Dustin Miller started Comfort Now Inc. in Visalia, California, in 2011, after branching away from his father and uncle’s contracting company. He chose to brave the HVAC industry alone. For the initial six months, he went on service calls and earned enough money to hire his first employee. Fast forward to 2020, and Comfort Now boasts 30 employees and over $5 million in revenue. The company consistently challenges and rewards its technicians, who are empowered to oversee their own schedules, and to grow their own skillsets through trade school programs and certifications. This and a culture of friendliness helped Comfort Now Inc. win The ACHR NEWS’ Best Contractor to Work For title in the West region.
HIRING AND TRAINING
“My favorite thing is being able to come to work and help people,” Miller said. “I have a company that helps a lot of customers with their problems every single day. And I have a company that’s cultivated to help their employees with their problems and to be better. My job is to come to work and get the best out of people that are here.”
Miller runs his company with a passion for giving his employees the tools and the motivation to succeed professionally, and this culture trickles down to the rest of his company. This begins with the hiring process. Comfort Now encourages its staff to refer quality candidates, and employees receive a bonus if a referred candidate is hired and makes it through the probationary period. In addition to this, the company receives quality candidates through partnering with local schools and creating an intern program.
When candidates come through the door, Miller hires based on the personality he sees.
“I’m hiring the person that has great aptitude, great mechanical aptitude, great customer service skills, a great attitude,” he said. “And I’m giving them the tools they need to be successful.”
He cited the company’s performance-based system as an example of motivating employees to succeed. Employees are paid to work with both their hands and their minds. At Comfort Now, technicians’ pay is not capped. Based on the level of experience, technicians receive one of the four base pay rates. Then, technicians receive a percentage of their truck’s revenue, spiffs, and commissions. The base pay increases as technicians receive more experience, training, and certifications.
Technicians manage their own work pipelines and book their next appointment with customers at each visit, similar to a dentist appointment (this helps keep the schedule full year-round).
In addition to this, Miller invests in the talent of his team with regular training.
“I do training at least four days a week over here,” he said. “We’re constantly doing role plays and scripting. Training them how to essentially sell more, make more money, and take care of the customers better.”
Training takes many forms at Comfort Now. Training companies, suppliers, and manufacturers are brought in for technical training. Technicians are sent to training events, with both the events and the travel paid for. The company will also pay for accelerated trade school programs, EPA certifications, and NATE certifications for its technicians.
After training, employees are sent out to the field to do quality work and are given the time they need to do it. Miller said that he does not build his company around time. If employees feel they need more time to ensure a problem is fixed or an install is completed correctly, they can call the office and ask for more time.
“The customer knows that when we’re done, they’re not going to have to call us two days later to come back and fix another issue that we might have missed because we didn’t spend enough time the first time,” he said. “The employees like it because I give them the ability to do the job that they want to do — something that they could put their name on and be proud of.”
CULTURE OF COMFORT
Michelle Van Beek is the general manager of Comfort Now, overseeing the company’s daily operations, employee support, and company reporting.
“I absolutely love my job,” she said. “I work for great people, a great company, and a great environment and for a great cause.”
The company has grown rapidly, and Van Beek said that she knows the growth is a direct result from the staff’s hard work.
“This is the company that you come to work for that you plan to retire from,” she said.
Van Beek explained that the company has a family business feel, where people are tight-knit and care for one another. The employees are understanding, and Miller understands they have lives outside of work. So when crises or emergencies arise, he does not hold it against employees, she said.
“He also believes in positive reinforcement, such as coaching, training, and uplifting employees rather than tearing them down for mistakes that they make,” Van Beek said.
The company has a “Perfect Installation Award,” given for one installation job each month. Installations have requirements (pictures, testing, information) that management reviews. The best are then sent to the company for voting, and the winner receives a $1,000 bonus.
“Since this award began, the quality of our installs has gone up tremendously, and we continue to raise the bar. Plus, employees love having bragging rights every month,” she said.
Every quarter, Comfort Now does a similar program, focused outward to the community. The employees vote for a charity to give back to.
Comfort Now also runs a program called “Gift of Heat,” where the public nominates people in need of heat who deserve a new unit that the company will pay for and give to the winner as a surprise. The company is also involved with the SPCA, Giving Hands, the Bethlehem Center, and various other community events and organizations.
When business decisions have to be made or challenges arise the company faces them head-on.
“At Comfort Now, we always strive to do the right thing,” Van Beek said. “We admittedly make mistakes; we’re human. But what matters most to us is not that we made a mistake; it’s how we handle that mistake.”
When the decision they need to make directly impacts a customer, she said that they ask themselves how they would like to be treated.
“Whatever the answer looks like is what we do,” Van Beek said. “No questions asked, no matter the cost, we do the right thing. And we empower our employees to do the same thing when they’re out in the field.”
She said employees will call in to the office when wondering how to handle a particular situation with a customer, and she’ll ask them, “If it were you, what would you expect to be done?”
Van Beek manages with a very similar method.
“I personally manage the way that I like to be managed,” she said. “So that’s with respect, being objective, and considering our employees’ feelings.”
She said that regardless of the situation, she is sure to investigate the circumstances, research, and address the situation in the best way she knows how. And the company actively looks for ideas coming from the bottom up, as management has an open door policy, and puts out a suggestion box.
TIME FOR FUN
Brandon Rider, technical advisor for ComfortNow, has worked with the company since 2012. He came on board when the company only consisted of Miller and one other installer. He said that in his time at the company, the culture hasn’t changed significantly, and that’s a good thing.
“It’s always stemmed around family and everybody taking care of everybody else,” he said. “You can’t get any better. When you find something that makes you happy, when you can get up and be happy to go to work in the morning, you have got to stick with it.”
The company hosts numerous events, including a company Christmas party, holiday bonuses, barbeques, Thanksgiving meals with turkeys and hams, and more. Rider said the company had recently gone paintballing and deep sea fishing, will take boats out on a lake over the summer, and recognizes an Employee of the Month.
“It’s amazing when you can wake up in the morning and be happy to go to work,” Rider said.
Comfort Now Inc.
OWNER: Dustin Miller
LOCATION: Visalia, California
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 8
BULK OF MARKET: Residential
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 35
TOTAL SERVICE TECHNICIANS AND INSTALLERS: 20
AVERAGE HOURS EMPLOYEES SPEND IN TRAINING: 41 or more
BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: Half of medical insurance premium, company vehicles, cell phones, tablets, paid holidays, vacations, and supplemental insurance (AFLAC).
THE ACHR NEWS SELECTED THIS CONTRACTOR BECAUSE: Comfort Now Inc. consistently challenges and rewards its technicians. Technicians are empowered to oversee their own schedules and to grow their own skillsets through trade school programs and certifications, and are rewarded for their growth. Comfort Now also offers its employees a competitive benefits package, along with a culture of friendliness and company-wide events.
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