Room To Grow At Advanced Filter & Mechanical

February 20, 2002
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PUYALLUP, WA — To be one of the “Best Contractors to Work For,” you have to give your employees a little extra something. You have to give your staff a good reason to get up in the morning and keep coming to work. Some examples might be a good medical and retirement package, or maybe paid holidays and vacations.

But when you talk to the staff at Advanced Filter & Mechanical in Puyallup, WA, those are not the first examples employees think of when asked why David Ross is one of the best contractors to work for. Ross’ employees get several extra benefits, but many say that the environment and the people at Advanced Filter & Mechanical make it a job worth staying at.

There are 36 employees in all at the company, and according to Connie LeAir, a member of the sales staff for Advanced Filter & Mechanical, the staff is almost like one big family.

“Everybody’s really close,” she says. “This is a very relaxed environment, but when it is time to be professional, we are professional.”

The staff at Advanced Filter & Mechanical includes (from left) Connie and Jim LeAir (sales), Dionne Brown (dispatcher), Chuck Lake (head of filter and mechanical), and Dave Ross (owner).

FROM ONE EMPLOYEE TO 36

Ross didn’t start his business with 36 employees. In fact, Ross was the only employee when the company began in 1979. The only specialty the company had was filter service. Ross explains that as time went on, many of his customers asked where they could get other services, such as maintenance or installation. Ross decided to take advantage of the opportunity and extend his business by providing additional services.

Twenty-three years later, Advanced Filter & Mechanical has outgrown three previous facilities and now has six separate departments: sales; duct cleaning; installations; mechanical service and maintenance; filter maintenance; and warehouse work. The business also serves residential and commercial customers, with the bulk of the work for commercial facilities such as department stores and grocery stores.

When the employees at Advanced Filter & Mechanical say that they are all like family, that comment can be taken literally as well as figuratively. Ross’ wife works as a bookkeeper for the business, his daughter answers phones, and his son works as a technician.

Ross credits his success with keeping his employees happy. And Ross has several ways that employees, whether they are in sales or installations, can be successful and satisfied with their job.

ONGOING TRAINING AND INDIVIDUAL GROWTH

Every Tuesday morning at Advanced Filter & Mechanical there is a meeting and training session. According to Ross, the day is usually spent discussing “the problem of the week.”

If technicians had difficulty with a specific installation or maintenance procedure in the field, Ross takes time to make sure that the employees learn the proper way of handling the situation. LeAir explains that there is no ridicule for employees who make mistakes.

“The more you know, the more valuable you are to customers,” she says. “Rather than criticize, we set up an example.”

Ross has brought in trainers and training modules so that his employees can learn first-hand about how a particular system works. The training is not just reserved for technicians. Ross makes sure that his sales and dispatch employees receive training, including customer relations training.

Ross also instructs his employees on up-selling. He explains that the job of his technicians is to do more than just repair maintenance problems. Technicians must also find out what the needs of the customers are and supply those needs. That is why Ross trains his employees, so they can make sure customers are aware of products that could enhance or improve their systems. The idea is to give customers options.

Employees who up-sell on jobs and make the sale receive a spiff. Ross explains that employees can earn a spiff for a number of things. The person on staff with the most spiffs at the end of the month is rewarded $50.

Spiffs can also be earned through a referral program. If Ross is looking for a new employee, and a current employee recommends someone he or she knows, the employee is eligible for a spiff.

Ross’ employees also get training at Gensco, the local Trane wholesaler. In a year, employees average close to 300 hours in training. Employees can also get any kind of training on their own if it helps them to become more knowledgeable. If the employee passes the course on completion, the training is reimbursed through the company. The same goes for certification. Ross plans to eventually have all of his technicians NATE certified.

Employees also have the opportunity to learn on the job and grow with the company.

Chuck Lake’s career at Advanced Filter is an example of this philosophy. Lake is in charge of filter changes and mechanical services, and he has been with the company for close to 10 years.

When Lake was hired at Advanced Filter, he was in his early 20s and started as a helper. According to Lake, this meant doing the dirty work, but his persistence has paid off. Lake attributes his success to two things: He was willing to learn, and he was given the opportunity to learn.

“Dave is the best boss I’ve ever had,” said Lake. “There is always room to grow here.”

Jim Hackinen, installation coordinator at Advanced Filter, agrees. Hackinen says that Ross encourages his employees to get additional training. He also explains that if employees are curious about exploring another sector of the business, they are encouraged to. For example, if a mechanic wants to learn something from an installer or learn to do sheet metal, they are allowed to go out on jobs just to see first-hand how the work is done.

Hackinen says this helps employees grow and keeps them with the business.

Advanced Filter & Mechanical owner Dave Ross looks over paperwork with sales manager Jim LeAir.

WORKING TOGETHER

One only needs to spend a little time at Advanced Filter & Mechanical to get the feeling that this is a very different work environment. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is willing to help each other out.

According to his employees, Ross has set up an environment that makes them look forward to arriving at work in the morning. In fact, Ross’ employees almost seem inseparable, continuing their relationships outside of work.

Ross offers his employees deals on their own personal installations. If an employee needs a new heater or air conditioner, they only need to pay for the equipment. Technicians for the company are then more than willing to install the new equipment on their own time for free.

Ross says that he is willing to offer his employees whatever they need to enhance their skills or to make their job easier and more efficient. This includes new tools or other materials.

In fact, Ross was able to make the job of his installers more efficient by equipping some of the work trucks with sheet metal machines. This way, the installers can do some of their sheet metal work at the jobsite instead of having to go back to the warehouse.

These are just little things that Ross can offer his employees, but it’s the little things that can make a job much more enjoyable. And when you combine these little things with some of bigger opportunities, such as training and growth in the workplace, that’s when a contractor can be called one of the best.

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Name: Advanced Filter & Mechanical Inc.
Owner: David A. Ross
Location: Puyallup, WA
Years in business: 23 years
Bulk of market: 60% commercial, 40% residential
Total revenue for 2001: $3,487,680
Total employees: 36
Total service technicians and installers: 27
Average hours employees spend in training: 270 hrs per year
Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Seven paid holidays, birthdays off, 401(k) plan, profit sharing, Merrill Lynch retirement advice, interest-free loans on personal equipment for employees, reimbursement on training, and more.
The News selected this contractor because: Advanced Filter & Mechanical allows its employees the opportunity to grow with the business. Employees have the ability to broaden their knowledge through training and education. Not only does the company conduct in-house training, but technicians and installers are provided with hours of outside training with a local distributor. Staff members are also encouraged to seek continuing education on their own that will benefit them in the field. Employees are reimbursed upon successful completion of the course work.

Publication date: 02/25/2002

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