A man and his wife set out on a contracting journey years ago. With a laminated quote from Lloyd Shearer in one hand and HVAC training in the other, Don Millard began Bel Red Heating and Air Conditioning. His goal was to create a successful business based on integrity. Twenty-six years and a name change later, Bel Red Energy Solutions of Mukilteo, Wash., is being honored asThe NEWS’Best Contractor to Work For in the West region.

Millard’s company has transformed over the years, but it is his commitment to employee and customer care that has molded a culture based not only on professional training and service but also on employee development and balance.

“What drives this company are its core values — integrity, innovation, delight for our customers, development of our own employees, and unity,” said Millard. “It is important to never give up your core values.”

Choosing the Right Team

Employment at Bel Red consists of more than hiring personnel and issuing paychecks. Millard understands that gathering the proper team is essential to the continued success of his company and to the preservation of its core value environment. He enlists the assistance of Adam Gloss, his vice president, and Darrick Philp, his service manager, in choosing new employees.

“It’s about how we treat our customers, but it’s also about how we treat our internal customers — our team members — and how we expect them to treat each other,” said Gloss. “I think everybody here shares that same vision and commitment, and it makes it a really cool place to be.”

According to Philp, the company’s stringent method of hiring helps weed out the candidates that may not work well either technically or personally. “We hire more on character and then train for performance,” he said. “We’ve changed our method of hiring to where we bring people that really fit in a customer service role and that have the ability to speak and interact well with people. We can bring these types of people in and use some of their reproducible skills to train them in HVAC service and maintenance, making them successful technicians.”

Once hired, all of Bel Red’s employees are guaranteed a steady workload, professional development, and a well defined path that moves them beyond a job into a lifelong career. Schedules operate on rotating four 10-hour days. This provides technicians at least three days off per week and up to four days off every third week. On-call requirements are limited to approximately two days per month. In the busy times, technicians are requested to work an extra day as needed. According to the company, this strategy still provides its employees with two days off a week while it meets workload demand and helps avoid technician burnout.

“We do things different here at Bel Red,” said Philp. “We reward our people for doing well. We develop schedules that make them enjoy coming to work as well as enjoy their time when they are not at work. That kind of thing really helps people to stick with our company.”

Investing in Development

Beyond commitment to its standard work schedules, the company expects all its team members to consistently seek out opportunities for growth and is willing to invest its time and finances to ensure this core value is maintained.

“We provide extensive training to our technicians, including in-house classroom and field training, NATE training and testing, and paid manufacturer/distributor provided training, at no expense to employees,” noted Gloss. “Based on the position, we also either offer tuition sharing or tuition reimbursement for outside professional and/or technical training. Technical training is provided through tuition sharing, where we advance the entire amount of tuition, paying half of the cost and deducting the employees’ portion over time to ensure it is affordable. Other professional training is paid for through tuition reimbursement, where the employee provides us with proof of course completion, and we reimburse them for half of the tuition.”

The hard work and development investments pay off for both Bel Red and its employees. Those who survive the hiring gauntlet and commit to the culture of development find themselves on a path that leads from a job to a career.

Dwight Miller is one such employee who has experienced this firsthand. At one time, Miller was a department store manager and later became an overseas component buyer for Boeing.

“From a cultural standpoint and a character standpoint, he was a great fit for what we do,” explained Gloss. “He was looking for a place where he could have a career and a growth path. We brought him in and worked with him to put him through technical training school and did a lot of internal training with him.”

Miller became part of the team two years ago and is now one of Bel Red’s team leaders. He continues to develop his skills, and he said, “I think the thing that separates this company is the training and development of people.”

Plus, Miller added, “This is an ex-
citing industry. The job is challenging and constantly changing. I think there is great opportunity in the future for me at Bel Red and I think the company itself has a great future.”

Maintaining Core Values

Taking care of and developing employees is just one part of Bel Red’s core values. Taking care of and delighting customers is another. Accomplishing customer delight requires Bel Red to do more than conduct service calls. The contractor challenges each employee to exceed expectations and create memorable experiences for the customer.

According to Stefanie Hall, a dispatcher in the service department, the rotating schedule of four 10-hour shifts helps Bel Red exceed expectations in the minds of its customers.

“Because of the four 10-hour shifts, we are able to come in and handle customers early in the morning and work late in the evening, which a lot of companies don’t do,” she said. “We also work on the weekends, and I find when I speak with customers that they appreciate that we are available to help them 24/7.”

How Bel Red conducts its service calls is another differentiating factor the company hopes exceeds its customers’ expectations. Training its technicians to be proactive, Bel Red is not satisfied with simply finding what caused a no-heat call, fixing it, and then leaving.

“We stress that everything a technician does is completely thorough and have developed a process that combs through the entire system regardless if they are out there for no heat or if they are out there for full maintenance,” explained Philp. “We are out there to take care of our customers. We don’t want to be coming out again in another couple months to fix a problem we could have fixed while we were there and then charge them a second repair fee.”

Surviving the Challenges

Creating and running a successful contracting company doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. “When you first start you keep wondering, ‘Will I have business next week? Will I make it through the month? What’s the future look like?’ ” said Millard as he described his first years in business.

Over time, his company stabilized and continued to grow, but Millard found that the only constant in the day-to-day of being a business owner was change. It was something he couldn’t avoid and had to adapt to.

“Make change a part of your business and set the expectations that what it was isn’t what it is, and what it is isn’t what it’s going to be,” he advised. “Change has to be part of the culture of your business. Employees have to expect it. You might have something that worked before, but it might not work today, and it possibly won’t work tomorrow either.”

There are many sources of change for HVAC contractors. The government and its rulings are capable of causing considerable business trouble. Instead of grumbling about the change, Bel Red endeavors to be involved in helping shape the regulations that may affect the company.

“We really try and get in there and give some input and feedback so that we can try and make things as workable as possible when they actually come out into the real world,” said Gloss. “Bel Red has had to change as a result of government changes. The company has moved into home energy audits and performance contracting; as well as becoming BPI accredited with BPI certified employees, among other things.”

The challenges that face a contractor range far and wide, but Millard has committed himself and his business to the integrity and core values that continue to bring Bel Red Energy Solutions success.

“Every business has its cycles of ups and downs,” he said. “What tests your mettle is: Do you succeed in that long run over the years and through those tough times? That’s what makes you successful.”

Just The Facts: Bel Red

Don MillardContractor: Bel Red Energy Solutions

Owner: Don Millard

Location: Mukilteo, Wash.

Years in Business: 26

Bulk of Market: Residential

Total Sales for 2011: $7.5 million

Total Employees: 55

Total Service Technicians and Installers: 24

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: Up to 100 hours per year (depending on position)

Benefits Beyond Medical/Dental Insurance: Flexible spending accounts for medical and childcare expenses; life, disability, and other insurances; tuition sharing/reimbursement; paid training; up to three weeks paid time-off for vacation/sick time; six paid holidays; company vehicles for sales and service technicians; and company-provided uniforms.

Industry Association and Contractor Group Members: ACCA member (Don Millard – national board member), WaACCA (Don Millard – board member), NATE Quality Circle Contractor, RESNET EnergySmart Contractor, BPI accredited, Comfort Institute member, IGSHPA accredited installers, Built Green member, member of Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties

The NEWS Selected This Contractor Because: Don Millard’s commitment to integrity and his company’s core values made Bel Red Energy Solutions The NEWS’ choice.

Publication date: 01/23/2012