HVAC Residential Market / Testing, Monitoring, Tools

Contractors Discuss Tool, Truck Policies

November 5, 2012
Whose job is it to buy the tools and take care of the service vehicle? That’s a question that each contractor answers individually. There isn’t a cookie-cutter solution that works for every HVAC business. In the midst of this decision making are tried, true, and new ideas of what tools and trucks best practices mean to the technician and to the company’s bottom line. Finding the best policy balance for each company, however, requires contractors evaluate the types of tools needed, the time spent in a vehicle, and the amount of trust that will be afforded to each install and service technician on staff.

Tool Programs

Many of the tool programs HVAC contractors make available seem to have a common thread — they want to make it easy for technicians to have access to quality tools. Comfort Matter Heating and Cooling (Hanover, Minn.) provides tools for its technicians. The company will replace any tools returned broken but if the technicians lose a tool, they are required to replace it. Empire Heating and Air’s (Decatur, Ga.) policy is similar. The contractor provides some tools for its technicians, especially the more expensive ones. The rest are employee owned, but if the employee-owned tool is broken during the course of proper use, the company will replace it as long as the technician turns in the broken tool.

Tool programs extend beyond providing and replacing technicians’ tools. Kahn Mechanical Contractors (Dallas) doesn’t provide tools for its contractors, but it does have a program to help technicians acquire the appropriate tools.

“With approval of a supervisor, a technician can purchase tools at any supply house,” explained Ann Kahn, president of Kahn Mechanical Contractors. “The technician is required to sign an agreement that the cost of the tool, plus the sales tax, will be deducted from his pay at a set schedule.”

Travis Smith is the general manager at Sky Heating and Air Conditioning (Portland, Ore.), and the company he works for has taken its tool program high tech. It provides more expensive, digital tools that aren’t used more than once a month or so and leaves the standard hand tools and a set of refrigerant gauges up to the technician.

“If our technicians want to invest in their futures and purchase more tools, we provide a tool account that deducts $50 per paycheck from what they owe for tools purchased,” said Smith.

Another viable tool program is offered at Samm’s Heating and Air conditioning (Plano, Texas). Paul Sammataro, president of the company, has employed a tool match program that he is pleased with.

“Every December we allow our techs to purchase tools at our suppliers, which we will match up to $250 maximum spent,” he explained. “We then deduct the techs’ totals in eight equal payments from their checks, starting in January.”

Truck Care Policies

There are plenty of variations of tool policies when talking to different contractors, but many of them seem to agree that taking care of the truck is the technician’s job. Fred Kobie, president of Kobie Kooling (Fort Myers, Fla.), considers the truck to be the technician’s office.

“Each technician is responsible to clean the vehicle, and the vehicles are inspected routinely. The maintenance schedule is also planned by the technician with our service company for oil changes, tire rotation, etc.,” he explained. “All of the technicians are allowed to take the vehicle to our servicer for a concern at any time and also to make repairs in the field as they see fit. This is their office, and we encourage them to keep it clean and working well.”

To help his technicians keep their vehicles clean, Corey Hickman, president of Comfort Matters Heating and Cooling, provides them with a pass key for a local carwash. In his company, it is the technician’s responsibility to keep the service truck clean and organized.

Martin Hoover takes his clean truck policy one step further. As president of Empire Heating and Air (Decatur, Ga.), he requires that his employees keep the trucks clean and stocked or run the risk of losing company truck privileges.

“If the truck is not clean and properly stocked, technicians may lose their truck privileges and would then have to drive a personal vehicle to and from the shop,” he said.

GPS Installation?

Tool programs can be a morale booster, truck policies are usually expected, but where contractors and technicians often differ is GPS installation. Benefits to the business include efficient dispatching, quick contact with technician, onboard directions to calls, maintenance notifications, simple time card preparation, and call verification for customers.

For Dennis Purvis, service manager for Mechanical Services Inc. of Central Florida in Orlando, GPS has not only helped with customers, but it also helped him whittle out undesirable behavior from some of the employees he manages.

“Installing GPS forced the dishonest techs to leave,” he said. “GPS works wonderfully when clients question how long a tech has been on site. I can show an actual report of when the tech was on site and for how long.”

Despite some of the positive consequences of a GPS system, Kobie has decided that this approach is not for his company. Kobie Kooling was what he described as a “pioneer with tracking systems years ago.” After his endeavor with the systems, Kobie found that following the vehicles and the expense as opposed to offering rewards was not feasible or truly beneficial.

“We allow some flexibility with the schedule so a technician can stop at a store or be involved at home without worrying who is watching on GPS,” he explained. “There has been very little abuse, and I have found the added trust factor pays dividends as to how technicians take care of our vehicles.”

Sidebar: What’s in Your Tool Bag?

The NEWS asked a group of HVAC professionals what they thought the top five tools every technician should have were. The following is a list of the top five most popular answers we received, in no particular order.

• Digital multimeter

• Refrigerant gauges

• 5+1 screwdriver

• Vacuum pump

• Manometer

What are your top five tools? Head to www.facebook.com/achrnews and post them on The NEWS page.

Publication date: 11/5/2012

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