Entrepreneurs

JB Warranties Brought Innovation and Fun to Their Family-Owned HVAC Business

Brian Bohannan didn’t immediately notice the three new calves in the pasture outside his little white ranch house in the far northern reaches of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. When his dad, Jeff, had bought 20 acres of farmland on which to build a new headquarters for his company, JB Warranties, he’d also bought three cows to keep on the land, so as to get an ag exemption and save a bit on taxes. At some point, Jeff added a bull to the little herd, an impressive Texas Longhorn, and, well, the bull did what bulls do. Now, four head of cattle were seven, and Brian, who lives in the original house on the property, just a couple hundred yards from the new office building, had to figure out how to corral the calves into a pen so a buyer could haul them away. The only problem: This urban cowboy had no experience as a rancher.

It was spring of 2021, and employees were cautiously emerging from Covid isolation. Brian–the director of operations and HR for his dad’s company, which sells extended warranties and service agreements for the HVAC industry–figured he could get a few workers who showed up at the office one day to walk side by side toward the calves and herd them along a fence line. On the chosen day in March, the animals had a different idea: They turned around and sprinted right toward the 10 employees, who scattered across the field.

If the calf conundrum marked an inauspicious start to the Bohannan family’s dalliance with farm life, it also underscored how seriously they take the business of creating a great place to work–which in their case took shape as a kind of Texas theme park. For years, JB Warranties had occupied the top floor of a bland four-story office building directly across a highway from the main Dallas-Fort Worth Airport runway. The building had chronic AC problems (of all things) and looked like a thousand other mirrored boxes, but Jeff always went out of his way to make it a fun place to be, with plenty of room for foosball and Ping-Pong and places to take a break.

When it came time to design and build a new headquarters, he wanted it to be fun–not despite the location, but because of it. It would be a place where people would want to hang out after hours, bring their kids, have a party. “It’s really for the employees,” says Jenna Ochoa, Jeff’s daughter and the company’s VP of claims, “so they can go eat lunch outside, spend time together, build those relationships.” And when she describes the goal of having a “family dynamic” in the company, she means it both figuratively and literally.

Like many trades, the AC business tends to run in a family over generations. In the Bohannans’ case, it started with Jeff’s father-in-law, James Bruce Cue, otherwise known as JB, who worked as a manufacturer’s rep for most of his career and whose experience helped Jeff land on the idea to start a dedicated warranty shop in 2008. Jeff, who did sales for a couple of large AC companies in the first part of his professional life, knew that independent contractors–a couple of guys and a truck–dominated the industry’s sales and installations, and they struggled to offer extended warranties that covered labor and other costs beyond the limited scope of what manufacturers did. Eventually, Jeff’s son Taylor introduced his dad to a friend named Sasi Madduri, who was a coding whiz. Jeff and Sasi started meeting over coffee and cooking up what would become the JB Warranties secret sauce: a straightforward online warranty platform. “We were the first to apply technology to it, and it just took off from there,” says Tommy Cue, Jeff’s brother-in-law and the company’s VP of sales.

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As sales grew, so did the company’s head count. Jenna was finishing college at Texas A&M when her dad had her start processing claims. She’s everybody’s pick to eventually succeed Jeff as president. Tommy is the VP of sales. Taylor is the director of technology. Brian runs HR and operations. All told, seven members of the family work for JB Warranties today, and about 50 people work for the company altogether.

In 2019, Jeff surprised the staff–including his family members–by announcing an ESOP that gave everyone a stake in JB Warranties’ success. (“Now there’ll be people in the office bullpen talking about, ‘Oh, we got the expensive note pads this time–who’s making these decisions?’ ” laughs Taylor.) Jeff aimed to follow that move with a grand 2020 opening of the new office. Inspired by the family’s favorite restaurant, a sprawling barbecue joint and music venue called Marty B’s, Jeff had the headquarters building designed like an enormous modern barn, with standing-seam metal siding and views of the bucolic farmland all around. There’s a gym and an apartment for visiting sales reps, a covered area with multiple barbecue smokers, and out back an actual music venue for parties and concerts, with a stage and enough room for 500 revelers. There are enormous twin stone fire pits, big-screen TVs everywhere, oversize Jenga and Connect 4 games on a wide expanse of turf, an indoor-outdoor dining room, a giant kitchen, and a bar set into a repurposed grain silo.

When the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the opening party last spring, Jeff supersized the plans for one more feature, the construction of which continues today: Just beyond the expansive deck and fire pits, a crew has dug a pit for a half-acre swimming pond that will be filtered for “crystal-clear swimming water, where you can see all the way to the bottom,” says Taylor. It’ll have a slide, an underwater grotto, and a beach.

Jeff’s kids tease him for wearing Walmart jeans and driving an old truck he inherited from JB. “He’s just true to his conservative roots,” says Jenna. “The way he runs his business is conservative, and the way he lives is conservative.” Conservative doesn’t mean stingy, though. As illustrated by the new campus, Jeff takes providing for his family–the blood relatives as well as the corporate ones–as seriously as he does reinventing HVAC warranties. Some employees get car and phone allowances, and all get generous health benefits. More generally, if someone is struggling in their personal life, Jeff quietly tries to lend a hand, financially or otherwise. “Because,” explains Taylor, “if he can put himself in someone’s shoes and the company has the resources to ease burdens for people, that’s what you do for family.”

Family is the idea too behind Jeff’s building his own little version of paradise and wanting to share it with everyone. Next up, after the swimming hole is finished: a second pond meant for the cows.

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From the May/June 2021 issue of Inc. Magazine

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