Gillette Air Conditioning Co. Inc.: Leading the Way in South Texas
Gillette Air Conditioning Company was named ACCA’s 2023 Commercial Contractor of the Year during the ACCA 2023 Conference and Expo in New Orleans, LA. The company, which has been in business for 64 years, is a standout in its market area for the processes they have in place that its competition doesn’t. For example, the San Antonio-based company is the only HVAC contractor in the area that fabricates the ductwork it uses on projects, using state-of-the automated equipment to enable just-in-time delivery.
“The only thing we buy is flex duct – our sheet metal fabrication shop is our biggest draw for people to select us,” says Katelyn Machen, GAC’s human resource manager. Machen’s grandparents, Marjorie and Vincent Gillette, Sr., founded the company in 1959. GAC provides sheet metal work for all types of projects, ranging from light commercial, tenant improvements, large commercial ventilation systems, clean rooms – “and everything in between,” she says. “We have the ability to fabricate custom fittings as needed and can make all pieces required for our projects with just-in-time delivery. We minimize trade stacking and manpower spikes on projects, which results in a safer project completed to the highest quality that is on time and on budget.”
GAC specializes in new construction, renovation, and retrofit of commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities. The company provides design, installation, and ongoing service support for the heating, refrigeration, air conditioning, sheet metal, and plumbing markets in the San Antonio area – though its teams will work on projects throughout the Lone Star State if requested by their customers. No project is “too large or too small,” Machen says. “Whatever the task or request, GAC is always at an arm’s length away to assist and will never back down from any challenge to help resolve our customer’s problems. Our motto is and has always been ‘Can do! – the difficult we do immediately, the impossible may take a bit longer!’” The company prides itself on providing value to its customers, as well as peace of mind, she says. “Customers know that they have a relationship with us, and they can rely on the service and equipment we provide. We’re going to make sure we’re taking good care of both our customers and our employees.”
The family-owned company has grown to 170 employees, with Machen’s father, Vincent, Jr., as president since 1999 and her brother, referred to as Vince the 3rd, working in the estimating group. “My grandparents’ initial principles – understanding that modern technology is needed to meet increasing needs of the industry – has allowed our company to exponentially grow for the past 60 years,” she says. “Our careful and detailed planning and continued reinvestment into the company and its employees has led to substantial growth.” Throughout its history, GAC has helped build schools, but now the contractor is also involved in the construction of stores, high-rise office buildings, hospitals, warehouses, and industrial plants of all sizes – “if a facility needs air conditioning, we can pretty well do it.”
“Our business mix has changed since 1959 and we’ve evolved very organically,” she says. “We’ve always been heavily involved in commercial construction, but out of that, we then formed a residential group to support customers in their homes. It’s still a pretty small segment of our business, and it’s mainly service, but we also do new installs and replacements.” While every project presents its own challenges, during the pandemic, the biggest struggle across the board was getting the equipment – and never knowing what the lead time was actually going to be, Machen says. “For one project, we ordered something that was supposed to arrive in eight weeks, but it took almost 18 months. We had to get creative on how we did things and how we priced things to find a good solution. For that project, at some point we brought in temporary equipment to at least get things going. It was for a new school, so they wanted to make sure those kids were cool enough.” Then for an entire school district, almost all of the schools had no air conditioning due to lack of maintenance and care in previous years, Machen says. Within 24 hours, GAC had most schools’ HVAC units running and by the end of the week the company was able to get the units in all of the district’s schools up and running.
“We’ve done a lot of work all over the place – and everything in between,” she says. “It gets hot as Hades here in Texas and lots of people wouldn’t be able to do their jobs if we didn’t do our job. We make sure people are comfortable so they can do their best work.” Perhaps the company’s most well-known project was at the Alamo, helping to renovate the historic facility’s chapel, as well as turn its long barracks into a museum, Machen says. “They’ve got a lot of artifacts in the long barracks and so they needed the building to stay at a pretty consistent temperature, particularly with people coming in and out of it all of the time.”
GAC is committed to making safety a priority – ensuring that its people have the knowledge, training and ability to continue that commitment. The company hosts more than a dozen safety training sessions per year, and its employees collectively hold more than 250 safety certifications. “It’s important that our team understand all the skills and reasons for the culture of safety in our company. We partner with our contractors and vendors to facilitate training and understanding. From our president to our newest employee, safety is always at the forefront of our minds,” Machen says. Safety should be – and is – everyone’s responsibility at GAC, which is why the management team encourages any and all feedback to enable improvement on the company’s policies and procedures. “Safety is something we do always. It means to constantly be better. It means never being satisfied. Safety stops problems before they start. We are constantly looking for ways to stop potential problems in their tracks. We do this by utilizing technology, training as well as our culture.”
GAC has received many accommodations over the years, and its most recent awards include American Subcontractors Association San Antonio Chapter’s 35 Year Longevity Award 2022 Regional Leader; Carrier Enterprise’s Ductless 2022 Market Leader; and Carrier Enterprise’s Commercial 2022 Market Leader.
Customer service is also a top priority for GAC, Machen says. “Building upon the knowledge and experience that three generations can provide, we can promise not only top-notch service and repair, but superior customer service with a personal connection with customers.” One of the most important initiatives that the management team has lately been working on is finding ways to better communicate the company’s mission, vision, and values. “Comfort is our commitment – we want people to be comfortable, as it would be impossible to do all that we want to do if we were hot and miserable. We kept thinking that we needed to do something new, but really it was just putting words to what was already existing in our culture and our company.” GAC’s commitment is to fulfill its customer’s needs by serving the community and the mechanical industry by contributing its time, leadership and expertise in providing professional mechanical installation and service. “Our most important asset is our family of skilled, loyal and professional employees,” she says. “Achieving customer satisfaction will assure long-term stability, profitability, growth and personal and career fulfillment for all.”
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