ONTARIO, CA — Ontario Refrig-eration, a commercial hvacr service organization here, has come a long way since starting out in 1958 servicing auto air conditioning. The company just concluded a banner 1999, with sales up by 20% over 1998, to just over $12 million.

“Managing our growth has been relatively easy because of the great people that we have working with us,” says company president Phil Talleur.

The contracting company also has offices in Glendale, San Diego, and Costa Mesa, and operates a fleet of 40 fully equipped service trucks. It recently added another 13, which will be on the road soon.

With utility competition growing and an increasing number of consolidators moving in, the hvacr market is becoming more competitive. How can a family-owned service organization prosper in today’s market?

“Anyone can go buy tools, a truck and equipment and try to offer service,” says Talleur. “It is the dedicated individuals that are part of the team and the quality of work they perform that makes the difference.”

Word of Mouth

The company’s attention to service has earned Ontario many long-term business relationships. In fact, a framed letter from The City of Hope, a medical facility and Ontario’s largest account, praises the contractor’s commitment to quality service.

Operations manager Scott Gray explains, “We surveyed and priced their facility without having had an account of that magnitude and scope of work before. We staffed and cleaned up the facility and put in the time necessary to ensure that the customer would be happy with our service.

“The first year, the account was not a good moneymaker for us. However, we did not let that detract from our obligation.

“In the second year of service, they had their Joint Chief Hospitals Operations Administration Audit (JCHOA). The JCHOA must certify a hospital in order for them to operate. The City of Hope received its highest rating ever in the area of environmental controls.”

Hire the Right People

According to Talleur, “We put a lot of effort into hiring the right people and look at prospective applicants very closely. We need people who can fit into our culture.”

The shortage of qualified technicians coupled with its rapid growth rate put Ontario under great pressure to hire people, but the company insists it will not lower its standards. It hired 20 new employees last year, but is still doing a lot of weekend work and running several crews back to back.

The contractor is very concerned with the morale of its associates, and holds several annual company events. The last two years they chartered a boat to take the associates fishing.

“It helps morale and breaks down the barriers between branches. They not only enjoy working together but playing together,” states Talleur.

“We like to retain our associates so that our customers have that consistency in service. A great part of what makes us successful is our staff and the rapport they build with the customers,” added Yvette Monceaux-McChessney, business systems manager.

Software Helps

The contractor’s operation is fully automated, including the use of business management software designed for service contractors.

Monceaux-McChessney says that programs like CONTRAC2 (Compusource Corp.) have “given us many management reports that have allowed us to enhance our business and ensure that we remain profitable.”

Software program accounting functions can prepare financial statements with great speed. But service agreement and dispatch functions may be still more critical to the contractor’s success.

With the Service Dispatch software module, a call can be tracked from the moment the customer calls until the job is complete. Some can even provide information such as the productivity of a technician or the quantity of completed maintenance.

“My tech hours report lets me know how many open maintenance hours I have, so I can track how much work we have out there, and how the staff is performing,” says Gray.

He also runs Agreement Performance Reports (APRs) and audits them on a regular basis. The report tracks performance vs. budgeted numbers, and shows how a particular service agreement is performing. When the APRs are run by renewal date, it flags the jobsites that need to be renewed.

Another service tool is the Detailed Tasking program, which provides a customizable list of duties for the technician to perform.

“Having the tasking program and the ability to customize it so that the techs know what to do and have it in writing has been invaluable for us, and gives us an advantage over companies that do not have detailed tasking,” says Gray.

Estimation, Communication

Rob Blumenshine, projects manager, uses a Job Cost function to set up the jobsite, budget for each job, and analyze such information as estimates vs. committed costs vs. actual costs to ensure that the jobs remain profitable.

The contractor also recently integrated a Digital Paging function with its Nextel two-way radios and phones. This enables them to transmit service calls entered through the Service Dispatch system directly to the associate that will be handling the call, improving dispatcher efficiency and eliminating radio time. Ontario can also locate any truck using the Teletrac system, which is installed in all of its vans.

All of this has enabled Ontario to manage its growth, which can be the hardest balancing act for an up-and-coming contracting company.

However, it is the company’s culture, integrity, and commitment to service that are establishing Ontario Refrigeration as a leader in the Southern California service industry. They are not following the path of other service organizations, but are forging their own.

Muller is with compusource; www.compusource.com.

Publication date: 08/28/2000