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Before you read anything else, take another look at our cover. Or any pictures included with this feature. What do you think of those colors? Teal. Orange. Yellow. Says Joseph Andrade, executive vice president of home and commercial services: “It’s bright. It’s loud. And you can see these trucks screaming down the highway from every direction.”
That’s for sure. We’ve seen plenty of colorful trucks over the years, but nothing quite like this palette. And that color scheme isn’t just on the trucks, but on the uniforms for techs and office workers alike and carries through to GEM’s new website, company literature on down to everyone’s business cards.
In marketing parlance, the color combo is what’s called an “aisle violator.” In other words, something that would catch attention as consumers walk down, say, the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
Granted, we aren’t talking Frosted Flakes. Or aren’t we? After all, contractors have a natural, built-in advantage when it comes to marketing their businesses, thanks to their trucks and uniforms.
And once your eyes adjust to the hues, notice also what you don’t see: All the typical clutter that contractors feel they have to slap on their trucks. Yet, anyone looking at that truck will know instantly that GEM offers plumbing, HVAC and electrical services.
Attention-grabbing colors aside, the new look isn’t the only reason PHC News has chosen GEM, based in Lincoln, Rhode Island, as its Contractor of the Year. We’ve known about GEM for a couple of decades and even wrote about the contractor in the early 2000s when the business was way ahead of the curve in technology.
“We’ve always tried to merge our technicians and technology,” says Larry Gemma, president of GEM Home and Commerical Services.
For example, the company was compiling data on a computer “dashboard” of various sales and marketing metrics long before many national software companies began to offer the same. Plus, there’s another “dashboard” the company emphasizes when it comes to caring for customers whether that be daily callbacks or regular management ride-a-longs with techs as they head to their service calls.
“The dashboards in our techs’ trucks are everyone’s real desks back here in the office,” Gemma says.
We’ll revisit some of this later, but we can’t start our story anywhere else except by explaining those colors. They certainly got our attention when we picked up news about GEM’s rebranding last summer.
“There’s a lot more to a rebranding than people can imagine,” Larry says, adding that the company invested half a million dollars into the new look, including six months of brainstorming and a team of 10 people.
“One of the things that we were challenged with was that we wanted a look that would really just stick out, almost something that didn't quite fit,” Larry adds.
Larry handed the task over to Jenn D’Ambra, executive vice president of operations, and Jennifer Preservati, marketing and business development manager.
“Our old look was in place for a couple of decades,” D’Ambra explains. “It was well established and memorable.”
A family business, naturally, the trucks featured Larry, along with his brothers, Lenny Gemma, president of GEM Mechanical Inc. and Eddy Gemma, executive vice president of GEM Mechanical Services. (For more on GEM’s history, see our sidebar.)
The company had tweaked the concept over the years, but this year, as Larry suggests, the company wanted a big break from its mainstay.
“But, like anything else for the company, we were still looking for an ROI on the rebranding,” D’Ambra adds. “We certainly wanted to keep growing, and we thought if we could do everything properly with our contractors, customers and the company in mind, we would grow.”
“We began the process by simply Googling images to find trucks that we liked,” Preservati says. “After finding some we both liked, we shared them with the techs and other staffers for a vote.”
Two ended up carry the company’s vote. And after some more digging, Preservati made an interesting discovery: Both trucks were done by the same design firm, KickCharge Creative, a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Washington, New Jersey.
GEM hired the firm to work on the new look and eventually narrowed the company’s ideas down to two, both equally bold in their own way: Let’s call one the Teal Brand and the other, the Purple/Blue Brand.
With those two concepts in place, it was up to Preservati to head out to conduct two days of market research by standing out in front of a couple of shopping centers and asking random passersby for their opinions.
She set up shop in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Her sample size was capped at 100 on the first day and then doubled to 200 on the second day. Also, all the people Preservati talked to had to be non-GEM customers.
The so-called “aisle violator” showed a 2-to-1 preference for both days’ samplings.
“People liked the blue and purple palette,” Preservati adds, “but we also heard comments such as ‘blue is everywhere” or “blue is boring” or that these were colors associated with police officers and hospital workers.”
With the general public backing the daring choice, GEM went ahead with new wraps for its fleet of 200 trucks as well as outfitting the techs with new uniforms. And with those colorful trucks are out on the road, the company continued to also improve what’s going on inside headquarters, too, as part of its new brand.
GEM, for example, updated its website last month to match, in part, the new color choices and add brand-new content. However, the URL largely tells visitors what they need to know: www.AskGem.com.
“We want to make it easy for customers to call us and ask us questions at no cost through our Ask GEM Program,” Larry says. “If they have a question that we could solve on the phone, we might as well help them out without having to send a truck out there to do it.”
For anyone who doesn’t want to make a phone call, the website also includes a chat feature manned by a staffer to open up a line of discussion directly through the website. Elsewhere on the site, GEM hosts a number of how-to videos to, for example, unclog a stopped drain.
It might seem more than a little odd to offer such advice for free, but GEM sees it as more efficient way to run its business. It’s very expensive, for example, to dispatch a truck to a location that might only require 10 minutes of service, not to mention leaving behind a ticked-off customer who still has to pay a service charge.
“We figure we can fix 25 percent of someone’s problems by helping fix them over the phone without dispatching someone there,” Larry adds. “We look at it as an added layer of customer service so that when there really are problems that only a licensed professional can handle, we will have the trucks ready to go. And the techs sent to the jobsites will know that much more and be ready to solve the problem once they arrive.”
In the meantime, Larry says the company gets hundreds of questions from customers in the process asking about different product lines or services.
“And that’s a very, very powerful marking tool,” he adds. “So, some of our advice might be free today, but we are hoping that down the road when they really need the help, they will hire us to do it. It’s really the reality of today’s world where the internet provides customers with so much free information. People remember the person who helped them the most.”
Interested in working at GEM? If so, don’t be surprised to hear from Dorian Solis. And we mean, right away.
“I’ll call them as soon as they apply and they’re shocked,” says Solis, talent acquisition manager. But we want to bring folks in right away. So, definitely, we roll the red carpet out for them.”
While GEM’s new look is primarily geared to obtaining business, those attention-getting colors just also might attract their next employees.
Solis has been with GEM for only the past six months, and it’s a new position for the company. But GEM is keen on hiring and knows it has to have someone with Solis’ recruiting experience, particularly to combat the industry’s labor shortage.
“If we’re trying to fill a position within a tight labor market, then the best way to do it is with a quicker response,” says Sarah Nattress, director of human resources. “The traditional methods of recruiting aren’t going to work. Typically, someone contacts us and it might be days later before we make a call. And then there’s more of a wait for an actual interview. If we don’t call back that day and get them in here for an interview right away, they are gone.”
Prior to joining GEM, Solis worked in the financial services and manufacturing industries and was responsible for recruiting all types of roles, whether it be administrative or manufacturing logistics. And prior to hiring Solis, GEM had outsourced the role to an outside agency.
“We realized that in order to for us to achieve our company’s growth,” Nattress says, “we needed a full-time person who was going to be able to take all the calls, get them in as fast as they were applying and get them through the process and really give them the attention that the candidate needs from start to finish.”
While GEM has the help wanted sign out for many different types of occupations, Solis says her main priority is techs.
“Of course all of our job postings are listed on various job boards,” Solis says. “But I proactively also reach out to techs if they have published their resumes through, say, Indeed. So, I’ll make cold calls and reach out to techs who may not be currently looking, just to let them know what we offer and see if we can coordinate an interview.”
Finally, Solis might be relatively new, but she has already visited local tech schools and high schools to drum up interest in a career in the trades to students whether that be speaking to a class or taking part in a job fair.
Once those techs and would-be techs join the company, they can rely on the GEM Institute for training. Started in 2003, the institute’s original goals were centered on serving as a training arm for new employees to learn “the GEM Way.” Soon after, however, the company laid the groundwork to train apprentices. The institute is currently recognized as certified apprentice trainer for plumbing and pipefitting, and has plans to add electrical and HVAC. In addition, a state college offers a two-year degree in construction tech and management.
“That’s something that doesn’t seem to be offered by other companies,” Nattress adds. “If you’re a plumber, you’re pretty much going to remain a plumber. We highly encourage our employees to go on for their other licenses.”
When we talked to GEM for this month’s coverage, the company was putting the finishing touches on remodeling its call center.
While we didn’t get a chance to get a firsthand look at the new space, a fresh appearance for the center is definitely in keeping with our choice of GEM as our Contractor of the Year.
Back in 2000, GEM management began rolling out new technologies, policies and procedures to manage inventory and tools, equipment maintenance, fuel efficiency, customer service and its mobile work force. They were one of the first companies that we learned of to introduce GPS for their fleet.
The approach was always to look at their business from the perspective of connecting with customers. If GEM could connect with customers, then what could it learn? If GEM could see more, what would it want to know to connect the dots and create better service? How exactly could GEM connect those dots?
To do that, the company started out measuring various sales, marketing and other financial data and funneled it all through what Larry calls the “dashboard,” a shorthand term for the various programs tracking this data in the background.
“We manage our financials here on a daily, if not an hourly basis,” Larry says. “We watch every penny going out. We know, for example how many calls are coming in and what the revenue is per call.”
In addition, GEM rolled out its original call center in 2003.
“Nobody in Rhode Island likes to drive,” Larry told us when we first visited GEM at around this time for a past cover story.
Stepping inside that room then was like walking onto the set of a James Bond movie. Inside, traffic images were projected on the front wall of the room. The images showed the exact locations of all company trucks in real time, as well as fixed highway traffic views tied directly into state DOT camera. Thanks to this information, dispatchers could reroute techs around traffics jams or roadway construction. Back then GEM was so good at tracking traffic conditions, it provided local radio stations with traffic reports.
The new added space for the call center – about 50 percent more room – promises to keep GEM on track going from Point A to Point B. The new space features about 18 large screen monitors and up-to-date apps such as Waze to keep up with traffic patterns.
“We have everything we need to keep our trucks on the road in the most efficient manner,” Larry adds. “At the time we first started the call center a lot of the technology was cutting edge. Now most of it is mainstream.”
Keep in mind that the call center functions also as a “callback” center, too.
“We call every customer back,” Larry says, “and on our commercial and residential service side, we do between 125 and 175 calls a day.”
All those customers receive both emails and callbacks to see how every job went and if there’s anything GEM can do be better.
Related to the callbacks, all GEM managers are regularly paired with a tech to spend the day going on service calls.
“That’s the key to success,” Larry adds. “We’re always looking for improvement with every customer. Even for those we get a five-star rating from, we always want to know how can we offer better service.”