North Central / Regional Reports

Midwest-Great Lakes Winner: Atomatic Focuses on Tech Training, Family Values

February 22, 2001
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Members of the winning Atomatic team include (front row, left to right) Mark St. John, Rex Bierdon, Bruce Smith, Wayne Bundza, Frank DeFrancesco, Dave Ellis, Pasquale Auddino, and Rick Rogers; and (back row, left to right) Scott Peters, Don McKenzie, Glen Ruiz, Bill Cozzi, Brian Payne, Jeff Maratea, Steve Blazina, and Tom Paradowski.


HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL — Atomatic Mechanical Services is a company different from the rest. Just ask the employees, especially the technicians.

“When I call [service sales manager] Mark [Huston] and I run a problem I am having by him, he understands,” said service technician Brian Payne. “That is the thing about most of the people in the sales and management positions here. They have been technicians. They know what it is like to mess up on a project and have to take extra time correcting the problem.

“If we quote a time for a project, and we go over the allotted time, it is something we learn from, not get fired for.”

Glen Ruiz, lead service technician, said understanding is key to the premise of the company.

“We want to keep good technicians,” he said. “That is why our interview process is long, and our understanding is key.

“In order to keep the best, you have to handle situations with the idea that customer service is important, but so is learning.”

Within companies of all sizes, there is usually clear delineation of who owns what and who is in charge. Not so with Atomatic.

Walking through the door there is a different feel, one that comes off of every person that works here, from Kathy Bruce, called the cheerful efficient operator (ceo), to Chantal Ferraro in dispatching. Everyone within the company will tell you they work hard to make sure that no one is overburdened or lost in the everyday fray of running a successful service business.

And it all starts at the top with president Dick Hoffman, who walks through the hallways of the 28,000-sq-ft facility and not only knows the name of every man and woman in the place, but also knows their meaning and place in the company.

“When we hire people, we do so only when we know that person and what they can handle,” said Hoffman. “Our company is different than many in the respect that we do not advertise. We go by word of mouth and recommendations or referrals.

“We trust our technicians, our salespeople, our management, and our dispatch, and understand that they are the backbone that make this company work together toward the common goal of success.”

Because of the company’s involvement with its employees, its emphasis on training, and its friendly atmosphere, Atomatic is one of the seven winners in The News’ 2000 “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.



Working Hard, Training Harder

In the eyes of Huston, Atomatic is unique in its trade and target audience.

“We are an unusual contractor,” he said. “We do residential service, residential construction, commercial service, commercial retrofit, and commercial design-build construction on a large scale, and do them profitably.

“The advantage for the service technician, particularly an entry-level guy, is that we offer a clear career path. You can start out as a guy installing residential condensing units in a residential subdivision being done by our residential construction arm, and grow into a commercial service technician who handles chillers, boilers, or vav systems.”

Atomatic has been in hvac service and contracting since 1945, when the original owners thought the name Atomatic was appropriate due to events occurring at the time, namely World War II. The atomic bomb had just been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people all over the United States were building bomb shelters.

In 1993, Hoffman and Matt Turk bought the company from then owner Dennis Hammond, with the idea of continuing the excellent service Atomatic customers had received for 48 years.

Hoffman, who began his career with The Trane Company, has either owned or operated several companies during his career in the heating and air conditioning industry. Turk’s career began as a Trane sales engineer.

Hoffman is also on the board of the Educational Foundation of Harper College, a community college in the Chicago area. He has a firm understanding of what is important in order to stay on top in the hvac industry.

“I believe that the training never stops,” said Hoffman. “It is vital that we keep our technicians up with the times, and the only real way to do this is to train them.

“One of the best ways we have found to get information to techs is to have certain techs take classes and then come back and teach the ideas they learned. This gives us one or two technicians that understand all the details, and are thus capable of explaining them to all the others. It is a lot easier to understand new concepts when they are explained by people you know and trust.”

In addition, the company has various training programs that technicians complete. Included in these programs are safety training, new-hire training, specialty and technical training, and knowledge sharing.

By training one another, hosting the BOMA service mainten-ance technician classes, and credit courses for Residential Construc-tion Employees Council (RCEC), Atomatic technicians have more knowledge that can help them expand areas of interest and expertise.

Payne said that the goal is to make sure of two things before leaving a jobsite: that the job is done right, and that the customer is happy with it. If a mistake is made and the tech learns from it, chances are it will never happen again.



Finding, Hiring, and Keeping Techs

With the way the economy has been progressing over the last 10 years, many contractors across the country have felt the squeeze in the hiring of service people. After all, companies are constantly growing, gaining new customers, constructing new buildings, and in order to contract with new construction and still keep up on repair jobs, technicians are in high demand.

When asked whether or not Atomatic had problems keeping technicians at the company, Ruiz and Payne smiled and said their turnover rate is very low.

“In fact, when technicians leave, it is usually their doing,” said Ruiz. “On the very rare occasion when a tech will leave, it is because they want to. They think the grass is greener somewhere else. Funny thing is, we have a few men here now that quit and then decided they wanted back in at Atomatic.

“We are a good company and we treat our people with respect. It is hard to find in the best of cases, and those who have decided to leave tend to realize soon after their departure what they had and gave up.”

Jeff Maratea, a service technician, is one of these few people.

“I made the choice to leave a few years ago, thinking that I could find something better,” he said. “Funny thing is, when you get out of this company you realize just what you had and how good it actually was. The atmosphere with this company is not that of a company, but of friends and family.

“It is not easy to admit when you have made the wrong decision, but I am back here doing what I am happy doing with people who feel the same way.”

What more could you ask for?



Sidebar: Just the Facts Atomatic Mechanical

  • Full name: Atomatic Mechanical Services, Inc.
  • Owners: Dick Hoffman and Matt Turk
  • Location: Hoffman Estates, IL
  • Years in business: Company was founded in 1945; under current owners since 1993.
  • Bulk of market: From a percent of revenue basis, the breakdown is 50% commercial design-build construction; residential construction, 27%; service (residential and commercial), 23%.
  • Total revenue for 2000: $30 million
  • Total employees: 130
  • Number of service technicians and installers: 19 commercial, five residential, and seven a/c installers
  • Average annual hours employee spends in training: 14 to 16 hrs of safety training; at least 160 hrs of new-hire training. A more-experienced technician receives 16 to 20 hrs of new-hire training; 30 to 50 of specialty and technical training per year
  • Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance:
  • Supplemental 401k retirement plan, in addition to the union plan.
  • Long-term disability.
  • Paid vacations and holidays.
  • Personal tool financing program. Atomatic supports the purchase of personal tools for technicians and has instituted a tool replacement and insurance plan that says the company will replace, at no charge to the serviceman, any worn tools or any tools stolen from a jobsite.
  • Customer Awareness Program (CAP) bonus. Atomatic does not encourage its servicemen to “sell” products and services; instead it wants them to identify and honestly recommend upgrades and system improvements to their customers. The CAP program rewards the servicemen for this awareness on a cash basis.
  • Tuition reimbursement. This is for all classes, not necessarily hvac technical classes. This is a sliding scale based on grades achieved.
  • Air conditioned trucks.
  • Car phone with 500 minutes per month airtime; above 500 minutes charged at reduced rates.
  • Social events. A sampling of the company sponsored events throughout the year includes holiday dinner dance, summer family picnic, fishing trips, sporting events, cookouts at the office in the summer, whitewater rafting trip, annual golf outing, Christmas open house.
  • I-Pass. This is a automated toll collection system in Chicago, allowing drivers to breeze through tollbooths here without stopping.
  • Fully supplied uniforms and outerwear.
  • Annual flu shots free to employees; nominal charge to family members.
  • The News selected this contractor because: This contractor is dedicated to making the workplace a growth place for all employees. It also offers an impressive list of benefits for all employees and technicians. It provides a family atmosphere that allows for the growth and expanding of employee knowledge and expertise.
  • Publication date: 02/26/2001

    Web date: 06/18/2001

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