Tony Scimeca openly admits he was not much of an academic or athlete in school. What he loved most was taking something apart, figuring out how it was made and how to fix it, and putting it back together again.
In April of 1975, he graduated from an intensive nine-month trade school program and began working as an HVAC tech. But after five years, he knew he needed a bigger challenge, so in 1980, he founded Design Temperature Corp.
“In the 2000s, we found ourselves in a new niche market, repairing and maintaining commercial and residential water heaters. As that market and our customer base grew, we started a subsidiary of Design Temperature Corp. called Hot Water 911,” says Claudia Scimeca, Tony Scimeca’s wife and business development manager for Hot Water 911. “Once we made that shift from HVAC to commercial and residential water heater repair, we focused on the branding of our Hot Water 911 division.”
The company, now in its 38th year, has 12 employees — six in the office and six in the field — and serves the greater Chicago area, including parts of northeast Illinois, southeast Wisconsin, and northwest Indiana. Its clientele is 40% residential and 60% commercial.
“Owning his own business absolutely presented Tony with the challenges and rewards that he was seeking,” Claudia Scimeca says. “He loves water heater repair so much that Tony would love to see more young women and men go into the field of water heater repair. It is a rewarding career and one with so much potential for growth.”
Hot Water 911’s mantra is, “We are in the business of making friends.”
“When you can restore someone’s failed water heater, you just became their new best friend,” Claudia Scimeca says. Hot Water 911 does this through exemplary customer service, though that is not the only ingredient in the company’s recipe for success.
“Besides having an incredible service department, we have a huge counter sales business,” Claudia Scimeca says. “We have customers who have driven form St. Louis, Missouri, to our office in Chicago to purchase a printed circuit board the manufacturer did not have in stock.”
Hot Water 911 has also developed a program called Grab & Go, where a 35-gallon plastic bin is filled with every part a specific water heater is made with.
“When we have a critical service challenge, one of our highly skilled technicians gets routed to our warehouse and picks up the appropriate Grab & Go bin,” Claudia Scimeca says. “So far, we have over 70 Grab & Go bins that cover the majority of major manufacturers’ commercial water heaters.”
Hot Water 911 has three 2017 Chevys and three 2010 Fords.
“The Ford E350 Cutaway is Tony’s favorite because of dependability, ease of operation and appearance,” Claudie Scimeca says, adding that they look for vehicles that are reliable, accessible, and maneuverable on Chicago’s city streets.
The truck wraps — designed to evoke thoughts of an ambulance or emergency vehicle — are the same across all six vehicles and were completed by Daxam in Elgin, Illinois, with help from Hot Water 911’s advertising partner, One Zero Charlie.
“We felt that with the name Hot Water 911, an ambulance-like appearance would speak to the brand,” Claudia Scimeca says. “The trucks are referred to as ‘responders,’ not ‘service trucks.’ Our trucks are all about resolving water heater emergencies.”
She says people sometimes confuse their trucks for ambulances and pull over, but only if there is a siren running nearby from another emergency vehicle. That resemblance has helped create a recognizable and memorable brand.
“It has most definitely worked,” Claudia Scimeca says. “People often take pics of our trucks on the road or parked on the street and send them to us or to our Facebook or Instagram pages to tell us they saw us. We love that.”
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