Promoting Ethics, Honesty, and Friendship

January 25, 2010
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Jason Float, shop manager, works on the chop saw in the company’s in-house fabricating shop. (Feature photos by Rich Abrahamson)

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – There is a reason why a prominent magazine recently named Fort Collins as one of the best places to live in the country - its location at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains makes it not only a visually stunning area, it also allows for some terrific recreational activities such as whitewater rafting, biking, and hiking. In addition, it is home to Colorado State University and maybe even more importantly, New Belgium Brewing Co. (makers of Fat Tire beer). It is also where Poudre Valley Air, the West Region’s winner of The NEWS’ Best Contractor To Work For contest, has conducted business for the past 37 years.

Brothers Jim and Bob Weisser, owners of Poudre Valley Air, have worked hard to build their business into one that is not only well respected by customers, but is well loved by employees. Indeed, the average number of years their loyal employees have worked for the company is 13.

So what makes this company so special? Honesty and integrity, said Will Winchester, service manager at Poudre Valley Air, and the one who nominated the company for the award. “That’s why I stay here. The owners are great guys who stand behind their customers and their employees.”

GROWING PAINS

The Weisser brothers were born in Iowa and moved to Fort Collins in the early 1970s to attend Colorado State University. After graduating, Bob moved back to Iowa to take over the family’s agricultural business, while Jim stayed in the area to help start Poudre Valley Air. By 1979, Jim was the sole owner of the business, and in 1986, he asked Bob to consider moving back in order to help run the company.

“I jumped at the opportunity to move back to Colorado,” said Bob. “My job then was to act as general manager, so I took care of the office and also did a lot of the commercial estimating and project management.”

Poudre Valley Air prospered for the next 10 years and was eventually purchased by Blue Dot during the consolidation wave that swept through the HVAC industry in the late 1990s. In 2004, Blue Dot decided to leave the area and sold the company back to Jim and Bob, who had continued to work for the company throughout the whole process.

“When we were purchased by Blue Dot, we were a $6 million company and doing very well,” said Bob. “As we started taking on bigger commercial projects, we grew to a $12 million company and lost a little of the market niche that we were probably better suited for. We are now working to grow the company again, but this time around, we’re not going to focus so much on residential new construction. Instead, we will look to service and retrofit in the residential and light commercial markets.”

PVC is loaded onto a delivery truck for a job. Poudre Valley Air has been a fixture in Fort Collins for 37 years. Approximately 80 percent of the employees (excluding office staff) are NATE certified.

With a strong focus on maintenance agreements, Bob believes the service and replacement business will help propel the company to the next level of success. Poudre Valley Air currently has 2,000 maintenance agreements and that number continues to grow every year.

“We have a great customer base. People have been doing business with us for years. They’ve come to trust us, and they know we will take good care of their equipment. Maintenance agreements are a big part of our business and will continue to be a focus moving forward,” said Bob.

The green movement will also be helpful in increasing sales, noted Bob, especially in an area like Fort Collins, which features a well-educated and affluent population. “The demand for highly efficient heating and air conditioning systems is extremely large, so that is our main focus. We promote products based on their efficiency and cost savings, and our customers are very receptive.”

Residential air conditioning is another area in which sales keep growing, said Bob, although the demand can fluctuate from year-to-year. “Fifteen years ago, air conditioning was not a necessity because it was so cool in the evenings. With the warmer summers we’ve been having, people are now demanding air conditioning in their homes. Although this wasn’t the case last summer, when there were only three or four days that were over 90°F.”

Bob Weisser owns Poudre Valley Air, along with his brother, Jim. The brothers work hard to make the company a good place to work.

A GOOD PLACE TO WORK

While the Weisser brothers are definitely interested in growing the business, they are equally concerned with keeping their employees happy. “Jim and I stand behind not only our products but our employees. We’ve built our business based on ethics, honesty, and friendship, and we work hard to make this a good place to work.”

They have been successful in meeting that goal, according to David Twesme, an HVAC technician who has been with Poudre Valley Air for four years. “This is a great place to work. The owners, the managers, the department leads - everyone is willing to help if you ask. The support from the company is 100 percent for the customer and for the employees. That’s totally different from any place else I’ve worked. I like coming to work - it’s a nice place to be.”

Twesme also enjoys the benefits that come with the job, as well as the training opportunities he is afforded. “They want us to get as much training as possible, so we know how to properly fix or replace the equipment. We are given many opportunities to attend classes - particularly Trane classes - and if they take place during the day, they pay for the class, as well as for our normal hours. They want us to be the best company in northern Colorado, and the way to do that is to have the best trained technicians around.”

The company’s honesty and integrity are the reasons why Will Winchester, service manager, nominated Poudre Valley Air for the award.

Winchester has been with Poudre Valley Air for 14 years, and he appreciates the opportunities given within the company to advance his career.

“We’ve got guys here who have worked at the same job for 20 years, and they still love what they do. Then there are people like me who want to keep moving. I went from installation to service to commercial to sales and now management. That opportunity is there for everybody. Training is paid for, and there are all kinds of opportunities to advance.”

Training is definitely a focus at Poudre Valley Air, and each of the company’s department heads is responsible for making sure employees attend the proper classes. As head of the service department, Winchester provides a weekly in-house training session that might involve technical issues one week and customer service strategies the next. “The owners strive to be the leaders in this area, and thanks to all the training we receive, we are in that position. We’ll start something here, and six months to a year later we’ll see our competition start to do it, too. Everybody in town looks to our company to see what’s going on.”

Nicole Giehm started working at Poudre Valley Air seven years ago, answering phones. She has since worked her way up to managing the Retrofit Department.

The owners of Poudre Valley Air also support NATE certification and approximately 80 percent of the employees (excluding office staff) are NATE certified - usually with multiple certifications. “NATE is important to us because the more knowledge these guys have, the better they can take care of the customers,” said Winchester. “It’s important to us, too, because as NATE becomes more well known, customers will be looking for people with those qualifications.”

Safety is another very important focus at Poudre Valley Air, which is why many years ago the company formed a safety committee that consists of one person from each department. This committee created a safety plan for the entire company, and it is responsible for making sure everyone complies. This has resulted in an extremely low number of claims and injuries, which translates into lower insurance costs. Quarterly “safety parties” are held to not only congratulate employees for staying safe but also to reinforce how important safe practices are to the company.

All of these different components add up to a terrific work environment, said Winchester. “I have a lot of respect for the owners, and I love working for them. It’s nice to work for a company that stands behind its employees, as well as its customers. It’s a well-structured company that has enough business to keep us going. Basically, there are a lot of things to love about working here.”

Just the Facts: Best Contractor To Work For

CONTRACTOR: Poudre Valley Air

OWNERS: Jim and Bob Weisser

LOCATION: Fort Collins, Colo.

YEARS IN BUSINESS: 37

BULK OF MARKET: Split between commercial and residential

TOTAL SALES FOR 2009: $7 million

TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 55

TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 11

AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 41+

BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Paid training, performance bonuses, short- and long-term disability, paid vacation (one week after first year, two weeks in subsequent years), 401(k), life insurance, safety and CPR training, counseling.

INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: ACCA, National Association of Homebuilders

THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: The owners understand that it takes happy employees to provide excellent customer service, so emphasis is placed on creating a positive work environment. This results in very little turnover, as employees are loyal to the company and stay for many years. Employees work actively to improve themselves - and the company - through extensive training opportunities, and as a result, the company has achieved an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Publication date: 01/25/2010

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