Jamie Flynt from customer service and Jim White look over installation jobs planned for the day.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Employees of All Seasons 500 Heating & Air appreciate the family atmosphere promoted by co-owners Philip Dutton and Larry Nevels. But their care for people doesn't stop inside the walls of the contracting firm.

"We do a lot with the community," said Jamie Flynt, office manager. "We sponsor the local sports teams, school drama departments, and national charities. Last year we donated $100 of every installation to a local school due to the decrease in educational funding from the state. Over $18,500 was contributed."

In another example, when a customer - a local police officer - was killed on duty, All Seasons contributed to a fund set up to help the officer's family.

Because of its commitment to helping its own employees as well as others in the local Huntsville community, All Seasons 500 Heating & Air is the South/Southwest Region winner in The News' 2003 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest.

Jerry McBride, operations manager, measures sheet metal for a ductwork installation.

Company Background

The company began as one of three HVAC businesses in three separate communities owned by Nevels. The three carried the same moniker - All Seasons. Nevels eventually sold the other two businesses and established Huntsville All Seasons 500 as a stand-alone residential service company. He added "500" to the name after joining national contractor group AirTime 500 in 2000.

All three locations had originally been members of Contractors Success Group (CSG). Co-owner and manager Dutton said that the company has benefited from its membership in a national contractor organization.

"AirTime provides good management training, as well as technician training," he said.

Ever since the company took advantage of the training available to them, the company's business has increased 10 percent to 15 percent annually, said Dutton.

Nevels retired from day-to-day ownership two years ago, and Dutton now runs the business. Nevels drops by the office on a regular basis to keep in touch.

Both Dutton and Nevels came from teaching backgrounds, and this experience has helped them lay the groundwork for training the company's technicians and installers - a total of eight.

One of the mottoes of AirTime 500 is "fixed right or it's free." All Seasons 500 embraces that motto, and Dutton is very cognizant of the costs of not getting the job done right the first time. That fact, combined with his teaching background (eight years in the local school district), has set the tone for the importance of technician training.

"Larry and I both come from a teaching background, and we felt that technician training was very important," said Dutton. "We have to live up to the motto ‘fixed right or it's free.' We can't afford to go back too many times for free. We can't afford not to have our technicians trained."

Ken Atkins, comfort consultant, relies on several years of experience when giving his customers “comfort options.”

Training Is Key

Being part of AirTime 500 gives technicians the opportunity to attend national training classes, averaging 40 to 60 hours per year. In addition to that, company training adds up to one hour each week.

All Seasons 500 has been sending technicians to classes offered by Alabama Power, Tennessee Valley Authority, and manufacturers on a regular basis. The company pays 100 percent of travel and accommodation expenses during training, as well as regular wages while attending out-of-town classes.

Because of the company's commitment to helping each other out, "normal" training also includes learning each other's jobs.

"We are small enough to still be involved with each other and we try to cross-train everyone so that people don't feel they are doing the same thing day after day," said Donna Lanier, general manager. "This helps people in the office understand what technicians are going through on the job.

"Everyone respects each other's position, and if there is someone who doesn't do that, they aren't here very long."

Phil Dutton, the company’s owner (center, eighth from left), is a former teacher who believes in training for each of his All Seasons 500 Heating & Air employees.
In order to find young people interested in the trade, All Seasons 500 encourages the Huntsville Center of Technology to enter into co-op programs. Dutton also relies on word-of-mouth.

"We talk to our different suppliers and ask them if they know any young people who might be interested in learning the air conditioning business," he said. "We don't get employees out of a newspaper ad.

"We typically like to hire young people who have never been in this business. They haven't developed any bad habits. People who work for other companies tend to bring these bad habits, and if you don't watch them, they teach these habits to your people. We bring them in, offer them training and a job path, and hope they stay with us for 5, 10, 15 years.

"Most guys start out as installers, and after a year or so they work their way into maintenance and service and then into repair. It takes about five years to become a complete service technician. These people can make $60,000 to $70,000 a year, but the problem is that young kids today expect to make that right away and don't understand the time it takes to work up to that."

Father-and-son combinations include (from left) Jerry and Jonathan McBride, Chris and Jim White. (Photos by Jenny Green.)

Having Fun

One way All Seasons 500 keeps its people involved and happy is by holding monthly parties. The money for these parties, which could be a pizza party, baseball game, or whitewater rafting, comes from a "party fund," money received from manufacturer rebates and material refunds.

Lanier keeps employees and customers informed with a newsletter, which features industry news, employee and customer outings, and even recipes. She knows that even the little things are important to the business.

"It's the small things that count, like having clean hands and wearing booties," she said. "It is absolutely amazing how many customers will call or write about the care our technicians take. It's amazing how many referrals we have gotten from our customer base. And if we have an unhappy customer, we go overboard to make sure they are happy - whatever it takes."

The spirit of sharing goes one step further, too. All Seasons 500 wants its employees to know the cost of doing business and how profitability affects everyone's paycheck. "We share our books with our employees," said Dutton. "They know on a monthly basis if we are doing good or bad, and they understand what it takes to make a profit. It keeps them satisfied with the pay and benefits they have."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Winning contractor:All Seasons 500 Heating & Air

Owner: Philip Dutton and Larry Nevels

Location: Huntsville, Ala.

Years in business: 9

Bulk of market: 100 percent residential

Total revenue for 2003: $1.54 million

Total employees: 15

Total service technicians and installers: 8

Average hours employees spend in training: Formal training: 40 to 60 hours annually; company training: one hour per week.

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: IRA retirement plan with 3 percent company match; family fitness memberships; bonus incentive package; communication equipment; flu shots; paid vacations; paid training; paid uniforms; paid holidays; commission on maintenance agreements; awards and recognition programs.

Industry association and contractor group members: AirTime 500, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and Alabama Roofing, Sheet Metal, Heating & Air Conditioning Contractors Association.

The News selected this contractor because: All Seasons 500 Heating & Air shows its commitment to its employees by offering top-notch training and fun events. But just as important, it involves the entire company in the community, whether that means providing aid to people in need or volunteering to help the local school district.

Publication date: 01/26/2004