Employees of Morris-Jenkins Co. line up for an early morning breakfast that is offered the first Friday of each month. (Photos by Mike Howard.)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - On the first Friday morning of each month, a portion of the warehouse at Morris-Jenkins becomes a cookout corner. Frying pans and kettles are set atop gas-fired grills. General manager Alton Powell, service manager Mike Burazer, and installation manager Dave Hearne rustle up ham, eggs, bacon, sausage and, of course (this being the South, after all) plenty of grits. Virtually the entire 99-person workforce takes part in the feast.

After the meal, managers bring employees up to date on what's happening in the company and recognize employees for their accomplishments. Positive customer comments are read and there is even an ongoing competition to see which employee (or group of employees) can do the best rendition of the company jingle. Employees have performed a rap version of the jingle, sung it in different languages, and even danced to it.

All of these practices work together to keep everyone in the company informed and help build morale.

At the first such session of 2005, Alton Powell offered comments to the staff that in many ways reflect the approach of the Charlotte, N.C., heating and air conditioning contracting company.

"We don't just want to be the biggest," he told employees. "We want to be the best. We want you to earn the most money you can, and we'll provide you all the support we can. We want you to take care of our customers and then we'll take care of you."

The Friday festivities and meeting form just one part of the equation that resulted in the selection of Morris-Jenkins as the winner of The News' 2004 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest for the Southeast region.

Owner Dewey Jenkins purchased Morris Heating and Cooling in 1990 and rechristened it Morris-Jenkins Co.

Company Provides Perks

But there is much more. Service technicians work four 10-hour days and are given three days off each week. This was done to avoid the technician burnout that happens when techs are expected to work long hours at peak times. This gives technicians guaranteed time off. And while overtime is offered, it is not required. There are no layoffs during slow times. That time is used for accelerated training.

The company provides incentives such as restaurant gift certificates, free tickets to NBA basketball and NFL football games, and, of special interest to many in this hotbed of racing, free tickets to NASCAR events. (The famous Lowe's Motor Speedway is just across town.)

Employees can earn an extra two weeks of vacation by having no unscheduled absences during the busy summer months. The company offers an incentive pay plan that has helped retain many of its installers for more than 12 years.

A company 401(k) plan helps employees save for their retirement. Plus, employees are recognized at company meetings with awards and praise when they accomplish a goal or go out of their way to help a customer.

According to operations manager Anne Gannon, "We provide a friendly environment to grow in, where people are not criticized for their mistakes but are encouraged to use them as learning experiences. Our philosophy is that happy employees create happy customers, which creates a profitable and healthy company."

Creator of much of the positive atmosphere is the owner, Dewey Jenkins. He began as a certified public accountant with a national accounting firm before venturing into real estate development.

Tired of working with bankers and financiers, he liquidated his real estate holdings and began looking for a service business. "I just wanted a business that served customers nose-to-nose and neighbor-to-neighbor," he said.

In 1990, Jenkins purchased Morris Heating and Cooling, which had been founded by Luther Morris 32 years earlier. Morris retired and the name was changed to Morris-Jenkins Co. The company had two technicians and six installers when Jenkins acquired it. Over the past dozen or so years, it has grown close to 100 employees, with annual revenues of $12.5 million.

Jenkins believes growth is necessary to provide opportunities for his employees. "If a business isn't growing, it just isn't a fun place to work," he said.

One of the company's goals is to have the best-compensated workforce in the industry. Growth is a vital part of this process, and the company just completed an expansion of its 18,000-square-foot office and warehouse.

The owner and general manager keep the company plugged into the industry through membership in the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and AirTime 500.

The company also makes an effort to stay connected to the community. After seeing many situations where customers couldn't afford heat because of a temporary crisis, the employees established a Warm Heat Fund several years ago.

Employees have money withheld from their paycheck weekly, and each December that money goes to a local organization that helps needy people pay their heating bills. "This year's contribution totaling $4,614 was our largest ever," said accounting manager Kent Weaver.

While finding good technicians and installers is always a challenge, Morris-Jenkins puts the main emphasis on interpersonal skills. Technical skills can be taught, but good communication abilities are a must. Morris-Jenkins uses several types of recruiting sources, but the existing employees have proven to be the most productive source of referrals.

To provide a steady workload for technicians year-round, the company markets heavily through TV, radio, newspaper, Yellow Pages, and direct mail. They also get a great deal of business through word of mouth.

Preparing for the day are David Dupuy, Jim Inglish, and Nick Reilly

Training Is Key

Training is heavily emphasized at the company and is performed by managers and local wholesaler Coastline, as well as manufacturers who are more than happy to send trainers to the company when close to 60 technicians and installers will be in attendance. The company has also started Morris-Jenkins University, a training program with an expanded curriculum that will be required of all technicians. Henry Snelson, the company's first full-time trainer, heads up the program.

Through constant training, the company strives to improve each employee's self-esteem and increase each person's value to the marketplace. "In order for a job to be satisfying, there must be opportunities for self-improvement and advancement," said Jenkins.

The ongoing training is just one facet of a work environment that breeds satisfied employees. As sales manager David Smith pointed out, "We know that if our employees are happy, they will go the extra mile to make our customers happy, and that's the foundation of a good company."

Sidebar: Just The Facts

Winning contractor:Morris-Jenkins Co.

Owner: Dewey Jenkins

Location: Charlotte, N.C.

Years in business: 47 years

Bulk of market: 100 percent residential service and retrofit

Total sales for 2004: $12.5 million

Total employees: 99

Total service technicians and installers: 57

Average hours employees spend in training: 6 per month

Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: 401(k); flexible spending account; credit union; bonuses; merit pay increases; vehicles taken home at night; up to four weeks of vacation; tickets to area entertainment and sporting events.

Industry association and contractor group members: Air Conditioning Contractors of America (including membership in an ACCA MIX® Group), AirTime 500

The News selected this contractor because: Morris-Jenkins Co. gives technicians three days off each week (with techs working four 10-hour days); offers overtime, but does not require it; and has a no layoff policy with slow times used for accelerated training.

Publication date: 02/07/2005