ACHRNEWS

New Faces Bring More Spark To Contractor

January 23, 2006
Gathering around one of the Atlas Air ClimateCare service vans are (from left) Dave Jardine, Al Caruk, Gord Merpaw, Gary Gibson, and George Parry.
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Whenever a lot of new people join a company within a short period of time, there is concern that they all might not fit in or adapt to the company's way of thinking right away. But the new faces at Atlas Air ClimateCare in this Toronto suburb have adapted very well with the family and have contributed to a very solid relationship with owner Roger Grochmal and his management team.

That's why it should be no surprise that Atlas Air was picked as the winner of The NEWS' 2005 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest for the Canadian region. The crew of 66 employees, including 17 new hires in 2005, spoke very highly of the company leadership and its role in unifying the staff.

John Collins, warehouse supervisor, said it's a good place to work because Atlas Air is a "very fair and progressive company. If you are willing to work hard, you will be rewarded."

Trevor John, HVAC sales consultant, agrees in the fairness comment, and added, "Management is very honest both to the internal employee and the external customer."

Since 100 percent of Atlas Air's business is in the residential service and retrofit market, it can be assumed that the company experiences seasonal highs and lows and the challenge is to keep everyone busy and happy. That isn't a problem for this company.

Grochmal and his staff schedule apprenticeship training during the slowest periods and use sales incentives to shift noncritical work from peak periods. They continually educate customers to have tune-ups performed during slower periods. Atlas Air technicians also perform fireplace tune-ups as a third visit in February and March, when they need the work.

On the opposite end, during extremely busy times, Grochmal does his best to ensure that his people are not overworked. "We rotate overtime work among our employees so that everyone gets a couple of regular days each week," he said. "We work with our after-hours answering service to better manage emergency calls we can't possibly get to until the next day. During the hot weather we provide energy drinks, air conditioned trucks, and cooling vests and water backpacks."

All of the extra attention gets rave reviews by the workers.

"I enjoy the water-cooled vests in the heat," said Steve Stamogiannos, senior HVAC mechanic. "The company stocks water and Gatorade in the fridge during the summer. Employees are allowed to buy a case of water for the truck and charge it to the company."

Al Caruk, service supervisor, keeps a close eye on the equipment used in the company’s training room.

IT'S ABOUT TRAINING, TOO

Grochmal and general manager Dick Thomas, who has worked at Atlas Air for 27 years, put a great deal of emphasis on training and education. Thomas is on the advisory board of a local technical college and helps review course curricula.

Atlas Air also participates in school job fairs. "We developed a recruiting brochure as we have to market to these students and sell them on the idea of working in HVAC contracting," he said. "We offer them considerable ongoing training and steady advancement. It doesn't hurt to have excellent wages and benefits."

The company averages 45 hours per year in training for its employees. At times, "It is hard to find good tech training in the community," said Grochmal. "That's why we are trying to work closely with one community college to develop more training. High schools are not doing a good enough job in preparing young people for careers in the trades."

Roger Grochmal, president of Atlas Air ClimateCare.
Atlas Air has hired high school students and offered to help them complete their educations. In 2005, the company hired eight students from the local community college.

"Young guys are like a sponge," said Grochmal. "They are eager to suck up knowledge, whereas people who have been around for a while are harder to train. But we teach a lot in-house and are able to break people of their bad habits."

Knowing the importance of training, Grochmal, along with other contractors in the 30-member ClimateCare organization, recently joined with U.S.-based International Service Leadership (ISL) to bring more expertise and training to the company.

"ISL adds dimensions to our business," he said. "They are very strong in operational training, sales training, tech training, etc. They were the piece of the puzzle that was missing from everything that ClimateCare gives us.

"It is tough for a business owner to stay on top of everything and it is very important to share resources."

Trevor John, sale representative, has a busy schedule with the increasing sales volume at Atlas Air ClimateCare.

GIVING EMPLOYEES THEIR DUE

Well-trained employees are a key to happy customers and a minimal amount of callbacks. But there are other ways Atlas Air takes care of its people - by incorporating fun and recognition into the workplace.

Dispatcher Susan Stewart said there are always things going on.

"Sometimes there are potluck lunches," she said. "If it is busy, sometimes lunch is ordered in for us. There are birthday cakes on your birthday, marketing contests, incentives, and flu-shot clinic," in which 60 percent of her department participated and received gift certificates.

"We are rewarded for going above and beyond our normal duties," said John. "For every three totally satisfied customer letters received about a person, he or she receives a $50 gift certificate to a local high-end meat market."

Steve Stamogiannos, installer lead hand, spends a little time forming in the sheet metal shop of Atlas Air/ClimateCare.
Atlas Air plays a big part in the local community, which is an added benefit for employees. One example is the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Walk. "The company solicited pledges and the staff walked through a local park," said Stamogiannos. "All proceeds went to an MS fund." Grochmal initiated the company's involvement in this event, having lost his wife to the disease.

Besides holiday parties, staff barbeques, and golf and spa outings, Atlas Air provides workers with a very strong benefits program. It includes chiropractic care, work boots, uniforms, short-term and long-term disability insurance, eye examinations, eyeglasses, life insurance, medical prescriptions, and even tool replacements.

Employees understand the meaning of working for a top-notch company, a key factor in attracting and retaining a solid workforce. Grochmal strengthened its position in the market when Atlas Air achieved certification as an ISO 9001-2000 company last year.

Patricia Roopnauth, customer service representative, provides a friendly hello to customers needing information.
Grochmal also emphasizes the importance of family, and it shows in his extended benefits package. "Once in a while, when times are extremely busy and I've been working a lot of extra hours, Roger will tell me to go home and take my wife to dinner anywhere she wants, on the company," said John.

This kind of care for his employees is what keeps Atlas Air on the fast track for growth - and the employees know how much Grochmal cares about them and their families.

"He's a great man," said Collins. "Not too many company presidents come and talk to their employees. He is open and generous."

The future of Atlas Air is very bright, despite the constant market pressures surrounding it. The local utility companies continue to maintain a strong competitive force in the Ontario market.

Warehouseman Dave Travers keeps an eye on the comings and goings in the Atlas Air ClimateCare warehouse.
"We have a field staff of 30 people compared to 750 people with the utility company," said Thomas. "A lot of mid-sized companies have disappeared."

"My big concern is getting noticed," said Grochmal. "Our competitors are bigger (i.e. Sears, Home Depot, Service Experts, and Direct Energy). Contractors need to learn how to become better marketers. You can disappear in a hurry in the Toronto market.

"We can provide the excellent service that the big guys can't."

And good service starts with happy employees. That's because they know that Grochmal looks out for their best interest. "He's never too busy for his employees," said John.

"He is someone who understands. If you bring him a problem, personal or business, he'll do his best to help solve it."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

CONTRACTOR: Atlas Air ClimateCare

OWNER: Roger Grochmal

LOCATION: Mississauga, Ont., Canada

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 74

BULK OF MARKET: 100 percent residential service and retrofit

TOTAL SALES 2005: $8.5 million

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 66

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 40

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 45 per year

BENEFITS OFFERED BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INCLUDE: Eyeglass replacement, work boots, hand tool replacement allowance, uniforms, short-term and long-term disability, life insurance, profit sharing/bonus plan, up to five weeks vacation, tickets to sporting events, Christmas parties, summer picnic, golf/spa outings, group pension plan (RRSP) with matching contributions, paid training, techs allowed to take company vehicles home at night, gift certificates for customer compliments, tuition reimbursement.

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS & CONTRACTOR GROUPS: Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), ClimateCare Cooperative Corp., International Service Leadership (ISL)

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: Atlas Air ClimateCare does not stand still and let the world pass it by. The company strives to improve itself to ensure a brighter future for its employees and better service to its customers. Owner Roger Grochmal knows that to remain competitive he needs to stay current with industry trends and to have all of his employees embody the company philosophies and best practices.

Publication date: 01/23/2006