Erika Lacroix of EZ Breathe Ventilation System: “Willingness to share success”

Willingness to share success — Being successful does not happen without the support of the team around you. Family or not, everyone deserves to share in the success of the company. We offer bonuses to our team members in the form of cash, gifts, and even travel rewards. When the company is successful so are the team […]

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Willingness to share success — Being successful does not happen without the support of the team around you. Family or not, everyone deserves to share in the success of the company. We offer bonuses to our team members in the form of cash, gifts, and even travel rewards. When the company is successful so are the team members who made the success possible. We know investing in our team is a recipe for a winning culture and for continued success.

As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Lacroix.

Erika Lacroix grew up alongside her father’s foundation repair business in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, all grown up with a family of her own, improving people’s homes is still in her blood. The purpose and passion behind EZ Breathe aligns directly with Erika’s desire to provide the highest quality of living for her children. The creation of EZ Breathe has significantly improved her family’s quality of life at home, and she is committed to helping other families experience the EZ Breathe difference. In her free time, Erika enjoys being outside taking walks, hiking up hills and skiing down them. When not shuttling their three boys from place to place, you might find her on her yoga mat.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been dedicated to health and wellness and sharing that with others. Upon my arrival back home after living away for almost a decade, my father asked if I could help with a new concept they were working on, foundation ventilation. Of course I jumped in with two feet.

Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?

EZ Breathe first started out as a single department as part of the larger foundation repair company. We quickly grew out of the allocated office and warehouse space, demanding more space. In 2005, the same year my first son was born, EZ Breathe Ventilation Systems became incorporated as its own entity with myself as the President. We built a new office building and a much bigger warehouse to accommodate our growing business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Without a doubt it’s our commitment to our customers, both internal customers and those we serve outside the office walls. Our company culture is one based on serving others. Our service vision “Friends Helping Friends” is not just a slogan to make us feel good, it is the foundation of all our decision making.

One of my favorites is the story of the Baby’s R Us Gift Card. We allocate a monthly budget for all of our employees to “WOW” our customers with an Above & Beyond gesture. Supporting our staff in gathering enough information from our customers in order to create a memorable WOW seemed like a big mountain to climb early on in our endeavor to accomplish this. Years ago, one of our staff members came to me with a WOW submission for approval for a couple who had purchased one of our EZ Breathe Ventilation Systems, yet had very specific dates that the installation could be scheduled due to the upcoming birth of their first grandchild. She wanted to send them a congratulatory gift on becoming first time grandparents in the form of a Baby’s R Us gift card. She hit the nail on the head of actively looking for ways to WOW and go Above and Beyond for our customers. It’s still one of my favorite WOW moments.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, quite a few actually. We are in the final stages of redesigning our Garage Ventilation System, creating new “Smart” technology to upgrade all of the existing EZ Breathe Ventilation Systems installed in homes across America as well as our new “Smart EZ Breathe Systems” — Outside of the business we are continuing our efforts to expand our Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway to include more households than just our own employees, but also reaching out in to the local communities.

Putting food on a family’s table during these challenging times helps their wallets, but also their hearts. Some choose to pay it forward and give that turkey to a family or friend in need, it’s a real win-win for our culture and community. As far as the new improvements and new products, they are all being developed to make the user experience easier from installation to operations. The smart technology will provide real-time monitoring of the air quality from any smart phone or device.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Obviously, my father for trusting me to take on this project years ago and providing the encouragement and support over the last two decades. My team members have been invaluable in contributing to our success by learning from our customers and taking their feedback to heart. I have also been fortunate to have had many mentors along the way including John DiJulius, author of many books on the customer experience. Studying this methodology I became hooked. I dove in feet first, read all of his books then went on to graduate from the CXEA, Customer Experience Executive Academy in 2017. Recognizing that the customer experience is the competitive edge of the future, human beings crave connection. Genuinely caring for people and the experience you provide them cannot be duplicated in our quick to automate and digitize world. Humans thrive on connection. John and his teachings have been instrumental in creating our winning culture.

Recognizing that we can never expect our employees to provide a world class customer experience if they have never experienced it for themselves. All employees bring their own customer experiences with them when they come to work. Our internal culture will reflect through the experience our employees provide. This awareness created a shift company-wide.

Favorite quotes — “There are no failures, only opportunities to learn. Learn from your experience, modify the path in order to grow. We never speak of mistakes, just ‘learns’, they are essential to create a winning culture. Learn. Modify. Grow.” — my father, Nick DiCello

“If you are happy — tell your face” — John DiJulius

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are so blessed to provide a product that brings goodness to every household. Our EZ Breathe improves the air quality and in turn the health and lives of those people living in the house. We make a positive impact every time an EZ Breathe is installed in a home. Personally, we love to travel. I believe travel is the best teacher I can provide for my children. Our family’s commitment is to give back to every place we visit in the form of school supplies or medical supplies for local children, volunteering at animal rescue organizations (we own two ‘potcake’ rescue dogs from the Caribbean as a result!), or serving in some capacity in the local community. This is teaching our children that with success comes the responsibility to give back and serve others.

Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family-owned businesses have?

Family members working alongside each other in various capacities for a common entity or group of entities. How is a family business different from a regular business? From a day to day perspective I’m not sure it is all that different other than you are related to some of the players. However, from a long-term view, there is a sense of security knowing there is legacy to protect and a commitment that oftentimes is stronger because of the familiar ties.

What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family-owned businesses have?

I can see that in other family businesses family members may get preferential treatment, the movie Tommy Boy comes to mind. However, that is not my experience at all. It’s quite the opposite here, family members are held to much higher standards and expectations. That has been frustrating throughout the years, but I get it.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?

Elevating family members to positions that they are not qualified for. Family should not be treated any different than any other new employee, starting at the bottom and working their way up. We have had both of our teenage boys working in our warehouse over the past couple of summers for them to learn the business from the ground up. My father has always said, “You can’t manage people unless you know how to do the job yourself. Learning comes from doing, not watching.”

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?

Training, training, training! Hire people for the skill set to match the job responsibility, train them on their service aptitude. Whatever your company’s mission and vision is, it should be front and center as the leading factor in any decision. All employees trained to have a clear understanding of the expectations, particularly on creating a positive customer experience inside and out. Creating an energetic, winning culture is a recipe for success. One other thing, empower people to be creative and innovative, to try new things and the freedom to fail. Having a team that is willing to take a chance without fear of failure leads to tremendous opportunities and growth.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?

Leadership means you serve the best interest of others before your own, you set the tone, and the example for others to follow.

You can never expect others to do what you, as a leader, are unwilling to do. The COVID lockdown was an opportunity for us, the leaders, to show our team that we would overcome and do whatever necessary to keep serving our employees and customers. My husband (our on staff indoor air quality expert who travels the country to speak on IAQ, Indoor Air Quality concerns and offers on-location training to our hundreds of dealers) took over the warehouse and shipping responsibilities without hesitation. When no one else was allowed physically in our building, he came in 3x times a week throughout the shutdown to keep our units moving to our customers. We also commit to our employees that they will never miss life’s most important moments — first day of kindergarten drop off — band recitals — 8th grade graduation — that important doctor visit — etc. We are often the ones filling in for our team members when they attend one of these important moments and the rest of the team sees that. We are simply setting the example of what we expect. Supporting one another, friends helping friends.

Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Commitment to being better tomorrow than today — Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, always evolving and growing.
  2. Ability to learn and grow from failure — Learning and reflecting on how to do it better next time without getting caught up in the excuses of why it didn’t work and deflecting blame elsewhere. So much time is spent on blaming, rather than internalizing the learning from the failure and using it as a stepping stone for growth.
  3. Communication — Clear communication is critical. There can be a big difference between what you say and what the other person hears. I have my own stories of this, most recently we asked a new team member to stuff and ready envelopes for a big mailing to our dealers. I came to learn that this team member was unaware that we were waiting for one last piece to be added to the envelope before it was to be sealed and sent. So, he proceeded to stuff and seal ¾ of the envelopes before the mistake was noticed. Communication regarding the details of the task were clearly not clear. Learns abounded for both the team member doing the stuffing and also the supervisor overseeing the project. But the most entertaining story I have regarding communication comes from my mentor John, he tells of a story where he had two of his sons when they were little, like a toddler and a baby at Disney World resort. His wife had a well-deserved appointment at the spa which left him alone with the two very little boys and all that comes with them; the sunblock, the swim diapers, the hats, the diaper bag, the floaties, etc. He finally gets them both in the pool which seemed like it took hours to prepare for, the toddler says he has to pee. So John tells him to just pee in the pool. The thought of undoing all that they had just done to get everyone out and to the bathroom seemed overwhelming at the time. As John is playing with the baby he hears some commotion only to look up and see his toddler standing on the edge of the pool, swimsuit around his ankles, peeing in the pool! He was doing exactly what his daddy told him to do, resembling nothing like what his daddy meant him to do. I love that story and use it often when we talk about clear communication.
  4. Dedication to being the best — Mediocre is not good enough. We all strive to be the best at what we do. Having a dedication to improving one’s knowledge and skill set is part of our culture.
  5. Willingness to share success — Being successful does not happen without the support of the team around you. Family or not, everyone deserves to share in the success of the company. We offer bonuses to our team members in the form of cash, gifts, and even travel rewards. When the company is successful so are the team members who made the success possible. We know investing in our team is a recipe for a winning culture and for continued success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“98% of the time it has nothing to do with you” tied with “No one can make you do anything, you are responsible for every decision you make.”

My father has repeatedly told me these things throughout my life and I find myself now sharing these with our children.

  • “98% of the time it has nothing to do with you” has been super helpful in not owning other people’s baggage. This has really allowed me to stay out of the drama that bombards most of us on the daily. Once you realize this is not mine to hold, or to fix or to worry about, it sets you free in a way. I see far too many people sticking their noses where it doesn’t belong or carrying a burden that is not theirs to carry and weighing them down. It’s also a great way to protect yourself from taking everything so personally — most of the time it has nothing to do with you. Acknowledging this and offering up grace and understanding instead of having the perception of a personal assault, or something being done TO ME is a game changer. Road rage is a prime example. I’ve never understood why someone else’s behavior on the highway has anything to do with you? I know that this is not a popular perspective as I am reminded of this often while driving with others who get personally offended by the behavior of others on the road. I always offer up another plausible (and much healthier) possibility that they may be racing to the hospital for the birth of their baby, or they got a call from the school that their child is ill, or they are late for a special occasion they don’t want to miss. I’m pretty certain they are not driving that way to upset ME — I’m really not that special after all, why bother with all the negativity?
  • “No one can make you do anything, you are responsible for every decision you make.” This is a big one. I am forever grateful to my father for again instilling this in me from a very young age when I wanted to blame everything on my little brother Nicky. Of course he was annoying like all little brothers are and would know exactly how to “push my buttons”. So I got used to the “Nicky made me…” excuse. Well, my dad was having none of that. He always reminded me when I was so quick to deflect blame that it was me and only me who makes my decisions. He encouraged me to never give up my power to anyone for any reason. I am the only one responsible for the decisions I make, period. He went on to explain to my young self that if I were to have just witnessed my beloved dog get run over by a car and die, is there anything anyone could do or say to “make me” happy? Or if I had just won millions in the lottery is there anything anyone could do or say that would “make me” sad? Not sure I understood exactly what he was trying to teach me, but as the years went on and I collected more and more life experiences, spoke with a few therapists along the way too. I was reminded of his teaching when I had a therapist ask me to imagine my situation if I did not have “any buttons for anyone to push”. Wow! That was a turning point in my life for sure, I totally got what my dad was trying to teach me all those years ago. It is my choice and my choice alone on how I get to respond. “Harness your power Erika” my dad would say, “do not give it up to others freely, no one makes you do or say anything. It’s your choice, you allow others to influence you. Be very selective to those you share your power” This has been very helpful in the leadership roles I’ve been blessed to serve in my life. Personal responsibility is key for all leaders.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Ivanka Trump. I so admire her poise given an almost impossible position over the past 5 years. She truly weathered that storm with grace and had real impactful influence. Her efforts with the Farmers to Families Food Box program, Paid Family Leave Act as well as her humanitarian efforts for women and children around the globe have had a long lasting meaningful impact. Not just political posturing as we so often see with people in positions like her.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The importance of whole healthy foods, healthy homes, healthy bodies. This has always been a focus of mine throughout my life and to see so many Americans eating unhealthy foods, rising obesity and diabetes rates (especially among children) is heartbreaking to me. It is difficult to know what is healthy anymore with confusing marketing and nutritional information labels. Add in the ever growing sedentary lifestyle with the Netflix, gaming generation exaggerating the already immense problem. Encouraging people to eat more whole foods, more fruits and vegetables and to live an active life taking pride and responsibility for their health.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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