It’s not unusual for employees at a Best Contractor to Work For to say their company “feels like a family.” At Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning in Weatherford, Texas, that feeling runs deep — perhaps due to the fact that of the company’s 60 employees, more than a dozen are either Hobsons or are married to a Hobson. In fact, if you count the youngest Hobsons who help out at the business after completing their half-day at pre-school, on any given day, four generations of Hobsons might be present at the company.
But this is not a “Royal Family” situation, and all employees are treated as extensions of the Hobson family.
“As I always impart to our new hires, this is really a special place,” said Diane Peninger, human resources and payroll manager for Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning. “When you work here, it’s like you’re part of a big family. I take care of my 81-year-old mother, and whenever I need to do something for her, they tell me, ‘Go and take care of your mom.’ It’s the same for anyone with children or other obligations. The company is very flexible, and the leadership makes sure we all know family comes first.”
Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning
LOCATIONS: Weatherford, Texas
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 56
BULK OF MARKET: Residential service and replacement
TOTAL SALES FOR 2017: $20 Million
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 60
TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 25
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 40-plus per year
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Vision insurance, paid vacations, paid training, rotating schedules, open-door policy, in-office child care, bonuses, and increased compensation and vacation based on North American Technician Excellence (NATE)-certification level.
INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION & CONTRACTOR GROUP MEMBERS: ACCA, Success Group Intl./AirTime 500, Nexstar Network, Service Roundtable, ASHRAE, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), and Women in HVACR.
THE NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: A family atmosphere and a commitment to treating customers and employees right helps the company attract and retain great people.
KNOCKED DOWN BUT NEVER OUT
Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning has an interesting history. The 56-year-old residential service and replacement company might be considered a true survivor, and not just a survivor of the ups and downs of the challenging world of HVAC. In this case, the company is a survivor of a train derailment that destroyed its building in 2002, a fire in 2007, and a flood in 2009.
Company President, Brett Hobson, takes the mishaps in stride and with characteristic good humor.
“A lot of people have fires and floods, but we’re probably the only company to get wiped out by a train derailment,” he laughs. “We really won the trifecta on that one.”
He adds that, fortunately, no one was injured in any of the incidents. And, as it turns out, the derailment became a turning point in the company’s history, as it helped bring about a merger of two companies and made both of them stronger.
As Brett Hobson explained, his mother and father, Linda and Philip Hobson, founded Hobson Air Conditioning in 1962. Brett, Brian, and Greg Hobson and their sister, Cindy, all worked in the business. In 1998, Brett and Brian left and went to Service Experts. When Service Experts was acquired by Lennox in 2000, Brett and Brian started Comfort Experts. Late in 2001, the decision was made to merge Comfort Experts with Hobson Air Conditioning, and preparations for that were underway when the train destroyed the Comfort Experts building in January 2002.
“Fortunately, we still had the Hobson facilities to work out of, so despite being hit by a train, we were able to be up and functioning and taking care of our customers that same afternoon,” Brett Hobson said.
KEY BENEFITS INCLUDE TRAINING
Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning offers its employees a range of benefits, including 75 percent company-paid health insurance, dental and vision coverage, and vacation time with bonus weeks for technicians who complete their certification through North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Another benefit is ongoing training through the Perfect Technician Academy, which is a separate entity from Comfort Experts, but it is run by Brian Hobson. Mark Watkins, the academy’s instructor, worked in the field for Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning for more than 20 years. The academy was started in 2015 and trains more than 100 students each year. Classes run for six intensive weeks and are followed by a two-week externship in the field.
As a company that hires for attitude and trains for aptitude, any new technicians hired at Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning who don’t have significant HVAC experience are required to attend the academy. In addition, students from anywhere in the world are welcome to attend.
Watkins pointed out that eight weeks is not a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of heating and air conditioning, so the class is tough.
“I can tell you that we feed the students with a firehose,” he said. “We have homework every single night and tests at the end of each session.”
Watkins is justifiably proud of the academy and what it does to help address the industry-wide technician shortage.
“Many people talk about the technician shortage — we decided to do something about it,” he said. “And I take great pride in what we do here. When I was in the field, I used to have a heater or an air conditioner that I would go and fix, and that was my product. Well, I don’t have a heater or an air conditioner anymore — I have people. And, when they leave here, I want them to have the best background possible to help them start becoming highly skilled technicians.”
One graduate of the Perfect Technician Academy, Devon Iiams, said the company has ongoing training two days a week for technicians and refresher courses at the academy that are very helpful. Iiams has been a service technician for Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning for a little more than a year.
“Being in the field for a while gives you a new appreciation of all the things you learned at the academy,” he said. “When you go back for the refresher courses, you understand even better how everything fits together.”
Iiams also appreciates that Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning treats him and his fellow technicians like people and not just cogs in a machine.
“Other places I’ve worked, you’re just a number,” he said. “Here, they take care of you, and they’re understanding when things go on in your life. That’s why I like working here — you’re an actual person, and they see you that way.”
In addition, Iiams likes the fact that Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning allows him to be honest with customers.
“Honesty is very important to me,” he said. “I never push anything that’s not necessary, and that’s how it is companywide. Service Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning always wants to do right by its customers. There’s a way the company wants people to feel while we’re at their homes, and that’s what I try to represent.”
‘A MICROCOSM OF CAPITALISM’
Robert Vinson, the operations manager in charge of the parts, installation, and service departments, said he views Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning as a microcosm of capitalism.
“I came in with no experience, and they gave me an opportunity,” he said. “That’s how this company is. The opportunity is there for the people who are willing to put in the time, effort, and energy. They have helped me grow tremendously in the past seven years.”
Vinson said a key to the company’s success is its ability to find great people who are willing to work hard to succeed.
“We don’t want to hire a service technician who wants to be a service technician in five years, we want to hire a service technician who wants to be a service manager in five years,” he said. “I’m always looking for people who are better than me or who want to be better than me. We make it a point to focus on the person more so than the skill set. The skill set can always be taught.”
Fortunately for everyone at Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning, Brett Hobson agrees with the importance of careful hiring practices. The interview process at the company consists of multiple stages, including group interviews to see how potential team members interact with others, interviews with management and senior management, and a presentation by the applicant to the personnel in the department in which he or she would be working.
“Applicants have to explain why they would be a good fit for the team,” Hobson said. “If their peers aren’t convinced, we don’t hire that person.”
Ultimately, Hobson said, his most important role as an owner of a business is that of a recruiter.
“We spend a lot of time and energy and effort to make sure we have the right people on board,” he said. “Who you have on your team is the secret to the success — or failure — of your organization. If we have the right people, our job is not necessarily easy, but it’s attainable,” he said. “If we have the wrong people, it’s impossible.”
Hobson concluded by offering two pieces of advice to other contractors who are striving to make their company a Best Contractor to Work For: Always put the customer first, and remember that good is the enemy of great.
“You must make your company a place where great people will want to go and stay,” he said. “And making your company a great place to work is something you can control.”
Hobson’s formula certainly appears to be working. In addition to being named a Best Contractor to Work For by The NEWS, Comfort Experts/Hobson Air Conditioning was also honored by Fort Worth Magazine as a best company to work for in the Fort Worth area in 2017. And the simple answer provided by a service technician on a Best Contractor to Work For nomination form speaks volumes. When asked why the company should be named a Best Contractor to Work For, the technician wrote: “Because we are the best.”
Comfort Experts/ Hobson Air Conditioning's Mission Statement
Our mission is to be the company of choice for homeowners.
- Always return phone calls the same day;
- Always listen to our customers;
- Always deliver more than promised;
- Always address concerns promptly;
- Always work to the customer’s schedule;
- Always honor all guarantees and warranties;
- Always take care of current customers first;
- Always work as a team in the best interest of the customer; and
- Always remember the customer is who pays everyone’s wage.
Publication date: 1/22/2018
Best Contractors to Work For: Great Lakes Heating, Air Conditioning, & Electrical
A Company of Family and Faith