Wayne Reynolds, president
LARGO, Fla. - Here are a few ideas on how to keep service technicians happy on the job.

1. Pay techs 10 percent to 15 percent more than the competition.

2. Provide them daily training on the latest products and techniques.

3. Send techs to regional or national training a couple of times a year - and foot the bill.

4. Provide uniforms and service vans.

5. Assure techs that they will not have to do more than four calls a day. (Of course, expect them to do a good job on each call.)

The five suggestions noted above are just some of the methods used by Tiger's One Hourâ„¢ Air Conditioning & Heating, and the company's dedication to its employees has made the company the South Mid-Atlantic/South-east Regional winner in The News' 2003 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest.

Company Background

Tiger's is a small company, with a total of 10 employees, of which three are service techs and two are installers. Recent annual revenue was about $1 million. But it does have plans to grow, with hopes of reaching 35 employees and $5 million in revenue by 2006.

The reasons for such projected growth are twofold. The company is right in the midst of the rapidly growing Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area of Florida, and it is part of the One Hourâ„¢ business of VenVest Inc., a joint venture organization that encourages orderly growth by independent contractors.

Located halfway between Tam-pa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Tiger's serves primarily Pinellas County, a growing population area of 1 million. The company's market is 99 percent residential and that, said administrative manager June Ingram, ranges from 800-square-foot mobile trailers to 15,000-square-foot homes to $1 million beachfront condos.

In many respects, the company has a longtime and loyal customer base. It can trace its founding back to 1972 as Wayne Reynolds Air Conditioning. Reynolds, who today is Tiger's president, had been a service tech as long as he can remember. Even after he formed his own company, he said he never had more than three employees and continued to devote much of his time to service work.

But, in 1999, he began to ask himself, "How much longer do I want to keep jumping up into attics?" That year he attended an AirTime 500 conference in Las Vegas and decided to link up with AirTime, later converting to One Hour when VenVest offered that option. His company took the name Tiger strictly for its ear- and eye-catching potential, and the first wave of trucks had tiger stripes. In 2003, VenVest gave Tiger's the chance to exclusively service Pinellas County.

"I had never understood how big business worked, so we had to learn as we went along," Reynolds said. "But I received excellent support. All decisions don't have to be made internally. And there is a certain accountability."

The switchover meant that Reynolds had to assure many of his customers that he would remain in charge and he estimated that some 95 percent of his customers stayed with him through the transition. (In fact, a number of those customers took note of the change and even asked about the tiger stripes when that aspect of the logo was dropped.)

Gregg Bowman, operations manager

Finding Technicians

Tiger's is willing to search the nation to find top-of-the-line technicians. It recently linked up with HVAC Agent as part of the process.

An obvious lure is the climate of Florida's Gulf Coast. Then there are those more concrete incentives. "We pay our techs to exceed that of all our competitors in the area by at least 10 to 15 percent," said Gregg Bowman, operations manager. "We have also offered them unparalleled performance incentives that make them the highest-paid techs in the whole county."

The company's desire to do a nationwide search equates to its desire to find technicians who are ready to be productive from day one. While they don't need refrigeration or plumbing skills, they do need expertise in installing, repairing, and replacing residential air conditioning.

But that doesn't preclude on-going training in an industry where change is constant.

"We train every day for about 45 minutes to an hour, and every six months each employee travels to a regional or national training site for about three or four days for more extensive, in-depth training," said Bowman.

On top of that, supervisors drop in on technicians and installers in the field to "evaluate their performance and look for ways to help them perform to a higher level," said Bowman.

Technician Specialist 1 Charles Pollock prepares for a service call. (Photos by Ernest Sigmon.)

The Busy Season

Florida and summer equates to heavy-duty air conditioning needs. But Tiger's is committed to keeping calls per technician to no more than four a day.

"We have our technicians trained to take time on their calls and do a thorough evaluation on each one," said Bowman. "If we rush them, it all breaks down and the customer loses by not getting as thorough of a job. We lose by having one more callback and an un-happy customer, and the tech loses by not making the most of the call."

To sort it all out - especially during the busy season - the company has come up with a priority call ranking. First priority goes to its Club members, made up of customers who pay a monthly fee. They not only get first attention on emergency repairs, but also discounts on all work done by the company. Priority 6 calls are for homeowners with equipment less than five years old that was installed by another contractor.

"By doing this, we have always been able to control our techs' hours from becoming overbearing," said Bowman. "In the rare situations where our techs do have a rough couple of days, we can usually provide some lighter days to offset it and give them time to catch their breath."

The Club also allows the spacing out of work throughout the year. "Part of Club membership is an annual super tuneup during the off season in which our techs spend 1-1/2 to 2 hours cleaning a customer's system and adjusting and fine-tuning its operation," he said. "Doing this enables us to give our technicians work during slow spells and still provide a great service to our customers."

Another aspect of Tiger's is different pay to technicians for different levels of service. For example, they are paid more for repairing or replacing condenser coils, heat exchangers, and suction accumulators, and for moving condensing units, than they are for calls involving the cleaning and adjusting of blowers, drain line, ignition components, and the like. But all technicians are expected to be skilled at all levels and jobs are assigned based on need.

"Employees who receive additional training and certification increase their ability to perform their work in a more efficient manner, thus increasing their earnings," said Bowman.

Additional monetary incentives include biannual reviews, shared bonus pools based on meeting company goals, and bonuses that can be obtained "on a periodic basis by scoring the best score out of the group on pop quizzes," said Bowman.

To all that, the company tags on seven paid holidays, up to three weeks of vacation after five years, a company truck to take home, company-provided uniforms, tool purchase/reimbursement programs, 401(k) program, shared bonus pool, and sales commissions.

There are 40 percent discounts for service or installs done at a tech's home and for 10 friends and family members, with additional 25 percent discounts for 25 additional family members and friends.

The Future

Currently, business is about 80 percent installation and 20 percent service, but as the company grows, Reynolds expects that ratio to move closer together.

And one important selling point: Tiger's promises a customer that a tech will arrive within an agreed-upon one-hour time frame. So, if the promised time is 9 a.m. and 9:59 a.m. passes without a tech, the call is free.

One objective for Tiger's is to become a Model Center within the One Hour organization. (Currently there are none in the South Mid-Atlantic/Southeast Region). This is a recognition accorded exceptional local contractor members.

It's all part of Reynolds' drive to be the best, so that Tiger's can continue to grow and build on its long and respected history on Florida's Gulf Coast.

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Winning contractor:Tiger's One Hourâ„¢ Air Conditioning & Heating

Owner/president: Wayne Reynolds

Location: Largo, Fla.

Years in business: 32

Bulk of market: 99 percent residential

Total revenue for 2003: $1 million

Total employees: 10

Total service technicians and installers: 5

Average hours employees spend in training: 15 to 20 hours a month

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: 401(k) plan; bonus pools; truck and uniforms; paid training including travel discounts on services and installation for self, as well as family and friends; and sales commissions.

Industry association and contractor group members: In addition to being a One Hour franchisee, Tiger's is a member of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association Inc. (RACCA).

The News selected this contractor because: Tiger's is a small company with plans to grow. It strives to keep its technicians the highest paid in the county and offers regular training.

Publication date: 01/26/2004