Kalos 101: Founding, Growth, and Vision

Co-Founder Bryan Orr talks about how and why Kalos Services, Inc. was founded, some of the ways we’re currently growing, and what our company’s vision is for the years to come. If you’re a fan of ours or just curious as to what might make us different from your standard A/C company, this is the video for you!

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Links and Items Mentioned In This Video
  • How Kalos Services, Inc. was started
  • Why we are named “Kalos Services”
  • Our company values
  • The vision for our next few years and beyond

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    Transcript

    All right, so today we’re going to do Kalos 101. We’re going to be talking about the founding of Kalos, some of the areas of growth or vision that we’ve seen as we’ve gone on, and then our vision moving forward.

    I thought it would be an interesting thing because a lot of times, as you go grow the business, obviously, you think that everyone knows everything about who you are and how you got to where you are, but a lot of times, as you go grow and as you hire employees and get more customers and expand your scope a little bit, sometimes, some of your founding principles can get lost, and sometimes people don’t know the whole story.

    Let’s start by talking about where we came from and how we got started. In 2005, I was still working with the largest residential HVAC contractor in the Southeast, and my job at that business was to hire and train employees for the service department. I hired experienced technicians, but primarily, what I did was I hired and trained people who had never done air conditioning before to do air conditioning and to apprentice their way up through. We had run a fairly successful program there, but the reason why I really wanted to start my own business was that I had a real desire to build a business from the bottom up—the way that I thought we had been successful in building the department that I was a part of, which was to really hire people for who they were from a character standpoint, what they really believe, and then training them to skills. Most of the industry does it kind of the opposite. You hire people for their skills, and then you hope that they’re who you need them to be from a character-integrity standpoint. So, to me, that was kind of my vision all along when I started Kalos.

    Now, from a logistic standpoint, I could have never started Kalos by myself. My father, Robert, had been in the industry—well, not in the HVAC industry, but in the construction industry—for, I don’t know, as long as I can remember. So, I guess probably prior to that, maybe 30 years or 25 years, and so he actually has taken a little bit of a hiatus from construction. He was doing private independent home inspections and also commercial properties as well, and he thought about getting back into the business because he had his contracting license as well as his electrical license, as well as my uncle, Keith Huntington, who’s probably one of the best tradesmen I’ve ever meet from a hands-on standpoint. He had a lot of experience in commercial, electrical, and construction, and he actually had been in the home inspection business for a while as well.

    So, it’s a pretty broad range of skills that we had, and in our initial couple of meetings that we had, we were talking a lot about serving the real estate market, especially local realtors because my dad had a lot of connections with local realtors, and he thought, “Well, you know, there seems to be a real lack of service providers that tailor themselves to the local real estate market.” So, that was the original vision. We’re gonna start this, we’re gonna work for local realtor connections that we already have and just kind of go from there. So, I went and got my state contractor license and obviously spoke to my previous employer, and there was a good relationship. I left with their blessing and started Kalos.

    Now, the original iteration of what Kalos was, was me, Keith, and my dad doing whatever it was that someone wanted us to do. So, if a realtor had a garage they wanted to be painted, then we would go paint a garage. That was one of the first jobs that I did as a Kalos employee—painting a garage—and I’m not a professional painter by any stretch of the imagination, but I just made do, and we made it happen. So then, we got into summer. We actually started the business, I believe, in September of 2005, if I’m not mistaken, and so it kind of started in the bad season, and so I didn’t really have very much A/C work, but I started getting to the summer and started doing small service realtors, just me and my work pen, and we started getting a few change-outs, which is sort of problematic because I didn’t really have anyone to help me do them and I was, at that time, probably about 30 pounds lighter than I even am now. So, you know, doing anything that required a lot of lifting and things of that nature by myself wasn’t really easy, but I just sort of brought Keith in or sometimes my brother-in-law, Jesse, who would help me do some things if he could. So, it was very limited, obviously, to what my abilities were. But we got more and more into commercial. We actually were able to break in and do some work for someone at Dixie and do some decent-size projects that I could do, and it actually led to some further success where we were able to actually make a profit, which is a difficult thing for a small business to do. We did a lot of residential remodels and renovations for people who were close connections of ours within Clermont, and so that led to us actually being able to grow a little bit.

    The next step that we had was to hire someone else full-time in service, and so the first person who I thought of was my brother, Nathan, who was also working at the company that I left. So, after a lot of talking into, I got him to come and work for me and work with us, and we actually had a few guys who we used part-time. My other brother-in-law, Tim, worked with us a little bit, and he was formerly working with my dad in his home inspection business. So, I made do with what I could in order to get labor and in order to get the jobs done that I was able to get.

    At that point, I did essentially no advertising. In the beginning, we really did zero advertising. After 2005, especially as we got into 2006-2007, which is kind of where we already are here, the housing market started to crash. And when the housing market crashed, the regular realtor-type customers weren’t moving houses like they were before, and there certainly wasn’t money in it anymore, so we really found ourselves in a position where that market wasn’t gonna work for us. Commercial construction was starting to pick up. We’re just trying to get some more work for customers, but our regular mainstay, what we decided to try to found the business on, that customer was sort of starting to dry up. But in the process, we made a couple of connections with some decent-sized customers and in the short-term vacation rental market, one of them being Liberty Vacations Homes, which is still one of our best customers, one of our largest customers down in that market. And we started Kalos off by actually doing electrical. We started off by doing emergency lighting for them. So, we would go in and install emergency lights because that’s required in short-term vacation rental homes in most counties because it’s sort of pseudo-commercial occupancy.

    So, we were going to do that, and then we kept marketing ourselves. You know, we do air conditioning, and we will do pool heating. Well, I have done pool heating before. I mean, I have repaired pool heaters, but not to any great extent. So okay, we will give you one. Do you do gas pool heaters? Oh, I can. You know, so I’ll look at it and I actually started to become self-trained when it came to pool heating, which is experiencing it and working with it. The first time someone asked me to work on a pool control system, I was really in over my head. It’s the pool/spa actuators. You turn the dial, and the water all goes to the spa and it makes the bubbles and all this. I’m not a marketing guy, so when someone asks me to do something I’ve never done before, I’m not this super confident guy that says, “Oh yeah, no problem, sure, sure.” That isn’t my personality at all. My personality is to just tell them the blatant truth, which is, “Nope. I haven’t work on it before, but if you like me to look at it, I can try.” I can figure out most things, so I just started working on them and kind of just sorting my way through them, finding literature and reading up, and come to find out they’re really not that difficult. You know, you just have to understand what they’re about. So, we started getting into a little bit of pool automation, just simple pool heating automation for the short-term vacation rental industry.

    So, what we found pretty quickly was that we had a pretty significant edge in that market. So, we hit that stride where we realized that this was a really good market for us, so I actually started reaching out to that industry. I joined their association and started meeting people. What’s interesting about it is that because I’m not a marketing guy, I’m not the guy who goes to meetings and says, “Hi, I’m Bryan. This is what I do.” That isn’t me. I just stand there and talk to people who come near me and get to know people. But what’s interesting is that the last time I went to one of those association meetings, I realized that I knew probably 80% of the people there, and a good portion of them are my customers now, and it didn’t happen through marketing. It didn’t happen through me pushing Kalos on them. It happened because we found a niche market, and we found a way to serve it to the best of our ability.

    So, that forwarded to where we’re going today. We’re finding more and more niche markets. We’re finding ways to serve your regular residential homeowner better and better as we go trying to find ways to make our services more clear so that there is less confusion, better communication, quicker turnaround time, and better after-hour service. Those are all the things that your average homeowners are looking for, and we’re trying to find ways to serve them better as we go forward.

    Okay, so I want to rewind back to that kitchen table conversation where my dad and I sat down and decided that we’re going to start a business. And even the search for the name of the business was an interesting endeavor because, let’s face it, our last name, Orr, is kind of a boring name. I mean, you could make a pun out of it, “Up A Creek without an Orr,” you could do something silly like that, but it’s cheesy. And then we thought, well there’s always the obvious thing. You know you could do comfort air, comfort services, or whatever, but the issue is that from the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to be a multifaceted business. We didn’t really want to limit ourselves. We didn’t want to be XYZ air conditioning, XYZ air, or XYZ construction because none of that really represented who we were and we were relying on the fact that we were really joining forces in order to make this happen. It wasn’t something that either of us was going to either have the willpower or the financial stability to do without each other.

    I sort of provided the youthful interest in growing the business, and my dad definitely provided the experience, the wisdom, and the financial side in order to actually start a business, so we really kind of needed each other. But we wanted to start Kalos off all together, so what’s the name of the business like that? Well, you could call it South Lake Services. Well, that’s too geographic. You’re limiting yourself. So, what we decided was that we literally just opened up a Greek Dictionary, and we just started flipping through it, and we thought, okay, why Greek? I mean, I guess that’s the first question, why Greek? No, we’re not Greek. I’m mostly Polish. My dad is mostly Scottish. There is a little bit of American Indian there. You know, there’s no nationality that would equate to a Greek certainly, as you can tell by my “olive” complexion. So, the reason why it was a Greek Dictionary was that we recognized that there is a sort of richness to the ancient languages, especially the languages that the scriptures are written in. So, it’s because for us, really, the principle of doing all things heartily as unto the Lord is what we’ve always said. When going through a Greek Dictionary, we wanted to pick a word that had a little bit more fullness to it. That was not just to say “integrity services,” which we could have said that, and that would have been fine. But sometimes, you say words that we’re all familiar with, and they almost become trite and lose their value. So, we were picking something that people wouldn’t necessarily even know. That’s what we were trying to do; to us, it just seemed interesting. So, whether it was right or wrong, that’s what we decided to do.

    So, we just went through and fell on the word Kalos. KAY-los is how we pronounce it, but really it’s more like KAA-lows. I think that’s the correct pronunciation; we don’t really care. We thought, “We’re ‘Muricans.” So, we fell on Kalos because the idea of Kalos is about completeness, wholeness, integrity. If you ask someone who speaks Modern Greek, they’ll say that it’s really just kind of good, you know, just good or some will even say beautiful or handsome. But really, what we’re looking for is the idea of integrity or fullness, completeness, and what I really struck on was the word integrity. You know, integrity is something that is basically to say that there’s an understanding of a higher purpose there. There’s an understanding of something that’s beyond yourself because you can’t really have integrity to yourself because what does that mean? You know everyone has their own thing, and to me, integrity means that there’s something that is of much greater importance than just the thing that I do. There’s something that is full and whole that dictates the decisions that we make and the things that we do. So for me, of course, that’s God. That’s doing things to honor God, doing things that please him, and making decisions in that direction.

    So, for me, Kalos represented that idea the best of any of the words that I saw. Our job isn’t like evangelism. It’s not like we’re going out to every person and sharing the gospel. But it represents a fullness of our lives that if every other word coming out of our mouth isn’t scripture, the idea is that we’re bringing in the fullness of who God is through the way that we even interact with people and the business decisions that we make and the ways that we decide to do things. So, for both of us, that was really an attractive concept.

    Now, our initial tagline was “Providing professional service, one customer at a time,” but we’ve simplified it to “Simply great service,” and the idea with providing professional service one customer at a time or simply great service is to say that it’s not about us. That’s the idea.  It’s that simply great service or providing professional service one customer at a time isn’t about us being of the highest quality. You could say that we’re, you know, the best quality service. Well, the problem with that is that it really is subjective, but really serving people because the idea of service is serving, providing great service, is all about focusing on that person, and so when my dad came up with the idea of providing professional service one customer at a time, the idea of one customer at a time is not focusing on what it is that you’re going to get out of this but really focusing on the object of your service and really providing them with what it is that they need. And it is a fine line. We just talked a lot about ideas when we were starting the business, and one of the ideas that I’ve always rejected is the idea that the customer is always right. There’s that saying within service where we say, “The customer is always right.” You know, that really is just a cop-out because if you say that the customer is always right, then you can just repeat that, and then that kind of recluses you from really making good decisions. You said, well, the customer is always right. Well, no, the customer isn’t always right, but that doesn’t mean that the customer isn’t always important. The customer is always valuable, and so I think it’s important to realize that when you’re looking at these things.

    So, providing professional service one customer at a time isn’t doing whatever anyone asks me to do every single time. You see, that’s very different because doing what anyone asks you to do at any single time is may be really bad for them and really bad for your business, bad for your employees. So, that isn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to look at the business and say, “What is the wise choice?” (The wise choice meaning the choice that is really what’s best overall; there’s a lot of decisions you can make in a business that may be what the customer thinks is best for right now.) We have a lot of cases where customers will ask us to do things to their air conditioner because they want the very cheapest option or whatever that we are just not willing to do because it isn’t effective, safe, or wise. So you could say, well the customer is always right. Well, that would dictate to you that you do what it is that they ask you to do, but sometimes, what’s wise and what’s best isn’t what you’re asked to do. And so, for me, trying to kind of figure that out even in this tagline that we use and in the way that we named the business was a really important thing.

    So, going through and understanding what is really important to us, what are we going to build the business on, and then it’s coming to the growth side of things or how we are actually going to make this happen. And like I said, initially, where we thought things are going to be, were not what they ended up being in the long run: thinking that serving the real estate market directly, that was gonna be sort of our niche and we were gonna stick with that. It didn’t really pan out, but being able to pivot based on the principles was really important for us—being able to say, “Okay, can we serve this customer?” because that’s a really valid question, and this is something that I think is really important when it comes to the idea of Kalos.

    The idea of Kalos also means that I don’t tell people that I can do things that I really can’t do. You know, for example, if there were something that I really wasn’t able to provide a good competitive service on, I just couldn’t for whatever reason. Then, if it’s in the customer’s best interest, I tell them that, and we do that all the time. There are lots of things that come up that really we’re not the best option, but we get called because someone sees an ad or here’s a friend, our friends tell them about us or whatever, and they’ll call us and say with the air conditioning, you do this and that. And really, just so we know that it’s not the most effective option for them, and so part Kalos is being able to say, “Okay, well, maybe we can move and start to do that in the future or grow.” But a lot of times, the best thing to do is just say, “No. Here’s someone who we would refer for this.” So, that’s all part of what Kalos is.

    But when it comes to this next step, I’m gonna get right into the vision of what Kalos is and how I think we can really make something that’s exceptional and grow something that’s exceptional. It goes back to the initial reason why I wanted to start my own business in the first place, and I think it’s easy to lose sight of that because what happens in any type of business is you get so caught up in doing business, fixing air conditioners, doing construction jobs, cleaning your van, talking to customers, collecting payment, ordering parts, doing warranty claims, and all those things that we do that you lose sight of what it is that really differentiates us and what it is that’s really going to make all the difference moving forward. And really, it’s people. That’s a simple way of putting it, but it’s people, and it’s having the right people.

    One of the things that I think about most often in business is that I read a book called Good to Great, and in Good to Great, it talks about that the most important job that you can do when you’re running a business is, first of all, get the wrong people off of the bus. Second of all, get the right people on the bus before you decide where the bus is going to go, and there’s a lot of truth to that because you’re not going to go where you want to go with the wrong people. You’re not going to go where you want to go until you have the right people, and you shouldn’t even decide where you want to go until you do. And the reason for that is obvious, but that isn’t how business is played out day in and day out.

    Day in and day out, what happens throughout corporate America is that decision-makers make decisions about what it is that they’re going to do. Is it going to make money or help the shareholders or serve their customers better? They make a decision, and then they send down the edict, and the edict says, “This is what we’re going to do, and there really is no concern for whether or not they have the right people to even do that.” It’s sort of like we’re going to make ourselves do this particular thing, and I think that’s the wrong way because you can do a lot of things with process. You can do a lot of things with administration, but the thing that you can’t do with either of those is actually make people good at their jobs. You can’t. You can keep them from making huge mistakes. Now, that’s what McDonald’s does when they sit a high schooler in front of a keypad that has pictures of the food, and they hit the picture of the food and then they have these timers for everything that says how long to cook everything. Really, what they’re doing is they’re not building a system to make a tremendous product, although some may argue that McDonald’s fries are a tremendous product. But they’re not building a system to really excel where their employees can actually be more than what the system is. They’re just trying to control it so that errors aren’t made–someone’s knocked dead scalding coffee again. That’s really what they’re trying to do, honestly, and it’s not that it’s wrong. It isn’t wrong. It just is what it is. It isn’t who we are.

    Who we are is a business that wants to develop people to be bigger than the process, to be able to make Kalos more than a system, more than just a set of words in a book or a class that I can give. You want to be in a position where any single employee is better at doing their job than I could be if I did their job. That’s a really good place to be because what that means is that every person can excel and grow where they can grow—where their skills and inclination take them.

    Here is the challenge:

    The challenge is that everyone gets tied down to doing their job day in and day out. I do. I mean, I get totally overwhelmed at times just doing the daily tasks that I have to do. You come into the office, and you do this work you do. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s good. It’s good to have work to do, and I’m really very thankful and blessed to have work, to have jobs that feed our families. But growth, vision, and purpose are all about continuing to progress. The Japanese have a concept called Kaizen. I’m probably botching that pronunciation, but the idea is continuous improvement. The idea is that there is nothing that you should do that you just say, “Now it’s done.” There really isn’t anything in life that is that way. I mean, you look at raising children and relationships and sports. Anything that you do while you’re in your car, your car stereo, you know, whatever it is, there is always something you can improve. There is always some way to grow, and if you just try to get to a place from a professional standpoint where you say, “Oh yeah. I’ve reached this place that I always wanted to be, and now that’s fine.” It may be fine. So, you may say maybe this is the position I should be in. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You may say, “This is all the money I need to make anymore.” That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. You may say this is the only other company I want to work for. I don’t want to work for another company. I’ll say that’s fine.

    But to say, “I don’t want to improve anymore,” that’s very dangerous. To say, “I’m where I want to be, that’s dangerous because that isn’t a mindset of continuous improvement. Just in the same way that if we don’t work out our muscles, our muscles start to atrophy and deteriorate. Our minds and our personal progressions start to deteriorate and atrophy. So, there’s nothing that makes me more concerned about someone than when I hear them talk about something that they’ve just given up on—a part of who they are, they’ve just given up on, and I do it too. I may say something like, “Oh man, I am just not an installer. You know, I try to make something level with this. This is the case. I’m a service guy. I like to fix broken things, but when it comes to making something look level with an eyeball, my eyes just betray me.” And I could just say, “Well, you know what, forget that.” No, the answer isn’t, “Forget that.” The answer may be, “Yeah, I’m never going to be good at seeing things level naturally, but they make a tool for that. It’s called a level. So, I don’t need to give up on being good at something.” I should just say, “All right, I need to adjust, and I need to grow, and I need to learn how to use the tools that I’m given better.”

    When I hear someone say, “Technology just isn’t for me.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but it kind of is because if you lived in a horse and buggy days and you said, “Technology is just not for me,” that means you wouldn’t have been driving a Model T, and you would have been left behind by industry. That’s just the reality. So, to say, “I struggle with technology,” well, that’s honest. You know, a lot of us do, [struggle with] different aspects of technology, but to say that it’s not for me, you’re putting a damper on yourself. You’re putting a cap on yourself that’s artificial, and when it comes to personal development, that’s one of the mindsets that you can’t really train. You can encourage it, and you can hire for it, but you can’t really train it because so much of it has to do with who you surround yourself with, even outside the work.

    If you’re hanging out with negative people who say things like, for example, “Well, it is what it is.” You hear that all the time. Yeah, that’s the solution. I mean, well, it is what it is, and I say it too, but if that is the tone of a person’s life who you spend time with all the time, that’s not a Kaizen tone. That’s very, “Nothing you can do about it; the world happens to me, I don’t happen to it; it just is what it is, right?” Well, that’s not true. It isn’t true at all. The only real person who can directly affect who you are day in and day out is yourself, and who you are will dictate the opportunities that come your way, and whether or not you continue to grow or not. And for me, continuing to grow is honestly enough. It really is, even for Kalos. To me, things can happen. You know, the economy can turn down. You know, you can have people who you hire who didn’t turn out to be who they thought they were. Well, those types of things happen. You can get sick. I could break a leg tomorrow. Those things happen. You can’t do anything about it. But to me, for myself and for Kalos, I want to see people who are interested and continuing to grow and improve their lives.

    I almost said to you that life gets better, but I want to be careful because even that, that doesn’t mean easy. Things happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It doesn’t mean easy. It means that you know that you are where you’re supposed to be, that you know that you’re in the center of God’s will. It’s the way that I would put it; you’re growing towards who it is that you were made to be and what your purpose is and that you’re continuing to improve in those ways.

    For us as a business, that looks like recognizing opportunities and then hiring and developing people who have the proper character to meet those opportunities, to meet those things that I see out there, and it’s difficult always for me because my nature is very—I don’t want to say “visionary” because that sounds like I’m saying that I’m a visionary—but my nature is to look in the future. For me, I’m not nearly as concerned about what happens a month from now or how many checks we gather in as I am about what Kalos will look like 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now when some of my children are maybe working here. That, to me is what’s very interesting, and don’t ask me why.  It’s just the way I’m wired, but for me, I want to develop people now who can be the divisional leaders 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and it isn’t because I want to be really rich or I want to have Kalos be in a big building. I couldn’t care less. It really doesn’t matter to me, all those types of things. What matters to me is the idea of seeing development in others. It’s what I love about my job more than anything else, what I loved about the past job that I had more than anything else is seeing people grow, seeing people grow in wisdom, making better decisions, and perspective. There’s nothing better than talking to someone about a technical idea or really any kind of idea and seeing the light go off in their head where it’s like, “Okay, I understand that.” That is very rewarding for me. So, hiring people who have those abilities and seeing them develop is really important.

    I want Kalos to be a place that provides you with the opportunity to make it what you want it to be, and I’m going to start to hire people who want it to be something that’s really great for our customers. It isn’t getting that next big contract that’s going to make Kalos something special. It’s having people and growing people who see it as something that they can use as a theater that they can grow in and that they can help others grow. The minute that I see a technician who doesn’t want to help a new guy learn, I’m really looking carefully at that guy because, to me, that indicates a real sickness, and it’s a sickness that we see within our industry.

    The whole idea of protectionism in the industry is something that I just reject completely—the idea that we have some secret knowledge that we have to prevent people from understanding. I want everyone to understand this business. Now, there are some concepts and some things within the industry that are very hard for people to understand because you have to have the experience to understand it, so I’m not going to go to a customer and start talking advanced psychrometrics. That probably isn’t the best use of my time, but what is a good use of my time is for me to start to educate people, be willing to educate people, to have the heart of a teacher. That’s a really important part of what we do: a heart of a teacher with customers, a heart of a teacher with other employees, and if our vulnerability is kind of revealing who we are and what it is that we think leads to somewhat correcting us, well great. That’s great. If someone can help me by telling me something that I’m doing wrong or something that I could improve, that’s excellent. But if someone just wants to beat another person up because they’re not perfect, well that’s a human condition.

    You know, we’re all imperfect, and we have to be willing to learn from our mistakes, even when it comes to things that I know a lot of people will say. Even my wife says it to me sometimes, “Are you sure that you know exactly what you’re doing there?”

    The answer is, “No, I’m sure that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing.” The more that I do, the more I realize that there’s so much that I still need to learn, and really, I can’t wake up the next morning getting upset about all the stuff I don’t know. What I have to do every morning when I wake up is be excited about the things that I can learn and the things that I can grow.

    So, that’s it for Kalos 101. I hope you guys have enjoyed it.

    Visit KalosFlorida.com or call (352) 243-7088 for more information!

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