If you meet Jackie Rainwater for the first time, you’ll be impressed at how easy he is to talk to. His name alone is a great icebreaker — is that a Native American name or were you born during a thunderstorm? A laugh and a pause later, and Jackie will launch into a fascinating tale about his heritage. But more importantly, he’ll ask you questions in his friendly Southern drawl, and he’ll listen, very carefully, to the answers. It’s this skill that helped him discover the importance of service — by listening to customer and contractor complaints.

Jackie is a 43-year veteran of the HVACR industry and has done it all — worked for a manufacturer, went into the contracting business, and even put together a consolidation plan before Wall Street had ever considered this industry something worthy to invest in. From the beginning of his career, it was apparent to Rainwater there was a need to improve the way businesses dealt with customers. That realization laid the groundwork for his entire career.

But let’s backtrack a bit: in 1961, Rainwater was a night school student at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, studying mechanical engineering. It was there that Lennox Industries liberated him from his studies by offering him a job. For 21 years he worked in Lennox’ Southeast Div., eventually becoming the sales manager. It was during these years that he began formulating ideas and plans that could make a contractor’s life easier and help them sell more equipment. He worked out ways to help his contractor customers through consultative selling and grew Lennox’ business significantly in that region.

In 1982 he decided to put his money where his mouth was, left Lennox, and went to work for a local contracting firm known as Shumate Air Conditioning and Heating. Harold Shumate, also a former Lennox employee, ran a mechanical systems construction firm and hired Jackie to bring a service element into the mix. He and Rainwater formed the Shumate Energy Improvement Division which, under Rainwater’s guidance, achieved an unprecedented 22% net profit in its first year of operation (see the article, “Selling Energy Improvement: A Contractors Success Story,” CB, May 1987, page 45).

It was here that Jackie combined his philosophy on customer service with the sale of maintenance agreements and came up with a formula that spelled success. This included a 34-point residential installation checklist (which many contractors still use today), a quality improvement process, and training programs for service technicians that included more than the technical side of the business.

In 1988, Rainwater joined forces with another Contracting Business Hall of Fame member, Ron Smith. Smith was president of Service America — a national franchising chain. “It was under Ron Smith’s tutelage that I really became convinced about the importance of maintenance agreements,” Rainwater says. “Service contracts were a way to help level the playing field for contractors with regard to the seasonality of the contracting business.”

During his two years at Service America, Rainwater developed a plan for consolidating service companies in 10 key cities throughout the U.S. with the intent to go public. Rainwater left Service America in 1989 to pursue this dream. “Ideally, the plan was to take the consolidated service companies public in 2000,” he explains. The first step was buying an Atlanta contracting firm in 1990 (Peachtree Heating and Air Conditioning). He and business partner Frank Jones began building the $4 million residential and light commercial firm into the $18 million-plus company it is today. They did that through maintenance agreement sales and contracting company acquisitions.

At the same time, Rainwater began a parallel career — one that to this day, benefits the HVAC industry. An active member of both ACCA and ASHRAE, he became increasingly involved in industry events and activities. To his credit, Jackie has taught more than 60,000 contractors nationwide, through his writing, his seminar leadership, and personal consulting.

In 1997, Peachtree was acquired by Service Experts and perhaps the earliest consolidator in the industry was now consolidated. Service Experts itself was eventually purchased by Lennox Industries. Rainwater and Jones remained with the company until March 2002. Now in his latest venture as a consultant, with partner Frank Jones, Rainwater plans to continue educating contractors on the need to have extraordinary customer service.

For these reasons, and many more, Contracting Business recognizes Jackie Rainwater for his contributions to the industry and is proud to induct him into our Hall of Fame. Jackie can be reached at jackie.rainwater@worldnet.att.net.