Ever since its founding in 1983, Tucson, Arizona-based Hamstra Heating & Cooling Inc. has been a family business. Jeff Hamstra, president of the company, started the business with his father, Glenn Hamstra, and brother, David Hamstra. Today, his son Wade Hamstra serves as a minority owner, vice president, and general manager, representing the family’s third generation.
“We have two employees with 31 years of service,” Jeff Hamstra said. “The first employee that was hired — 11 months after the company was started — is still with us, and two of his sons work for us now, as well. The third employee that was hired, his daughter, is our office manager. We truly are a multigenerational company.”
Jeff Hamstra decided it was time to start his own company after his employer at the time passed away and the leadership role had been passed to his employer’s son.
“I didn’t have much confidence in the company’s future,” he said. “I told my dad, ‘We need to start a business.’ I was working as an engineer, estimator, and project coordinator for a large commercial company; my brother was a field superintendent for sheet metal installers, and my dad was working for an HVAC distribution company at the time. I figured we had enough talent in the family to start our own company. So, my dad and I started the business, and we had saved up enough money where we actually didn’t take any wages for six months. After the first six months, my brother came on. We hired our first employee at the 11-month mark.”
Wade Hamstra joined the business full time in 2005 as business manager.
“My mom was our bookkeeper and accountant, and she worked from home,” Wade Hamstra said. “Ever since we could work a calculator, she had us tallying up time cards.”
“Wade would do Manual J load calculations for me when he was in high school,” Jeff Hamstra added. “After graduating from business college, he felt he could bring something to the table. I didn’t have that kind of education — we’re more engineers and tradesmen. He brought a whole new perspective to the business.”
Because of Wade Hamstra’s business acumen, Hamstra Heating & Cooling remained successful while weathering the Great Recession. Before 2008, the contracting company predominantly worked in the new construction market.
“Wade’s MBA in business management really paid off in the long run. He came to my office before the crash and shared that things were not looking good; we needed to plan for the future. I didn’t know what he was talking about. We were busy and having a hard time keeping up with the work load. Though, he said, ‘No, for the first time, the numbers were starting to dip the other way, and so we needed to change things up.”
That plan included flipping the business from 70 percent new construction to residential service, retrofit, and replacement work. Today, new construction only makes up about 5 percent of the company’s business.
“The work was generally the same, but we had to focus a lot more on customer service,” said Wade Hamstra. “We knew we had to get out of that contractor mentality and into more of a retailer mentality. As a contractor, we were growing, and we had work, but we only had B2B relationships with our builders. We didn’t answer our phone; if you called the company, you were greeted by an automated message. It wasn’t until we became a retailer that we started picking up the phone and training our people how to greet customers. We wrapped our trucks, built our first website, and started doing a little marketing. That was a huge mentality change for our business. Overall, it was a really successful transition for us.”
Currently, Hamstra Heating & Cooling employs 68 individuals, which includes 30 service technicians and installers. Thirty-six employees are North American Technician Excellence (NATE)-certified. Additionally, the company has 47 vehicles in its fleet and earned revenues of $11.1 million in 2015.
“That’s impressive, because in 2009, our revenue was $5.9 million — that’s a significant growth,” said Jeff Hamstra.
Hamstra Heating & Cooling belongs to a number of associations, including ACCA, the Southern Arizona Mechanical Contractors Association (SAMCA), and the Alliance of Construction Trades (ACT), where the company earns valuable best-practices, instructional, and safety-training skills. The company has also won numerous awards, including The Sonoran Spirit Award, Tucson Electric Power’s “Brightee” Award for Achievement, Arizona Wellness Council Process & Leadership in Worksite Health Promotion Award, multiple Angie’s List Super Service Awards, and numerous dealer awards and honors.
“It’s all about helping our customers — we’re satisfied doing just that,” said Jeff Hamstra.
A FAMILY COMPANY
Like most HVAC contractors out there, Hamstra Heating & Cooling is experiencing a technician shortage.
“We’re strong on the installation side, but it’s a struggle to find very good technicians on the residential side,” said Wade Hamstra. “Since it’s hard to find good, experienced guys, we kind of have to grow them in-house.”
Training employees is actually one of the reasons the contractor relocated to a new facility last year. The building features a 1,500-square-foot heating and cooling learning lab for hands-on instruction. At any given time, the company has as many as 10 junior apprentices training in-house, Wade Hamstra noted.
“The best part about having our own training program is we don’t have to break any bad habits,” Jeff Hamstra added.
Additionally, the new facility features an employee fitness gym with exercise equipment purchased personally by Jeff and Wade Hamstra and donated to the employees. The company has also sponsored employee fitness boot camps under the tutelage of a professional trainer.
“We had 34 employees enrolled in one of our boot camps,” Wade Hamstra said. “Some of our staff members have lost 50 pounds, improved their overall health, and reduced their medications. Wellness plays a big part in our company, and we’ve been recognized for our programs.”
Hamstra Heating & Cooling is also big on recognizing its employees for their hard work and dedication. One such example is the company’s Courtyard of Honor. Every employee with more than 20 years of service is recognized in this space with their own engraved paver stone. Those with 10 years of service or more are honored with portraits upon the office’s walls. The company also bestows an annual True Professional Award to one employee — an ode to its employee of the year.
“We have a great staff, and we’re big on recognition,” Wade Hamstra said. “With so many long-term employees in place, we’ve developed lots of programs to recognize them. Instead of name tags at employee desks, we have license plates detailing their hire dates and years of service. Two of our employees have 31-year stickers. It’s something they display with pride.”
Rick Riesgo, installation project coordinator, started at the company 10 years ago, straight out of high school.
“There are a whole lot of air conditioning companies, especially in Tucson, but Hamstra just does so much for their employees including building newer, better facilities for us,” he said. “They also offer all sorts of incentive programs. They really know your name here and make you feel like you’re not just a number. It’s a very relaxed, well-organized atmosphere. Everybody enjoys what they do. It’s really a great place to work.”
Riesgo described the Hamstras as really great managers.
“They’re attentive to employees and will give you all the tools you need to make yourself successful,” he said. “They give employees all the freedom necessary and will also help employees out in any way they can. They have an open-door policy. I’ve never seen anybody turned away as far as a question, comment, or concern. They really care about us and how we feel.”
Riesgo started as an apprentice in Hamstra’s in-house training program and worked his way up to his current position.
“They really want you to be the best you can be at what you want to do, whether it be working out in the field or working in one of the office positions. I really like all the aspects of my job.
“I always tell people without air conditioning backgrounds that I’m a puzzle-maker,” continued Riesgo. “I try to make a puzzle for the guys to go and put in — granted, there’s more to it than that, but that’s what I tell people, and that’s what I really enjoy about the industry.”
TREATING CUSTOMERS RIGHT
The key to having satisfied repeat customers is having happy employees.
“All of our customers tell me what a wonderful staff I have,” Jeff Hamstra noted. “They feel and see that the employee is happy. That comes across very positively with our clients. When our people answer the phone with a smile on their faces, customers can feel their smiles being projected through the phone.”
It’s just one way Hamstra Heating & Cooling differentiates itself from competitors.
“We’re a large company, but we keep that personal touch,” Wade Hamstra said. “There are a lot of benefits that come along with choosing a large company, like quicker service, after-hours care, and weekend services — things smaller companies may not be able to offer. But, at the same time, our customers also get personal service. They get good, quality interaction. We’re truly there to take care of them and do a great job.”
As the company’s client experience manager, Rachel Patterson primarily focuses on developing in-house training to ensure customers are being properly taken care of. Patterson, who has been with the company for five years, earned Hamstra’s True Professional Award in 2015.
“At Hamstra, we really make sure our clients are the No. 1 priority at all times,” Patterson said. “We really do set ourselves apart with the level of service we provide. We are a family-owned business, so we want all of our clients who call in to feel like they’re part of our family and that we care for them as much as we do our own family members. I don’t think a lot of other companies out there do that, at least not the way Hamstra does. We make sure our clients know they’re not just another number calling in. They’re part of our family and we’re here to serve them 24/7.”
“When you choose Hamstra, you’re not just choosing a company where guys simply come out and put in your air conditioner,” Riesgo added. “We are what I believe to be a dying breed of craftsmen who actually care about what we do for a living and take pride in the work we do here. We treat every house as if it were our own.”
The next challenge Hamstra Heating & Cooling faces is defining all the processes within the company.
“With the rapid growth we’ve had and the business challenges from an organizational standpoint that growth creates, we’re focusing on better-structured procedures and becoming less reliant on tribal knowledge,” Wade Hamstra said. We’re beginning the process of building a file containing the protocols and processes for every aspect of every job. We anticipate this will take 18-24 months.”
The company is also in the process of becoming more automated, with software and mobile solutions for techs in the field.
“We ran more than 14,000 service calls last year,” Wade Hamstra noted. “You can’t have a manual process and be able to keep up with all of that.”
Overall, Wade Hamstra said his goal was to create a company that blends good business and profitability without taking advantage of customers or employees. And, all things considered, so far, so good.
“You can have a great place to work for employees, pay them well, give them great benefits, and take care of your customers without having to cut corners,” he said. “It’s my mission to prove that. As we grow our company and its culture, our reputation will remain intact. Lots of businesses fail because they lose focus on what really matters. For us, the future is exciting.”
Publication date: 9/5/2016