Shumate Mechanical delivers a complete HVAC solution—and more—to both commercial and residential customers throughout the metro Atlanta area, and well beyond – servicing virtually all of North Georgia. The company’s licensed technicians maintain, service, repair and install the full gamut of heating and cooling systems, from sprawling industrial systems to units that are small enough for a modest condo. In addition, the business recently launched a residential plumbing service to give customers easy access to dependable, fully licensed plumbers.
Shumate’s ability to service both residential and commercial customers sets it apart from the competition. “We are one of the few companies that I know of anywhere that do both residential and commercial on the scale that we do,” says Sandy Shumate, President of Shumate Mechanical. “That is a benefit for us and we are glad to have that [ability].”
Whether dealing with the residential or commercial sector, the team believes that customers always come first—a commitment that Sandy credits for the company’s success. “I would say that our strategy is to do the right thing,” she says. “I am very focused on our customer and retaining our customers.”
This commitment to customers began with Sandy’s father, company founder Harold Shumate, who set a strong precedent for fast, efficient service. “Something that started with Harold—and continued on—is a desire to get things done quickly,” says Chief Financial Officer Mikhail Britt. “Speed has always mattered to us. We like to solve problems quickly and efficiently and move on.” This is exactly what customers hope for when dealing with the headache of HVAC or plumbing problems. “Customers don’t want to wait. They don’t want us to be in their homes very long; they want to be fast about it. If there is an issue they want it to be repaired quickly. On a commercial job it is the same way. There are schedules to meet.”
As a family company, Shumate has been able to maintain the company culture that Harold started when he launched the company in 1978. “It is like a family,” Sandy says. “We have very long-term employees here. Our turnover is low and we try to treat our employees very well. We have people who started here right out of high school that are now in management positions, sales positions. It is all part of the Shumate family.”
Mikhail adds, “I think because the employees have been here a long time, they have had plenty of opportunity to understand what our philosophy or position toward customers is. They have expanded that family culture toward the customers.”
In addition to maintaining the company culture, long-term employees bring a breadth of experience. “We have a legacy of knowledge within our employees that would be difficult to retain if all of them left after two years,” Mikhail says. “We have more of a long-term goal in mind than a short-term results approach.”
As a company that values its employees, Shumate makes safety a priority. “We have really invested in safety training through private consultants,” Mikhail says. In fact, the business has enjoyed a strong relationship with the same safety consulting firm for over 15 years. “There are multitudes of safety training that are going on in any given year.” This includes a thorough onboarding program for new hires as well as ongoing training for longtime employees. Specific safety topics include everything from first aid and ladder safety to forklift safety and OSHA classes. “There are a variety of different areas that we focus on.” In addition to utilizing consultants, Shumate has a fulltime employee in charge of administering the company’s safety program, keeping on top of certifications, and meeting OSHA requirements. The business also gives small bonuses as an incentive for maintaining a strong safety record.
Shumate has enjoyed substantial growth over the last few years. The company continues to focus on HVAC maintenance and repair customers while expanding the service offering to include plumbing solutions. “We are really focusing on the [customers] that are important to us by offering them additional services,” Mikhail says.
An uptick in the economy made the expansion possible. “It is certainly dependent on the economy and what sort of discretionary income people have to spend,” Mikhail says. “And commercially it is very dependent on what the construction economy is doing. Right now there is a lot of commercial building development that is going on so we are riding that tide.”
In addition to a healthy construction sector, creativity has helped drive the company’s growth. “One of the reasons that we got so efficient over time is that we have some creative minds in terms of what processes we use, how we do things, [and] how we do it in a way that is the least inconvenient to the customer,” Mikhail says. In fact, Shumate lives by the code: if everyone else is doing it one way, we instinctively want to do it another. Being like everyone else is the very last place a leader wants to find them-selves.”
Technology has also played a critical role. “We have leveraged technology very heavily. We have been very involved in mobile solutions.” While utilizing tablets in the field is commonplace now, “we had that mobile focus before it was cool,” Mikhail says. “We have always invested heavily in that.” Adopting new technology has been costly, but Michael says that the sacrifice pays off in the long run. “We are always investing in the future.” Shumate has plans, not emergencies. They invest now, on their schedule, versus later, when it becomes an emergency.
Finding skilled labor is the biggest concern for the expanding company. “That has always been a challenge,” Sandy says. “We work with some of the technical colleges and try to get young people out of school.” This is not an ideal solution because these employees need months of training and on the job experience. “It probably takes two years for someone to become a totally effective Shumate employee out of school. But we are willing to train people. We are looking for people that we feel want a career here.”
The team plans to continue growing the company in the future. This expansion will continue to focus on residential and commercial business equally. “We are executing the plan that we have had on both sides, which is to grow a consistent base of customers,” Mikhail says. “We do a mirror image on both sides of the house,” with the exception of new construction, which Shumate only deals with in the commercial sector.
The key to expanding both sides of the house is customer trust, Mikhail adds. “The core growth and the core sustainability [comes from] making sure that all customers trust us and like having us at their home or facility, knowing that we are doing the right thing, knowing we are solving the problem that they hired us to solve, and that they will not only return to do additional business with us, but tell others. That strategy has kept us growing at a sustainable rate for many years and that is really what we want to do—keep growing at a sustainable rate.”
“Sustainable” is the critical word in that plan. “If you grow too quickly it really makes the skilled labor problem worse because you can’t just suddenly hire 50 people,” Mikhail says. “It just doesn’t work. There are not 50 people to get… So we have to grow in such a way that we can hire and retain the right kind of employees, hire and retain or promote the right supervision. It has to be a steady growth. Otherwise we will go beyond our ability to do it the way we want to do it.”
Sandy agrees. “That is all part and parcel with being a healthy company,” she says. “It is important that we are healthy on the inside and the outside. There may be someone in our market that grows really fast one year, but we are consistent and have been consistent since the beginning. And I intend to see it keep going in that direction.”