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Music is heard throughout the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based office of Thornton & Grooms Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Drains. A large chrome-plated bell, which hangs on the wall amidst the dispatchers and customer service representatives, is often rung by employees to mark each other’s successes and milestones. Often times, singing can be heard throughout the office — further evidence that employees enjoy coming to work.
This joyful exuberance and a never-ending desire to value their customers and employees has led The NEWS to recognize the company as its “Best Contractor to Work for” across the North Centr
Matt Bergstrom, president; Mike Bergstrom, vice president of HVAC operations; and Dave Knight, director of sales and marketing; are company co-owners. The Bergstrom brothers and Knight strive to show in many ways that they value their employees, and in turn hire and retain staff that values and takes care of their customers. The result is a vibrant and positive work environment.
The co-owners have defined four elements that make up the core values of the company and features of employees who fit best:
•People who love their job, love people, and enjoy helping out other people;
•Doing whatever it takes to take care of the customer; and
•Professionalism with humility — looking and acting professionally while taking the time to treat each customer as if that customer is the only customer.
These attributes reflect the importance of customer service at Thornton & Grooms, and it shows in how the employees treat customers. For example, it may mean tackling problems that other contractors were unable to solve or allowing employees to “Identify folks who are struggling and either really can’t afford what we do or are just down and out and need some help,” said Matt Bergstrom. “Our people are empowered to call, ask to help, or take themselves off the clock and fix the problem. So, often times it’s more of a volunteer or a community help program.”
Another way Thornton & Grooms helps out those in need is through its Hearts & Heroes charitable program. Hearts & Heroes encourages customers or organizations to nominate a charity, with the chosen target receiving $1,000. The program has since been transformed into a monthly program in which the company donates products and services to help out an individual or organization in need.
“This gets the entire organization involved in the charitable habit and joy of helping others,” said Matt Bergstrom.
As suggested by employees, company leaders recently donated and installed a tankless water heater inside the Lighthouse Mission in Westland, Mich., which serves the homeless. The mission recently advertised its hot water problems in a local paper, which caught the attention of Thornton & Grooms’ employees. Matt Bergstrom visited the mission, which led to the donated equipment and service, allowing mission attendees to take hot showers.
“For this one- to two-man installation, four employees volunteered to work on the project because they all were looking to help out and give back,” he said.
Thornton & Grooms employees also recently recently funded the removal of snow from a Birmingham, Mich.-area seniors group.
Company leaders also encourage employees and customers to participate in the company’s annual food drive.
“We give customers a $10 discount off of any service we perform if they give five cans of food,” said Matt Bergstrom. “We usually raise about 2,000 pounds of food through the end of the year. … It’s just a fun thing to be able to do. We work with the folks at Gleaners Food Bank for that.”
Thornton & Grooms supplies a variety of training to its field staff.
“Every one of our guys, within their first year of employment, goes through a program with NexStar called the ‘Service System,’” said Matt Bergstrom. “It’s for soft skills, creating a process in the way things are approached with customers.”
Thornton & Grooms provides other types of training, as well. According to Mark Wriston, HVAC service technician, “As far as training goes, we probably do 10-15 hours [of technical training] a month in addition to all the NATE [North American Technician Excellence] reviewing we do for their tests. We’re always going to classes through Carrier Great Lakes or whatever supply house is offering a class. They get us involved to keep us updated. We do safety training every month. We have senior technicians who are instructors at the community college level in our department.”
Matt Bergstrom said, “We offer NATE training and proctored NATE testing free of charge for first-time employees.
“We want them to be fully certified in what we do, and what they do for us, so whether its forced-air and hot water installations, or whether its air conditioning, heat pump, or hydronics on the service side, depending on what they’re servicing for the customers, that’s what we want them certified in.”
Training is given to the office staff, too. Customer service representatives and dispatchers will, within the first year of employment, go through two- or three-day Nexstar call-center training offsite. The company also has outsiders “record phone calls and work with folks on an individual basis,” said Matt Bergstrom. Also, the office team meets weekly, “going over what’s working, what’s not working, and reviewing solutions as a team, rather than just having the manager say what to do,” he added.
Customer and Employee Care
“Customer service is near and dear to our heart,” said Knight. “Profit is absolutely important, and we get all that, but that should not drive the company.”
It’s not only the customers who are valued, but Thornton & Grooms’ employees are also appreciated.
“We value our employees and work on the principles that my priorities are my relationship with God, then my family, and then work,” said Mike Bergstrom. “In communicating with our team members, I share this perspective and they understand that we don’t think or expect them to think work is everything.”
The company’s mission and vision remains, to take good care of customers and employees.
“We want raving fans and customers for life,” said Matt Bergstrom. “It’s a lens that we look through when we’re taking care of customers and staff.”
And the company is successful in its efforts to take care of its employees. “They pay very well,” said Wriston. “They have a very good incentive program to keep us motivated. We make really good money. I’d say we’re at the top of our tier as far as the money bracket goes.
“But more importantly to me, they treat us good. That’s more important than money. And when I need to do something, if I have something personal going on in my life, Mike’s always right there saying, ‘Do what you’ve got to do, bud. It’s family, then work.’”
The company is aware of technician burnout and utilizes a variety of methods to ward it off.
Matt Bergstrom said, “We try to be overstaffed as we’re going into the busy season, knowing that some of the people we hire may not work out. But instead of being right where we want to be [in terms of a staff total], we tend to overstaff as a way to help everybody out.”
He said they also work with the staff on vacation scheduling even during the busy times, understanding employees need time off.
“The slow times aren’t always times that work for them,” said Matt Bergstrom.
Thornton & Grooms staggers its schedule, allowing some technicians to work noon to 8 p.m. shifts, which eases the workload of the on-call technician.
In addition, the on-call technician is rotated daily, allowing a technician a bit of relief from Michigan’s brutal winter weather, which Matt Bergstrom acknowledged could leave an on-call guy slammed all week in a case of inclement weather.
During the busy summer season, the contractor will occasionally deliver lunches to busy technicians and during the offseasons, the company keeps technicians busy through maintenance- plan work.
Amidst it all, Thornton & Grooms strives to make work fun. In 2012, the company held a competition to see who could sell the most maintenance plans.
“If our team met a certain number, all three owners would shave their heads. Our guys blew the goal out of the water, and that’s why we have such short hair [now],” said Mike Bergstrom.
It’s this level of care toward employees and customers that urged The NEWS to recognize the company as one of the nation’s best.
“We try to put together an environment where folks feel stability and feel valued. I wouldn’t say we’re an easy place to work for, in the sense that we do hold our people accountable to taking care of the customer and being a revenue producer for the company, so it’s not just easy street, but, I think that they [the employees] appreciate that because they see that their work contributes to not only their own personal checkbook, but it’s contributing to the organization, which is something bigger than them,” Matt Bergstrom said.
Wriston indicated that the employees realize and appreciate what the owners do for them and how they treat them.
“In my experience, we’re [Thornton & Grooms] worlds apart from everybody else, honestly,” he said. “The owners take a lot of pride in knowing us on a personal level. You don’t feel like a number, you feel like a person who has an opinion. They’re always looking out for you, they always care. They’re just good people.”
Just The Facts: Thornton + Grooms
Contractor: Thornton & Grooms, Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Drains
Owners: Matt Bergstrom, president; Mike Bergstrom, vice president of HVAC Operations, and Dave Knight, director of sales and marketing
Location: Farmington Hills, Mich.
Years in Business: 75 years
Bulk of Market: 95 percent residential service and replacement, 5 percent light commercial service
Total Sales for 2011: $6.4 million
Total Employees: 48
Total Service Technicians and Installers: Nine HVAC service techs, five HVAC installers, and 14 plumbers
Average Hours Employees Spend In Training: 110–140 hours annually per employee
Benefits Beyond Medical/Dental Insurance: The company offers 401(k) with a 25-percent match, uniforms, tool allowance, weekly soft-skills training, technical training, one to three weeks of vacation, six paid holidays, a take-home truck, fuel card, smartphone, vehicle GPS, power deadbolt locks to protect their tools, and competitive hourly pay.
Industry Association & Contractor Group Members: Nexstar, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors of America (MIACCA), Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), and Michigan Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association (MPMCA)
The NEWS Selected This Contractor Because: Employee value, training opportunities, charitable work, and outstanding benefits.
Publication date: 1/28/2013