Contractor Puts Focus on Employees to Help Company Succeed

Plumbing and mechanical contractor in Colorado brews up a people-centric company

Contractor Puts Focus on Employees to Help Company Succeed

  Ranceford Skea solders copper pipe as he installs a prefab ADA shower in a new-commercial remodel project.

To attract quality employees, Neuworks Mechanical in Fort Collins, Colorado, rips a page from the playbooks of Silicon Valley startups by offering amenities like pool and pingpong tables, as well as bicycles for employees who might need to run errands or clear their heads with a short ride.

The company also kicks the rec-room vibe up a notch with a double-tap kegerator that features beers made by local craft breweries, such as Odell Brewing, New Belgium Brewing and Horse & Dragon Brewing. There’s a one-beer limit, and consumption is allowed only after work hours.

“All of these things are somewhat reflective of Fort Collins’ culture,” says Travis Slisher, vice president and chief operating officer, noting the city’s reputation as a recreational hot spot and a mecca for craft-beer aficionados. “We’re known as the Napa Valley of beer, so we encourage people to enjoy it. We feel it’s a natural fit for our company.”

But the perks, which have been offered for about the last five years, aren’t all just about fun and games. Slisher says they’re a great way to open up lines of communication between employees of all levels. “They come in from a hard day at work to an office space where they can sit down and have a beer with a project manager or co-workers to talk about problems they might be experiencing,” he says.

“These amenities encourage those kinds of communications and help blur that blue-collar, white-collar divide,” he continues. “It lets people know they’re valued because these aren’t just perks for executives or office staff. Anyone can come in, pour a beer, hang out and have conversations.”

Does offering the unusual perks make recruiting new employees easier? That’s hard to determine, Slisher says. But there’s one thing he know for sure: After job candidates take a tour of the company, they usually say they’ve never seen a company like this before.

“I can’t tell you there’s a monetary payback,” he says. “But we know we’re doing something different. The message we send is consistent: We value our team and are always going to reward them.”

EMPLOYEES MATTER

While the company’s playful perks catch people’s attention, the perks are just a small part of a much larger business philosophy fostered by company founder and owner Mark Neubauer in an effort to make the firm more than just a plumbing firm. He aims to create a company that puts employees and community at the forefront — a vision that was strongly informed by Neubauer’s previous work experience, Slisher points out.

Even the name of the company — a play on words that derives from part of Neubauer’s last name while also alluding to a “new” approach to business — was driven by the owner’s vision of a different kind of company, Slisher says.

“Everything starts with why we exist,” he says. “Mark started the company to install plumbing systems, but we don’t just install pipes and move on down the road to the next job.

“We want to be a contributor to our community,” he continues. “We want people to view our company as one with integrity — one that will always do the right thing. That philosophy is critical to our community and our employees.

“We want to contribute more to the community than just plumbing projects,” he adds. “We want to work with Habitat for Humanity to improve local housing. We want to work with local high schools to show students that this is a viable career choice. We want to be a community player that’s focused on more than just profitability.”

EVOLVING PERKS

The company started thinking more about innovative ways to attract employees five to seven years ago. The post-recession economic boom was in full swing, and the company — established in 2010 — was turning down work because it didn’t have enough manpower to take on more projects.

“It’s still a bit of a problem, even today,” he says. “For every new plumber entering the workforce, something like five people are retiring. Our workforce is aging, and we’re not replacing our older skilled craftsmen at a sustainable rate.

“We also lost a lot of tradesmen to other careers during the recession,” he adds. “And from a workforce perspective, trying to get young people interested in the trades is a struggle. So we hope that by changing our environment internally, we can also change how people view a noble career in the trades.”

The company also offers an attractive benefits package. The business pays 50% of health insurance premiums for all employees after a 90-day probationary period. And it pays 100% of the premiums for technicians who obtain their journeyman’s plumber license after a four-year-long apprenticeship, Slisher notes.

Furthermore, the company offers a 401(k) retirement program and fully matches employee contributions up to 6%. “That helps keep people vested in our company because they see we’re vested in their future,” he says.

GOOD BENEFITS, LESS TURNOVER

In addition, the company pays for life insurance policies for all employees and offers paid time off instead of vacation days for the first year of employment; employees accrue time off based on the hours they work. So the more overtime they work, the more days off they accrue.

After their first year with the company, they can accrue up to 10 days off; and after five years on the job, that jumps to three weeks, he says.

“Companies that don’t offer good benefits run the risk of higher turnover and the higher costs associated with constantly training new employees,” Slisher says. “High turnover makes it harder to maintain quality standards, which in turn makes it harder to maintain good business relationships with customers who are critical to your company’s operations.

“That trust factor with customers doesn’t grow as fast without consistency in personnel and training,” he continues. “If we’re not taking care of people and they can’t contribute to community, then there’s no employee longevity.”

DIVERSE SERVICES

Even the company’s emphasis on developing diverse services is driven in part by concern for employees. The mechanical contractor’s core business is new-construction plumbing installations for commercial projects. But it also offers services such as welding, excavation, drain cleaning, aerial videography and residential service and repair plumbing.

“We like to be as diverse as possible,” Slisher says. “That way when customers come to us, we don’t have to say, ‘No, that’s not in our wheelhouse.’ It stems from being a company with a solutions-driven and problem-solving mentality.

“In addition, with a diverse client base, we don’t have to chase work all over the country,” he continues. “We want our employees to be able to stay as close to home as possible — keep everyone working locally. It relates to our core value of relationships and community. We want our employees to be able to raise kids here and go to their school functions and sporting events. Plus, they’re more apt to stick around if they’re not out on the road all the time.”

To better serve that diverse array of customers, Neuworks Mechanical has invested heavily in vehicles and equipment. The company owns nearly three dozen vehicles, almost all of them Ford Transit Connect XL or Ford E-250 cargo vans; two of the Transits are dedicated to residential plumbing service and repair work.

The company also relies on two RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras; two Milwaukee Tool M-Spector 360-degree digital inspection cameras; a Milwaukee Tool M12 cordless drain auger; several RIDGID drum cable drain machines; and a Milwaukee Tool M12 thermal imaging infrared scanner.

In addition, the company owns four mini-excavators made by Bobcat and three skid-steers two made by Bobcat and one built by Caterpillar.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

The company also emphasizes community outreach/service as a benefit that can create strong bonds between co-workers. A primary beneficiary of the company’s financial and volunteer support, which falls under a program called NMI (Neuworks Mechanical Inc.) Impact, is Habitat for Humanity.

The company holds quarterly “build days” in which employees donate their time and skills to helping build and/or renovate local homes for disadvantaged low-income families.

“The pool tables, kegerator, company golf tournament and Christmas parties are awesome perks that we’re happy we can offer,” Slisher says. “But it’s also all about the contributions and impact we can make on a local level and how we treat our people.”

Moreover, plumbing companies don’t have to be large in order to provide these kinds of community contributions, Slisher says when asked if smaller companies can do the same things.

“They’re absolutely scalable,” he says. “We were a small company at one point, too. When I was hired in 2012, we had just 20 employees.”

STRONG INTERNAL FOCUS

Looking ahead, Slisher says that growth is not a big priority for the company, which typically generates annual gross revenue of between $10 and $12 million a year. Instead, the company plans to keep focusing internally on its employees — getting the right people in the right seats, as Slisher puts it — and refining the benefits and pay packages.

“We’re focused on the sustainability of our current team members — providing them with a quality lifestyle and good benefits,” Slisher says. “Our emphasis is on promoting people from within and letting them assume more responsibility.

“We don’t want growth just for growth’s sake,” he continues. “We want to grow enough to keep providing opportunities for team members. But if we stay a $10 million-dollar-a-year company for the next 10 years, we can find success just the same. Mark has always said that he doesn’t want to measure success by how many projects we complete, but by how many team members can buy their dream homes and work and raise their families in this community.” 



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