SMYRNA, GA — Combining a sense for business with a sense of family is a real art form for contractors.

It may be possible among small companies with only a few employees serving a limited geographical area. But what about multi-million dollar companies with several hundred employees serving a number of states?

One such large contracting firm that has apparently found that balance is Aircond of Smyrna, GA. With $42 million in revenue last year and close to 300 employees performing work at some 3,100 sites in a half dozen states, it still prides itself on creating “a safe, family-oriented environment for our associates.”

The claim is backed by those employees in testimonial letters, in an average retention rate of 10 years, a turnover rate of less than 2%, and a scheduling format that “has not laid off a technician due to lack of work in 63 years.”

Because of these and other aspects, Aircond was selected as one of seven regional winners in The News’ 2000 “Best Contractor to Work For” contest.

In The Beginning

The company was founded in 1937 by Lewis Barnes, and was one of the first companies to install air conditioning in the South.

“In the 1930s, having air conditioning was a luxury that Atlanta businesses would use to entice customers through the door,” said second-generation president Alan Barnes Sr. “My father was one of the first to sell it to Atlanta businesses. He would catch the trolley, toolbox in hand, and service the units he installed.”

In the 1970s, the company expanded outside the Atlanta area and changed its name from Carrier Atlanta to Aircond Corp. Lewis Barnes passed away in 1966. Alan Barnes Sr. deferred to an interim president until assuming leadership in 1982. Third-generationer Alan Barnes Jr. worked his way through the ranks as project engineer, salesperson, and manager, and was named chief operating officer in 1999.

The company has offices in 11 cities and is responsible for more than 550,000 tons of refrigeration serving 160 million sq ft of commercial and industrial space. Aircond recently entered into a relationship with Consolidated Engineering Services in order to “grow in new geographic regions with improved services.” The move will help employees as well, said Barnes Sr., providing a means “to give our associates access to additional benefits and growth opportunities.”

Benefits, Family Values

Aircond draws and retains employees with a mix of good wages, healthcare benefits, training, job security, and what Barnes Sr. calls “family values.”

“Compensation surveys are conducted regularly to ensure that technicians are paid competitively, and a technician salary administration program is in place to ensure that the progression of hourly wages are in line with each person’s skill and performance,” said Barnes Jr.

Healthcare includes dental, vision, disability, and life insurance.

Training is extensive. “We spend an average of $1,200 each year per technician for training,” said Barnes. In Phase One, entry-level techs are given a self-study course lasting two to three years and requiring about 240 hours to complete. Once that is completed, techs continue training in Phase Two for two days each month during the winter at a 1,000-sq-ft training facility at the Smyrna headquarters. That phase takes about 250 hours to complete. They are also encouraged — and financially supported — to attend manufacturer training and they take part in safety and customer relation seminars.

The emphasis on safety has earned the company a number of awards from such organizations as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and CNA Insurance.

Job security is also considered a strength of the company. “We carefully plan and manage our associates and customers,” said Barnes Jr. “Approximately 50% of each technician’s time is dedicated to contract work, which guarantees work during slower winter months and protects technicians from overload during busy summer months.”

There is also one other tradition among hvacr contractors that has been a great success at Aircond. “Our company picnic is the highlight of the year, where we give special recognition to each associate who has reached a milestone of employment.” One such milestone is years of service and a “number of associates have been with us for more than 40 years.”

Compelling Testimonials

The excellent relationship between the company and its workers was reflected in the testimonials submitted by a number of employees. They came in the form of personally written, signed letters. Here are some examples:

  • “I have been with Aircond for the past three years, the best three years of employment anyone could hope for. I have been in the hvac business for 20 years. Of all the places I’ve worked, Aircond is the best.”
  • “Seven years ago I was struck with a debilitating disease that hampered me from fully performing my job responsibilities. It was six months before I could be truly productive again. At no time did I feel abandoned by the company. In fact, just the opposite.”
  • “I have been approached by other service companies and offered more money. I came to the conclusion that I was working for the best service company in Atlanta and did not leave.”
  • “I am entering my 11th year at Aircond and have received more training than I could have imagined, and still am receiving training.”

  • Summing It Up

    “Aircond’s associates are trusted, respected, supported, and cared for — a combination that yields some of the most highly trained, customer-committed professionals in the industry,” concluded Alan Barnes Jr.

    “I feel honored and privileged to be working with the finest people in the industry. Our excellent people, combined with our new affiliation with Consolidated Engineering Services, will take us places in the future we never even dreamed of.”

    Sounds like a win-win-win for Aircond, its employees, and its customers.

    Just the Facts Aircond

  • Winning contractor: Aircond
  • Owner: Alan Barnes Sr.
  • Location: Smyrna, GA
  • Years in business: 63
  • Bulk of market: 50% commercial, 50% industrial
  • Total revenue for 2000: $42 million
  • Total number of employees: 300
  • Total service technicians and installers: 158 technicians, 42 installers
  • Average annual hours employee spends in training: 100
  • Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Company-paid training; “salary continuation” plan; dental, vision, disability, and life insurance; paid holidays; and annual company picnic.
  • The News selected this contractor because: The company shows a balance between business sense and sense of family. It has not laid off a technician due to lack of work in 63 years. The company’s average employee retention rate is 10 years, and its turnover rate is less than 2%.

    Publication date 02/26/2001

    Web date: 06/18/2001