Proud son celebrates 40th anniversary of business started by his parents

by Donna Sanders Corbus

When talking about his family, Buddy Smith beams with pride. His family’s business - Russell’s Heating and Cooling - is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Buddy’s parents, Russell and Audrey Smith, started the company in 1977, and he smiles as he reflects on the business’s growth over the years.

Originally from Richmond, Buddy’s father, Russell Smith, served two years of active duty in the Navy as a radioman, followed by six years of service in the Reserves. His mother, Audrey, worked in the accounting department of The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Smiths eventually moved to Hampton Roads because other family members lived in the area. When they started Russell’s Heating and Cooling, they were the company’s sole employees: Russell was the technician while Audrey took the calls and handled the billing.

“No matter what time it was,
or how long it took to tell a story,
my dad paid attention.
He did the same for his customers.
Dad has always cared about people.
I learned that from him.”

—Buddy Smith

They couple raised Buddy and his older sister, Sandra, in Virginia Beach, later settling in Great Bridge. Buddy remembers fondly how his father always took the time to listen to him. “No matter what time it was, or how long it took to tell a story, my dad paid attention,” Buddy  recalls. “And he did the same for his customers. Dad has always cared about people. I learned that from him.”

Russell was also a list maker—another skill that he passed on to Buddy. “Dad always had a yellow pad, and was constantly making lists,” he says with a smile.  Although Russell’s Heating and Cooling went paperless in 2006, Buddy still puts pen to paper to write down his to-do list.

When the Smiths retired (Russell in 1999, and Audrey in 2000), they left their company in their son’s capable hands; but the heating and cooling business was not Buddy’s original career choice. After graduating from Great Bridge High School, he dabbled in the automotive industry, and even tried window tinting for a time. However, in 1992 he returned to the fold, working from the ground up—literally: he started out crawling under houses so as to learn  everything about  installing and servicing heating and cooling systems.  During that time, he learned that he had a talent for sales, marketing and customer service. He decided to focus on those skills, leaving the technical work in the hands of the experts employed by the company. “Our employees do excellent work,” Buddy says with pride, “and I treat  each and every one of them as a member of my family.”

Despite the demands of running the company, the Smiths always make time for family.
From left: Lauren and Buddy Smith with their children Liam, Aly and Jillian.

In the midst of running the business and being available to his employees and customers, Buddy always makes time to be with his family. He and his wife Lauren live in the Greenbrier section of Chesapeake with their children: 9-year-old Aly, 8-year-old Jillian, and 4-year-old Liam.  Between work and school, life can get rather hectic, but Buddy and Lauren always schedule family time. That means dinner together most nights, and there is a rule: no electronic devices at the table. There is also another family ritual that started when Aly was small: before bedtime, the family watches an episode of “Full House.” The  Smiths also enjoy swimming, time on the driving range and vacationing in South Carolina. Having recently celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary, Buddy and Lauren continue to make time for one another: frequent date nights might include dinner at a favorite restaurant or a leisurely visit to a local bookstore.

Buddy’s workplace family now consists of 63 employees. He is proud of the fact that there is very little employee turnover at Russell’s Heating and Cooling. Many employees have been with the company for more than 10 years. Buddy cares about the people who make his company strong. He hires people who believe in giving great customer service, and he makes sure that they are trained according to the highest industry standards. Buddy also enjoys rewarding his employees  with occasional trips, dinners, and gift cards.

Returning home from a recent trip, Buddy gazed out the airplane window and contemplated how amazing it is that daily millions of people fly safely all around the world. “Regular airplane maintenance is the reason air travel is so safe,” Buddy states. “Regular maintenance is also the key to keeping your home heated. Christmas Day, when your have a house full of company, is not a good time for the furnace or the heat pump to fail. People should have their heating system serviced yearly and, if needed, repaired.”

Buddy works with anyone’s budget - financing plans are available. “Customers can get an entire new furnace for $60 to $70 per month—sometimes even less,” Buddy affirms.

Although he never planned to work in the heating and cooling industry, Buddy found his niche in the company his parents created. They allowed him to take the time to develop the skills that would make Russell’s Heating and Cooling even more successful. 

Having already outgrown the structure the business  acquired four years ago,  renovations are currently being made to an even larger building in the Greenbrier area. Work should be completed in the next few months and Buddy hopes to move in early in 2018.

By continuing to care for his employees and customers as if they were his family, Buddy hopes to be taking care of the business for another 40 years.

Founder Russell Smith and the company van in the late 1970s.

Russell�s Heating & Cooling

1100 Executive Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23320