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When three different employees are asked for a benefit beyond their standard paychecks that they find especially meaningful, and each employee mentions a different benefit, that’s a good sign.

GSM Services in Gastonia, North Carolina, earned this year’s Best Contractor To Work For in the South region based on that kind of appeal and more.

Michael Ginther, GSM’s Commercial Service Operations Leader and employee since 2007, chose one eye-catching contributor to employee retention.

“I’ve been here long enough now that GSM pays for all of my health care,” he said, referring to the monthly insurance premiums. GSM pays a little more of an employee’s monthly premium each year, and once they achieve 10 years with the company, GSM covers the full premium.

Shawn Messer, residential sales leader for GSM, is about to mark 30 years with the company.

“For 29 years, I’ve been driving company vehicles home,” he said. Messer noted that for team members doing sales, installation, or other tech work, using a company vehicle for the daily commute has been a huge benefit.

Meanwhile, marketing director Amy Anderson chose the gym reimbursement. As long as an employee goes to the gym several times a month and then passes along those dates, GSM pays back the employee for membership costs.

Dog with frisbee.

DOG DAYS: A happy customer enjoys his Frisbee on National Dog Day. (Courtesy of GSM Services)

“It’s very clear [the owners] are committed to us trying to stay healthy,” Anderson said.

If the gym reimbursement and the free healthy snacks at the office didn’t make that priority clear enough, then another development in 2021 did.

Like many business owners, GSM’s Joel and Steven Long found that they would face an increase in its health care insurance costs for the coming year. Unlike many owners, the brothers decided to respond by decreasing the employee share of those premiums by a few percent.

As Anderson explained, ownership framed the additional investment as an indication of how important it is for all involved that employees get and stay healthy. Maintaining employee health also brings value to a company operating in the middle of simultaneous labor shortage and pandemic conditions.

Profit-sharing incentives further motivate each division. Camaraderie matters, too. Paintball matches, local baseball tickets, and the return of the annual holiday party all scored mentions.

GSM Services staff.

WARM RELATIONS: Activities like this Polar Plunge may be chilly, but involvement with greater Charlotte organizations including United Way, YMCA, and minor league baseball stoke warm employee experiences and GSM Services ties to the community. (Courtesy of GSM Services)


A Learning Organization

Training is an ongoing process at GSM. The contractor — which offers roofing work, generator services, and home energy audits as well as traditional HVAC work — has a full-time director of learning who has been with GSM around 15 years.

“We not only train for trade-specific skills, but also for communication, customer service, and leadership skills,” Ginther said.

Ginther especially values the regular team meeting, where part of the time is dedicated to assorted safety items for the week.

Steven Long outlined how the GSM learning director not only uses key performance indicators but is also NATE-certified, performing NATE testing for the team as well as EPA testing locally for the company.

GSM’s facilities let them do regular training for technicians, sometimes dividing them by experience level as well as specific materials for the respective divisions like Home Performance, residential HVAC installation, and the commercial group.

GSM supports employee efforts to increase their knowledge outside the office, too. The company pays for 100% of other training and education related to HVAC or roofing work.

Even if the education isn’t strictly trade-specific, GSM pays 50% of that tuition. As an example, Long cited a woman on the team who is pursuing a business degree. Either way, the same philosophy applies.

“We’d like to say that we’re a learning organization that happens to do HVAC, other high-performance work, customer service work.”

The Sundown Rule is one GSM guideline older than any modern training topic. Essentially, whether things have gone exactly as expected or not, at the end of the day, the customer needs to know what’s going on.

“That’s been a big part of our philosophy,” Long said.


‘An OK Place to Stay’

Steven Long worked at his father’s company during the summers as a student, and even majored in mechanical engineering. But after graduation in the 1990s, he still thought he would wind up elsewhere.

“Long story short, my future wife graduated six months later from UNC-Chapel Hill, and she got a job here locally. And so it seemed like, you know, it was an OK place to stay for a while.”

GSM has turned out to be that and then some for Long and many others in subsequent years. As third-generation owners, the Long brothers are keenly aware of family business trends and are determined to help the company thrive on their watch.

Long keeps in mind an old business saying along the lines of, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

“When I was younger,” Long said, “I probably didn’t believe that. As I’ve gotten older and get a different perspective, I absolutely think that’s true.”

GSM Services

Steven and Joel Long.


OWNER(S): Steven Long, president of residential divisions (left); Joel Long, president of commercial divisions (right)

LOCATION: Gastonia, NC


BULK OF MARKET: Charlotte Metro Area


  • Residential (Service, Install, Home Performance): $10 million
  • Commercial HVAC (Install & Service): ~ $15 million
  • Commercial Roofing (Install & Service): ~ $7.5 million



  • Residential HVAC Service Techs: 22
  • Residential HVAC/Home Performance Crews: 8
  • Commercial HVAC Service Techs: 9
  • Commercial HVAC Installers: 40
  • Roofing Techs: 7
  • Roofing Installers: 40


BENEFITS BEYOND MEDICAL/DENTAL INSURANCE: 401k plan, tiered PTO plan (up to 20 days), company paid holidays, company vehicle, gym membership program, wellness program, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, referral incentive, free healthy snacks, employee assistance program (EAP)


  • PHCC (Joel Long is president of PHCC National)
  • Service Nation Alliance
  • ACCA Member – MIX Group Member
  • National Comfort Institute
  • Mitsubishi Diamond Dealer