There seem to be fewer family-owned mechanical companies every year, especially in the South where fast a/c service is king, and competition is as fierce as anywhere in the country. For a company to reach 275 employees while focusing solely on residential service and retrofit is almost unheard of.
But Charlotte, North Carolina, is home to one of those rarities. After nearly six decades in business, Morris Jenkins Inc., is still owned and operated by the same dedicated family. They’ve grown with the city through economic booms and turndowns. At each step, the company has thrived while navigating the challenges and pitfalls that inevitably rise in its path.
“We’re the largest mechanical firm in the Charlotte metro, and yet it feels the same as any family-owned business,” said Brett Sumpter, training manager, Morris Jenkins. “As an employee, or from the outside looking in, I think it’s obvious that we enjoy being the service provider. That interaction with the homeowner and the appreciation they convey after a job well done is, in large part, why we’ve never branched into commercial work.”
Success has come by way of employees holding true to their own moral compass, providing the best service possible, and creating solutions to each obstacle they encounter along the way. The bigger the challenge, the more comprehensive their answer.
CREATING A WORKFORCE
“Keeping pace with evolving, sophisticated equipment is a constant game of cat and mouse, but continuous employee training does the trick,” said Sumpter. “The real struggle is maintaining our workforce, and I think every contractor across the country would agree.”
Morris Jenkins has 100 service techs, 30 installers, and 30 plumbers. For a company that size, even with a low turnover rate, keeping the trucks full takes more than passively accepting the best applications. The company continues to grow, and every year brings more retirees. Luckily, owners and managers at Morris Jenkins identified this challenge early and decided to be proactive.
“Morris Jenkins University is a unique program we developed in 2011,” explained Sumpter. “It’s an intensive training course that takes a new employee from ‘green to service tech’ in nine weeks. After that, they’re off in a service van, under supervision for only as long as needed.”
This “Tech Builder” program includes lab time, classroom instruction, and plenty of ride-alongs. Typically, 30 techs graduate from Morris Jenkins University every year. Participants of all ages and walks of life have joined the company’s ranks.
“Not everyone who starts the program finishes it,” said Sumpter. “We look for candidates who have a passion for service. Honesty, integrity, fairness, and respect are attributes they must have. If participants possess these things, and have some level of mechanical aptitude, we can make them into a great tech.”
Since implementing the program, the company hasn’t had any major workforce challenges. But a steady influx of new techs means the sales force has to create the work to sustain it. Luckily for their newest employees, Morris Jenkins has created a solution for that challenge, too. And it has, at least in part, been the result of a growing need from their customer base.
IAQ — AN EXPANDING INDUSTRY
One substantial area of growth in the past decade, but especially in the past five years, has been the installation of IAQ systems. It seems like cooling season has gotten longer, and people are spending more time indoors. While Morris Jenkins has provided IAQ solutions for more than two decades, customers are more aware of indoor air quality now than ever before. This is not only because there’s been a significant amount of research conducted on the topic lately but also because that information is so widely available online.
“Our cooling season runs from March through October,” said Sumpter. “In regard to airborne allergens, spring and fall in North Carolina are intense. Everything looks like it’s been painted yellow with pollen. Most people notice it, but asthma sufferers take the brunt of it. Customers often know about poor air quality, but they don’t realize that their HVAC system can alleviate symptoms instead of being a contributing factor.”
Morris Jenkins’ IAQ arsenal changed in 2012 when they were introduced to several cold plasma generating products made by Phenomenal Aire. These quickly-installed, low-wattage products ionize the air in ductwork and throughout the building to kill viruses, bacteria, mold and fungus spore and to destroy other allergens and odors while breaking down volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The technology, which creates a plasma field within a home’s ductwork, includes models that can accommodate airflow rates of 6,000-10,000 cfm and work in conjunction with mini-split or variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems.
Even five years down the road, Morris Jenkins still hears about the success of their first Phenomenal Aire installation from the homeowner.
Built in 2000, the 4,600-square-foot custom home had two independent, ducted systems. It was purchased by a new owner in 2012. The family suffered from seasonal allergies, and the daughter battled chronic asthma. Morris Jenkins was hired to retrofit the house with new heat pumps and completely replace all the ductwork. After learning about the allergies and asthma, they also suggested the installation of two Phenomenal Aire Series R cold plasma generators, which are simply attached to the ductwork on the return side of the air handler.
“We don’t push IAQ retrofits on customers,” said Sumpter. “We only offer it if we’re asked about it or are made aware of allergy symptoms or in-home odors. We do, however, suggest it on new equipment installations.”
The homeowner added five-inch media air filtration upon installation of the new heat pumps but didn’t choose to add the Phenomenal Aire units until Morris Jenkins was on-site to service the system in 2013.
“In conjunction with the media air filtration units, the Phenomenal Aire units have done a great job of sanitizing and cleaning the air,” said Sumpter. “The family tells us that there’s always a neutral smell, and the allergy and asthma issues haven’t gotten any worse over time or throughout the seasons. Our techs have also noticed that the cold plasma generators keep the interior of the blower compartments and the evaporator coil nearly spotless.”
SELL FROM EXPERIENCE
Managers at Morris Jenkins have encouraged their techs and sales force to install the IAQ units in their own homes, knowing that someone with personal experience is going to better represent the product and the company. In much the same way, the company has been surprised by how many neighbors and family members call to inquire after each new installation.
The IAQ systems and the solutions they provide are just one of many offerings that Morris Jenkins offers the Charlotte metro area, helping to build its reputation as one of the area’s finest residential service providers.
Over the past 10 years, the demand for IAQ has grown, and the company is proud to offer an affordable system for the customers who have come to trust the Morris Jenkins name.
“We stick to residential because we love to give solutions to homeowners and see the feedback that results,” said Sumpter. “That desire, and the commitment to quality and value has brought us this far. When I look forward to the decades ahead, with a growing community and evolving technology, the possibilities are exciting.”
Michael Lee is a regional director for Steve Lee & Associates, the HVAC/R division of Sunbelt Marketing. He graduated from Belmont Abbey College before becoming a manufacturer’s representative in 2003. Today, he manages the company’s HVAC Sales in the North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Publication date: 1/22/2018