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What is Howell’s Heating & Air’s Secret to Success? Focus on The Team First

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When customers are on the hunt for a reputable HVACR company, Howell’s Heating & Air is always at the top of their list. Located in Ashland, Virginia, the company has served Central Virginia and the Greater Richmond, Virginia area since 1969. As a company with a mission statement to serve its customers reliably and effectively, Howell’s customers can always rely on them to find NATE-certified technicians who can install, service, and repair HVAC systems efficiently.  

Finding High-Quality Talent is Looking Beyond Experience 

As the HVACR industry continues to face workforce issues, finding high-quality talent almost seems impossible. However, finding high-quality talent at Howell’s doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate with an extensive work history. In fact, finding a candidate with the proper mindset can be the most important factor. 

“When we are looking for potential employees, we are always looking to hire for the long term,” said Vice President Josh Krider. “We are not necessarily looking for the skills today, but the right work ethic and mindset as we can always provide the correct education and training later on.” 

In addition, hiring and recruiting high-quality talent at Howell’s doesn’t need to be conducted through traditional ways. When looking for candidates, simply advertising a job posting will not be enough. To attract candidates, it is important to consider creative methods.  

“In the last few years, we’ve participated in a career signing day for graduating high school students,” said Service Manager Tracy Parrish. “It is a similar experience to a student athlete who is signing and committing to a specific school [university]. We sit at a table and they sign a commitment then take questions from the media.”  

Hiring Quality Employees Isn’t Enough  

The leadership at Howell’s Heating & Air knows hiring quality employees isn’t enough. So, to ensure that they are the top contractor in their market, they invest in their team members in ways that other companies, even outside the HVACR industry, don’t usually do. 

“At Howell’s, the focus is on our people,” said Krider. “We know that if we take care of our people, they will take care of our customers.  We make this employee-driven focus through a low-stress work environment, personal & professional growth and health, and financial reward.” 

For example, at Howell’s work-life balance is a priority. So, when a team member goes on vacation there is a clear expectation for everyone at the company that vacation is a time for that person to be away, relax, and not engage in any work-related activities. 

“We set the expectation that when people are off work, they are off work,” adds Krider. “We have our company set up so that everyone has a backup, so when they are out, whether they are sick or on vacation, there is no need for them to answer work calls or emails. You are 100 percent unplugged from the company. It is all covered by another team member, and nothing falls behind or gets forgotten. Our team doesn’t have to worry, and they come back ready to work because they had quality time away.” 

The investment in work-life balance doesn’t stop there. The team at Howell’s is encouraged to find things that enrich their lives, whether they are HVACR-related or not, and the company will cover the costs. Some things they have covered the costs of include training on new technologies, gym memberships, lifestyle coaches, and advanced degrees. 

“We embrace life-long learning as a core value that encompasses mental and physical growth and health,” said Krider. “We see that continuing to learn is essential in keeping our people sharp, healthy, and happy. We even include an annual 8-hours of professional development classes for our career paths that we pay for. This commitment to work-life balance creates better team members.” 

Clear, Honest Feedback 

Another key aspect of the low-stress workplace is continual feedback and ensuring their team members always have full schedules. 

“Our managers meet with their teams regularly to offer feedback on performance,” said Krider. “We set clear goals and metrics, and we discuss with the teams. We want to make sure that everyone knows how things are measured and that it is a fair and honest process. When you do things in an open way, there is team buy-in, and no one questions how we view success.” 

Don’t Forget Training 

Of course, they also invest in training for their team members. A well-trained team will be able to perform the needed work efficiently and effectively, which is critical to having happy customers. 

“We’ve always encouraged our employees to build their own paths and make their own decisions,” said Parrish. “If they make their own decisions, they are able to critically think of their own solutions when problems arise.”  

While the company requires that their technicians be NATE-certified, this does not prevent the leadership team from further educating their employees. In fact, technicians at Howell’s are recommended to cross-train as it can promote employee empowerment due to the flexibility and opportunities it can bring.  

“By continuously providing our employees with different educational opportunities, we are able to provide them with upward mobility,” said Krider. “When our employees cross-train, they are able to pursue different opportunities and positions within the company.” 

“We’ve all been asked, ‘What if you train them and they leave,’” adds Parrish, “The answer to that is, ‘What if you don’t and they stay?’ Training isn’t something any business should skip over and we make sure that it is a top priority.” 

In addition, education at Howell’s is just as important for their service managers and leaders. As one of the leading companies in Central Virginia and Greater Richmond, Virginia, Howell’s has made a commitment to continuously educate themselves about the ever-changing industry and market trends by attending ACCA events and joining ACCA MIX Groups®.  

“It is very important to join an ACCA MIX Group and attend ACCA events,” said Parrish. “It’s your responsibility to ensure that you get out of your company’s bubble as the nuggets you can receive at these events are invaluable.”  

Fair & Competitive Wages and Benefits 

Some businesses struggle with retaining the quality talent they work so hard to recruit and hire, but Howell’s Heating & Air’s investments in their team members makes that one of the smallest issues they face. In their over 50 years in business, they have come up with a winning formula for providing fair and competitive wages and benefits. 

“We hear a lot of contractors say they lose employees to the guys down the street over a few dollars an hour,” said Krider. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. We ensure that we pay competitive wages because we value every employee. But we know that is not enough in this market. We also provide a 401K match, health, dental, and vision insurance, paid time off, flexible schedules, and cell phone reimbursement.  We also bonus install teams and project managers on the profitability of projects, bonus managers on the profitability of their departments, and we profit share the entire company at the end of the year.  In addition, we have company outings, parking lot picnics, and company luncheons. We know that some people see these things as large or unnecessary investments, but our team is worth it, and we want our team to be happy and to stay. Looking at the big picture, every one of these expense items is small when you look at the return on investment.” 

The company knows that compensation is not the only thing that keeps their team members with them, but it helps. And when they tie it into all the other non-monetary benefits they offer their team, keeping the best people isn’t as difficult for them as it is for others. 

Safety is a Priority at Work and at Home 

In addition to providing their technicians educational opportunities, Howell’s Heating & Air also focuses on creating a safe workplace for their employees.  

“As an employer, we recognize that safety must also be prioritized outside the workplace,” said Krider. “While we have advanced OSHA certifications, we also want our people to build an awareness while they are at home as well.”  

To create a culture around the importance of safe practices, Howell’s Heating & Air implemented the Work Safe/Home Safe Safety Program. The program provides their employees with weekly safety training classes, CPR training classes, and OSHA training courses as part of the criteria for maintaining a safe working environment.  

“While safety is always important to us, we also want to try and think of creative ways for our employees to prioritize it as well,” said Parrish.  

When employees are seen as committed and dedicated to the safety program, Howell’s provides rewards or incentives such as “safety points” where employees can use these points on items that they need, such as tools and equipment.  

Giving Back  

In addition to giving back to their employees, Howell’s has also made a commitment to giving back to their community as much as possible. Over the past few years, Howell’s has contributed to countless organizations such as the American Heart Association, Caritas, Lee Davis Band Boosters, Pearson’s Corner Elementary School, ACB Foundation, and the ATLEE Little League.   

“It is one of our philosophies to always do the right thing and give back in any way that we can,” said Parrish. “In a way, it is also another form of Howell’s giving back to our employees.”  

Unlike some other companies, Howell’s has supported organizations that their employees are passionate about. For example, Howell’s has supported the Ask Childhood Cancer Foundation in Richmond after an employee informed leadership about their family member with cancer.  

“It all comes back to supporting our employees and what they are passionate about,” said Krider.  

In addition, Howell’s has also made an effort in supporting organizations that their clients also care about. For example, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond was brought to the attention of Howell’s through a client. Since then, Howell’s has made every effort in supporting the cause and organization.  

“At the end of the day, giving back to the community will help your employees become a better person,” said Parrish. “It will be better for not only the HVACR industry, but also for society.” 

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Posted In: ACCA Now, Business Development, Leadership Development, Management, Training, Workforce

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