KENILWORTH, NJ — You want to hear the “Understatement of the Year?” In our book, it’s Bobby Ring’s answer to the question, “Do you do anything to retain your technicians and employees?”

“To retain our existing associates, we have done everything that we possibly can to show our sincere appreciation to all of our associates for their hard work,” says the executive vice president of Meyer & Depew Co. Inc., a Newark-area hvac contractor. “Our Mission Statement says that we will recognize our associates’ contribution to our success and we did many different things this year [1999] to show our appreciation and recognize our associates’ contributions.”

In truth, that’s like saying the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans had OK NFL seasons this year. Let’s just say Meyer & Depew went “above and beyond” to keep its employees happy in 1999. It’s just one of the many reasons why Meyer & Depew is one of the winners in The News’ first-ever “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.

“If you have a problem, you can always talk to the owner,” says residential installation manager Stan Palaka. “They will make time for you. They look out for you.”


Retain is main

To list the many ways the company hires and retains workers would take up several pages. But to give you an idea of what Meyer & Depew did (and continues to do) for its employees…

1. Distributed local minor league baseball game tickets to many associates, including service technicians that received the most client satisfaction survey cards.

2. On-the-spot award of Home Depot gift certificates for associates who gave extra effort or simply had the cleanest truck during a random truck inspection.

3. Provided field associates with a $250 co-op tool allowance. Associates were able to purchase tools that were appropriate to their work and the company paid for half of the cost. (“We recently purchased over $10,000 worth of tools under this program,” says Ring.)

4. During the 100°F days of July, Ring treated all of his technicians to a breakfast buffet at the local Holiday Inn. (“We let them know that we appreciated their extra effort during the unbearable record-breaking temperatures that we experienced,” says Ring. “Many of our associates also worked some very long days to ensure that our clients’ new air conditioning systems were operating before we left their homes.”)

5. In August, the company showed its appreciation to its managers by inviting them and their spouses to a casual outdoor cocktail party at a local country club. (“The golfers among them played golf that afternoon and later joined their spouses and dates for some relaxing refreshments,” he says.)

6. The company also upgraded its uniforms, providing each employee with embroidered garments that included button-down shirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts, lightweight and winter jackets, baseball caps, and wool winter caps, as well as their choice of jeans or trousers. (“The new, neat professional appearance strengthens morale and the feel of belonging to a team,” explains Ring.)

7. Ring established an “Associate of the Year” award, and presented it at the company’s annual picnic. (“We established this for an associate that had contributed greatly to our success by filling in for one of our associates on maternity leave,” says Ring. “In addition to receiving a framed certificate, this associate also received $500 in American Express gift checks.”)

8. The company issued Nextel two-way radios to its field associates. It allowed workers to sign cellular telephone agreements with the company, allowing the workers to turn on cellular telephone service on their Nextels. This gave each employee 600 to 900 minutes of airtime each month for less than $34, which was deducted from his/her paycheck.

9. The contractor increased the stand-by pay that his service technicians receive by 50%; 100% for holiday periods. (“Our technicians each provide after-hours emergency service on a rotating basis throughout the year,” says Ring. “Each tech stands by for a total of four or five weeks a year.”)

Get the picture by now? The list can go on and on, as the employees will attest.

“This is a pleasant place to come in,” says controller Dana Mortensen. “I like the people I work with and I like my job. Bob [Ring Sr.] and Bobby are great to work for. They gave me paid time off when my father-in-law passed away. They are flexible. I have two children and sometimes need to take time off if there are problems. I plan on being here as long as the company is here.”

Says Palaka, “I was out sick for a month and the company had no problem with my absence. They were more concerned with my health.”

Paying attention to hiring and training

Keeping employees happy may be Meyer & Depew’s strength, but there is a lot more to this firm. It dedicates as much time and effort into hiring and training employees as it does into retaining them. For instance, it recently held an open house for prospective associates that was attended by 18 people. The end result was offers to three attendees and two are now working in its service department.

“We also offer a finder’s fee to any of our existing associates that refer job candidates to us,” says Ring. “If the new associate successfully completes their 90-day probationary period, then the associate who recommended them receives a $500 finder’s fee.

“We paid out several thousand dollars in finder’s fees last year.”

In regard to training, field associates spent an average of 24 to 30 hours in training in 1999. The company received a $20,000 training grant from the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) and the New Jersey Department of Labor to provide relevant training.

“Using ABC’s Wheels of Learning program, we held several programs that were computer-based and allowed our associates to receive training via interactive multimedia programs that include testing to confirm their validity,” says Ring.

Some of the training programs include electrical troubleshooting, arc welding, rigging safety, forklift operator safety, computer training, and business training.

Some employees are taking it upon themselves to become more educated, like Rich Lang, fabrication supervisor. He has been with the company for 31 years and is finally “submitting” to learning a new field.

“I’m learning about computers on my own,” he says. “I’m planning on being here for another 10 or 11 years!”

Security through benefits, guarantees

Steady employment year-round is important at Meyer & Depew. The company takes steps to ensure consistent hours and meaningful work.

The company has a “Comp Time” program, which runs from March through October and gives field associates a half-hour of comp time in addition to the pay for each hour of overtime they work on Saturdays.

“The earned comp time can only be used during our off-peak period from November to February and can only be used in the event that we are so slow that we would ordinarily ask someone to take a few hours off,” said Ring. “We have been so busy the past several years that associates seldom used any of their accumulated comp time.”

Having steady work is good. Just ask the employees.

“Even when times are bad, this company keeps coming through,” says Rich Lang, fabrication supervisor. “They keep everybody employed. I’ve been here 31 years and have never been laid off. The owners always think about the employees.”

The company has annual evaluations and associates are paid based on their overall evaluation, which includes consideration of training received and certifications obtained.

“We meet formally with our technicians on a regular basis and informally with all of our associates on a daily basis,” says Ring. “Associates regularly make suggestions that improve efficiency in both the field and the office.”

Some of the benefits offered by Meyer & Depew Co. include participation in the Section 125 Cafeteria Plan, which allows workers to pay for their share of the health and dental insurance. The plan also includes a feature which allows workers to defer some of their weekly paycheck (free from federal and social security taxes) to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses and childcare expenses, if necessary.

The company offers a 401K investment plan, which allows workers to manage their portfolios via mail, telephone, or the Internet. They can choose from over 30 different investment options and the company will match contributions at a rate of 20%.

“We also provide annual year-end bonuses to our associates using a formula that is based upon their years of service and their regular compensation,” says Ring. “The longer they work for us and the more their regular earning, the larger their year-end bonus.”

Inventory control assistant manager Anthony Robinson is just glad to be a part of the Meyer & Depew team.

“I’m in control of what I do and I get rewarded for my work,” he says. “I started out as a parts runner and a situation arose where they needed me in the office [putting his career path on hold while helping the company] and they rewarded me as the ‘Employee of the Year.’ I want to work in field service and I wouldn’t even think of leaving.”

All of this care for the employee is paying off. Forty-four percent of the company’s associates have been with the company over five years and 32% over 10 years.

“This is one of the clearest signals that we are providing a secure and friendly work environment,” says Ring.

Case closed.

Sidebar: Just the facts - Meyer & Depew

Winning contractor: Meyer & Depew Co., Inc.

Owner: Bob Ring Sr.

Location: Kenilworth, NJ

Years in business: 47

Bulk of market: Commercial-industrial

Total revenue for 1999: $5 million

Total employees: 47

Total service technicians and installers: 29

Average annual hours employee spends in training: 24 to 30

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Cafeteria plan, group life insurance, co-op tool program, 401K with 20% match.

The News selected this contractor because: They try almost anything to keep employees, such as applying for a grant to offer new training. There’s no question that the employee is No. 1 here.