ACHRNEWS

Contractor Provides Stability, Consistency

January 25, 2010
(left) Wesley Holm, president of Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling stands with Lee Brooks, operations manager. Brooks has scripted and continues to refine a 20-step procedure training that prepares technicians to interact with customers effectively.

The recession doesn’t exist in Cincinnati; at least not at Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling. In the midst of a 31 percent drop in plumbing, heating, and cooling business in the area, this residential contracting business is operating in the black with growth percentages measuring 52 percent over 2008 and profits up over 212 percent. Successfully operating and expanding in the face of adversity is what tipped the scales in favor of Wesley Holm, president of Thompson, as The NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For contest winner in the North Central region.

“Most people view what we do as contracting,” explained Holm. “At Thompson, we are a retailer. Open seven days a week, marketing 365 days a year, providing world-class service at each step of the process. Even though Thompson has achieved some great milestones, we always strive each and every minute of each and every day to improve.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Holm got into the HVAC business completely by accident. “It was like a car accident,” he said. “A train wreck actually.”

After graduating with an accounting degree from the University of Cincinnati, Holm went to work helping his dad with the new company he’d recently purchased. Soon after, he bought his dad out, and for $183,000 he became the proud new owner of a one-room shop and three trucks. On a good day, one of them would run.

“This shop was a crappy little place,” remembered Holm. “We all worked out of one room. I ran calls during the day, and the emergency calls would ring at my apartment at night.”

That was in 1983.

Now, in 2009, Holm is the proud owner of a $12 million company that employs 72 people. How did he get there?

“Lots of things got us to where we are now,” said Holm. “Lots of hours and lots of focus. We have always focused on growth and on getting the right people. Everyday, we consistently built the company, and we simply grew from there.”

PRIMARY PROTOCOLS

“It’s a great day at Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling, this is Andy. How can I make you smile?”

That’s how they answer the phone every time it rings. Well, at least every time it rings at Andy’s desk. This statement, however, goes beyond a standard phone greeting. It reflects the company’s overall consistency and the attitude of every Thompson team member. This approach has been inspired from the top and reaches into every aspect of the business, from customer service to sales to installations to service and maintenance.

The team operates on a simple three-step process - win, win, win. Holm’s theory stands that first the client must win. They must be satisfied with their overall experience with the Thompson staff and service. If the client wins, then the team members win, and if both the client and the team members are winning, then the company will almost always be a winner as well.

The consistency with which each aspect of the company is addressed is part of what makes Thompson able to thrive in a fluctuating marketplace.

“When it comes to operations, we plan out the entire year in advance in marketing, capital requirements, staffing, call count, average ticket, etc.,” said Holm. “With this detailed plan we simply execute the plan every single day, which is why we’ve achieved the growth and profitability.”

Teamwork is a key component of Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling’s success.

STAFFING AND TRAINING

Maintaining a consistent environment takes the right combination of the right people. According to Holm, finding these people takes an investment of time and money. Keeping them requires training along with investment in the individual.

“When it comes to hiring and training, we have to be proactive,” he said. “The employees are the face of Thompson, not me. Clients expect certain amounts of customer service, and not just from the folks in the field, but from across the entire business, from customer service to dispatch.”

Applicants seeking employment at Thompson will discover an intensive hiring process. Each applicant goes through multiple personal interviews, a personality inventory test, and a basic skills test. After completing those, potential employees are brought in to observe the position and its responsibilities for a day. If offered the position, service specialists are then sent for training. Once the initial technical training phase is complete, the employee is required to continue with customer service training.

“How we train folks is all scripted,” said Lee Brooks, operations manager. “They have to know and demonstrate the first 11 steps of the 20-step procedure before they can even do a ride along. They are absolutely scripted and non-negotiable.”

He has been the operations manager for three years, but has served the company as a trainer for seven. He was the original developer of the 20-step procedure.

“Most technicians would rather talk to a piece of equipment than another human being,” explained Brooks. “We often find folks with good communication skills from outside the industry. If they can pass a basic mechanical aptitude test, we can turn them into service specialists.”

The overall process to place a trained, customer service ready service specialist in the field takes approximately 45-60 days, all of which are paid. To find them, the company hosts job fairs. Approximately one out of every 200 candidates is hired. With these stringent procedures and the financial investments made in training, contractors and technicians outside the company sometimes question if the intensive process is really worth it to either side. According to Jason Roark, a service specialist that has been with the company for about a year, the pay off is worth the investment.

“They have work to keep me busy all the time, and I have the opportunity to make more money than I ever have in the past,” he said. “I have worked for other companies that just do not have the resources to truly offer 24-hour-a-day service. When it comes to potential employees I would say, ‘If you’re tired of getting laid off half the year then this is the place for you.’ To my knowledge, we have never laid off a service technician.”

Jason Webb, an installer who has been with the company for three years, said that training is what made Thompson stand apart from companies he had worked for in the past.

“Thompson trained me the right way, and I have learned so much,” he said. “I receive great compensation for my hard work. This enabled me to buy a beautiful house this past year, which I never dreamed that I could.”

As for the employer investment, Holm knows that it is worth every penny. Choosing the team, however, is not left up to Holm. Bob Kotowski, service manager for Thompson, and his group of team leaders are the ones who decide which candidates would best fit.

“Not only service specialists, but all of Thompson teammates are hired for attitude, communication abilities, and most importantly, that do whatever it takes mentality to ensure we are always doing what is in the best interest of our clients,” explained Kotowski. “The key is getting the right people on board. We look for people who are customer service fanatics. That makes this hiring and training investment win, win, win. In essence, our team leaders are choosing who they want to put on the front lines of service.”

After successfully sponsoring the Disabled American Veterans for the first time in 2009, Thompson intends to make this a yearly outreach and has increased the sponsorship goal for 2010.

MEASURING SUCCESS

Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling doesn’t measure success strictly by its bottom line. The company takes pride in providing a successful team environment for its employees to thrive in and providing services to the community that go beyond standard work orders.

“We feel that our success is tied directly to the success of the community and the clients we work with,” said Holm. “We always strive to give back, not only in official fundraising events, but more importantly in the little memorable moments that our team performs each and every day, like a service specialist helping a stranger put air in his tire at the gas station, helping a stranded motorist, or helping clients carry groceries into their homes.”

As for official fundraising events, Thompson donated a percentage of its profits from August and September in 2009. The amount given to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) totaled $22,470. The company plans to do this again next year and is intending to increase the amount donated.

Paid training, worker benefits, a well-defined career path, and incentivized performance bonuses are all key components to a successful work environment. Thompson offers these and goes a step further providing its team members a place to socialize and grow together. Periodic breakfasts and lunches, go-kart track trips, motivational speakers, etc., are all a part of the culture that is Thompson.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Holm is aware that as the leader of his company, it is his responsibility to know exactly how each detail of the company operates.

“This is done through reviews of daily reporting, in-depth review of financial statements compared to budget, and understanding that the hat an owner wears is a different color, different size, and different shape than any other hat worn in the company. It is the owner’s responsibility and duty to ensure the success of the organization and it is a debt that is owed to each team member’s family to ensure that there is proper provision.”

Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work For

CONTRACTOR: Thompson Plumbing Heating and Cooling

OWNER: Wesley Holm

LOCATION: Cincinnati

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 80

BULK OF MARKET: Residential

TOTAL SALES FOR 2009: $12 million

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 72

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 40

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: Five days a week

BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Employee referral bonus, six paid holidays, paid vacation (one week after one year, two weeks after three years), paid training, retirement package, performance bonuses, new vehicles that can be taken home, uniforms, cell phones, boot/shoe allowance, tool allowance (company provides large tools).

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: AirTime 500, Plumbing Success Group International, Mastermind Group, Strategic Coach

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: The commitment of Wesley Holm to excellence in business, the development of his team, and an ability to thrive in the face of economic adversity is what made him The NEWS’ choice.

Publication date: 01/25/2010