The level of convenience we enjoy in the twenty-first century is something of which previous generations could hardly have dreamed. To enjoy warm or cool air or water at the push of a button is a luxury we take for granted, and our ancestors could not imagine…
In Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and Yakima, in central Washington State, Campbell & Company provides heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) as well as plumbing, sewer and electrical service. The company has built a solid reputation for superior service, fair prices, and highly professional, skilled employees.
Campbell was founded by its namesake Mike Campbell. After receiving an HVAC certificate from Perry Technical Institute in Yakima, Washington, Campbell soon decided to go into business for himself in 1983 as an HVAC technician and installer – “bending metal on the garage floor,” as son and acting General Manager Brian Campbell recalls. Brian is currently transitioning to take over his father’s company as Mike takes an advisory role.
The fledgling company quickly gained a name for high professional standards. 70 percent of air conditioning systems are installed incorrectly, and in 2013, Campbell “decided to re-evaluate our installation practices because we strive to provide the most safe, reliable, and comfortable system. We push ourselves to be the best people in the business and this was one way we could improve,” says Brian.
Campbell made employees accountable during every step of the installation process, so all systems are installed properly. By doing this, Campbell was able to reduce warranty calls by 200 percent, to four percent of total calls. “This allows us to guarantee our quality and makes us more available for other customers in need.”
Campbell had enjoyed regional success as an HVAC provider for a long time, but the company has undergone significant expansion over the past several years. Campbell’s first major expansions were in 2016 when the company began adding plumbing services.
Because customers appreciated the company’s work, calls were coming in asking Campbell’s service technicians for plumbing work. “We actually found out from one of our vendors that we were purchasing more water heaters than anyone else in town and we asked ourselves, ‘how can that be? We’re HVAC guys.’ We looked into it a little further and three years later have the largest service plumbing company in our area,” says Brian.
Thanks to Washington’s stringent electrical code, all work must be performed by a licensed electrician, and early in its history, Campbell had experienced the frustration of outsourcing electrical work. In addition to the added time and expense of outsourcing, much of the work was not up to Campbell’s standards, and the company realized it could not afford to jeopardize its customer relationships.
So, an electrical division soon followed, with Campbell quickly realizing that it could apply its rigorous professional criteria to achieve superior service in this area. “We needed more electricians, and the demands for electrical work kept growing,” Brian recalls.
Campbell currently serves an area of over 650,000 customers in the Tri-City and Yakima areas. The company has over two hundred employees including fifty licensed HVAC technicians, fifteen electricians, twelve plumbers and twelve HVAC install crews.
Campbell has won a series of awards, including the Tri-City Herald’s People’s Choice Award for best plumbing company in 2018. It has also been the recipient of the Dave Lennox Award (for the top 1 to 25 Lennox dealers in North America) 16 times; been in Lennox’s Circle of Excellence (the top 26 to 75 dealers) 11 times; been named Contractor of the Year by Contractor magazine; been named Residential Contractor of the year by Lennox; and been named Outstanding Dealer of the year by Coleman five times. The company also won three Yakima Business Times’ awards, for best plumbing, electrical and HVAC company – known colloquially as the ‘triple crown.’
Campbell’s success results from its principles and customer connections. Through these, Campbell has enjoyed continuous steady growth in the Tri-City area, despite competition from larger areas such as Seattle and Portland. This was documented in Campbell’s first-ever market research survey conducted in 2018 among four hundred customers and two hundred employees. “We were looking for, ‘Why do people use us?’” recalls Install Production Manager Chris Quinton.
The results were clear. “People call us because they trust us to do it right,” Chris explains. Campbell’s clients want systems installed correctly and want them to work for years. “It’s an investment on their side, and we’re here to guide and consult them to help them make the best investment for their home and business.”
Many of Campbell’s customers are lifelong, reflecting the professional pride with which Campbell conducts its business. “We’re not a ‘one-transaction’ company,” Brian explains simply. “We want to be there for the life of a home and the life of a customer as well.”
Using membership plans, Campbell tracks its customer service to ensure its clients are satisfied with its services to ensure each will continue to use Campbell as their sole contractor. “If we provide excellent service to our members, they want to build a deeper relationship with us,” says Brian.
This emphasis on lifelong customer retention also means the company focuses as much as possible on preventative maintenance. Thanks to Campbell’s continuing stress on positive customer interaction, customers keep coming back to Campbell for all potential work. “And then, ten to fifteen years later, when it’s time for a replacement, we’re still their company of choice to replace it,” as Brian explains.
Brian boils Campbell’s success to its principles. Every employee is expected to live by the core values of: trust, team focused, customer focused, continuous improvement, and positive, energetic, enthusiastic. “As a company, we feel it’s extremely important to employ individuals who carry these same values, and I really feel that’s what drives our culture,” agrees Brandon Cortez, head of Campbell’s electrical and plumbing divisions. “That’s what gives us our ‘family feel.’”
These values are further evident in Campbell’s surprising but necessary strategy of not taking just any contract. Brian described one potential client that lived twenty minutes outside of Campbell’s service area. “We won’t do the project, because we can’t service it,” he explains. “It’d be easy to take the money up front, do the install, and walk away from the customer, but we strongly believe that we can’t do that; it’s a violation of our core values.” Campbell also flatly refuses to accept any contract which might endanger its technicians.
All employees following Campbell’s ethics encourages a close-knit work atmosphere emphasizing collaboration and cooperation. Campbell abounds with stories of employees undergoing “life-altering,” events, in Chris Quinton’s words, and their coworkers rising in support through fundraisers and even donating vacation days and commission pay. “That employee is going to be with us forever,” he says. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be able to help someone.”
Brian Campbell agrees. “We feel like we’re in a unique position to help people where they are the most vulnerable, in their personal homes. Homeowners can’t hide from the fact their family doesn’t have access to the basic necessities that separate us from a third world country (clean drinking water, heating, cooling and safe electrical systems) and we won’t hide from them when they are in need of our services. We always still stay within the services we provide our customers,” he says.
Campbell also serves its community through its ‘Pay It Forward’ program. It associates with area non-profits to provide cheaper repairs to lower-income households and aims to provide $30,000 worth of services annually, performing over $21,000 in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone. It hopes to double this to $60,000 annually in 2019 through serving a local high school. “It’s almost a religious moment for some of our employees who get to perform these services,” says Chris, adding that participation in the program makes every employee “feel like a million dollars.”
Despite these retention measures and community involvement, Campbell is still encountering a shortage of skilled labor. “We can’t just put an ad on a job posting site and get fifteen applicants of skilled HVAC technicians, plumbers, and electricians,” Chris laments.
Campbell currently spends over $250,000 annually on training courses, providing each employee at least one hour of training weekly to maintain the company’s standards. Employees also volunteer to teach classes at ‘Campbell University,’ helping their colleagues earn the relevant repair skills necessary for success.
Campbell also hired an in-house recruiter in 2018, helping it find applicants from as far away as Alaska and North Carolina. These measures help the company retain current employees and find and train the next generation of skilled technicians.
Despite the rarity of skilled candidates, Campbell is optimistic about its future. It has built a loyal and growing set of customers in the Tri-City area and beyond. As it continues to grow as a full-service mechanical company, Campbell hopes for a future in which it continues to provide superior service to its customers and its employees, applying its values to all its business dealings.
“If you take care of your people,” says Chris Quinton, “they will take care of your customers and yourself.”