The owner says he did nothing out of the ordinary to win international recognition for business ethics.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
NORTH LIMA -- When Bill Wiery Jr. plans a company golf outing, he does it on a weekday and gives all his employees the day off.
When his employees install a new replacement furnace, he gives the buyer a 100 percent money-back guarantee, in writing -- even though he's never had a customer use it.
The way Wiery sees it, he's doing "nothing out of the ordinary" -- but the Council of Better Business Bureaus thinks differently.
The Arlington, Va.-based CBBB selected Wiery and his company, W.W. Heating & amp; Air Conditioning, as a finalist in its international Torch Awards business ethics competition.
The contest attracted 2,800 business participants from the United States and Canada, and 104 advanced to the international level.
Wiery's small, North Lima company won a berth as finalist in the middle-sized category, for businesses with between 11 and 99 employees. Studio 904, a beauty salon based in Seattle, was the top winner in the category.
The local company was one of 28 businesses from 18 states and the Canadian province of Ontario that were recognized.
W.W. Heating & amp; Air Conditioning also was a second runner-up in the Mahoning Valley BBB's Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics in April.
Business ethics has taken on a new significance in light of recent accounting scandals involving some of the nation's largest companies, said Ken Hunter, president and chief executive of the CBBB.
"With corporate integrity under the spotlight and with so many people questioning the motives and methods of business leaders, it's easy to focus on the negative examples," Hunter said.
"Our award highlights the positives, bringing recognition to businesses that adhere to high standards of behavior in good times and in bad."
Wiery said his company was nominated anonymously for the local Torch Award, and receptionist Christine Wiery, his niece, took on the job of assembling a notebook to document W.W.'s achievements in categories such as customer service, community service and employee relations.
The result was a 3-inch-thick volume stuffed with stacks of thank you notes from customers, letters from schools and teams and nonprofit agencies the business supports, and documents to illustrate its customer service philosophy.
"We didn't do anything out of the ordinary, nothing we wouldn't have been doing anyway," Wiery said. "Putting everything together to show what we do every day, that was the hard part."
After winning the local recognition, Wiery learned that the national BBB would require nine copies of the company's Torch Award notebook. It seemed like a lot of work, and he considered dropping out of the competition. Christine was willing, however, so they pressed on.
Business winners, honorable mentions and finalists in four categories were recognized at a ceremony in Minneapolis last week.
Wiery started working for a local heating and cooling contractor right out of high school, but he was left jobless in 1981 when the company went under.
Determined to go into business on his own, Wiery said he chose heating and cooling because it was the only business he knew. He set up shop in his garage for about two years, then bought a small building on Youngstown's South Side.
The business outgrew that location and moved to another Youngstown site, grew again, and moved in 1995 to its location at 11400 Market St. in North Lima.
Continued growth necessitated construction of a 12,000-square-foot warehouse and sheet metal shop behind the store, and there's plenty of room for additional growth on the eight-acre site.
Wiery is proud of the custom air ducts his sheet metal shop workers design. "It's our signature," he said, explaining that the specially sized ductwork improves air flow and makes heating and air conditioning systems work more efficiently.
W.W.'s main business is heating and air conditioning systems in new homes, but Wiery has been working lately to build the company's replacement business in current homes. The company does business mostly in the Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana county area.
Wiery said BBB judges seemed impressed with his 100 percent buy-it-back guarantee. He offered the warranty three years ago when he began putting more emphasis on the replacement side of his business. He decided recently to put it in writing on his sales contracts.
The guarantee is reassuring to homeowners who are replacing a furnace or air conditioner, he said. "We ask the customer to give us a year to make it right," he said. "We've never had to buy a furnace back, because people love our work."
Wiery also insists on a two-step sales presentation to assure that customers have all the information they need to make a wise purchasing decision. Sales representatives are trained to do a detailed survey of the home or business, including measurements to determine the optimum size and type of furnace or air conditioner for the building.
"You can't go by the size they have in the house," he explained. "It may not be right."
Presented annually since 1996, the BBB Torch Award focuses on the long-term value of honest and honorable business practices. The award became international in scope this year when BBB member companies in Canada and Mexico became eligible to enter.