A Day in the Life of a Commercial Service Tech

November 1, 2000
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Gann inspects the wiring in a dormant rooftop unit at stop No. 2.


TULSA, OK — When The News decided to spend a day with a commercial contractor in Tulsa, here was little doubt who the choice would be — McIntosh Services, Inc. Owner Tom Owens came highly recommended and his family-run firm — a $5 million business specializing in hvac, plumbing, new construction and remodeling — would be a good representative of the area’s commercial-industrial hvac contracting trade (see sidebar).

The choice was also made easy for another reason, too. According to service technician Jay Gann, there are a whole bunch of residential contractors in Tulsa but a lot fewer commercial guys. He ought to know; he’s worked the field in this region for over 15 years.

On the warm October day when The News rolled into Tulsa, the assignment was to spend a day with an hvacr service tech and learn a little about commercial service calls. Ironically, of Gann’s three scheduled stops, one was a residential furnace inspection — one of the rare residential service calls scheduled by McIntosh.



First Stop, Banana Republic

The first stop took us to one of McIntosh’s national accounts, a Banana Republic clothing store. The manager had called the previous day saying there was no heat in the store. The heat was switched on, but only cold air was blowing out of the vents.

Gann checked the three programmable thermostats in the back and all seemed to be operating fine, calling for heat. It was too much of a coincidence that all three would fail at the same time.

He suspected there might be a problem with the gas line.

After gaining access to the rooftop unit, Gann quickly found the problem — no gas. He relayed the message to the manager and did so in a very professional way, giving the manager the opportunity to say, “Maybe we didn’t pay the gas bill.”

Gann advised calling the local gas utility, Oklahoma Natural Gas, to find out why the gas had been shut off. There may have been a disruption in the line or maybe a faulty meter. He said he could get the gas turned back on immediately if it were an emergency.

To which one of the store’s employees said, “It is an emergency, just feel my nose.



Up On the Rooftop

If first stop was a rather easy one, the second proved to be a lot more interesting.

The owner of a roofing company, who had purchased the commercial building last spring, said he had to re-light the pilot in his 1987 Lennox furnace each morning. The furnace did a yeoman’s job of heating the office space and a small section of a much larger warehouse room immediately behind the offices. The culprit, Gann surmised, was probably a bad thermocouple.

“Nine out of ten times when a pilot won’t stay lit, we probably have to replace the thermocouple,” Gann said. “The other ten percent of the time it is usually a bad gas valve.”

Gann replaced the thermocouple, and that seemed to correct the problem. The building owner also asked Gann if he would take a look at the four rooftop units in the warehouse section of the building, a piecemeal building that appeared to have been added onto a couple of times. The building, in three sections, had previously served as an auction house and a dance club.

The owner wanted to add some vents to the warehouse ceiling and start up the old rooftops to provide heat to the 5,000-sq-ft area before the upcoming winter season.

He was in for a real surprise.

The four units were rigged for air conditioning only. Gann said electric or gas heating units might be available to add on, but the scenario was unlikely due to the age of the units and the cost of running additional power or gas to them.

Rather than being upset, the owner suggested relocating two very old space heaters from the ceiling in the rear of the building, being used as a mechanic’s room, to the area immediately behind the offices in front of the building. This was his solution to heating a portion of the rear warehouse.

Gann was likely biting his lip when he agreed that the owner’s solution might work. He drew up a layout of the area and said he’d get an estimate of the work to the owner as soon as possible. It seemed to be a band-aid approach to solving the problem and an inexpensive one, too.



A Routine Furnace Call

The third and final stop, a residence, was another “routine” call. The 17-year-old Lennox furnace was in remarkably good shape and working well. The homeowner didn’t want to struggle with changing the filters in this “downflow” model.

Gann removed both filters, which were very dirty, and hosed them down outside the home. Everything else checked out.

Gann added the McIntosh label to the furnace, already sporting two other stickers, suggested to the homeowner that she purchase a carbon monoxide detector, and went on his way.

If only all calls were that simple.

But this is the part of the job that Gann likes — the diversity. “Commercial service work is fun because you are always moving around, seeing a lot of different things,” he said. “If you’re an installer, you might be on the same job for months.”

During the day, Gann also showed off a McIntosh job in the computer room of a downtown Tulsa business. The company was installing Liebert units and chilled water piping to provide precision temperature and humidity control via a raised-floor configuration in the telecommunications customer’s very sensitive computer rooms.

The contrasting nature of the service calls on this day pointed out the versatility of one of Tulsa’s most recognizable mechanical contractors.

It also highlighted what Tom Owens had been saying all along — that Tulsa is a great place to live and work.

This report provides information for contractors living in the South/Southwest region of the United States. This includes Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. If you have information from this region, please contact John Hall at 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax); or halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).



Sidebar: A Bite of McIntosh’s History

Prior to assuming ownership of the company in 1993, Tom Owens had been a vice president and Oklahoma district manager for Natkin & Co., one of the largest contractors of its kind in the United States prior to 1990, and still a prominent fixture in Tulsa.

But when Natkin was taken over by new ownership in 1990, Owens saw a company in turmoil and losing market share. So he decided to get out. At the time, Pat McIntosh was looking for someone to run his service department and asked Owens to join him. Owens balked, saying he was tired of working for someone else — so McIntosh arranged a deal whereby Owens could buy the business, which McIntosh founded in 1957.

He’s done fine since making that decision, turning a $1.5 million company into a $5 million business and more than tripling the staff to 40-plus workers. The family-run operation includes Owens’ wife Kay, the company’s business manager, and son Dan, a project manager tagged as the eventual successor to his father.

“I’ve been approached by consolidators to sell the business, but I would like for Dan to take it over when I retire,” Owens said. McIntosh is currently a member of Excellence Alliance, Inc. (EAI) and a former member of USA Alliance, an affiliate of former consolidator GroupMAC.

Today McIntosh is doing a brisk business, specializing in the following areas:

  • Hvac and plumbing service;
  • Retrofitting and remodeling;
  • New construction;
  • Energy management;
  • Performance contracting;
  • Testing, balancing, and commissioning; and
  • Backflow prevention, testing, repairing, and certification.
  • Owens plans on doubling revenues by 2003, despite the labor shortages in Tulsa. “I want to get more into construction and design-build,” he said.

    Publication date: 11/06/2000

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