Steve Tutt Interviews Jenny Hopelain from ACS Smart Buildings

The HL Restoration Impacting Midwest Industries vlog series is where our very own Steve Tutt speaks with our industry partners and others about what they do, their passion, and the great things they are doing in the Midwest all while having a little bit of fun! Click here to view all of our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Steve Tutt: Welcome back to HL Restorations Impacting Midwest Industries. Today we have Jenny Hopelain. How are you, Jenny?

Jenny Hopelain: I’m great. How are you?

ST: I’m doing good. You’re with ACS. How long have you been in the industry with ACS and in the company?

JH: So, I just started with ACS in January. I have been in the industry since 2003. I started in HVAC and kind of moved around and moved into controls and HPC and energy. I worked at Siemens and left Siemens last May and joined ACS in January.

ST: Oh, congratulations on the move. Everything going smooth, I take it?

JH: Well, you know, it’s funny kind of. I started in late January and five, six weeks in, the whole world shut down.

ST: Talk about timing.

JH: But it’s going relatively going well. I work for a fabulous company. One of the advantages of working for a local company.

ST: So how long have you been in Kansas City area?

JH: 27 years next week.

ST: Nice. Alright, well, I’m going to jump right into it. We ask every person that comes on our show: How is ACS impacting the Midwest industries?

JH: I feel like we impact them with the quality of our work, sustainable solutions, and our leadership. So, with quality of work, we do things a little bit differently than a lot of other HVAC and controls companies. ACS also does fire and security. I’m learning that, I don’t know that as well, but just in general.

We don’t do very much plan and spec work at all. We will do it for our current customers if they have a capital improvement that requires an inspection process, but we focus on service. We have a partner and an operations manager for each division. 

So that gives the account managers endless amounts of support, as opposed to when you have a plan and spec job it’s, as you probably know, it is a time suck. It’s a crapshoot, meaning you spend all this time and resources and it’s, you know, luck of the draw, are you the lowest number? 

What that ends up doing a lot of times is taking away from the service. So, when you’re in that, “Oh, we got to get this done, we need this information,” it takes away from the service. We stay away from that so that we can just focus 100% on our service customers. So, we really do a lot of quality work that way. 

In regard to sustainability, I feel like we do things differently. Kind of an overreaching, finding out goals. Now everybody says that, right? If I know all the goals of your company, even if they’re not related to facilities, and I understand how you operate, I understand how your processes are, I understand your budget time and your budget plan, the solutions that I can offer will help you operate your business better. 

Because even though I’m not dealing with the marketing department or this or that, if I understand it, then I can help you get done what you need to get done better. So, our service agreements are designed to be goal oriented. So, within those service agreements, we have key performance indicators, which allow us to measure the success of the service agreement, or maybe the lack of success. 

If it’s not working, then we need to tweak it so that we are meeting that goal, and it doesn’t cost the customer any more. So, that makes it more sustainable. It makes it more long term because every year or two, we’re going to look at those new goals. 

And, just like I said, our leadership, we have very, very strong leadership. We’ve got the partners. We have four partners. One is over a HVAC, one is over in controls, and one is over fire and security, and then we have a general manager. So, there’s all kinds of resources for us if we need help.

I’m a psychology major, I am not an engineer or anything close to it. I do the people part, so I always need help on the technical side, so having that leadership is really great. 

An example of that is, as I mentioned earlier, I started in late January, and then the whole world shut down and I still have a job. You know, working and trying to make myself essential during that time, they were working with me and they understand it’s a rare, it’s an unusual, weird thing that nobody can control, but just keeping me on and I learned different things. 

I had a friend that works for a larger company, not super large, but much larger than us and he’s been there eight years and was laid off after two months of COVID. This is someone that’s been with them for a long time, produced a lot of work, and so it just made be even more appreciative of the integrity that our leaders have and I think that just kind of, you know, impacts the business all over all around. It impacts the customers to have vendors that have that kind of integrity and focus.

ST: Yeah, leadership’s very important with any company. My question for you is, with your company, are you just here locally or how far out do you go? Are you nationwide?

JH: So, we do have some national accounts. ACS has been around for 40 years, so there are some national accounts that have been around. My focus is here within the region, which would go to Topeka or Springfield, etc.

ST: And you mentioned earlier that, you know, with the COVID and the pandemic that we just went through, I think it’s getting better and things are turning around and it’s going back to normal. I felt really good going out to lunch the other day, one of my clients was like, “Yes! we’re back in a restaurant!” But it felt good. How did COVID affect ACS?

JH: So, all of the account managers work at home all the time anyway, so for us it wasn’t that different other than we could not really get out and see too many customers. Our techs were out seeing customers, so it wasn’t that different for them, but I think it was mainly for the people that are in the office that were working from home because we still had customers that needed things. 

Now from an account management standpoint, it was very slow, because our customers didn’t really want to see us right away unless they had a problem because they were trying to figure out their facilities and how to clean them and how to do that and that’s not in our arena and we stay in our lane. 

With me being so new, I didn’t have a lot of current customers, I was bringing some of my customers over. But we would have a weekly meeting just to kind of touch base and see how everyone was doing and, you know, another point to our leadership is our partners would say, “Just call them and see how they’re doing. We don’t have to sell them anything, but how is their family? How do they feel? Are they stressed out? We can just listen.” 

I just love that about them. So, we would have those conversations and I would do that with my five customers that I was bringing over. So, I sent them lunch once in a while, but some of my coworkers had customers that had needs and other things. Well, in the middle of it, I these webinars, as people were talking about anticipating and hoping to go back to work, based around how your building has changed. 

So, over the last 10 or so years, everyone’s pushed energy efficiency, which of course is what we want. Well, what that means is recirculated air, so what we have to look at now is we still want to be energy efficient, but we really have to look at how your systems are set up and we have to bring that outside air in for circulation instead of just recirculating the same air that will not be as efficient as it was before. 

So, I learned some things which is fun, because I love to learn things, so that was good. I’ve been pushing high end filters in HVAC units for almost 18 years. I mean, I’ve seen the difference that can make and most facility managers property managers don’t want to spend the extra money. 

Now I can show them the difference that it makes spending that little extra money is a lot less than having to shut your business down for two months, so it gives all different kinds of opportunities. For me, I was really stir crazy. I’m kind of a what they call a social introvert. I like being at home and I always had this idea of like retiring on an island but this was a good test. I need to have a few people around, so it was a good learning experience.

I do need to get out but I learned some things and found the silver lining. It was actually quite productive for me because I learned how to do webinars, I learned more about the fire and security side. 

One of the things that we have is a temperature sensor that can stand in the front of an office so that when people walk in, it’s a touchless sensor and they just stick their arm out and it tells them your temperature and it can shoot a notification to whoever it needs to go to. Or, if you have a guard there, they can monitor it and it helps so much.

ST: Yes, because that’s the one thing I hear about is people wanting to take everyone’s temperature when they walk in and make sure they’re not running a fever. That would be fantastic.

JH: So, I’ve gotten a chance to learn about all of these things. So, to answer your question, I mean, it was a weird time, but for the most part, looking back, I would say it was good for me because I got to learn a lot of new things, little products that I could offer to our customers. My style is very consultative, and this is why you need these filters.

We’re very much in preventive maintenance and people don’t understand the preventative part. They’re still kind of like, “Well, we’ll fix it when we can,” but getting people more on board with being preventive and, you know, kind of like your 401k – you put the money in now, then you don’t have to worry when you retire. Let’s start thinking that way. So, it’s getting closer to that.

ST: Now, you mentioned earlier that you’re involved in quite a few associations. Share with me a little bit more about that, because they seem like great organizations.

JH: Well, here’s what I’ll tell you. I’ve been with them for about three years, and I was with them with my prior company. Actually, one of my large customers roped me in and asked us to sponsor something and it was a great event and it was a great group. So, we got involved and I kept my membership and then went to ACS.

ACS had a membership at UCLA, but it’s never really been active, so right now we’re beginning to see the benefits of the education for facility managers, the networking events, and the resources, so that gives ACS some exposure. 

I am the co-chair of the membership committee, and when they were talking about putting this together, I went to Brittany and said, “Hey, can we participate in this? This is what we can bring to the table, we can talk about these temperature sensors, we can talk about clean air, and we can talk about controls or we can leave that to the other company.” They were really open to it. They really promote the numbers. 

I’ve been involved with networking groups all over Kansas City since I started back in 2003. I’m not a sit on the phone and dial business development person. The membership committee gets us in front of a lot of people and a lot of property managers, and we’re doing a lot of great things this year on the membership committee, and a lot more education.

ST: Yeah, it sounds like it. So, I’m in the community here in Kansas City, but what’s ACS bring in terms of community involvement?

JH: So, you know, that’s always a tricky thing, because there’s so much need all over. We do a lot of work with schools and we do some work with nonprofits and churches. Generally, we give back to those.

Sometimes it’s buying and wrapping gifts to give during the holidays, sometimes we go into schools and we talk about leadership and we talk about our industry because not every student needs to go to college. 

So if this is an industry that they want to go into, we teach them how they can do it, this is what it looks like, this is the kind of money you can make, but also just teaching the leadership skills of, you know, this is how you find a job, or this is how you get into school. But we are long term partners with our customers and we really believe that works both ways.

So, while we’re asking them to stick with us and communicate with us, and if there’s something they don’t understand, let’s not just jump ship and go to another provider, let’s have a conversation. That’s a partner and it works both ways. When you need something, what can we do to help you?

ST: That’s fantastic. I’m going to switch gears on you now. I’m going to ask you some funny questions. Are you ready for the journey?

JH: I think so.

ST: Who has influenced you the most?

JH: It’s hard to say one, but I would have to say, overall, through the years, I would probably have to say Bill Flanagan, who was the Dean of Students at Beloit College when I was there who just kind of saved the sinking ship.

ST: What are three items you could buy at the grocery store to make the cashier laugh?

JH: Cheetos and ice cream sandwiches.

ST: If you had to make an alias, what would your name be?

JH: Wonder Woman.

ST: Why Wonder Woman?

JH: Because I am a single parent of a girl, I work with engineers, and I have too many pets and I can’t say how many in case somebody’s watching.

ST: If you had to be on a reality show, which one which one would you choose?

JH: The first one is The Bachelor, but only because I want to go to all those places that they go to. I really could care less about all the drama and the rest of it, I just want to go to the places that they go to. But I also really love cooking, so I would probably also go on some cooking reality show with one of the famous chefs so I could just learn stuff from one of them.

ST: How do you relieve stress?

JH: I cook. Photography is a big hobby of mine. I took up running before my 50th birthday and I hang out with my dogs.

ST: You mentioned earlier that you’re getting ready to train for a half marathon? God bless you.

JH: The first time I signed up for one, it was my midlife crisis, and I was going to do one and just say I did it before I turned 50, but I had so much fun with the group that I ran with, and I enjoyed the race and when I crossed the finish line, I was like, “Oh, I can’t wait to do this next year.” It was the most out of body experience I’ve ever had. I was like, “Who are you?” because I didn’t think that I could.

ST: Jenny, thank you so much for joining us on in the studio. I really appreciate you coming in. If you guys want to get ahold of Jenny, we will put her information on the screen so that you can reach out to her and learn more about ACS and what they do. Make sure you subscribe, like, comment, and, until next time, we’ll see you on the next show!

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