At Classic Air’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, all of these qualities have been combined to make this contractor the most recent Eastern region winner of The NEWS’Best Contractors to Work For contest.
Founded in Virginia Beach in 1979, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning had humble beginnings. Working out of a small building with no power or plumbing, owner Todd Kletz and his partner handled everything from installations to service to sheet metal fabrication to office duties.
The company grew thanks mainly to customer referrals. Today, the business concentrates on HVAC systems repair and replacements in established homes and neighborhoods.
TEAM TRAININGThe owner of Classic Air’s One Hour has learned the best way to keep the team on the same page is through constant communication and training - every day.
According to owner Todd Kletz, “We are busy year round. That’s not the challenge. Getting together every morning is invaluable to us. Our technicians are able to call one another and help each other out.”
Over the past 12 months, each employee has averaged 130 hours of paid training. They also are able to ride along with more seasoned techs, and can acquire additional training according to their identifiable weaknesses or goals.
Training ranges from technical topics to quality issues, customer relations, role playing, and information on the company’s promos and programs. This is crucial because the company runs several refund offers; if techs and installers aren’t aware of these programs, they might not be careful to limit refundable situations. For instance, there is a $500 installation on-time guarantee, a $500 no-frustration guarantee, a $500 property-protection and client-respect guarantee, and a two-year trial guarantee.
“Although everyone talks about the importance of hiring and retaining top-quality employees, we’ve truly recognized just how critical this is to our success as a company,” said sales manager Mark Hermanson. “Everything that we do; service, sales, installations, flows from our ability to attract and keep the very best people. We will not just hire anyone to fill a position. In order to back up the guarantees our company offers, all positions must be filled by staff members who excel at what they do. There are excellent candidates available; it simply takes effort to find them.
“One of our company’s goals is to be the preferred employer in our market,” said Hermanson. “One side of that coin is the recruiting and hiring process. The other side is in many ways even more important: creating a work environment that reinforces our existing technician’s decision to continue with the One Hour family.”
Eric Bridgeman, operations manager, said that the daily morning meeting not only keeps the techs in touch with the rest of the company, it also gives managers a chance to stay in touch with the techs. “We meet with them every single morning, every single day. It’s a captive moment.
“We measure the results [of training] on new installs,” he continued. Preventable reasons for callbacks are addressed in training “before they get out of hand,” he said. “I think the techs like the structure and the accountability.”
HIRING RIGHT“Techs are hard to come by,” said Kletz, “but they’re out there.” He doesn’t limit the company by only looking within the HVAC field. “They can come from all walks of life. They can perform in this industry.” Likewise, a pro team might not get a first-round draft pick, but it still needs to recognize talent and potential in other players.
“The challenge is not simply a shortage of trained, quality technicians in our industry,” pointed out Hermanson. “It is the fact that they are not necessarily in the market for a job when we need them.” A Year Round Recruitment Program means the company advertises year round for all positions via the newspaper, Website, and HVAC Agent.
“Knowing that quality individuals do not last long in the job market, Classic Air will hire ahead of the curve as we anticipate further growth,” Hermanson added. “It then becomes the company’s responsibility to generate the additional work required to justify the new hire and utilize their knowledge and abilities.”
The best recruiters, however, are those who already work for the contractor. “As they interact with their peers, they represent the standard of skill, professionalism, and appearance that we have set for our technicians,” Hermanson said. “Our techs also recognize that everyone benefits by having more quality people on the team.
“To further encourage this word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer recruiting, we have instituted a program that rewards employees for bringing a new hire to us. It is a monetary reward, or bounty system, that is spread out over the first 13 weeks that the new hire works here. In this way, we are all invested in the new technician’s success and development.”
“I want people to work here who want to do this,” said Kletz. “It starts with people.”
Technician Dan Crandle is a great example of someone who started from scratch. He was delivering bottled water before making his career switch to Classic Air’s One Hour. Some of the company’s techs are also retired from the military.
In order to provide a steady workload, the company levels out its peaks and valleys with service contracts and seasonal tune-up promotions. “Marketing geared towards generating supplemental work in the off season,” said Hermanson. “This allows us to be adequately staffed for peak-season demand.”
Semi-annual performance evaluations allow each employee to be evaluated in eight different categories; it is judged on their ability to meet or exceed job requirements. Pay is regularly adjusted to reflect abilities and willingness to work.
TECH RETENTIONA steady workload, lots of training, and a feeling of belonging, all contribute to the company’s ability to hold onto its techs. “Once we have them on board, we feel like we provide the right environment to grow and advance their careers,” said Hermanson.
“We track, post, and discuss their production and achievements as a way of holding them accountable to their abilities and encouraging future growth. We offer financial assistance for offsite industry training. And we provide them with a vehicle from our fleet, which consists of late-model vans that are professionally detailed once each month.”
The company also likes its employees to be able to have a good time. Monthly celebrations are sometimes related to goals (contests and incentives), or they might feature a dinner at a local restaurant, Thanksgiving lunch together, or a Fourth of July barbecue.
Technician Crandle, who has been with the company five years, said he appreciates, among other things, the benefits, extras, and training; “I like it,” he said. The morning meetings offer a “public forum” where a tech can get input from co-workers. “We’re a team,” he said. “We don’t turn our phones off.” Each tech goes on call once every two months.
More importantly, “Guys are willing to share their knowledge,” Crandle said. “It’s OK to admit what you don’t know.” In this environment, “we don’t scream, holler, and yell.”
A TEAM SPORT“The issue of technician burnout is really a result of being in a service industry,” said Hermanson. “We have guaranteed our clients 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week service. We all love knowing that we provide that type of peace of mind and customer service for our clients. However, this 24-7 commitment becomes an extreme challenge during our busy seasons.”
For those contractors that do right by their customers and employees, “HVAC is a team sport.”
“An overall team concept is what prevents technician burnout,” Hermanson said.
“Whether it is the practical help of one technician volunteering to pick up an extra call or two, or whether it is the rejuvenation of taking time to step back, relax, and have fun together, getting all of our wonderful technicians to come together as a team is the only way to avoid the burnout that comes from solitary, long hours during the peak seasons.
“This team concept has enabled us to serve our clients better, and at the same time, reduce the stress level of the One Hour family.”
The company encourages all technicians to assist with the increased after-hours demand during busy seasons.
“As a result, instead of two technicians assisting clients, very often we have three or four voluntarily picking up the extra load.” Management keeps an eye on these good Samaritans. “If a technician works long hours one day, we make a valid attempt to allow them to come in late or get off early the next business day,” Hermanson said.
In addition, “We offer a paid day off of the technician’s choice for those who work on a holiday. We consistently monitor their attitude through daily, face-to-face interactions to recognize when they need a break.”
Contests and games held during the busy season feature daily prizes. Appropriate gear for field personnel (hats, fleeces, boots, Gortex jackets) are provided.
The care that the company takes with its employees is inevitably reflected in how well they take care of their customers. It leads to comments from customers like this one: “I didn’t know service like that still existed.”
JUST THE FACTS:CONTRACTOR:Classic Air’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning
LOCATION:Virginia Beach, Va.
YEARS IN BUSINESS:28
BULK OF MARKET:Residential service/replacement
TOTAL SALES FOR 2007:$4.5 million
TOTAL SERVICE TECHS AND INSTALLERS:17
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING:130 hours/year
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE:Daily training and office interaction, regularly detailed service vehicles, seasonally appropriate uniforms
INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS AND CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERSHIP:Clockwork Home Services, ACCA
THE NEWS SELECTED THE CONTRACTOR BECAUSE:The company’s measured results, teamwork, and structure suit technicians who both want to succeed and do a good job.