CMS Mechanical Goes All Out To Retain Techs

February 21, 2002
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MELBOURNE, FL — When contractors attend business seminars, they inevitably attend sessions where presenters offer tips on how to gain, train, and maintain a good workforce. If you go to a number of such seminars, you can come up with a long list of good tips.

Or you can just talk to the folks at CMS Mechanical Service Co. of Melbourne, FL, who use dozens of ways to find, hold, and reward technicians.

Consider this partial list:

  • Beginning techs start with a four-week “boot camp” with classroom and hands-on training.
  • A program called “Do It Right the First Time” rewards employees with “CMS Bucks” that can be used at the end-of-the-year company festival to bid on big-ticket items.
  • An accident-free year earns the employee a $100 bonus.
  • Feedback is garnered from employees prior to planning and financial review meetings.
  • All technicians have e-mail through the company’s website.
  • Senior techs are given laptop PCs.
  • The bosses take a pass on credits and/or executive trips from major vendors, instead requesting that discounts be channeled toward vendor training schools for technicians.
The list of ideas extends beyond employees. For example:
  • Commercial-industrial customers (100% of the company’s customers) are offered training on their equipment to help the contractor respond more quickly and effectively.
  • Preventive maintenance contractors are pursued aggressively.
For these and other reasons, CMS Mechanical has been named The News’ “Best Contractor to Work For” in the South Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region.

President Bob Bull and executive assistant Joyce Seiler outside the CMS Mechanical headquarters in Melbourne, FL.

HISTORY

CMS Mechanical came into existence 10 years ago, when long-established Coastal Mechanical, with expertise in new construction, was looking for a service arm to do aftermarket work on equipment it had installed.

CMS Mechanical president Bob Bull had several years of experience as a technician and as a service manager for a contracting company. In 1992 he started his own company in Orlando, FL.

“That company started with $553 in the bank and did more than $1 million in the first year,” he recalled. The growth plan was to cover the state when word came that CMS was interested in starting a service business.

CMS Mechanical has grown well beyond just working on Coastal Mechanical-installed equipment. It has a wide range of customers and equipment.

Its primary manufacturer is Carrier. The relationship goes back to when Bull approached Carrier Florida about starting a program for commercial-industrial contractors similar to the manufacturer’s Five-Star program for residential dealers. When bidding a job, it quotes Carrier products if the manufacturer has the right unit for the job.

Many contracting companies stay within a rather limited geographical area, trying to come up with as many customers within that area as possible. CMS Mechanical follows a decidedly different route.

It goes after commercial-industrial accounts with large-square-footage facilities and multiple locations. The company does no residential work and takes a pass on Yellow Pages and newspaper advertising.

That hasn’t deterred growth during its 10 years in business. Its area now encompasses the entire Southeast, even having a national presence thanks to an arrangement with what the company calls “peer contractors.” And its 110 employees are spread so far throughout the Southeast that only about 30 people work at the corporate office in Melbourne.

The fact that so much is happening at so many locales makes the headquarters a busy operation. Located several miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and just off I-95, CMS Mechanical is in an industrial park with a mixed bag of neighboring companies. Coastal Mechanical is one street over.

In the past 10 years, CMS Mechanical moved three times within the industrial park, most recently two years ago. The company owns a number of undeveloped acres across the road for future expansion.

The Melbourne location serves as the corporate office and base of operations for Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Operations in Georgia are run from that state with vice president Craig Parker running the show. He has a service manager, dispatcher, and technicians as his support team. They also have an office in Alabama managed by Billy Phelps, business unit leader responsible for Alabama and parts of Tennessee.

The “peer contractor” approach came about when an auto parts company that owned hundreds of convenience stores/service stations discussed the possibility of CMS Mechanical doing all the hvacr work for all its sites. The parts company had a practical motive: one reliable vendor to deal with, which meant fewer invoices. Payments could be sent to one location on a regular basis.

Under peer contracting, CMS Mechanical works out arrangements with independent contractors throughout the nation. When the parts company needs preventive maintenance or service work on a facility outside the Southeast region, a peer contractor does the work. The billing still goes to the Melbourne headquarters, which in turn reimburses the peer contractor for work done. CMS Mechanical now has dozens of such accounts.

Information Service specialists Jesse Shy and Richard Stanley are on staff full-time to keep the company's complex computer technology up and running.

TRAINING, HIRING

Customer training “helps us because the customer can make a more informed decision in regards to the service of their equipment,” says Bull. Company employees go to jobsites and demonstrate the basics of hvacr, explaining what is covered in a preventive maintenance agreement, and outlining common problems that might be encountered.

This helps encourage preventive maintenance contracts, which in turn help company cash flow and provide steady employment for technicians. Service contracts cover about 40% of the company’s total revenue.

To perform the work, “CMS aggressively recruits and retains quality technicians by providing them a stable work environment, highest rate wage in the area, good benefits package, educational reimbursement, ongoing technical training, an open-door communication policy, as well as no-layoffs in the slow season,” according to a statement from the company.

Technician training includes a 4-hr orientation on policies and procedures, one day of training in proper paperwork completion, two weeks of riding with a service manager, the four-week boot camp that includes written exams and hands-on work, and sending techs to vendor training.

Bull monitors the technicians by going to regional service meetings. He also gives his techs a lot of leeway. He noted that, in effect, their trucks are their offices. The techs get regular income statements as to how well they and their trucks are doing. Bull said, “We want them to have free reign, but with free reign comes high expectations.” CMS Mechanical techs are expected to show skills in everything from cascade chillers to ice machines, along with knowledge of controls and cleanroom hvac. “We are looking for a mixture of aptitude and attitude.”

While finding good technicians is as much of a challenge for CMS Mechanical as for any other contractor, the president is able to draw from a r?m?ank, including online submittals. There is also a hiring push each winter, when snowbelt technicians are ready to head to Florida.

The company said that typically, technicians receive 10% pay increases annually with a flexible merit increase policy.

The Do It Right the First Time (DRTFT) program rewards employees for proper completion of paperwork, jobs well done, good attendance, and customer satisfaction.

CMS Bucks are accumulated and used at the end of the year at a company festival. The company buys a variety of items such as big-screen TVs, camcorders, DVDs, computers, and appliances, as well as camping and fishing equipment, which the can be purchased for CMS Bucks. Employees and spouses from throughout the Southeast attend the event. Every employee leaves with a prize.

The year-end event is also time for awards and recognition. Techs are recognized with such awards as Top Producer and the Presidents Club.

AVOIDING BURNOUT

A contractor in the Southeast, where a/c equipment can run year round, doesn’t have much downtime, hopefully. But that can lead to technician burnout.

To counteract that, CMS said it “rewards dedication and long hours by giving extra time off, cash bonuses, vacation time during the busy season, as well as corporate events.”

The company added that dealing strictly with commercial-industrial customers means techs “do not have to deal with residential issues and customers.”

The focus on preventive maintenance allows for evening out the workload during the year. “This puts us in a planning position, rather than as a reactive one,” said Bull.

There are more informal gestures, such as managers inviting employees out for barbecues and fishing.

The president’s background as a technician factors into the way he runs his business and helped tip the Best Contractor to Work For honor his way.

“Techs come first,” he said. “I’m sometimes criticized for taking the tech’s side. But that’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Name: CMS Mechanical Service Co.
Owner: Robert Bull
Location: Melbourne, FL
Years in business: 10
Bulk of market: 100% commercial-industrial
Total employees: 110
Total service technicians and installers: 71
Average hours employees spend in training: 60 hrs annually
Benefits beyond medical/dental insurance: 401(k), life insurance, tuition reimbursement, paid holidays, “Do It Right the First Time” program.
The News selected this contractor because: The company goes “above and beyond” in its efforts to attract, train, and retain talented technicians.

Publication date: 02/25/2002

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