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People are wearing smiles at Calvert-Jones Co. Inc., Alexandria, Va. "We had a better year in both sales and net profit," said Chris Elder, general manager, service. "We increased sales by about $2 million."
No complaining either from MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions, Seattle. "We had a good year in 2005, better than 2004," said Dave Gough, vice president of service operations.
The fact that these contractors were each winners in The NEWS' annual "Best Contractor To Work For" contest last year ... well, is it just a coincidence each had banner years? "Our company has always had momentum," replied Gruber. "The article did not change that."
"Our business is in a constant state of change," answered Gough. "Our belief is, â€˜If you are not growing, you're dying.' "
OK, winning the title may not have been the sole reason these contractors experienced success in 2005. It did contribute, though. Just ask â€˜em. "We have had an easier time attracting experienced technicians," said Gruber. "Our service department saw a 28-percent increase this year. Could we have attracted the techs before the article? I don't know."
Elder had a more definitive answer. "It's hard to qualify this answer because we are always trying to improve, but I would say that certainly some things have changed for the better, such as our ability to recruit new team members," she said. "If someone is on the fence trying to decide between two potential employers, I think that being a NEWS' â€˜Best Contractor To Work For' [winner] definitely worked in our favor. We have hired over 30 people again this year."
If anything, winning the title was a definite morale booster for all concerned. And, in the end, that can go a long way. "We promoted it to our employees at all department meetings and at our monthly company breakfast," said Dewey Jenkins, owner of Morris-Jenkins Co., Charlotte, N.C., another 2004 winner. "Our employees shared the news with their spouses and many of the spouses called to congratulate us.
"I loved this. I have found that if the spouse has a favorable opinion of our company, then we end up with a long-term employee."
PLENTY OF COMPLIMENTSIn truth, Gough could not believe all of the compliments his company received after winning the award. "I think some of our competitors were a little jealous of us and asked a few questions about the award," he said. "I think it was great for our employees to be able to say to their families and friends that their company won an award for being a great place to work. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team."
"AirTime 500 recognized us at an expo by awarding us with a nice framed copy of the article," said Gruber. "Before that, we received phone calls from some contractors we admire the most. It was quite a proud moment.
"What is most interesting is the weight our opinions have on other companies. We have our challenges, but sometimes we realize we have got it pretty good here at Gallagher's."
In Elder's eyes, the award helped the company continue to look at things in different ways and think outside the box.
"We are constantly striving to be the employer of choice in northern Virginia," she said. "This means we have to constantly be changing to not only meet, but exceed, the needs of our staff.
"It was great recognition, much deserved by our team members. We had a huge luncheon and announced it last year right before Christmas. Everyone was clapping and going crazy for about five minutes. It was a really nice feeling and a great opportunity to build team work and camaraderie."
With the collapse of Encompass, winning the award came at the right time for MacDonald-Miller. "I think it gave us all a sense of pride," said Gough. "We went through a lot of turmoil with the collapse of Encompass and for our company to go back to being privately held and being successful was quite an accomplishment."
MARKETING TOOLBeing smart business people, the winners took advantage of claiming the title. Among other marketing moves, each sent out press releases to the local media.
"I did not see everywhere it was mentioned, but I did do an interview for a local business journal, and I know it made the papers and even our local TV news broadcast," said Gruber. "More than what it did in the minds of people outside our company, I like what it did to the morale of our employees. We already had a great bunch of people with great attitudes, but the pride of winning the award was obvious.
"From time to time, everyone wonders if the grass is greener at XYZ company. I think being named â€˜Best Contractor To Work For' answers that question: No."
Gough said MacDonald-Miller published condensed versions of the Feb. 7, 2005 issue of The NEWS, which featured all of the 2004 winners. It highlighted MacDonald-Miller and they "used it to help promote and sell the company."
"It has been a great vehicle to get our message out," said Gough "We were able to get it published in a few local papers. We also used it as part of our advertisement and sales packet documents."
"The reception from our customers and also from job applicants was terrific," said Jenkins. "A number of local contractors called with their congratulations. Almost every wholesaler in our marketplace called with their compliments concerning our success in creating a good place for employees to work and for creating a caring environment for our techs."
Admittedly, Gough said he used the award "to show off a little bit."
"We used the award to show our clients that they are doing business with a company that values their employees," he said. "Ultimately, happy employees tend to do a better job for the customer."
In the eyes of Gruber, there is nothing wrong with showing off.
"If you have a great company, let people know," he said. "It only helps. The only negative is that we are running out of wall space for our awards."
OK, now that might be a slight exaggeration.
"I would certainly recommend to other contractors that they enter this contest," said Jenkins. "It is a morale booster and leads to increased recognition in the industry and in the community."
Sidebar: Being PreparedMaybe it goes without saying that the winners of The NEWS' "Best Contractor To Work For" contest are prepared for the new 13 SEER world of 2006 and beyond.
"We have been concentrating on educating our technicians and our customers about the new standards," said Chris Elder, general manager, service, Calvert-Jones Co. Inc., Alexandria, Va. "Most people do not understand the impact it is going to have on their buildings when it comes to replacement equipment and/or remodeling and having to meet the requirements for energy efficiency and treating outdoor air.
"It should be a positive for Calvert-Jones as we have a good understanding of the minimal standards and know how to address it for our customers. In fact, we recently performed a proactive building survey in order to help one of our larger clients develop a budget for changes to their system in the coming year."
Training was king last year at Morris-Jenkins, too.
"In preparation for the new 13 SEER standard, we have increased our training," said owner Dewey Jenkins. "Our focus has been on properly charging high-efficiency equipment and diagnosing airflow problems. In addition, all of our technicians and salesmen who are not currently NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certified are participating in a three-month training program to prepare for the exam."
In Jenkins' estimation, the new 13 SEER standard will be a plus for his Charlotte, N.C.-based company. "Many of our competitors install 10 SEER equipment incorrectly now, so it is reasonable to assume that they will also install the new 13 SEER equipment improperly," he said. "The high-efficiency equipment is more unforgiving. This will create more problems for them and more opportunities for us to stand out as the expert in our marketplace."
Being from California, Gallagher's Heating and Air Conditioning, located in Los Molinos, is more concerned about Title 24 this year than 13 SEER. "13 SEER is not near the challenge that California Title 24 has been," said general manager Gino Gruber. "Effective Oct. 1, 2005, we have had to prove duct system leakage to no more than 15 percent on retrofit work. This has forced us to train our salespeople to be better at data collection about the customer's home."
The fact a third or more of Gallagher's business has been selling 14-plus SEER equipment for the last couple of years only puts the company in a better selling mode today. "Also, because these systems cost more, we have been training on how to get the customer involved in financing," said Gruber. "With the increased savings in utilities, payments look more attractive."
- Mark Skaer
Sidebar: Past WinnersFirst Year: 1999 (Honored In 2000)
James River Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Richmond, Va.
Meyer & Depew Co. Inc., Kenilworth, N.J.
J&J Air Conditioning Inc., San Jose, Calif.
Cropp-Metcalfe Air Conditioning and Heating, Fairfax, Va.
Tempo Mechanical Services Inc., Carrollton, Texas
Runnemede Heating Co. Inc., Runnemede, N.J.
Gilley's Quality Service Experts, West Monroe, La.
Robinson Mechanical Co., Boulder, Colo.
Second Year: 2000 (Honored In 2001)
Advanced Radiant Technology, Seattle
Aircond, Smyrna, Ga.
Atomatic Mechanical Services Inc., Hoffman Estates, Ill.
DiFilippo's Service Co., Paoli, Pa.
Northside Heating & Cooling, Benton, Ark.
Keil Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Riverdale, N.J.
Tri-City Mechanical/Comfort Systems USA, Chandler, Ariz.
Third Year: 2001 (Honored In 2002)
Advanced Filter and Mechanical, Puyallup, Wash.
Mechanical Air Service, San Jose, Calif.
Cyngier Heating and Air Conditioning, Cleveland, Ohio
YPS, Austin, Texas
CMS Mechanical Service Co., Melbourne, Fla.
Cox-Powell Corp. and Standard Sheet Metal Corp., Norfolk, Va.
Cranney H.V.A.C./Cranney Companies, Danvers, Mass.
Fourth Year: 2002 (Honored In 2003)
New England Mechanical Services Inc., Vernon, Conn.
G.F. Bowman Inc., Cleona, Pa.
Estes Heating & Air Conditioning, Atlanta
Airco Service Inc., Tulsa, Okla.
Energy Management Specialists Inc., Cleveland
McCarthy-Heating & Air Conditioning, Omaha, Neb.
Service Champions Heating and Air Conditioning, Yorba Linda, Calif.
Fifth Year: 2003 (Honored In 2004)
Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Rochester, N.Y.
Engineering Excellence Inc., Cincinnati
A-Temp Heating and Cooling Inc., Clackamas, Ore.
Gem Plumbing and Heating Co. Inc., Lincoln, R.I.
Pacific Aire Inc., Ventura, Calif.
Tiger's One Hourâ„¢ Air Conditioning & Heating, Largo, Fla.
All Seasons 500 Heating & Air, Huntsville, Ala.
Sixth Year: 2004 (Honored In 2005)
Atmostemp LLC Service Experts, East Berlin, N.J.
Calvert-Jones Co. Inc., Alexandria, Va.
Morris-Jenkins Co., Charlotte, N.C.
Pat's Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Oconomowoc, Wis.
Comfort Tech Service Now!, Del Rio, Texas
MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions, Seattle
Gallagher's Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Los Molinos, Calif.
Bradley Mechanical Services, Mississauga, Ontario
Publication date: 01/23/2006