Interstate Mechanical (IMCOR) was sandblasting a cooling tower for a client of Chicago-based company Air Comfort when IMCOR employee Jeremy Ettesvold realized the metal was in worse shape than it looked from the outside. He contacted Air Comfort, sent a revised proposal with a change order and then rerouted a few IMCOR employees to pull and replace one of the tower’s metal panels by the end of that same work week.

This is the kind of integrity that defines the partnerships between The Unified Group (TUG) members such as Air Comfort and IMCOR. TUG is a group of 50-plus U.S. companies that share best practices by way of digital and in-person forums.

Kim O’Connor, service operations manager at Air Comfort Corporation, has been in the HVAC business for nearly 20 years. When she was promoted to her current position, she had a lot of industry experience but had never held a management position before filling the vacancy at her company.

“The first TUG forum I attended was a management forum,” O’Connor says. “After the speaker introductions, we went around the room and told what company you were with, your position and a little about yourself. I did this and mentioned my new position and that I had no management experience. During the breaks and at the group dinners throughout the three-day forum, the members took turns coming to me and offering support. My last day there, as I was looking around the room, I realized how fortunate I was to attend this forum. Where can you get 20 or 30 mentors in your exact field at one time?”

Air Comfort is one of the founding members of TUG. It has worked with IMCOR for five years, O’Connor says. “Their response time to emergency calls along with the quick response time for providing quotes or updates on repairs has always been fantastic,” she says. “IMCOR has several maintenance agreements in place for Air Comfort customers.

Top: Seated, left to right, Jim Bartolotta, Julie Bishop, Matt Todd, Kevin Almond, and IMCOR’s Dave Dickens, standing, at a TUG conference
Top: Seated, left to right, Jim Bartolotta, Julie Bishop, Matt Todd, Kevin Almond, and IMCOR’s Dave Dickens, standing, at a TUG conference

“Air Comfort is 100 percent comfortable with all of The Unified Group members when calling upon them for assistance,” O’Connor says. “TUG members have a commitment to training which allows not only their technicians – but all their employees to provide top-quality service.”

O’Connor says it takes only a few minutes after an e-mail to all the members to get a response or solution to any question sent out. “When we look for potential members, we’re looking for companies who do exceptional work and are constantly striving to become even better,” says Allison Rodgers, marketing coordinator for The Unified Group.

“Participation is critical to The Unified Group. Participation can take the form of attending meetings or training sessions, we typically have four to six a year, actively sharing ideas and best practices with other members, utilizing the resources and e-mail tools, and getting as many people within the organization involved and engaged with the group.”

Membership in The Unified Group is geographically exclusive, there’s strength in an environment where companies can share best practices without fear of a competitor in the room.

Left to right: Kevin Almond, IMCOR’s Jeremy Ettesvold, Bill Flynn, and Tom Rowles.
Left to right: Kevin Almond, IMCOR’s Jeremy Ettesvold, Bill Flynn, and Tom Rowles.

“The goal with this partnership was to ultimately grow our business but we also grew our team and extended our footprint,” says Dave Dickens, who handles service sales at IMCOR’s Facilities Service Group Division.

Dickens estimates IMCOR was awarded eight major projects and gained 10 new customers through its Unified Group participation. The projects include cooling tower refurbishments, storage tank replacements, rooftop unit retrofits and HVAC and plumbing services.

“Working with Air Comfort has connected us to Jones Lang LaSalle and select properties that fall under their portfolio,” Dickens says. “They have used us for HVAC/plumbing service and special projects. We have also built phenomenal relationships with other members like Pacific Rim Mechanical (southern California), Yale Mechanical (Minnesota), Innovative Service Solutions (northern Florida), Tweet Garot (Green Bay), Vital Mechanical (Seattle) and many more that have led to new customers that we are still working with today.”

Many IMCOR employees have had the opportunity to attend service management classes, sales forums, leadership training, as well as owner and customer service meetings over the last five years, says Dickens. The meetings address industry trends, best practices and working in collective groups to find better ways to take care of customers and grow business.

“We like that each meeting pushes you to be attentive and affords you the opportunity to immediately implement your new found knowledge in a presentation or role play setting,” he says. “Each meeting has provided us many take-a-ways that have been implemented into our overall go to market strategy thus driving business and gaining market share.”