“We lost some employees because they felt like the chance of exposure to COVID was too strong. Some misinterpreted the laws and what the government was saying during the shutdown. They were content with the idea of being unemployed rather than being exposed to the chance of getting the COVID infection.”

Today Mellot says the company still feels the effects of “long COVID.” None of the people who quit came back once everything re-opened.

“We struggled through and eventually replaced them. We kept going. It wasn’t until around six months later when the shutdowns impacted materials and equipment availability, and supply chain issues continue to be a struggle today.

For example, I quoted a project recently, and my supplier told me the product wouldn’t be available for 72 weeks! So, I had to redesign that project and double the number of unitary items to achieve the same outcome as the original design. But I was able to get the equipment in the new design. Even so, we still experienced a two-month delay getting in the motors necessary for the project.

“There are still some items that continue to have supply chain issues. Electric motors seem to be the biggest issue right now.”

Recruiting is Harder

“Since COVID hit,” Mellot continues, “we’ve been in constant catch-up mode. We continue to fall behind in getting projects on the books because of the lack of personnel. At this point, I’m probably 30% short of personnel. The result is forcing us to have four to six weeks of project lead time.”

To counter that, ComfortMaster redoubled its effort to recruit new technicians through its association with a local trade school. Two of his employees, including Brittany McClanahan, are instructors there, and he served on the school’s advisory board.

“This is one of our biggest windows of opportunity to recruit employees,” he says. “The problem is, nearly 80% of the students I hire from the school get stolen from ComfortMaster because someone is willing to pay them more than their experience and training allow.

“That shows you how bad the skilled workforce issue is now in our area.”

Getting the Word Out

Because ComfortMaster is a high-performance HVAC firm, they have built a reputation for being able to solve the unsolvable. They are The ComforMasters of their community. Mellot says most of their leads come from word-of-mouth recommendations.

“We’ve gained a reputation as problem solvers, and we get a lot of calls from people with balance issues, humidity control struggles, moisture problems, and so on. As a result, I don’t need to do much advertising.

For example, Mellot says ComfortMaster gets a lot of work from builders who have issues with projects they’ve built or are in the middle of building. They are also called in when a builders’ customer has a problem.

“More often than not, customer issues stem from duct design issues,” he says.

And then there is the health and safety aspect of ComfortMaster’s work. Mellot says most of his technicians are trained in combustion safety and carry personal carbon monoxide (CO) monitors on every call.

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