Furnace repair job gets paid in beans
by Kristen Rojowski
Most companies that provide service to consumers require a payment of the green variety that comes from your wallet, not the garden. But Sandy Whorley, who co-owns A-Gas Team in Parkton, N.C., with her husband Jerry Lee, says they've been paid in everything from collards to pecans.
Corn and butter beans were the payment of choice for Rex, N.C., resident Robbie Hawks, who relies on A-Gas Team for service to his furnace, space heaters, fireplace and greenhouse heaters. A full-time farmer who grows 50 acres of vegetables, Hawks says he appreciates being able to pay the Whorleys in produce instead of cash.
"I can give them what I got and it works out for both of us," Hawks says, adding that Jerry Lee recently hooked up a gas heater in his den and left with a few dozen ears of corn and a whole "mess" of butter beans.
The Whorleys started A-Gas Team in 1999, servicing mostly natural and propane gas heating units, but also barbecue grills and fireplace logs. They say they try to treat others how they would want to be treated — and they give service for free when it's obvious a customer can't pay.
"It's hard to tell people we can't fix their heat because they can't pay," Sandy says. "One way or another, we want to get them heat."
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A-Gas Team provides free annual maintenance and repairs on a gas furnace for 88-year-old Jannie Maynor of St. Pauls, N.C. She says with a string of recent surgeries, including one to remove cataracts and another for hip replacement, she appreciates not having to worry about paying for heater repairs.
"A lot of people don't care about your situation, they just know their price and don't care if you can pay it or not," Maynor says.
Sandy refers to Maynor as her "hug lady."
"That's all we charge her — a hug," she says.
Many customers like Maynor are just experiencing a temporary financial hardship, Sandy says. Some try to pay a little something when they can, she says, and she's also received payment in the mail — along with a $200 tip — months after A-Gas Team provided a free or deeply discounted service. She keeps meticulous notes of any tips the company receives so when a customer can't pay, but shows gratitude by saying thank you, she tells the customer not to thank her but the previous customer who left a tip.
"We're just the vehicle for paying it forward," she says. "We'll have to account for many things in our lives, and I don't want greed to be one of them."
Fayetteville, N.C., is a community with about 121,000 residents and business owners who are engaged and give back, says Kristie Meave, spokeswoman for the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce. Meave says companies such as A-Gas Team demonstrate how improving quality of life is important to them and that they truly care about their customers.
"We at the chamber believe that the most successful companies have the greatest obligation to give back, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is good business," she says.
Although Angie's List member Joann McCormick of Fayetteville, N.C., paid in full when she hired A-Gas Team in November to repair her gas log insert, she says she appreciates the company's generosity.
"They came out the same day, even though it wasn't emergency service," McCormick says. She also says Jerry Lee offered her some sweet potatoes. "We were talking about how I used to go pick them, and I missed them because I'm unable to do that anymore," she says. Those sweet potatoes were part of a payment the company had received from another customer, Sandy says.
Despite offering free or discounted service when needed, the company never skimps on safety, Sandy says. She stresses the importance of hiring a licensed contractor like A-Gas Team to pull proper permits, followed by an inspection.
"Most homeowners aren't aware of the safety risks involved with having work done without an inspection or a permit," she says, explaining how some customers try to save $50 to $75 by asking that no permit be pulled. "We just tell them we're not the company they want to hire," she says.
An unlicensed contractor can't pull a permit, jobs without permits don't get inspected, and if something goes wrong at your home — such as a fire — then your insurance claim may be denied due to negligence, she says.
Angie's List member Anthony Garaventa says he called A-Gas Team to run gas lines from the attic to his kitchen after several other companies refused to even look at the job.
"They had the inspector come to my house and everything was totally up to code," he says.
The company's philosophy of paying it forward is simply doing the right thing, Sandy says. Right before Thanksgiving last year, she says a church in Parkton asked the company to upgrade its furnace to a larger unit. There was nothing wrong with the old one, so A-Gas Team kept it.
Less than a week later, the furnace failed at a synagogue in Fayetteville. The synagogue could not afford a new unit right away because its funds were tied up in an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless, she says. Without hesitation, Jerry Lee packed up the church's old furnace and installed it at the synagogue, providing heat just in time for the dinner.
Sandy says actions done with a good heart really do come back around, whether it's a repeat customer or just a kind word. "Our bills are paid and we don't need to go on fancy vacations," she says. "We may not be rich, but we sure sleep good at night.