Image in modal.

This year’s Best Contractors to Work For (BCTWF) all had one thing in common that placed them among ACHR NEWS’ best: commitment to their employees. Or rather, their team. Or as many of them called it, their family — both inside and outside of work.

Each owner/manager sung the praises of their teams and when starting their companies or entering their positions of leaderships, they made employee happiness a focal point.

This year’s winners are intentional about cultivating a comfortable and family-like environment — a job employees not only don’t mind going to every day, but enjoy and want to stick with long-term. Ensuring leadership is available and communicative. Offering incentives. Understanding mistakes and being open to feedback. Providing for employees like they would a family member. To do this, these contractors had to cultivate a family-like, comfortable, enjoyable culture. And the key to it all is relationships.

“You never know what somebody's going through once they leave work. And I figure the happier I make this place, [the better].”
- Karen DiSanto Johnson
W.F. Hann & Sons

Creating a Culture

Company culture isn’t something that can be cultivated overnight. It takes time, intentionality, and attentiveness to employees and their lives outside of work.

“It means having a commitment to your team — making sure you’re there for them — that they have all the resources they need, ” said Greg Wells, owner of Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Fairfield, Ohio and owner of MAX Service Group. “Just having someone to talk to. All those kinds of things, from my perspective, is what we try to build as a company.”

Thomas and Galbraith Team.

COMMUNITY HVAC: Team members at Thomas & Galbraith take part in community HVAC installation. (Courtesy of Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing)

Matt McDaniel.

SALES: Matt McDaniel, sales consultant at Hagerstown, with his company awards. (Courtesy of Hagerstown Heating & Cooling)

Company culture starts with identifying what makes the business “tick.” John Poyle, owner and general manager of Hagerstown Heating & Cooling in Hagerstown, Maryland, said it took eight years to develop the core values that encompass a healthy company culture. There wasn’t always a clear definition of what that meant at the company. But after surveying and speaking with his team, the core values that make up the culture of Hagerstown Heating came to light: honesty, integrity, a service mindset, and empathy.

Similarly, when Ryan Robinson, president and owner of Holley Heating & Air Conditioning in Aiken, South Carolina, stepped into the ownership role, he noticed that even though the company had core values on paper, you couldn’t really tell what they were.

“It wasn’t something that was practiced, or topical, that you could see. We didn’t really implement it in our hiring processes,” Robinson said.

So he worked on fostering a culture where the company values were obvious anytime someone interacted with a member of the company — where everybody in the office and outside of the office understands what Holley Heating strives to do every day.

Karen DiSanto Johnson, president of W.F. Hann & Sons in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, knew exactly what kind of workplace culture she wanted: employees coming to work with a smile on their face.

W.F. Hann & Sons Team.

TEAM W.F. HANN: The W.F. Hann & Sons family. (Courtesy of W.F. Hann & Sons)

“It’s very hard to please everybody. You can’t please everybody the same way,” she said. Some may want a raise, help with their productivity, and some may want more training; and not everyone is a salesperson. So she has worked to meet employees where they are at.

She spent years at this goal, but the work paid off; now she is known as “Mom” by many of her employees.

“You never know what somebody's going through once they leave work,” she said. “And I figure the happier I make this place, [the better]. It’s really hard. And some people can't forget about what's going on outside of work. But if they can come with a smile, that's half the battle. They're going to be more productive. And it's going to permeate throughout the other employees and also to our customers.”

Synergy3 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania started off small, and President Alek Ivanov has worked to keep that feeling of closeness as the company grew. Celebrating everyone’s birthdays had to go by the wayside, but in its lieu, Ivanov added more events that cater to a larger group — like an annual paintball event, which has become a company favorite over the past seven years. In addition, the company has a Christmas party at a Ukrainian restaurant.

Synergy3 Team.

TEAM SYNERGY3: The Synergy3 family. (Courtesy of Synergy3)

“It’s very good to bring two cultures together, as a lot of people here are Ukrainian or Russian-speaking,” Ivanov said.

Synergy3 also does appreciation awards, which are both serious and playful. Some are in the vein of “best workmanship” or “most improved,” and others being on the vein of “best late excuse” or “best beard.” Custom awards and useful gifts of value are given out, and employees feel seen, recognized, and known.


Hiring the Right People

In recent years, the HVAC industry has shifted toward hiring for personality and attitude rather than talent and experience. This year’s BCTWF winners are no exception.

When Ryan Murphy, owner of Murphy Heating & Cooling located in New Milford, Connecticut, started his company, he had one goal in mind: to be fair and honest. When he entered customers’ homes, he wanted to treat them the way he’d want someone to treat his mother or grandmother in that same situation. He treats his employees that way and he hires people who will perpetuate those values across the company.

Murphy Heating and Cooling Team.

TEAM MURPHY: Murphy and his wife and children gather with team members at Murphy Heating & Cooling. (Courtesy of Murphy Heating & Cooling)

“I'm a big protector of our existing team and culture. So if someone comes off as a great guy, but there’s something about him and I don't think he's going to mesh well with [the current team], guess what? They’re not getting hired,” he said. “Because I'm not going to mess with the culture and the wonderful people that I have.”

For Norman Brown, owner of Roscoe Brown in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, fostering company culture really boiled down to hiring people who fit in with the company’s ethics and values. He has learned the importance of having the right people in the right place — especially leaders in the company.

Roscoe Brown Team.

TEAM ROSCOE: Team members of Roscoe Brown. (Courtesy of Roscoe Brown)

“Leaders that know the people and know how to manage the people and how to produce the right culture. We can train the technical side … Our mentality with every hire is ‘Are we making an upgrade?’ And by doing that, I think we’ve really improved. It’s been important having the people we have — the right people,” Brown said.

Robinson has learned how to work with all different types of people from all different walks of life with different personalities.

“It’s getting harder and harder to keep people because the competition for skilled laborers is probably higher than it’s ever been. The demand is high, and the supply is thin,” Robinson said.

So once he does find one, he works to keep them. Whether it’s investing a little more money in them upfront than normal or incentivizing them in other ways, he does his best to minimize the inevitable turnover.

“We’ve had to do a lot of things different than years past. Instead of employees, you’re a part of our family.”
- Ryan Robinson
President & owner
Holley Heating & Air Conditioning

Being More than a Boss

Just like cultivating a company culture takes time and effort, so does cultivating the actual relationships this year’s Best Contractors have with their employees.

“We’ve had to do a lot of things different than years past. Instead of employees, you’re a part of our family. And we try to take care of you as much as possible,” Robinson said.

Part of the way he does this is through a commitment to training hours, team meetings, and sit-downs with managers.

“And then we have open dialogue in those conversations. So it’s transparent that between my manager and myself and each of our employees — we know where they want to go and are working to get them to that place … I want to make sure everybody knows without them, there is not Holley Heating & Air.”

Holley Heating Team.

HOLLEY LEADERS: Ryan Robinson with PJ Burke (left), general manager of Holley Heating, and Jack Burke (right), sales manager. (Courtesy of Holley Heating & Air Conditioning)

Sometimes it takes a little fun to break down the barriers between “boss” and “employee” in order for employees to feel comfortable enough to go to their leadership with an idea, concern, or problem.

“Don’t just be that Mr. Bossman,” Murphy said. “Get on their level.”

Murphy makes it a point to be present in the office each morning so he can be involved in conversations and available to hear ideas or concerns from employees. It’s important to him that employees know that while they do work for him, he also works for them.

Simlarly, Poyle places great emphasis on the way he reacts when it comes to his relationships with his employees.

“I’m not going to react badly … We’re not going to freak out and scream. Just tell me what happened and we’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said.

By doing this, employees don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes. They can feel comfortable to grow and learn, and ultimately, they like their job more.

Even though Thomas & Galbraith is a fairly large company, Wells still wants it to feel like a small family business where teams feel valued. Part of the way he does this is through being open to feedback.

“When there’s something that’s not working for our team, we want them to feel like they can speak up. And I think for us it’s just having these moment where we elicit feedback from our team and ask them how things are going, what’s not working, what is working … and being willing to change,” Wells said.

Jeremy Dye, service manager for Integrity Heat & Air in Guthrie, Oklahoma, stays in constant communication with every person in his department.

“If I know something’s going on with one of my guys and their families, I make it a point to ask how things are going … just to let them know that I do care, I am concerned, and that they can call me about anything, work-related or not,” Dye said.

Integrity Team.

TEAM INTEGRITY: The team at Integrity. (Courtesy of Integrity Heat & Air)


Lessons Learned

This year’s BCTWF have lived HVAC and they’ve certainly learned it. They’ve learned as owners/managers how to be patient, that a good team is what makes all the difference, when to bite their tongue, how to retain talent, and more.

Ivanov has learned to be more cautious with what he says, especially in public meetings. He wants to evoke change quietly rather than throw smoke, promise things, and draw attention. He wants to truly deliver to his customers and employees.

“I want my word to be valued and I want it to be tied to action. I want to say less and do more,” Ivanov said.

Murphy has learned not to focus on the money.

“When you’re getting upset with a particular customer and can’t understand their standpoint on something, put yourself in their shoes. Don’t focus on the money and focus on making people happy, and it will all fall into place,” Murphy said.

DiSanto Johnson lives by a Babe Ruth quote: “‘The way a team plays determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, it won’t be worth a dime.’ It starts with my drivers: If I didn’t have good drivers they wouldn’t get the equipment to the install on time, they wouldn’t get a part needed to my service techs … it takes all of us. There's not one job here more important than the other. And that includes myself.”

Best Contractor to Work For 2022 Logo.
John Poyle.

John Poyle

Hagerstown Heating & Cooling

Owner(s): John Poyle

Location: Hagerstown, Maryland

Year Opened: 2011

Bulk of Market: Residential/maintenance service replacement

Total Sales for 2022: $3.2 million

Total Employees: 17

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 9

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 41+

How They Hire and Retain:
Partnering with local trade schools, implementing a mentor program, advertising

Most Innovative Practice:
Relying heavily on technology to train and assist technicians in the field. The outfit livestreams “junior” technicians in the field, with the assistance of a “master technician,” as a part of their hands-on training.

Ryan Robinson.

Ryan Robinson

Holley Heating & Air Conditioning

Owner(s): Ryan Robinson

Location: Aiken, South Carolina

Year Opened: 1909

Bulk of Market: 90% residential replacement, 10% commercial

Total Sales for 2022: $5.5 million

Total Employees: 29

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 20

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 41+

How They Hire and Retain:
Advertising, partnering with local trade schools, implementing a mentor program, using an intern program, referral financial incentive programs, and an apprenticeship program that takes an entry-level technician and turns them into a NATE- and EPA-certified maintenance tech in 6-9 months.

Most Innovative Practice:
Implemented a ladder of success to create a goal oriented system based off performance and certifications that help employees get to where they want to go.

Jeremy Dye and Colin Plant.

Jeremy Dye and Colin Plant

Integrity Heat & Air (Royal House Partners)

Owner(s): Paul Adams

Location: Guthrie, Oklahoma

Year Opened: 2005

Bulk of Market: Residential

Total Sales for 2022: $5.5 million

Total Employees: 23

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 16

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 21-30 hours

Tool account with monthly allotment for all employees, retention bonuses, holiday bonuses.

How They Hire and Retain:
Advertising, implementing a mentoring program

Most Innovative Practice:
Provides employees with a tool account and a monthly allotment to purchase tools.

Ryan Murphy.

Ryan Murphy

Murphy Heating & Cooling

Owner(s): Ryan Murphy

Location: New Milford, Connecticut

Year Opened: 2016

Bulk of Market: 90% residential repair replacement, 10% new construction and light commercial

Total Sales for 2022: $5 million

Total Employees: 16

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 10

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 40+

How They Hire and Retain:
Partnering with local high schools, maintaining a modern and clean company image and team oriented culture, recognizing employee accomplishments/strengths.

Most Innovative Practice:
Providing remote technical support and sales that limit the need for an in home visit when possible to save clients time and money.

Norman Brown.

Norman Brown

Roscoe Brown

Owner(s): Norman Brown

Location: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Year Opened: 1940

Bulk of Market: Residential, commercial service replacement, new construction, plumbing

Total Sales for 2022: 26 million

Total Employees: 161

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 77

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 40-80

How They Hire and Retain:
Implementing a mentor program, using an intern program, state accredited apprenticeship program, annual summer cookouts, holiday parties, employee of the month recognition, service star award, and weekly trivia.

Most Innovative Practice:
Through the company’s in-house apprenticeship program, they are training the new generations of tradespeople under the guidance of experienced professionals to carry the legacy of helping others with their plumbing and HVAC needs — all while instilling the core values they believe differentiate their company from others.

Alek Ivanov.

Alek Ivanov


Owner(s): Alek Ivanov

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Year Opened: 2006

Bulk of Market: Residential

Total Sales for 2022: $6.5 million

Total Employees: 27

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 13

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 41+

How They Hire and Retain:
Partnering with local trade schools, implementing a mentor program, advertising, employee referral.

Most Innovative Practice:
The cleanest truck competition. On the first Tuesday of every month, the entire staff of Synergy3 votes on which tech has the cleanest truck and the winner takes home a trophy and some cash. It creates fun and fierce competition, and consistently clean trucks.

Greg Wells.

Greg Wells

Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing

Owner(s): Greg Wells

Location: Fairfield, Ohio

Year Opened: 1977

Bulk of Market: Residential

Total Employees: 132

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 89

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training: 41+

How They Hire and Retain:
Advertising, partnering with local trade schools, implementing a mentor program, competitive referral program where existing employees receive an ongoing, monthly bonus pay for as long as the referred employee stays with the company.

Most Innovative Practice:
Prioritizes empowering its team members to have a say in aspects of the business. Company leadership set up an email address where people can send ideas and questions directly to the leadership team at any time. Multiple team members submitted ideas that have gone on to be implemented by the company.

Karen DiSanto Johnson.

Karen DiSanto Johnson

W.F. Hann & Sons

Owner(s): Carl Grassi & Fred DiSanto

Location: Warrensville Heights, Ohio

Year Opened: 1907

Bulk of Market: Residential 68.1%, Commercial 19.7%, Plumbing 12.2%

Total Sales for 2022: $12.5 million

Total Employees: 61

Total Service Technicians and Installer: 42

Average Hours Employees Spend in Training:
100+ per year, new hire without experience 3-6 months.

How They Hire and Retain:
Advertising, partnering with local trade schools, implementing a mentoring program, using an intern program.

Most Innovative Practice:
Cross-training employees so when and if a division is in a jam, another division can help out. The crossover makes employees more bankable and enhances the family feel of the culture.