PM’s 2013 Best Contractor To Work For: CK Mechanical, Plumbing & Heating, Mills, Wyo.
Encouragement, recognition and respect are how this Wyoming contracting firm honors its employees.
Kevin Maston, president and CEO of CK Mechanical Plumbing & Heating, started his company in 2004 out of his garage. His mission: To help people and provide top-notch service.
The company has averaged a 10% annual growth rate over the past 10 years, even through the Great Recession. “Some local contractors struggled during that time and hurt us a bit financially, but because we have such a solid company and such a solid group of employees, we were able to soldier through it,” he says.
Mills, Wyo.-based CK Mechanical’s recent acquisition of local HVAC company http://www.caspertinshop.com/ Casper Tin Shop boosts the total number of employees to 71 — plumbers, sheet metal workers, service technicians and office professionals — and 30 trucks. Maston has continued to build on the principle of treating employees and customers as family.
“We understand that the family at home is our employees’ support system and we really need their families to buy into our company culture as much as our employees do,” he says. “When we send out our company newsletters, we make a point to invite the families to our Christmas party, summer party and other events.”
CK Mechanical holds separate Christmas parties for adults and kids. Adults are treated to dinner, gambling tables, karaoke or bowling, as well as opportunities to win thousands of dollars worth of prizes. The kids enjoy their own holiday party with activities such as roller skating, a bouncy castle — and Santa. Each child of a CK Mechanical employee receives a gift from the company.
Another holiday tradition at CK Mechanical: Maston buys every employee’s family a turkey for Thanksgiving.
“I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like to buy 71 turkeys for all our employees and what the price tag is, but it is something that Kevin believes in,” says Shelly Parker, CK Mechanical’s business development director. “Its such a nice thing for the families of our employees.”
Last summer, the company treated employees and their families to unlimited rides, CK Stay Calm & Plumb On T-shirts, and a catered dinner at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo.
CK Mechanical also treats employees and their families to a quarterly potluck dinner. A recent potluck had a chili cook-off theme, with the winner awarded a paid day off, plus $100. The winner of the most creatively named chili — Let Us Fix Your Heat So You Aren’t Chili — won a $200 prize.
To recognize employees who go above and beyond their regular job duties to “further the CK brand in the community,” Maston and Parker developed the Ride for the CK Brand program. Nominations for “brand ambassadors” are taken each quarter.
For example: One winter, a CK Mechanical employee was driving a company truck and noticed a car had gone off the road. He stopped, offered the people a warm truck to sit in and helped pull their car out of the ditch. This is the exact kind of behavior Maston instills in his employees — be better people.
Each person nominated for the program receives a gift. Quarterly winners receive a personalized Ride for the CK Brand T-shirt and a $50 gift card. They are eligible for a grand prize at the end of the year — a $500 airfare or hotel voucher to the destination of the winner’s choice.
Culture of ideas
“It’s pretty well understood across the company that if you have an opportunity or an idea that makes sense for you as an employee or the company as a whole, all you have to do is sit down with Kevin face-to-face and run it by him,” Parker says. “He will throw resources at you, financial or otherwise, to get you where you need to be. That’s just part of our culture, having that friendship level with our boss and to be able to come in and talk to him. He’s always excited and open to ideas.”
Maston adds: “A lot of the great things we do around here come from employees, both past and present. Someone will bring an idea to the table and if it sounds good, we’ll get a team together and see what we can do to make it our own. It helps our employees because they feel as if they’ve contributed to the company, it helps our customers because we’re able to offer them new services and obviously it helps the company with creating another stream of revenue we didn’t think about.”
One of those ideas turned into the company’s CK Climb to Safety, a prorated safety incentive program designed to keep the employees working safely. Seventy percent of CK Mechanical’s business is in new construction — 20% in residential and 50% in commercial/industrial. And construction jobsites can be dangerous if workers aren’t paying attention to safety hazards.
“Employees can earn money for being safe for every hour they work,” Maston explains. “Their position in the company determines how much they’re allowed to bank. The more dangerous positions such as field personnel get a bonus of about 10 cents for every hour they stay safe. They can cash in at the end of the year or make the ‘climb’ over five years.”
If an employee elects to bank his safety money through the entire five years, the company matches 100% of those funds. The average is about $5,000.
“I believe that in any business, communication is the key,” Maston notes. “Communication and organization are the things I preach most as the boss around here. We are always striving to communicate better, to figure out ways to communicate more effectively and more efficiently. It goes back to that culture of field employees and office employees being able to share ideas and work through any issue we have.”
Part of that communication effort is making sure employees understand the company’s mission statement, which is visible in many areas of the office — raise the bar for plumbing service.
“Kevin’s done a really good job of setting the vision and mission of the company,” Parker says. “From Kevin to the woman who comes and cleans the office on Fridays, we all share that vision and mission. It makes communication easier for us when we have the same goal, same purpose, same culture.”
Another topic taken seriously at CK Mechanical is training. The company has a strong service department and technicians meet five days a week for various types of training — product, sales, marketing and customer relations. Once a week they meet for hands-on training — furnaces, boilers, water heaters and other equipment.
“The training is pretty extensive,” Parker notes. “We recently sent an entire team to backflow training. Another training session was on gas pipe. We try to get everybody from the field workers to the management team to various training opportunities. The training is company-paid to help give our employees a leg up.”
Maston adds: “Our service department certainly has helped us through our slow times. People are always going to need plumbing and heating service. It has grown a lot; service is where we focus a lot of our marketing and training. I think it’s helped us to be diversified. When the service department has a slow day, maybe one of our new construction guys could use a hand. It helps with employee retention because there is always something to do.”
CK Mechanical provides its field personnel with the best technology to do their work more efficiently and increase productivity. Smartphones and iPads have software that can send field techs to the next job, as well as allow them to clock in and out of jobs, and run credit cards for payment.
“From the marketing perspective, it’s been fantastic because we can send our customers an email when our technicians are on the way,” Parker says. “We also send a picture of the technician before he ever shows up at the customer’s door. It can be nerve-wracking to have a stranger come into your home for whatever reason, so we try and make that more comfortable for our customers. ”
CK Mechanical’s managerial staff also has training opportunities all over the country and even abroad. “We have a training budget every year and we try to stick within those parameters, but we foster growth in our company,” Maston says. “So we may send people to Atlanta, Philadelphia or Puerto Rico to attend trade shows or other events.”
He adds the company has a scholarship program in the works to offer financial aid to employees and their families for secondary education, and not just for industry-specific education. If an employee’s child wants to take advantage of the CK scholarship program to go to college, all that is required is to fill out an application. A three-person independent panel, which does not include Maston, reviews all applications. One scholarship will be offered each year.
The importance of caring
CK Mechanical’s CK Community of Caring program is an extension of Maston’s goal to give back to the community that supports his company.
“I believe every company, whether it’s a plumbing company in Casper, Wyo., or a deli shop in Philadelphia, has a responsibility to give back to the community that supports it,” he says. “It doesn’t mean thousands or millions of dollars, but some way we should recognize that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our clients and the community around us.”
CK Mechanical focuses on a different nonprofit each month. Every quarter it has a bigger event, such as a recent golf tournament that raised more than $10,000 for two local organizations.
“One of my favorite things about this program is that it’s not just what’s important to Kevin, it’s what’s important to all of us,” Parker explains. “Every employee has the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this organization really did some great things for me and my family this year and I would like to support them.’ Then we get the entire company of 71 employees behind that cause. Our employees are so generous; we raised a tremendous amount of money last year for many different organizations.”
Caring extends to the plumbing and heating industry, especially when it comes to recruiting people to join the trades. CK Mechanical recently was one of three finalists for the The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Award for Small Business Veteran and Military Spouse Employment. The award recognizes businesses for demonstrated overall excellence in hiring and retaining veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses.
“The skill sets of folks coming out of the military is pretty awesome as far as their work ethic, dedication and morals,” Maston says. “They’re used to working hard, having a goal and achieving it, which is what we’re looking for at CK Mechanical.”
Maston also recognizes that more young people need to get interested in the trades. CK Mechanical attends job fairs and intends to visit more high schools and colleges to get the message out about the benefits of a career in the trades — lucrative careers that won’t be shipped overseas and are increasing the use of technology.
And while CK Mechanical belongs to many national industry associations — Service Nation Alliance, Service Roundtable, Radiant Professionals Alliance, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials — Maston believes recruiting young people is a grassroots effort.
“It’s got to start at the local level,” he says. “National organizations are great, but a kid that goes to Natrona County High School doesn’t know anything about them. It’s up to us to take it to them. If we can build momentum here, then maybe it goes from our community to the next little town and so on.”