If you ask Troy Meachum what ACR Supply Co. stands for, the 56-year-old company president has a list ready: building relationships, caring for people, a secure future and family principles.
Just don’t ask what the letters “A” “C” and “R” represent in the company’s name. The truth is far less inspirational.
“You’re going to die laughing at this story,” Meachum says, starting to laugh himself. It doesn’t stand for anything.
The company’s founder, and Troy Meachum’s father, L.C. Meachum, simply liked the letter combination — especially where it fell.
“‘ACR’ is at the top of the alphabet,” Troy Meachum recalls his father saying, adding that made his father think it would help ensure the company’s liability. “So when people are doing accounts payable, they’ll start with our name first if we have A as the first letter.”
L.C. Meachum may have been onto something. Forty years later, the company that started in a corner of a building owned by a lumber yard has grown into a major HVAC distributor with nine North Carolina locations, $30 million in annual revenue and plans to expand.
The entrance to an ACR Supply location. Pictures courtesy of ACR Supply.
ACR Supply has prospered, Meachum says, because the company focuses on its people — both employees and customers.
“My management style is a little different,” he says.
Members of the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International will have a chance to see what Meachum means in the next year as he assumes the title of association president for 2018.
Winners of a scholarship funded by ACR Supply are displayed on an office wall.
Faith and business
Besides his management style, another thing that’s different about Meachum and the company culture at ACR is the role that faith plays in business decisions. Meachum makes regular references to his religion in interviews, and ACR’s website, www.acrsupply.com, includes many Bible quotes. Meachum became a born-again Christian in 1988.
“God radically transformed my life, and I’m glad he did because I was a knucklehead, if you will,” he says. “As a follower of Christ, I really believed that how I treat my people, how I care for them and how I treat our vendors as customers, I’ll be held accountable for that someday.”
ACR Supply got its start in March 1977. L.C. Meachum found himself unemployed when Hasco, a local HVAC supplier and his place of work for 21 years, unexpectedly laid him off. Instead of looking for another job, L.C. Meachum decided to start his own distributorship. He found a Durham, North Carolina, lumber yard willing to rent him some space in the corner of one of its buildings and he made his first desk out of an old door stacked on top of antifreeze boxes.
The company soon outgrew its ramshackle beginnings, opening its first branch in 1984 and a third by 1987. Troy Meachum started working for his father in 1980 when he turned 16. He has been with ACR ever since.
A stock room at ACR Supply.
About nine years after his spiritual reawakening, Meachum says he realized something was wrong with his family’s company. It was still profitable, sure, but it was missing the kind of culture that would align with his personal values. None of the members of his family had ever had any formal business training. And it wasn’t growing anymore.
In 1997, he began the process of drafting a formal business plan, one that reflected his beliefs and could ensure consistent growth.
“It really began to change the way I thought about business, how I thought about our people, how I thought about our customers,” he says.
While putting it together, he realized that ACR’s corporate environment wasn’t very healthy. With some employees it was downright toxic. A traditional top-down management style just didn’t work anymore. Meachum made the difficult decision to sit down with many of his longtime employees and explain what was wrong with their management styles.
“I had grown men standing in my office with tears in their eyes, saying no one ever told me how big a jerk I was until you did,” he recalls.
Many of the workers were able to modify their behavior. But some couldn’t or wouldn’t.
“We treated those people with dignity and respect, but we realized we could not let them stay because they were creating toxicity in the culture,” he says.
By his estimation, up to a third of ACR’s workforce at the time was toxic.
The experience made the Meachum family realize they wanted a different type of staff.
“We want stakeholders, not employees,” he says. Everyone must contribute to the company’s culture and help drive profits. “We preach it constantly.”
ACR’s different approach appears to be providing dividends. In an industry constantly fretting about the advancing age of its workforce, Meachum points out that 41 percent of ACR’s employees are millennials, meaning those born between roughly 1980 and 1996. Just over half of ACR’s staff is under 40 years of age. That’s very young by HVAC industry standards, where many studies say the average worker is over 50.
With employee demographics like that, perhaps it’s not surprising that Meachum is very active in HARDI’s emerging leaders program, which helps train and mentor younger workers about to assume executive positions in member companies.
Meachum says he understands what it’s like to be a “son of the boss,” and he tries to help others avoid his mistakes.
A training room at ACR Supply features LG equipment.
“Fifty percent of my time is spent is mentoring and coaching,” he says. “We’ve got to do our part. We’ve got to continue to grow this industry and attract great people…. If we don’t, our industry is going to go away.”
He’s looking forward to his term as HARDI president. He knows it will mean lots of travel, but he jokes that ACR Supply may run better when he’s out of the office.
“The best thing I can do is stay out of peoples’ way,” he says.