BRADENTON -- Gator Air Conditioning has goals.
This year's Manatee Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year in the $1.5 million to $3 million revenue category plans to be a much bigger company. Three years from now, the company's owners want to see Gator Air Conditioning's client list swell to 15,000 and its revenue top $5 million.
That's a good deal of growth for a company that has already made some big changes. Having recently moved into its new storefront at 6216 29th St. E. in Bradenton, Gator is looking to grow its 18-person workforce just as quickly as qualified employees show up in the local job market.
"The biggest obstacle we have faced throughout the years has been finding qualified employees," said Gator co-owner Michael Wick. "We see this as an ongoing challenge and understand the importance of overcoming it to achieve our long-term goals."
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Gator is battling the shortage by operating an in-house apprenticeship program. The company seeks out people interested in learning the air conditioning trade and working for Gator, then pays them to learn on the job.
Being in a new office and work space is paying benefits for both new and longtime employees.
"The facilities provide a much cleaner, brighter and more open work space," Wick said.
With business partners Jim Pomroy, Jimmy Romagnola and Jarrod Falk, Wick has an optimistic view of his company's future.
The company weathered the recession by transforming its business model and meeting its service and repair customers where they were financially.
Gator recently added selling planned maintenance agreements to its list of services as a way to avoid seasonal drops in business. Its technicians also work with clients to make their air conditioners last as long as possible.
"After the economic downturn in 2007, we found that clients were more frugal," Wick said. "Folks that may have considered replacing their air conditioning systems were now repairing them, trying to get a few more years out of them. We put together some innovative options that help extend the life of these systems."
The company offered clients needing repairs and replacements zero-percent financing, and wrote service plans detailing how the work was going to get done.
Primarily a residential air conditioning company, Gator does about 65 percent of its work in homes. The rest of the company's work comes from light commercial clients.
In addition to making sure clients get the air conditioning services they need, Gator is also committed to giving them the sort of service they tell other people about.
The company's "Raving Fans" program encourages employees to give their best service to every customer by rewarding them with incentives for high numbers of positive comments on service review surveys.
Employees with the highest "Rave" points receive larger bonuses at the end of the year.
Service doesn't stop when the work day is over. Gator and its employees are involved in the community, sponsoring youth sports and being active with numerous organizations, including Rotary Club of Bradenton, the American Cancer Society, Lakewood Ranch Little League and the Masons.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.