North Mid-Atlantic Winner: At DiFilippo’s, Employees Are Like Family
PAOLI, PA — “We take care of our people as if they were family,” asserted Vince DiFilippo, president and owner of DiFilippo’s Service Co. And his employees back him up.
DiFilippo and wife Laura “treat their employees as extended members of the family,” said Beth Wall, administrative assistant. “All employees are treated with respect.”
“Vince DiFilippo has made this company a pleasure to work for,” stated Larry Roberts, service technician. “He tries to make his techs and office personnel feel as if they are not just a number, but a human being responsible for the growth and maturity of this company.… I feel that I am appreciated for my contributions.”
Besides being respected and appreciated, all staff members have a say in decisions about the company. “We ask for employee ideas and suggestions constantly through meetings, training, and informal discussions,” said DiFilippo. “Some of our better ideas come from the employees. We know that they have the pulse of the client at their fingertips. Who else is better for recommending how to serve them better?”
Staff meetings are held every other week. Each employee has the chance to express him/herself, and “every suggestion is taken seriously and discussed,” said Sue Burgess, administrative assistant. “We can bring issues up openly,” added service tech Rob Dowd.
“When the time comes to make a policy change,” related Roberts, “a meeting is scheduled and all the techs are asked for their opinions and all of us vote on the changes to policy.” DiFilippo “values our suggestions on improving our service, benefits that would assist us, and customer relations.”
Laura DiFilippo, who handles controller, marketing, and bookkeeping functions for the business, affirmed that her husband “never stops learning or listening to ideas from within and outside the organization to improve the company. He is never afraid to try new things to get better results.”
For these reasons and more, DiFilippo’s Service Co. is one of the seven winners in The News’ 2000 “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.
A Niche PlayerDiFilippo’s is a small, eight-person contracting firm, with four technicians plus owner Vince, who fills in as a tech during the busy seasons. The company does 100% residential service work. Despite its small staff and covering just a 12-mile radius in suburban Philadelphia, the business boasts 3,000 current clients that it has done work for in the past three years and over 900 service agreements.
The company has found its niche and stays with what it knows and does best. It specializes in air conditioning and gas and heat pump hot air systems. “We don’t do oil, hydronics/boilers, plumbing, or refrigeration,” said DiFilippo. The firm does no commercial work.
Prospective customers who request work the company doesn’t do are referred to other area contractors. As an active member of ACCA, DiFilippo will only refer people to ACCA members and only those he knows as a quality contractor.
Housed in an 8,000-sq-ft building with plenty of room for growth, DiFilippo said that he and his staff work hard to maintain a “clean, organized, comfortable, and functional” facility.
To portray a professional image, trucks are kept clean, inside and out, and dent-free. Also, complete uniforms are supplied for techs. In the summer, the uniform consists of collared, embroidered short-sleeve shirts and black pleated slacks. Shorts are optional and are also supplied.
A spring jacket, fall jacket, and winter heavy coat are provided with company logo and name. The winter uniform consists of a red long-sleeve work shirt with logo and name, black pleated slacks, and optional black turtleneck shirt. Techs also receive red coveralls “for those really dirty jobs,” DiFilippo said.
“Shoe covers are provided and are a big hit with clients. ACCA ID badges are also supplied to reassure the client that we are legitimate.”
Trucks are stocked with all common service parts. “We make sure our trucks have the parts to get the client up and running,” DiFilippo said. The company maintains a 98% completion rate on service calls on the first visit, he noted. “This allows us to have four techs and 3,000 clients and keep them happy.”
Service calls are also done the same day the client calls. “If you call us before 4:00 p.m., we’ll be there the same day,” said Laura, and the customer isn’t charged any overtime. Techs, however, do get paid overtime for after-hours work.
Let’s Be HonestAccording to service tech Mike Schrank, honesty and trust are two hallmarks of the business. “The first principle of this company is honesty,” he said. “I have never felt the least compelled to compromise my own integrity while employed here.”
DiFilippo also has trust in his techs. “Each technician is empowered to make their own decisions in the field based upon the conditions as presented,” Shrank stated. They don’t have to check back with the office. “This policy not only demonstrates the company’s trust in my technical expertise, but also in my decision-making ability to make the correct choice for both the company and the customer.”
And when the company makes a mistake, “we own up to it,” remarked DiFilippo. For example, he said, “We promised a client that we would come out to replace his a/c compressor. His daughter had bad allergies and just came home from the hospital, and it was hot and humid outside. When we got to the jobsite, it was the wrong compressor.
“It was my fault because I did not follow our policy of inspecting all shipments for correctness when they arrive. So what did we do? The supply house did not have the compressor. So we loaded up a brand new condensing unit and installed it for the same price as the compressor replacement.
“The client shouldn’t pay for our mistakes.”
Tech BenefitsEach technician takes home his vehicle which is equipped with a full range of diagnostic and hand tools that the company supplies.
Techs are given Nextel radio/ phones with 10 minutes a month of personal time. Lost or broken tools are replaced by the company. Techs are paid $80.00 to be on call for a week and, as noted earlier, are paid time-and-a-half for all service calls done after hours.
Employees don’t pay out-of-pocket expenses for anything that is job-related, including flashlights, batteries, pens, etc.
“How can I ask them to pay for tools when they’re making me money?” DiFilippo asked.
The office has a side-by-side refrigerator stocked with free refreshments for the employees. Because the company has only a 12-mile-radius service area, techs often come back to the office to have lunch and relax.
An incentive program, which was developed by the entire staff, allows an employee to earn points for selling a service agreement, adding a humidifier or air cleaner to an agreement, and receiving unsolicited praise from a client. The points earned can be redeemed for cash or time off.
During busy periods, DiFilippo will go on the road to help pick up the slack. “At a big company, you never see the owner go out on a call,” noted Dowd. By going on calls, Roberts said, DiFilippo “doesn’t lose the perspective of what techs are up against.”
Another major benefit: The company guarantees its techs no layoffs.
The more than 900 service agreements that the firm has helps to spread the workload. However, admitted DiFilippo, “No matter what we do and how we plan or what we advertise, late January and February are always slow. We know this and plan for it. Extra cash is set aside and we check the ‘work to be done’ file.”
This file consists of jobs that people wanted to wait on. “We offer these clients a discount to do the work now,” he said. “We also have an agreement with our sister installation company to install humidifiers.”
When things are slow, techs will also do remedial jobs around the shop. “Just a lot of odd jobs around the facility,” said Di-Filippo. “But everyone knows that we still pay every week.”
Ongoing TrainingThe company trains every other Tuesday morning for two hours. In addition to in-house training, techs attend various manufacturer schools and local ACCA training seminars. All outside training is paid for by the company, including classes for office personnel.
There is also a lot of informal training. Whenever a callback occurs, the techs get together to discuss what happened and how to prevent it from reoccurring in the future. “When things slow down, it is not unusual to spend four hours in one day on training,” DiFilippo said.
Training also occurs whenever someone requests it. “The beauty of being a small contractor,” he noted, “is our ability to send an older tech to assist a younger tech on a problem call at the jobsite where viewing the problem reinforces the learning process.”
The newest tech, Frank Coz-zone, has learned from, and been impressed by, his peers. “These are some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with,” he said.
Other organizations have also recognized the company. It won the local 1998 Main Line Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award. In 1999, the firm received ACCA’s Residential Excellence award.
The employees definitely feel it is a worthy winner. At some other companies he’s worked for, Roberts felt, “There’s got to be a reason not to go to work today.” But now, he said, “I’m always glad to go in.”
Sidebar: Just the Facts - DiFilippo’s Service Co.
Publication date: 02/26/2001
Web date: 06/18/2001