Ah, the good old days of consolidation. That’s when I got my feet wet in the HVAC industry. I thought heating and cooling sounded pretty boring whenThe NEWShired me, probably because I knew nothing about the business and never gave it much thought, except when I had to light the pilot in my old furnace with a wooden match.

The box of matches was my high-tech tool for servicing the old metal monster in the Michigan basement of a former home. I never dreamed of calling a service tech to diagnose the problem. Wooden matches would suffice.

Times have changed. I have learned a new respect for the trade and for the techs who take the time to fix the problem. The best techs are those who combine good mechanical skills with good people skills. It isn’t always easy to find these kinds of people, which is probably why contractors have been known for doing some pretty creative things to acquire the best talent - like stealing them from their competitors.


One of my first trips into the field took place in Indianapolis in 1998. The Indy market was made up of an interesting blend of independent and consolidated contractors, including companies representing American Residential Services, Service Experts, and GroupMAC.

My mentor, formerNEWS’editor Tom Mahoney, introduced me to several people on the trip; familiar names like Elliot Sokolow, Aaron York Sr., and Eric Woerner. It was a real learning experience.

During the course of the interviews, I learned that one local company was using interesting methods to lure service techs away from other companies, something that was told to me at least twice, although I never officially confirmed it. But the story was plausible. The company apparently had instructed its field techs to drive around looking for competitors’ vans on jobsites. The techs would wait for the tech from another company to get into his van, then they would physically block the van from leaving the site, giving them time to make a sales pitch for their company.

In more subtle instances, flyers were placed under the windshield wipers of service vans while techs were at jobsites. These flyers were solicitations for employment by a competitive contractor. I would guess this has happened in more places than Indianapolis. It may not be the most ethical way of attracting new employees, but there are no laws prohibiting it.


There are more acceptable ways to “steal” employees from a competitor or from any other business. I know the word steal implies a crime, but I realize that for the contractor who has lost an employee to a competitor, it probably feels like a crime.

I’d guess that one of the best ways to find employees who are not really looking for a job change is to ask a current employee if he or she has any friends who are unhappy with their professions, are outgoing and personable, or who may be at the crossroads of their professional careers and are looking for a change. Sometimes all it takes is a note in a paycheck asking employees to help recruit, combined with just the right moment when an unhappy friend is looking for a new career.

If you don’t try, you may never know.

Where did you find your best employee? What do you find are the most important qualities in a worker? Did that employee come from inside or outside the trade? What method did you use to recruit the employee? Would you rather have an experienced employee or a trainable one?The NEWShas an online survey asking these questions. Visit www.achrnews.com and click on ‘Survey’ in the upper left corner.

I’ll share the results in a future article - even if some of you admit to stealing from your competition.

Publication date:06/25/2007