Joseph Andrade, vice president of home and commercial services of Gem Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electric, discussed the advantages of offering a wide range of services with The ACHR NEWS.
Gem has been around since 1949. The firm works in both the residential and commercial markets, providing heating, cooling, plumbing, as well as drain cleaning, electrical, fire suppression, and mechanical services. Gloria and Larry Gemma Sr. founded Gem. Today, their three sons — Larry, Lenny and Eddy — run the company. From a headquarters in Lincoln, Rhode Island, Gem’s service area covers the Ocean State and most of Massachusetts. The firm also operates a sheet metal fabrication shop in Connecticut. Gem employs almost 600 people and continues growing,
ACHR NEWS: How are you finding employees as you grow?
Andrade: I try to get in front of a lot of high school and trade school kids. We’re telling the people who like to work with their hands that going to college isn’t for everybody.
I’ve taken an approach other than sitting at my desk and complaining about the situation. We’ve hired good people with great attitudes and we’ve trained them. We opened our own apprentice program within Gem. We teach them at night. We’re pushing them to grab for more, rather than having one certification or one license and doing one thing.
We have an opportunity to be more than a one-trick pony. We do plumbing, we do a/c, we do heat pumps. All of our technicians are multi-skilled, multi-trade. I’m licensed in three different states. I have my sheet metal license. I have my refrigerant license. I have my EPA card. That’s really one of the opportunities that Gem offers people.
ACHR NEWS: What do you do to keep your employees happy?
Andrade: I train, I train, I train. Not just on technical topics. We also teach them the soft skills — how to talk to the clients, how to present options, how to be a consultant.
We also offer money management classes. I don’t want any of my employees living paycheck to paycheck. When they come into work, I want them about serving our customers and being safe on the job. I don’t want them worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to make their car payment.
We also do a lot of community service. We donate time to a breast cancer charity and a homeless shelter. We just try to be well-rounded and give back. That’s what keeps the people here. We keep them happy, we treat them well, we treat them like family. I manage almost 300 employees myself and I know everybody’s name and what is going on with their families. Even though we’re this big, it’s not so corporate that you’re hopping over seven layers of management to get to the top.
ACHR NEWS: What sort of marketing do you do?
Andrade: We use multiple channels. We’re on billboards, radio, we do a lot of digital banner ads. But the biggest form of marketing is that we have a good reputation for doing good work. I get more jobs by doing good work and doing what’s right for the customer. If you even look at our lackluster reviews online, you’ll always see how we fixed it.
ACHR NEWS: You offer financing through Wells Fargo. How important is that in these times of economic uncertainty?
Andrade: It’s a game-changer. We offer zero-percent financing on installs. The only other people offering zero-percent financing are furniture stores. We live in a payment society. Nobody cares about the total cost. They worry about how much it’s going to cost them each month. It’s an important tool to have.
Band-aid repairs just upset the customer and cause them more distress each time they come back. What you can do with financing is elevate the entire problem.
ACHR NEWS: Is your business meeting your expectations?
Andrade: It never meets my expectation. We can always do things better. We’re were one of the first to use GPS in our trucks, to wear booties when we walk into somebody’s house. We make sure everybody has a clean uniform with a name tag and we answer the phone 24 hours a day. So the business meets my expectations, but I still feel we could do a lot better.
ACHR NEWS: What do you see as your biggest challenge?
Andrade: Sometimes we don’t get out of our way and we resist change. We need to be very fluid. My main challenge is making sure we adapt to every situation. If we stay rigid, we regress. My big challenge right now is online reviews and social media.
ACHR NEWS: What is the biggest opportunity for your company?
Andrade: There is nobody that is really a one-stop shop. When we install a boiler or an a/c system, we have our own guys come in to wire it. We have our own gas-fitters; we have our own electricians; we have our own sheet-metal guys. We pull permits, we get inspections. We have people who are multi-licensed doing these jobs. We don’t have any subcontractors.