Luke Peters is the owner, founder and president of Air & Water, Inc. Founded in 2002, Air-N-Water.com is an online website retailer focused on meeting the heating and cooling needs of its customers. Since its early start as a simple website run out of Peters’ condo, Air-N-Water.com has grown into one of the Internet’s premiere retailers of heating, cooling and home appliances. Recently, the company was even named to Internet Retailer’s prestigious Top 500 list, ranking No. 19 in the Home Improvement category.
Luke Peters began his professional career as an environmental scientist with the state of California. With a background in microbiology and chemistry, Peters spent several years working for the state while simultaneously building Air & Water in his free time. After rolling out the website right out of his condo in Southern California, Peters was eventually able to leave his work with the state and focus on the online retailer full time.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, we’re continuing to expand our product line to include even more home appliances. Coffee machines, espresso makers, wine refrigerators and even BBQ grills are being added to our product offering every day. It’s important for us to continue to grow. The competition does not stand still. We’re also continually making adjustments to the website. Every day we try to not only make it operate faster and more smoothly for people, but we also try to make it as informative as possible. Every day there is new information being added about our products.
3 Trends that excite you?
I try to put on an optimistic approach to things, and though this recession is tough on so many people, I am optimistic that once the economy gets back on track we will see dramatic growth trend improvements. For example, we are working so hard on improving the customer experience, and sometimes we don’t see the conversion increase we had hoped to see. But I am optimistic that all of these changes will really pay off once the country has healed economically. We are in a sense swimming upstream, but I like the trend I see around the corner.
Eco-friendly products are certainly exciting, because that’s becoming more and more important to people across the country. In addition to the energy-efficient evaporative coolers we carry, we’re also starting to see eco-friendly air purifiers, heaters and even grills. Yes, there are now “green grills.”
And in a more general sense, the evolution of the online retail space has been exciting. It’s really been amazing to be a part of the tremendous growth that the online retail world has seen in the last few years. When we first started, some manufacturers were skeptical of our model and really didn’t want to deal with us because we were an online establishment — not a brick and mortar store. But eventually everyone started to come around and realize that online is where the customers were, and that we knew how to attract them.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I find inspiration for many ideas when I am outside of work. What I do is go back and forth from site to site online looking for trends and new ideas. I also supplement this by reading industry magazines and online industry blogs. Once focused, I can usually come up with good ideas, and then I write them into a monthly marketing plan.
Essentially, our ideas come to life very quickly thanks to the simple motto I have adopted from day one — just do it. You can waste so much time planning and over-thinking every little detail. Rather than that, we’ve always just ran with our ideas, essentially testing them in the real world marketplace allowing us to stay ahead of the competition.
What is one mistake that you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
This is common with many small business owners. I would say that I did not delegate enough to start out with. Being a new owner you want to make sure everything runs perfectly, and so you try to do everything yourself. In some ways it might be good for a time because as the owner you learn so much so fast. But once you start delegating you also see that others might be better at certain tasks than yourself, and that’s a good thing for the company as a whole. Once the small business grows and you have your management team in place, giving them control allows for your company to make quick changes and grow faster.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
Suggesting one book is really hard, but here are few really good business books I read a lot, and these two really stand out. Both books are actually very different philosophically, but both offer logical, simplistic and realistic ideas.
1 — “Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing” by George Cloutier
2 — “Rework” by 37signals
The most important tool for us has been our site development applications, which we have built from scratch. This has allowed us to include anything we ever wanted on our site, all while retaining complete control over the process. Sure, it meant spending more time on things initially, but it’s worth it now. It’s also allowed us to build the site exactly how we want to. We believe in arming the customer with as much information as possible. Each of our product pages includes a full write-up on the product, along with reviews and even videos explaining how to set up and use it.
We also make it extremely easy for customers to find information on different products, as well as answers to any questions that they may have. We’ve even set it up so they can contact us directly from the website without having to leave the page. Essentially, by providing anything and everything they need on our site, they don’t have to leave the site before making a purchasing decision. We’ve ensured that we can give them all the information on a product or category that they would ever need — that way they don’t have to go looking for it elsewhere.
What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would tell your readers to take action now to just do it. It is so easy for people to stay on the sidelines and wait for a better time or rationalize that it will be easier in a year. Right now is the perfect time to start a business. With the recession there are lots of opportunities out there. Sure, it might be hard to raise capital, but most ideas can still get off the ground with less money than you think, and starting lean is a great way to start. And once the economy does start to kick into gear, you will be glad you got started when you did.
Where did your inspiration come from for the company?
It was really a combination of things. My brother had recently started an online company and was really successful early on. He was convinced that all I needed to do was find the right niche. So I did some research, and initially discovered that there were a lot of air conditioner-related searches online, but not a lot of information or sites available dedicated to that market. So, that research combined with my brother’s success stories were really the biggest inspiration behind the business.
If you could be doing anything right now — not business-related — what would it be?
I would either be surfing or just spending time with my kids at the beach. I love living in Southern California and having the opportunity to enjoy the beach just about all year round. My kids love it too — and that makes it even more fun.
Connect with Luke Peters directly from his website at www.air-n-water.com.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.