Longtime friends and business partners, Larry Carney and Tony Samper, break the mold when it comes to the success rate of most business partnerships. Research shows that the failure rate for business partnerships is up to 80 percent so it is truly remarkable that Tony and Larry have been in business together since 2000 when they started American Services, a commercial and residential air conditioning, heating, and electrical services company! Perhaps their success can be attributed to the fact that they were longtime friends before they went into business and that they share the same values in how they treat their customers. Larry and Tony believe in always giving their clients more than they expect to the point that they exclaim, “WOW!” By doing so, they have built long term relationships. In addition, they are consistently searching for new ways to enhance their business and provide momentum for the long haul. Tony stated, “In an effort to continuously innovate and improve, we believe that if we are not green and growing, then we’re dry and dying.”
When Larry and Tony started American Services, the company focus was on air conditioning and electrical services, both residential and commercial. The only employees at the time were the two of them. Tony recalled, “When we started out, it was Larry on the ladder saying to me, ‘Tony hand me the screwdriver; Tony hand me this; Tony hand me that!’” Since then, their workforce has grown to over 30 team members. In addition, their services now include specialty construction, storm shutters, and installation of lightning protection systems.
Neither Tony nor Larry had any exposure to entrepreneurs while they were growing up. In addition, their parents always worked for others in completely different industries. In spite of the differences between the Samper and Carney families, Larry and Tony’s parents did instill in their children like-minded values including working hard, being goal oriented, having pride in doing a great job without having a big ego, being honest, having integrity, and always giving back more than what is expected. These values have been the foundation for American Services and as a result, everywhere they go, their stellar reputation precedes them.
Larry grew up just outside of Friendswood off of 2351 and Beamer Road. He was brought up by his mother and stepdad who were both meat cutters. Even though Larry never had any role models in entrepreneurship, interestingly enough, he chose to be one. “The truth is,” explained Larry, “the reason why I am an entrepreneur is because I don’t like being told what to do! That’s pretty much it.”
Larry first began working as an electrician for Borden’s Milk Company where they put him through air conditioning and refrigeration school. Eventually, he was promoted to the position of supervisor over the maintenance and engineering departments. During that time at Borden’s, Larry started doing air conditioning work on the side. After awhile, he was making more money working part time than he was making working full time at Borden’s. Larry quipped, “It got to the point that I couldn’t afford to work there anymore!” Recognizing that there was more money to be made working for himself, Larry left Borden’s in 1983 and went into business on his own. To Larry’s surprise, Borden’s later called him and hired him to do contract work for them.
Tony’s background is quite different than Larry’s. Although he doesn’t sound like it, Tony grew up in Long Island, New York. As Tony explains, “I am part Irish and part Hispanic and I speak a little bit of Spanish. I’m also part Caribbean because my mother was from Trinidad. When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a pirate because I thought the ships, the cannons, and the swords were so exciting. As I grew older, I realized that wasn’t very practical so, instead, I became a medical technologist and worked in hospitals. The hospital I was working for closed down. The property had become very valuable so it was sold to build a multimillion dollar development in Roslyn, New York. Needing to find another job and also wanting to get away from the snow, Tony decided to move to Miami, Florida where he had an uncle who lived there. Tony was hired in the clinical laboratory department of the Miami Heart Institute and ended up working there for a long time.
Wanting to explore the “Wild West”, Tony decided to look up a friend in Houston. Tony told him that he had some vacation time and wanted visit Texas. He had watched John Wayne’s movie, The Alamo, so he wanted to see the “real deal” in San Antonio. He also explained to his friend that he wanted to go see the cowboys, not the team, but the ones with the cows, the horses, and the guns! When Tony got to Houston, his friend told him how he had gotten some great tickets to see the Cowboys and all Tony could say was, “Sell them or scalp them because I don’t want to see football!”
Soon after, Tony traveled to San Antonio so he could tour the Alamo, the place that he had longed to visit. Unfortunately for Tony, he was very disappointed because the area surrounding the Alamo wasn’t anything like he had imagined. Even though Tony knew that the Alamo had such an incredible history, right across the street from it was the Hyatt. There weren’t any cowboys or horses in the area nor was there anything rustic or reminiscent of the Wild West. Everything was commercial and filled with modern structures.
At that point, Tony decided to return to Houston and stay there. Upon returning to Houston, Tony applied for a job in the laboratory at Memorial City Hospital. At the end of the interview, he was told that he was hired but Tony had second thoughts and said, “Thank you but I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” Tony turned the job down and just walked away. Not too long after, he was recruited by a division of Pepsi and ended up running the thirteen Western states. Unexpectedly, Pepsi sold that division and, once more, Tony found himself unemployed.
After Tony began seeking new employment, he was only getting job offers outside of Houston. At this point in his life, he didn’t want to move somewhere else because his daughter, Margaret, was in high school and his son, Patrick, was in elementary school. Tony knew he had to do something and he knew he had to do it quickly. “It was not as though I wanted to become an entrepreneur or a business owner but I had to put bread on the table and that’s why I went into business,” recalled Tony. That is when he started a company that dealt with maintenance for other companies.
Tony’s background had mainly been in sales and marketing. He got into the air conditioning business really just by chance. The air conditioner in his office had broken down in the middle of July. Someone called him from his office and informed him that it was broken so he rushed back to troubleshoot it. Upon his return to his office, Tony examined the air conditioner and determined that the compressor had burned out. Tony’s company used to have the contract for maintenance with Maxwell House Coffee and they would get parts and supplies from Grainger which was just across the street from the Coffee Plant. Tony instructed someone in the office to call Grainger and order an air conditioning condensing unit and he would go pick it up.
After going over to Grainger to pick up the condensing unit, Tony was told to back up to door number one but first give them his license. Tony handed them his driver’s license and when he did that, they started laughing. The manager then was more specific and said, “Tony, you need to have an HVAC license.” Tony was taken off guard and exclaimed, “This is a free country! This is a free economy! This is free commerce!” Seeing that Tony was upset, the manager tried to cajole him by asking, “Can you go to Walgreen’s and buy one little pill of penicillin without a prescription from a licensed physician?” That’s when Tony had his aha moment and said to himself, “That’s where profits lie!”
“Larry and I have been friends for over 30 years,” recalled Tony. “When I realized there was money in the air conditioning business, I called Larry and said, ‘Let’s team up because if you do what you do well and I do what I do well, we’ll be able to succeed. I can market and sell it; you can fix it. There’s nobody that I know who knows more about refrigeration, air conditioning, and electrical than you, Larry.’” Larry quickly replied, “No. I don’t need a partner!” Larry initially said no because he had heard horror stories about partnerships that hadn’t worked out and he was used to doing things on his own from the time he began in business in 1983 until early 2000 when Tony asked him to team up.
Larry began contemplating the advantages of partnering with Tony. He had learned everything through trial and error and running his own business was a lot more than he had bargained for. “I learned everything the hard way,” related Larry. “I thought I was a great air conditioning technician and that’s all you need to run a business. I found out the hard way that one thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other! I made a whole bunch of costly mistakes in learning how to run a business.” Larry finally agreed to work with Tony after thoroughly analyzing the pros and cons. One of the biggest reasons he decided to partner with Tony was that he recognized that they shared the same values: integrity, honesty, and ethics.
Initially, Tony and Larry did joint ventures together. After awhile, it started becoming complicated so they decided to merge both of their companies and become partners under American HVAC, Inc. Shortly thereafter, they purchased Service Experts, a service company in Houston that was owned by Lennox. Larry commented, “What we were looking for was an already established company that we could just move all of our residential business into and let them run with it. That’s when we bought Service Experts. We were going to do mostly commercial but we learned a lesson that you can’t hire somebody else to run your company. That game plan didn’t quite work out so we ended up merging them both and running both.”
Since their monumental decision was made to join forces, Larry and Tony have been working together for over 15 years and have never had a disagreement. Many partnerships can learn a lot from their example. From the get-go, they established a clear division of their responsibilities. Tony takes care of the marketing, sales, and business development and Larry takes care of the day-to-day operations and management.
Always on a quest for ways to improve and grow their business, five years ago, Larry and Tony bought the Galveston based ARAMCO Outside Blinds Company that has been in operation since 1938. Larry explained, “ARAMCO was going out of business when the grandson of the original founder died. They had their own sales force and their own installers. When we acquired them, we established a different marketing strategy to set up dealers and distributors nationwide and then we became strictly a manufacturer.”
The ARAMCO factory manufactures accordion shutters, rolling shutters, solar screens, and aluminum louvered blinds. The blinds are a very unique energy efficient product that goes on the outside of the window. They are great for protecting homes and businesses against the hot summer sun, winter cold, high winds, and intruders in a very effective and inexpensive way.
Once again, in their ongoing pursuit to add something new and innovative each year, American Services became approved installers by Underwriters Laboratories in 2014 for lightning protection systems and they are steadily moving forward in growing that new business unit.
Larry and Tony do business with Daikin Industries, Ltd., a Japanese firm that is the largest air conditioning manufacturer in the world. Recently, Daikin acquired Goodman Manufacturing, McQuay International, and the Amana Corporation. Daikin is building a 4.2 million-square-foot facility in Waller, Texas to manufacture air conditioning equipment. American Services is one of the few HVAC contractors approved to commission and service their Daikin equipment.”
One of the many things that set American Services apart from other companies like them is that both Larry and Tony are committed to excellence, above and beyond.
“When we go to take care of our customers, we always deliver excellent work. There is no second best,” stated Tony. Larry and Tony also refer to their customers as clients because they are always getting repeat business.
American Services is available seven days a week and even after hours for emergencies. Larry proudly stated, “We do not have one single unhappy customer. All of our technicians are under my personal scrutiny so they put booties on when they go into a residence; they wear clean uniforms; they drive late model, clean trucks; they’re well groomed; they’re respectful; and they don’t do drugs. Our clients are usually housewives and their children may be in the home so our technicians are mindful of where they go. In addition, we stand behind our work. The other part is that we have a very competitive pricing structure and we bring value to the relationship with our clients.”
Larry added, “On the commercial side, we do the same thing. I believe that if you give the customer exactly what the customer expects, there is nothing for them to get excited about. If you give them more than what they’re asking for, above and beyond and at a reasonable price, then they’re excited. That is what I call providing the WOW factor. I’ll even ask my technicians, ‘Where’s the WOW here?’ Most of the other air conditioning companies run either a phone bank or they’re outsourced to Florida or Chicago or Cincinnati. Others have an answering service but we answer the phone in person by either Tony or me or by one of our technicians. We start every day at seven in the morning and even if it’s Friday after five in the evening, we answer the phone and our technicians are sent out.”
Larry proudly stated, “We have some great people working for us. They understand exactly what our concept is. Most of them have been with us for a long, long time and everybody understands what we are aiming to accomplish. We have meetings on a regular basis and a lot of the ideas come from our employees. We are always asking them for their input and then we take their ideas and run with them. Our biggest party is our Christmas Party at my house. There’s a big blow out and everybody has a great time. Typically that’s where bonus checks are handed out and usually everyone attends.”
American Services has consistently had an A rating on Angie’s List for five consecutive years. The rating is based on price, quality, responsiveness, punctuality, and professionalism. In addition, American Services is proud to have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
There is nothing that Larry and Tony can’t accomplish when they put their minds together. They have learned the art of overcoming obstacles. When they began in business together they would give bids to general contractors. In order to be competitive, they made sure that their bids were as low as possible but still be able to make a profit. Unfortunately, no matter how low they bid, the contractor would still want to get an additional 10 percent on top of that. There was no way to make a profit, let alone break even. To overcome that, they started bidding on jobs as the general contractor using their own forces. This way, they were still competitive but able to make a profit. That’s all about overcoming obstacles!
Since American Services began doing that, they have built quite a few small buildings for the government including research facilities, laboratories, and even cattle barns. They built two freezers that were 40 feet wide by 125 feet long and 30 feet tall for a federal prison. American Services also rebuilt two freezers for that same prison. One of the requirements was that each freezer had to operate at minus 10 degrees with a 100 degree ambient temperature. Another noteworthy project where American Services has been the general contractor involved digging a 20 foot basement under a building in Bryan, Texas that was a little bit bigger than the size of a football field!
Both Tony and Larry are involved in leadership roles with several organizations including the Houston West Chamber of Commerce and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HMSDC). They are always finding ways in giving back to the community. Larry is the President of the Mills Road Municipal Utility District. Tony chairs the HMSDC Expo Steering Committee with the purpose of helping newly certified minority companies any way that he can. Both Larry and Tony do their best to mentor these companies in attaining the same level of success that they have achieved. Their biggest motivation is that these companies stay in business, feed their families, become successful, and contribute to the growth of the local economy.
Larry and Tony regularly purchase and then distribute boxes of toiletries to halfway houses, runaway teen centers, and shelters for battered and abused women and their children. They are not known for tooting their own horn but it is well-known in the community of the countless number of air conditioners they’ve repaired for people who couldn’t afford it. American Services was also involved with the Mark McCoy Home Work Houston Talk Radio Show on KSEV AM 700. Home Work Houston put a project together with Habitat for Humanity and American Services helped out.
American Services has had several recognitions including the Houston Business Journal’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Houston and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council’s E-10 Awards. The E-10 Awards are given to well-established companies that set an example for others to follow and provide service both to the minority business community and the entire city. “Neither Tony nor I have big egos,” remarked Larry. “The awards are nice but when we have customers call us back, that’s the biggest reward of all.”
Both Larry and Tony have beach houses in Galveston West Bay and get away every chance they get to spend time with their families. It’s truly nice that not only are Tony and Larry longtime friends, their families have been friends with each other as well. Larry’s wife is Robin and they have two children, Michael and Tracy. Michael is the Vice President for American Services and heads the Finance and Administration Department. “He is our future,” reflected Larry and Tony.
Tony’s wife is Stephanie and they have three children, Heather, Margaret, and Patrick. Tony is quick to add with a big smile on his face that they also have Lilly who is four years old. “She’s our dog, a little Tibetan Terrier,” said Tony. “We have a special dog house with air conditioning so in case Stephanie sends me to the dog house, I will be able to sleep comfortably!”
A quick visit to the website of American Services shows how far they go regarding customer service and providing the WOW factor. There are client testimonials galore extolling their satisfaction and delight with the quality work provided by American Services. There is even a coupon offered just for mentioning their website.
Tony firmly stated, “When business partners have the same values such as trust and integrity and are not focused on the almighty dollar, it is easy to work together. We’ve never had a confrontation about who is right and who is wrong because we respect each other and have the same priorities.” The bottom line is that Larry and Tony share a genuine, mutual respect for each other. It is not surprising that neither one of them has any desire to ever retire because not only do they enjoy working together, they love what they do. In fact, they don’t even consider it work! The saying goes, that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Apparently, whoever made up that saying never met Larry and Tony because it is for certain that they will remain longtime friends in business for the long haul!