WEST MONROE, LA — “I think we have the best company,” wrote Susan Creek. “This is not the opinion of an owner or general manager; I am an employee!”

Susan Creek is the Service Department dispatcher for Gilley’s Quality Service Experts. Her letter continued: “This information can’t begin to express the pride and camaraderie we feel for our company.”

We decided to look beneath the surface. We liked what we saw. As a result, Gilley’s earned an honorable mention in The News’ first-ever “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.

'Above and beyond'

“We do go above and beyond to make this a good, fun, safe place to work,” Creek said. “If ya gotta work, it may as well be fun!”

In addition, it “may as well” be a learning experience. The average number of hours spent training the company’s service techs and installers is a whopping 80 hrs per employee, including manufacturer-sponsored service classes.

“We hold training every Wednesday morning at 7 o’clock,” said vice president Arnie Langreck. “I do 95% of the classes. Some are technical, [but] when we want to zero-in on technical training, we send them to school.”

Most of the in-house training is on “how to treat a customer.” However, “We want the tune-up guys to tell us what they see in the field that others could improve,” he added.

Keeping this kind of communication, among other things, helps the company reduce the number of callbacks.

During these meetings, Langreck also reads customer feedback from comment cards. The good comments are always enjoyed, but the contractor emphasizes learning from the bad ones.

The company also pays for NATE technician certification.

“If you pass, you automatically get a raise,” Langreck said.

Workload, payload

With a customer base of 10,000 and roughly 2,000 service agreements (called Extra Privilege Agreements, or EPAs), the company can easily offer a year-round workload for techs. This is no small feat down in Louisiana.

“We’ve never laid off a tech in the winter,” said Langreck. “They get overtime in wintertime,” due in large part to the EPAs.

During the busy summer season, “We rotate service techs on-call and days off by monitoring working hours closely in each department, and paying attention to the tech,” said Creek.

The numbers tell the story: The bulk of the company’s revenues (86%) come from residential service/replacement work; 14% comes from residential new construction.

The highest profits — the cream of residential work — come from well-managed service/replacement work. The company passes those profits on to techs in the form of spiffs.

“The [base] pay for techs is good,” Langreck said; that is, it’s somewhat higher than other hvac contractors in the area. However, a good tech with good people skills can “make another 25%” from spiffs for getting new customers and selling service agreements.

“Pay increases are determined by job performance as well as ‘time served,’” explained Creek, adding, “A tech can make his own pay by performance on the job.”

Career tracks

Gilley’s Heating & Cooling was one of founding companies of Service Experts back in August of 1996. Quality Air Conditioning & Heating was bought in December of that same year and merged into Gilley’s.

Part of the reason was to be able to offer techs a career track.

In order for a tech to feel that s/he is a valued team member, “They need to be paid well and receive good vacations,” said general manager Randy Gilley (pronounced “Jill-ee”).

The company recruits from local Ouachita Valley Vocational Trade School, and also participates in judging the area’s VICA competition.

Is this judging also “scouting?” Well, you can’t help but notice the winners when you’re a judge. Moreover, “It carries a message to the trade school instructor,” Gilley said.

“This is an excellent trade. You can make excellent money.”

When a brand new tech hires in to Gilley’s, he first rides two weeks with the head tune-up tech, then rides another two weeks with other tune-up techs. Then he is sent to Service Experts’ Future University for two more weeks of technical training.

Vacations, benefits

The contractor’s vacation package is quite generous.
  • One year of employment — one week vacation in spring, winter, or fall;
  • Five years’ employment — two weeks’ vacation, one in summer and one in winter; and
  • After 10 years’ employment — three weeks’ vacation, two in summer and one in winter.

Offering more summer vacations appeals to techs with families, who also seem to have a stronger sense of responsibility.

And in addition to medical and dental benefits, the company offers 401K and stock-purchase options.

No vacancies

Technician vacancies are quickly filled, and other than showing face at VICA events and the local trade school, Gilley’s is in the enviable position of having quite enough techs to choose from.

“I just had a call from another tech looking for a job,” said Langreck when The News spoke with him in January.

Because of the company’s good rep among its own workers, “We usually don’t have a vacancy long,” said Creek. “It is easy for our own techs to find potential employees by talking to them in parts houses, restaurants, etc.”

It’s word-of-mouth referrals — not from current customers to potential customers, but from current techs to potential new hires. And once again, it’s a dang good way to keep a contractor profitable.

Sidebar: Giley's background, outlook

The company started as Gilley’s Heating and Cooling in August, 1978. In August 1996, it became one of the founding contractors of Service Experts. And in December 1996, it merged with local contractor Quality Air and Heating.

The company stock may be looking a bit better since Service Experts was bought by Lennox (and the deal has been finalized; see The News, Jan. 31, 2000). However, it leaves general manager Randy Gilley with a bit of a pickle. The contractor is a Trane dealer and has been for years.

“We used to carry Lennox but we dropped them” in order to streamline, said Gilley. He explained that there was concern in the beginning of the Lennox/Serx announcement, “But we were told by Lennox that we didn’t have to drop them [Trane].”

And what about the deal whereby Trane is selling its products through Sears?

“Hopefully it will have minimal impact,” Gilley said. “I feel we give customers a better quality installation.”

Plus, Sears has not been known to undercut on price, so this deal may actually help even out area pricing.

Sidebar: Just the facts - Gilley's Quality Service Experts

Winning contractor: Gilley’s Quality Service Experts

General manager: Randy Gilley

Location: West Monroe, LA Years in business: 22

Bulk of market: Residential service-replacement

Total revenue for 1999: $3.3 million

Total employees: 25

Total service technicians and installers: 15

Average annual hours employee spends in training: 80

The News selected this contractor because: The enthusiasm of Gilley’s employees is a testament to their satisfaction with the company. In addition, the company’s use of service-maintenance agreements helps generate enough work to keep technicians working during traditional slow seasons. Finally, techs with “legs” (those who remain with the company a number of years) are allowed summer vacation time.