sarasota and Bradenton since 1974.

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About Us

Aqua Plumbing & Air – Serving the Sarasota Area for Over 40 Years John Miller founded Aqua Plumbing in 1974. As a Master Plumber, he brought years of subcontracting experience and expertise in residential, commercial and new construction. Aqua Plumbing was...