CULVER CITY, CA — Fifteen years ago, Gili Yehzkel left Israel to come to the United States “for pleasure and travel.”

Apparently, he liked what he saw.

“Six months later I decided to stay in California,” he says. “I stayed with relatives and a family friend hired me as an air conditioning technician at his company. I was single and worked for him for almost three years.”

Yehzkel opted for a career in hvac because he learned about the trade at Bosmat, a trade school in Israel. By October of 1989, he braved it by starting his own business, Continental Refrigeration, Heating, and Air, Inc. Today it is a $6 million company, and the ever-active Yehzkel has visions of tripling that output in five years.

“That is a guarantee and I am working on it,” he promises.

Yehzkel made a step in that direction late last year, moving into a newer 13,000-sq-ft corporate office facility located on the corner of what is considered one of the top 10 busiest intersections in California: La Cienega and Wash-ington Boulevards. According to one real estate survey, 355,000 cars reportedly pass by this intersection — and Continental — each and every day.

Getting people’s attention is important, Yehzkel agrees, but it’s more important to provide quality products and service. He drills this philosophy into each of his 25 installers, 15 technicians, five sales-people, and 15 office personnel.

“The most difficult obstacles the first few years of business was getting the right staff and competing against other companies that have been in business longer than us,” he says. “But over the years, people started to get familiar with our name and our quality work and our experienced staff. They became happy with us and told others.”

Experience Helps

It doesn’t hurt to have experience on your side. Commercial department sales representative Jeff Hanley, who owned his own contracting business for 28 years, joined Continental “because I saw what he [Yehzkel] was doing.” Comfort consultant Ken Burke quit Lennox five years ago.

“I watched Gili grow,” said Burke. “I saw the professionalism here. There wasn’t any other place I wanted to work.”

Meanwhile, comfort consultant Trent Reed has 14 years of sales experience behind him.

“I found a home here,” says Reed, who started out as an installer and worked at three other companies. “But I like it here because Continental is just trying to raise the bar. That’s how we differentiate ourselves. We are not selling price. We’re selling quality and the best service.”

Chimed in Burke, “With us, there’s just one less thing to worry about. If we have a mission statement, that’s it.”

From a progressive showroom to an impressive three-page proposal booklet, it is obvious that Yehzkel and his employees have been thinking and working together as a team. Regarding the proposal booklet, it’s what Continental leaves with each customer seeking information on its services and pricing.

“It spells out exactly what we will do for them, what kind of equipment we recommend to install. Everything is there in black-and-white for them to see and review,” says Reed. “It’s a very professional and thorough presentation. It’s just another value-added touch. We’re selling quality.”

To keep on the cutting edge, Yehzkel only hires experienced tradesmen and certified technicians.

“We have an ad in the newspaper almost all year long,” he says. “We have ads at the trade schools and have a few banners on our property. It’s important to get the right people.”

However, he admits it is getting harder and harder to keep this goal.

“I believe in hiring certified techs, and that’s all we hire to our company,” he says. “This just puts us, again, heads above the rest. But, it is very difficult to find help in our area. We want the best for our company and it is hard sometimes to get it. I enjoy the trade but what makes it difficult is finding good employees.”

According to Hanley, Con-tinental may receive 40 applicants, but from this amount it may hire only one who meets the company’s strict criteria.

“We look at everything, from experience to attitude,” says Hanley. “We want people who are going to fit in and really care about what they do. We strongly believe that.”

Leading By Example

No one can accuse the boss of sloughing off. Yehzkel says he puts in approximately 70 hours a week.

“Sometimes I know he’s here until one in the morning or later,” says Hanley. “I know he puts in the hours. Some bosses may cut out early, but not Gili.”

According to Yehzkel, you lead by example. “The first few years in business were easier compared to these days,” he says. “At that time it was my wife [Galit] along with two other techs. I ran all the service calls, sales, and installations. My wife helped with all of the office work, telephones, accounting, and everything else. Today, we mainly manage the business from the corporate offices in Culver City, but I sometimes still go on service calls and sales visits at night or weekends.

“My wife still is a partner at Continental and puts in approximately 40 hours a week. She sometimes wants me at home with our kids [ages 8, 5, and 20 months], but overall she understands that in order to succeed, you have to be in the business long hours.”

With 4,000 in hand, service agreements are the company’s bread and butter.

“We get business from that all year round,” says Yehzkel. “This is important to get and maintain. It’s what keeps the better contractors in business.”

Because Yehzkel has plans, he is not interested in selling out.

“I think consolidation is right for companies that are not doing as well as us,” he says. “We are making a lot of money and I don’t think I can make as much money by selling the business. I would not live the same lifestyle as we live today.

“Continental is above the competition because this is a family-owned business. The staff at Continental cares and provides good customer service. All of us here make all the efforts to make the customers and in-house persons happy.”

This report provides information for contractors living in the West/Pacific region of the United States. This includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. If you have information from this region, please contact Mark Skaer at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 01/15/2001

Sidebar: Hint: Offer Ductless Cooling and Heating

CULVER CITY, CA — Continental Refrigeration, Heating, and Air, Inc. owner Gili Yehzkel believes having ductless cooling and heating units available for customers is another feather in his contracting cap.

“You are always out there to help the customer,” says Yehzkel “Most people in the United States do not know about this form of cooling and heating. However, it does have some unique applications and uses around here.”

Yehzkel offers Samsung and estimates that he sells 50 units a year. In his estimation, Samsung units are the best. In his eyes, they are the most quiet, compact, and affordable.

“I was in a house the other day and the first thing that came to my mind was Samsung,” says comfort consultant Trent Reed. “This customer was having problems getting one area of the house cool. With a ductless mini-split, we were able to solve this problem.”

That’s what’s so nice about the product, says comfort consultant Ken Burke. When he explains to customers that Continental can solve any of their heating or cooling issues, they respond, “You can do that?”

“That’s where we can provide that value-added edge,” says Burke. “You can be the first ones with a new idea. Having Samsung along, you can supply the customer with comfort to places that couldn’t be reached before.”

“They work well in a computer room, too,” says commercial department sales representative Jeff Hanley. “It does not take much to sell them. When they see what a ductless unit can do — and the price is affordable — the customer usually does not balk.”

Publication date: 01/15/2001 Web date: 06/18/2001