Never mind that Simon Cowell would have had a field day with the collective vocals. This was not an American Idol audition.
"Do they always do this, or are they doing it just because someone's here?" was the question.
There was no hesitation from general manager Geno Gruber.
"Oh, yeah," was his quick reply. "Every time."
Wait a minute - grown men singing and joking with each other? And all were present and accounted for before the sun was up, and smiling before the coffee was done brewing.
"It's just a great place to work," technician Steven Holt said later, while prepping his truck for the day's work ahead. "There are all good people here. You have all the opportunity in the world here."
If first impressions are indeed important, then the team at Gallagher's Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. certainly set the bar. The above scenario took place before the start of what occurs every Thursday morning - training. Training is one of the many benefits offered by the 100 percent residential service and replacement company in a small community in the Northern Sacramento Valley.
On this day, 10-year employee and technician Chuck Crossland provided the basics of variable-speed motors to his attentive co-workers. Gruber spent the last few minutes of the one-hour session handling any of the crowd's concerns or issues.
Then, in true Gallagher's fashion, owner Tim Gallagher had to throw a little humor into the mix before class was dismissed.
Sales manager Jim Garey was called to the front to accept a belated Christmas gift. It was an item that Gruber indicated his karate partner needed.
Smelling an obvious prank, Garey was not shocked when he opened the package. The gift was an athletic cup - and, of course, it was a size fit for a small tyke.
"We try to have a blast here," said Gruber with a smile.
Those are just some of the reasons Gallagher's Heating & Air Conditioning was selected as winner of The News' 2004 "Best Contractor To Work For" contest for the West-Pacific region.
No One Sick Or Tired NowSuch was not the scene seven years ago. Tim Gallagher was not a happy man in the late 1990s. Sure, he had a $1 million business on his hands, but it had nearly taken everything out of him. He was zapped. Going to work was not fun but a headache.
"The work was increasing, but the satisfaction level was decreasing," is how he put it. "I was sick and tired of being sick and tired."
It was at about this time that Gallagher heard an industry consultant speak at a function. It was like he was addressing him personally, according to the 43-year-old contractor.
"It was like a light bulb went on," said Gallagher, sitting behind the desk in his office decorated with photos of his wife Loreea and his four-year-old daughter Fallyn.
Instead of doing everything and anything, Gallagher opted to bring aboard needed help. He persuaded longtime friend Gruber to quit managing restaurants in the area and help him manage his business.
It may have been one of his best moves - along with finally joining an association, AirTime 500. The two helped propel Gallagher's into the $4 million-plus juggernaut it is today.
Gallagher was most humble about accepting The News' honor. "There are a whole lot of people that have made me what I am today - and, they know who they are," he said.
"It's come to the point now that I have one specific job, and that is to take care of my customers and my employees. That's it. Over the last four years, it has not been about me. It's been about them."
Referring to his customers and employees, Gallagher added, "If I take care of them, they'll take care of me and my family."
"First, we began enabling our techs to be the highest paid in our area. Our techs earn between $60,000 and $95,000 a year.
"Second, we bought new vans ,and we continue to keep them in clean, great-looking, safe, and reliable condition.
"Third, we started spending more time in training. We spend three hours a week on training, plus we have consultants, vendors, and manufacturer reps come in once or twice a month to give new perspectives on products and communication skills.
"Lastly, we farm our own techs. When we see an install helper with the attributes we look for in a tech, we educate them for maintenance and then groom them for service. Half of our techs had never worked in this industry before we employed them."
Gruber is a firm believer in attitude. It's why Gallagher's has a thorough hiring process now, all designed to bring in people that fit into the company's "new and improved" working environment right from the start. Gruber believes if you put the effort upfront in the hiring process, it pays off in the end.
"I can't believe how some contractors just take in people without drug testing or a background check," he said. "We are serious about these things. We're really picky. We want people who will fit into our group."
Rebecca Kendrick had to go through two weeks of training in order to learn Gallagher's way of answering the phones and handling customers.
"I was surprised they gave me that much training," confessed Kendrick, in between phone calls with technicians and customers. However, she recognizes and appreciates its value. "It definitely helped in my job performance," she said.
Nothing But Positive CommentsGallagher now understands that if you supply training for your employees, it benefits not only the workers but the company's bottom line. During the last 12 months, Gallagher employees have averaged 216 hours of training - including personal growth training.
"There are great opportunities here," stated Crossland, who has been with the company since the age of 17. Under Gallagher's wing, Crossland soaked up as much as he could and has transformed from a teenage broom-pusher to a $85,000-a-year senior technician - who, by the way, is shooting to make $95,000 in 2005.
"The money is always nice," he confessed, "but here they treat you right, too. You are not just a guy with a wrench. You are part of a family."
Paul Young, who has been with the company for more than four years, is sorry he did not join the ranks earlier. "I worked for a lot of different companies," he said, "but this is the best by far. I am able to be honest with the customers. I get the freedom to do what needs to be done."
Just how is the company honest with the customers?
"Nothing gets sold here that does not need to be sold," Young answered, weighing his words carefully. "Not everywhere I've worked has it been that way. That's a big reason why I came here."
To sweeten the pot, the company strives to keep each tech's workload manageable.
"Our techs only run 3.5 calls a day," said Gruber. "We believe that the only way to properly serve a client is to serve the people that see our clients. Keeping them fresh helps us achieve that goal."
With nearly 2,000 service agreements (they are called Shamrock Club members) in hand - an astounding feat considering the size of the company - techs are kept busy.
"For a rural area, we go all over," said installer Quinn O'Rourke, who gladly stepped away from an up-and-down career in construction to settle in with Gallagher's team. "I like it a lot. I am learning and everyone is willing to help."
"We do not put a ceiling on techs earning potential by placing them on an hourly wage. Instead, we pay them piece rate," said Gruber.
"We believe that when a homeowner fully understands all of the choices in home comfort and energy savings, they more often than not take the technician's recommendation," he said.
"Combining piece rate with 216 hours of paid training has enabled our techs to earn from 12 percent to 19 percent more than their previous year's wages."
This explains, in part, the day's early-morning joyous chorus.
Spare No CostWhen it comes to entertaining his troops, Gallagher spares no expense. For the 2004 Christmas party, for instance, Mrs. Gallagher had a great time converting the office building into a sleek Western saloon. Employees and their families were treated with an elaborate catered dinner and dance, along with holiday gifts and surprises. Total cost: $5,000.
What "accounting goddess" (yeah, that's what they call her) Candy Chalmers appreciates is the money the company passes along to the community.
For instance, Gallagher's donated and installed, at no cost, the air conditioning for the Boys and Girls Club in nearby Chico. And when someone embezzled money that was supposed to pay for yearbooks at the local grammar school, Gallagher's stepped in to donate the needed funds.
"It's kind of like a family," said Chalmers. "It's a different value system. They try to get the best out of each and every one of us."
Sidebar: Just The FactsWinning contractor: Gallagher's Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
Owner: Tim Gallagher
Location: Los Molinos, Calif.
Years in business: 15
Bulk of market: 100 percent residential
Total sales for 2004: $4 million-plus
Total employees: 30
Total service technicians and installers: 14
Average hours employees spend in training: 216 hours each year
Benefits offered beyond medical/dental insurance: Profit share; contest spiffs; paid holidays; paid personal time off days; friends and family receive 40-percent off of the company's services; monthly award recognition; cafeteria plan for childcare; 401(k); summer picnic and Christmas party; and occasional breakfast meetings.
Industry association and contractor group members: AirTime 500
The News selected this contractor because: Owner Tim Gallagher and general manager Geno Gruber make sure all employees are taken care of, both financially as well as personally. In the meantime, the company prospers, awarded both the "2003 Service Company of the Year" and the "2003 Replacement Company of the Year" by AirTime 500. As Gruber put it, imagine a place where everyone's smile is genuine and the people are sincere. A place where the philosophy is to â€˜Do what ever you can to make the next person's job easier' instead of the alternative.
Publication date: 02/07/2005