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No matter where we travel, we always here the same lament about the labor shortage. Chad Peterman, president of Peterman Brothers, a diversified home services business based in Greenwood, Indiana, is having none of it.
“The one thing I always tell people who say they can’t find techs is that they’re never going to find them fishing in the same pond as everybody else. Everyone who owns a plumbing and heating business has to actively pull people into the industry. It’s just not enough anymore to cross our fingers and hope that the next generation will somehow discover that the trades is a great career. Or that an experienced tech’s resume will magically find its way into your mailbox. We’ve got to show them the way. And part of that is also looking in the mirror and saying, are we the place that someone would want to work?”
Chad along with brother, Tyler Peterman, vice president of installation services, is the next generation to run the business their father, “Pete” Peterman started up in 1986. The company runs out an impressive 23,000-square-foot headquarters that was built just a couple of years ago.
The company has been growing so much that it’s already running out of room. Last October, the company broke ground on an expansive new addition.
The company currently employs just under 300 people, including about 120 HVAC and 80 plumbing techs operating out of additional locations in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Columbus, Muncie and Bloomington.
To keep up with growth, Peterman Brothers purposefully pulls new people into the trades with its newly opened Peterman Top Tech Academy and also employs three full-time employees who actively recruit experienced techs to join the ranks. Along the way, the company provides training for newbies and seasoned pros alike to help keep the company on the right path.
“We really pride ourselves on being the best place to work,” Chad adds. “And we’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain if we want to truly attract people to our company.”
Let’s take a look at a few ways Peterman Brothers is doing just that.
Top Tech Academy
One big reason that got us to head to Peterman Brothers was the news last year that the company had graduated its first class of 10 new techs that had gone through the paces at the Peterman Top Tech Academy.
Chad opened the academy last year in the company’s former headquarters just a short drive away from the current Greenwood HQ. (And the new addition to the HQ once completed will offer a bigger new home to the academy.)
“We were growing at such a fast rate that we knew we needed to create our own steady supply of new talent,” Chad explains. “And we also knew that we had to seriously train them form the start. We couldn’t just provide some basic instruction for a couple of weeks, send them off to a service call and hope for the best.”
Students attending the academy learn plumbing and HVAC skills in a hybrid program that combines classroom training with hands-on learning in lab built in the old headquarters’ former warehouse.
Plumbing students receive training in drain systems, vents, water lines and fixture installation and learn about troubleshooting, hydronic and solar water heating systems, private wells and septic systems and plumbing system design and installation.
HVAC students learn about tools, equipment and materials needed for a career in heating and A/C, in addition to training in furnace and A/C system maintenance, troubleshooting and installation.
The students learn from two full-time instructors: Drew Gomez, plumbing instructor, has 30 years’ experience and, in fact, helped build out Peterman Brothers’ initial foray into plumbing services. Alan Richardson, another Peterman Brothers veteran, has 12 years of experience and heads up HVAC instruction.
The program is a paid program with an initial two months in the classroom followed by another four months in the field with senior Peterman Brothers techs, and then another month back in the classroom.
Students who keep at it are likely to be offered jobs at Peterman Brothers. Plumbing student then head to a four-year apprentice program at Mechanical Skills, a top destination to learn the plumbing trades in Indiana. HVAC students then go on to be NATE-certified.
"Young people looking for rewarding career opportunities have been given the wrong message about the skilled trades for too many years,” Chad explains. “We're committed to spreading the word about the great job opportunities available in the trades and lowering the barriers to entering the field through our Top Tech Academy."
To make gain acceptance into the program, applicants undertake an extensive four-step interview process consisting of a phone interview, in-person interview, a full day of shadowing with a senior technician and a final interview with Peterman.
“With over 900 applicants and only a limited number of seats, the admission process is incredibly competitive,” Peterman said. “It’s rigorous for good reasons. We’re basically saying, we know you don’t have any experience in the plumbing and heating trades, and that’s fine. But we want to find out who you truly are and that everyone understand our company’s values of always growing and continuing to learn.”
When we paid Peterman Brothers a visit last June, they were a week away from opening up the academy for its latest class of future tradespeople.
“We plan to shorten up the time spent in the class in get them out running calls sooner,” Chad explains. “Classroom instruction is vital, but out in the field getting their hands on all sorts of equipment is where they will truly learn.”
We doubt CurGen will ever catch on like NexGen has, but Peterman Brothers also has plans to attract experience techs to join the company.
In fact, hiring is so important that the company employs three staffers who spend their days promoting openings and interviewing potential candidates.
That sounded like a lot to us, but definitely not to Chad who in his early days at the business spent plenty if time recruiting.
“That was my Saturday mornings,” Chad explains. “I recruited for every position in the company.”
Chad feels so strongly about his three recruiters.
“We’ll probably add a fourth recruiter soon,” Chad says. “I could see doubling the staff that’s how important I think it is. The calls are there for business. We just need the techs. That’s my hurdle. It’s not going out and finding new business. There’s plenty of work.”
There’s plenty to the job description of the recruiters – enough that Chad thinks other owners should place a big premium on it, too
“Recruiting typically falls down to priority No. 15 on a contractor’s to-do list,” Chad adds, “But it should be the most important thing an owner has to get done. You have to find good people or else you can’t service your customers. We have to recruit every day, nine to five. And we have to have the staff to help once someone answers a help wanted ad.”
The recruiters are busy not only talking to candidates, but shepherding them through the hiring process, which includes setting up phone screens, organizing interviews, conducting background check and organizing all the documentation they need to accept a job at Peterman Brothers.
“You have to always keep in mind that if you’re recruiting someone who is excellent at their current job, then they are more than likely to be way too busy during the day to talk to you,” Chad says. “So our recruiters make themselves available in the evenings and on the weekends.”
The company has also set up its own internal referral program, too.
“We think that great people like our employees also hang out with other great people,” Chad explains. “So that’s another channel for us to recruit top talent each and every day.”
So what makes a good experienced tech? Hungry, humble and smart are a couple of watchwords Peterman Brothers borrows from author Patrick Lencioni. He’s written plenty of books, one being “The Ideal Team Player,” where anyone can read more about these three key words.
“There are a lot of questions in our interview process that are based on these attributes we are looking for in people,” Chad explains. “How do they deal with a varied schedule? How do they deal with making decisions under fire? We’re trying our best to understand how the person would handle real situations. That’s considerably better than hiring someone with five years of experience on their resume and then hoping for the best when they hop in one of our trucks.”
Training for all
Of course, training brand-new techs and hiring the best experienced techs wouldn’t amount to much if Peterman Brothers didn’t also offer extensive, ongoing training for all its employees.
“It’s about creating that culture where people never want to leave,” Chad says. “It’s also about growing. Without a growth mindset, your people will outgrow your company. They will want to move up, but if you’re not growing, that becomes very difficult. That’s my big thing, creating a culture and continuing to grow. I tell our people that we want to grow better, and if we grow better, the bigger will take care of itself.”
To that end, Peterman Brothers offer plenty of daily and weekly training to all its employees, not just techs. Trust us there’s a whole lot of training to understand the Peterman Brothers way, whether it’s your first day on the job or you’re a manager getting training on how to be a better manager. Peterman Brothers doesn’t skimp on the training.
While we may have viewed such training programs at other successful contractors, one element surprised us when Chad walked us by the “one-on-one” training rooms.
“That was an initiative we started about two years ago,” Chad explains, “where we really wanted to focus on our managers sitting down with each individual employee and understanding how we can help them.”
While group training is a regular part of the schedule, Chad adds that it’s not always easy to really care about somebody who’s sitting in a room of 20 other people.
“Our managers can show employees a lot more and can understand them much better, if they regularly sit down with them and find out what’s going on the their lives,” Chad explains.
These one-on-one meetings are for sharing good news and bad news about career development.
“We just want help them be the best,” Chad adds. “If everything is going right, we reiterate what they’re doing right and encourage them to keep at it. And if we need them to change something, we find out what might be stopping them from doing that and remove any barriers that are getting in the way. Good or bad, we’ve had people walking out of there in tears because it makes all the difference in the world that they know we are there for them.”
Plenty of contractors tell us how they “grew up in the family business.” But Chad Peterman, president of Peterman Brothers, Greenwood, Indiana, may have everyone beat since his mom, Beth, was six months pregnant with Chad when his father, Pete, decided that that was the best time to go into business for himself.
Pete had worked for a few years for others before making the big decision and starting his business out of his garage.
“My dad still tells this story,” Chad says. “You can only imagine how that conversation went over. He started by knowing how many bills he had for that week, so he would know how much money he needed to bring home. But he also started with one goal in mind that by brother and I continue pushing forward to this day: Take care of the customer.”
For most of the company’s early years, Pete stayed true to his HVAC roots, and mainly focused on the commercial market in Indianapolis and central Indiana from what grew out of that garage into locations in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Columbus, Muncie and Bloomington.
“Dad was heating guy,” Chad adds, “who grew by customer service and partnerships that steadily developed into new departments for plumbing and electrical.”
Chad, 34, started with the company in 2011 as “employee number 21.” (Current employee count is just under 300.) Brother Tyler, 31, vice president of installation services, joined the business in 2013.
After graduating college, Chad worked a couple of years in sales for an adhesives manufacturer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Honestly, I got home sick,” Chad says about his return. Both brothers were standout high school and college athletes with Tyler receiving an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Indianapolis. Chad, a long way from home at this point, was unable to attend many of his brother’s games.
Chad admits to not thinking too much about joining the family business at first, but thought more about it as he gained experienced at the manufacturer.
“Dad’s business was much more than just replacing furnaces and water heaters,” Chad explains. “It’s about serving customers and, most importantly, taking care of the people who work here. That meant a lot to me. Once I got into, I really did fall in love with the business.”
After coming back home, Chad worked in sales and marketing for the business all while earning his MBA at the University of Indianapolis.
Tyler, the more mechanically inclined of the brothers, holds a plumbing license and joined his dad’s shop after college graduation. But both are naturally attuned to managing the business, more acolytes for Michael Gerber’s well-known phrase of “working on the business than in the business.”
“My brother and I both work independently,” Tyler explains. “I’m more concerned with operations in the field day to day, and Chad focuses more on what we would like to grow the business into for the long-range. And we both have great trust in each other to make the right decisions.”
The brothers officially took over in 2015. By that time, the company had diversified into commercial plumbing and also made the push to move the company’s fortunes into a focus on residential installation, service and repair for plumbing and legacy HVAC. (Electrical services were added last year.)
“The biggest thing we’ve taken from my father is the level of trust he put in us,” Chad adds. “When we took charge, Tyler and I were both only in our 20s, and there we were about to take over a business that my dad had called his own for 30 years. To take his heads off the wheel and allow us to put our vision in place is something that I admire greatly.”
That vision must be making their father proud. Just last September, the company made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest fastest-growing companies in America for the third year in a row. Peterman made the ranking with a 198 percent growth rate. In 2020, the company also made the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Fast 25 as the 11th fastest growing company in Indianapolis.
And Chad and Tyler haven’t forgotten about the business roots in HVAC either. Another recent accolade was being named the 2021 Bryant Dealer of the Year. In addition, the company is a two-time winner of the Bryant Medal of Excellence.
While Chad and Tyler figured prominently in much of the company’s advertising and marketing in recent years, the duo will do so even more so now that the company’s name changed last year from Peterman Heating, Cooling and Plumbing to Peterman Brothers.
The big change includes all-new branding that features the Chad and Tyler prominently on the company’s fleet of nearly 175 trucks as well as local radio, TV and print marketing.
“Whether people see our faces on the side of our trucks, direct mail, hear us on the radio or see us on TV,” Chad explains, “we want them to know that we’re the guys who stand behind everything the company does and that we are here for you.”
Tyler adds: “The company's name may have changed, but its customers can still expect the same dedication to providing stellar service. Our formula for success has been simple: Peterman Brothers is committed to providing the highest levels of customer service. That was dad's focus when he founded the company, and it will remain our focus in the years ahead."