Moncrief Heating and Air Conditioning is a 121-year-old HVAC firm in Atlanta. Phil Mutz has been there for the last 17 of those years. His grandfather purchased the business in the ‘70s and Mutz now serves as Moncrief’s vice president of technical services.

Lately, Mutz has been dealing with operating a business during the coronavirus pandemic and during a hot Atlanta summer. He said Moncrief has fared well during it all, but he wonders what will happen in the fall, when business in the South slows.

ACHR NEWS: How is your business doing lately?

Mutz: There are a lot of challenges, of course, but ultimately we are a weather-driven business and it’s been a nice, hot summer so far here in Atlanta. When it’s hot, we’re busy. We have had a good couple of months here.

Some people are taking notice of things now that they are home during the middle of the day and see how their system performs in the heat of the afternoon. We’re called about that. Other calls are just about comfort and filtration. They notice that one room is cooler than another or they get a runny nose in a certain part of the house because it’s more humid.

ACHR News: How are you dealing with staffing?

Mutz: It’s pretty much the main limiter of our business. That’s been the case for a long time. There just aren’t enough fresh faces coming into the trades in general.

We’ll take on inexperienced people and provide them with apprenticeships. Not everybody works out and it takes a couple of years to figure out who is going to make it. It’s a sizable investment to make on somebody who may or may not work out. We attract mainly by word of mouth – a guy who knows a guy, people recruiting their friends into the business.

It’s exciting that a lot of guys are from backgrounds with a lot of instability and uncertainty. Once they earn a trade, it becomes a kind of badge of honor, so people they know will look to them for help. You can go from job to job, but if you know a skill, you can provide stability for yourself and your family.

ACHR NEWS: What do you do to retain the employees you want?

Mutz: We provide the best work environment we possibly can. We buy nice, new vehicles. We have Mercedes fleet vehicles. For a technician, that’s a pretty big deal, what kind of truck they drive. They all have a nice paint job.

We have a tool allowance to supplement their tools. We have revenue sharing. Mainly, it’s the old-fashioned stuff. We pay an honest hourly wage. Unlike a lot of companies in the industry that are going to performance-based pay, we’re just paying our guys a good wage for their time. That’s all people want. When you work for a commission-based company, it’s hard to know how much you’re going to make at the end of the week. It just depends on the opportunities that you get and the calls you run; It creates a lot of stress. You may not have the customer’s best interest in mind.

The general ethos here is to reduce the stress that every job here entails. So our technicians have the tool allowance, the nice trucks, and support teams that bring items to them. They’ll run to the supply house for them. We have flexible schedules. Here in Georgia, the summer can be pretty intense for a technician and physically taxing. For the techs who want it, we offer them an early day every week so they can get off at 5 o’clock and plan to have dinner with their families. Even if they just sit on the couch and do nothing, it’s important to know you’ll have at least one day when you can do that.

There’s nothing we can do about hot attics and tight crawlspaces. That’s just the reality of the job. But we can make it as comfortable and predictable and stable as possible. We work really hard internally to keep the guys busy year round so they don’t see an income slump in the shoulder seasons.

ACHR NEWS: What kind of marketing are you doing these days?

Mutz: We do most of the traditional marketing, but we mostly do digital. Digital is the most bang for the buck. We had a sport partnership with local Major League Soccer team, but that’s not really happening this year, although they are hosting a tournament. Atlanta United was our main sponsorship. Quite serendipitously, we do also sponsor the air quality report on WSB. It provides the pollen count and all of that. We had signed up for that long before COVID. In the South, we have really bad pollen. In March and April, everyone was worried if they had COVID or just allergies.

ACHR NEWS: What safety protocols have you put in place during the pandemic?

Mutz: We hired a sanitation firm to come in and sanitize our office and all of our fleet vehicles. Once a week, we line up all our vehicles and they fog them like you see the airlines do with their planes. We’ve supplied our staff with hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, and all of that. In the office we’re wearing masks and we’ve increased our social distancing. We’ve installed air scrubbers and filtration packages on all of our internal systems.

It’s been an interesting conversation between the field technicians and myself with perceived risk. The technicians are driving around by themselves and have minimal contact with people in a house. Field staff have less exposure than the people who sit around in our office all day together. But that’s not a perceived risk. The technicians want to come in and talk about how crazy things are. I tell them if there’s no reason for them to be in the office, they shouldn’t be.

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