Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R, Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts, discusses how his business is handling coronavirus.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R., Inc. A heating and cooling company in Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about how N.E.T.R. is handling coronavirus. Welcome Mike.
Mike Cappuccio: Good morning, John. How are you?
John: Good, thanks. So Mike, it’s been a crazy time that we’re living in now with coronavirus, Covid-19 kind of shutting down all non-essential businesses and everybody working from home except essential workers and the health care workers and things like that. What’s been happening with N.E.T.R. over the last couple of weeks or months?
Changes in NETR Business Due to Coronavirus
Mike: Oh John, it’s been a very, very challenging couple of weeks. I feel like I sit in the situation room every day and it’s a crisis, a crisis, a crisis. Things aren’t even changing by the week, by the day. The last couple of weeks they’ve changed by the hour. We’ve really just adjusted what we’re going to do right now. We had 48 people on payroll. Right now we’re down to about three people on payroll.
Mike: Just the essential people really just someone kind of general managing, taking care of bookkeeping things, answering phones for phone calls that are coming in. I have some real great employees. I’m going to tell you, I have a group of great people who have worked with me and been with me for a long time who have just been outstanding with what some of the things that they’ve done with stepping up to the plate. I mean, we have people that are furloughed, the company has elected to furlough the people, not lay them off. So there’s a big difference between laying people off and furloughing people. Laying people off, you basically, you’re removing all their benefits. You’re paying their vacation time and saying goodbye and maybe we’ll bring you back at some point in time. Furloughing means that, no, I want to bring all my employees back to work. I’ve elected to pay all their benefits 100% at this time. Their health care, their dental, their life insurance, their disability insurance and everything during this tough time. And I’ve found that by doing that, a lot of the people that did work here say, “You know what? I’ll work from home. I’ll do what needs to be done to get us through this crisis. And if you need me, you call me. I’m bringing my computer home, I’ll turn it on.”
Some people are actually working at home, not even getting paid, which I find is just a great attitude with some of the people. I mean, I’ve seen some just great attitudes of the way some people have been doing things. So, we are still doing some essential work because on our commercial side of our business and our residential side of our business, look, if someone doesn’t have heat in a home, you do need heat in your home. So we are doing essential emergency service calls on the residential side.
And what we’ve also done on the residential side, I’ll talk about first is we’ve actually created a helpline. So the way that we’re doing this is we have two service managers that are working from home, including myself as well. I’ve done a couple of these helpline calls. And what we’re doing is we’re doing virtual online calls where we’re either doing them through Facebook, FaceTime, Android, Skype calls. And what we’re doing is we’re walking through the home with the homeowner if they have the ability to have this technology on their smartphone. And we want to see a few things before we come into the home. Examples is, is your thermostat on? Are there any flashing codes on your thermostat? Is the fan running on the unit down inside in the basement or in the attic? Can you hear a fan blowing? Or do the radiators feel warm? And then we’ll walk them down to the piece of equipment. And we really want to monitor the model and serial numbers of the equipment that we possibly would be working on at that time to get any parts that we think we might need to bring to that home right up front before we come into the home to limit the trips in and out of the home.
So we’re really trying to determine what is the problem via the new technology that we have. You know, state of the art technology that everyone’s had for a long time now. So it’s probably really not state of the art. We’ve all had it for a long time, but we’re trying to determine that problem before we come into the home to limit the trips and try to get the piece of equipment up and running as fast as we can so we’re not in your home. When we do come into your home, we are wearing booties on our feet because we’ve heard that the corona virus can live on your shoes and it does live on floors. So we want to make sure that our technicians are protected with their feet, protecting the home and protecting themselves.
And then they are wearing masks. We do still have a few available. We have several on order. Each technician has been given multiple containers of Clorox bleach wipes. So they’re not hand wipes, they’re bleach wipes to wipe down anything before they work on the piece of equipment. They want to wipe down the furnace, wipe down inside in case someone has touched it. Any parts that are going to be installed will be taken out of the box and brought into the home. So we’re not bringing boxes into people’s homes right now. And they also have latex gloves or black plastic gloves that they will be working with in the home. So masks, gloves, booties are being worn in the homes when they’re coming into work. And those are just essential emergency service calls on the residential side.
John: So does Massachusetts actually make that distinction? You said that some services are non-essential and then other services that you do, like fixing heat if somebody doesn’t have heat in their house, that would be essential. And Massachusetts makes that distinction that you’re allowed to go into a home if it’s an essential emergency type of situation.
Emergency Heating and Cooling Situations During COVID-19
Mike: Correct. We can do that. I mean, have we seen contractors installing air conditioning systems in people’s homes the last few weeks? Yes. N.E.T.R. has elected not to do that. We’re not doing that. We furloughed our employees for the safety of our employees. We do not want them in people’s homes right now, and we’re finding most people don’t want us in their homes right now. But you know, there are a few that still are being very adamant that they do want us to come. And we’re saying, “No.” We’re not putting our employees in people’s homes right now.
Commercial businesses is a different story. We have some labs that we do work for. We have some medical facilities we do work for. We have some food companies we do work for and food distribution companies. I mean those are all essential things. They need refrigeration, they need clean room cooling and things like that for some of these products that are now being manufactured with the test kits and stuff. Again, those are essential things that we need to do.
So, we have two emergency service technicians on call right now every day. And we have the ability to bring people in as we need them. When you are furloughed we can make people come back to work, not make but ask them to come back to work for a day. And we found that when we’ve been asking people to do things, they’ve been so cooperative. John, I mean, I can’t tell you how cooperative that my staff has been with this through this tough time. It’s really amazing. I mean, to see the people that have just come together to help us do what we’re trying to get accomplished right now, you know? So we’re hoping that things will get lifted in the next 30 days or so and we can get back to work. And maybe I’m being a little optimistic, I don’t know. But we have some measures in place for that when we do start to get back to work. So we’re trying to put some guidelines together as to how we’re going to do that because I truly believe that things are going to change drastically of how we do things when we go back to work.
John: Right. You mentioned the commercial side of things and a lot of companies now have all of their employees working from home. Are you able to go into an office and do an installation or something like that now when the employees are working from home? Maybe it’s a good time for you to go in and get some of those things done.
Mike: Yeah, and we’ve done a couple of jobs like that in the past couple of weeks on the commercial side. We have some government server rooms that we’ve put a couple of air conditioning systems in the past couple of days. We’ve got some work at a courthouse that we might be doing in the next few days where nothing is going on in the courts. It does make some things a little bit easier to do right now. But as far as going into offices in a typical office building and changing air filters or something like that, we’re not doing that right now. It’s pretty much emergency service. So essential installations we are doing.
The Future of NETR
John: And again, where do you sort of see things going in the future? Again, you’re being hopeful that in another month or so you might be able to start getting back into people’s homes. We’ll just have to kind of take it, like you said, a day at a time or an hour at a time.
John: But when we do get back into things, do you feel like this is going to change the way that you do business moving forward in general?
Mike: I absolutely think it’s going to, John. I think just from a residential side, I’ll start with first. Going into people’s homes and looking at homes and trying to determine what they need for air conditioning or what they might need for a replacement. How we’re going to go into those homes, I think it’s going to still be the booties, the masks, the gloves and things like that. Not letting people touch your tablet, not letting people sign your tablet. We’re going to have to come up with possibly a way that we’ll have a no signature or something on a tablet.
I think a lot of people are going to be very, very fearful still when this is over and I think it’s going to take a year or two to calm down as far as going into homes to do that and then actually going in to do the installation. I think you’re going to see a lot of people are going to want to see again, how are you protecting my home? What should I expect when you come into my home? How is that, that you’re going to be done? Really trying to go paperless, no paper, not bringing things into home. Not bringing boxes into homes, not bringing equipment in boxes into homes. And how does the equipment get disinfected before it leaves the shop? We’ve brought in gallons of CD 64 which is a medical sanitizer. Actually a garden hose hooks up to these one gallon jugs and a mist comes out of. All the boxes that we’re bringing in of equipment we’re sanitizing, we’re spraying down.
I think it’s going to continue to be that way for a long time from how we receive things and how we do things. And just even our operation here of just keeping doors locked and not just letting people come into your building where you just had a front door open all the time and let everyone come in. I think a lot of things are going to be on lockdown where bells and buzzes are going to have to be rung. It’s going to be a lot different.
John: Yeah. And like you said, we have all this technology now with like FaceTime and things like that. So I mean, maybe you’ll continue to do some of these virtual walkthroughs of people’s houses.
John: Or for maintenance calls to say, “Hey, just grab your phone and show me what your thermostat looks like. Show me what your boiler looks like. Show me what your indoor, ductless unit looks like. What are the settings on it? Just show it to me over the phone so that I can try to avoid even having to come into your home at all.” Maybe I can do a help call just online. Maybe you’ll be doing more of that even in the future.
Mike: Yeah. One thing I wanted to point out with that too, John, is we’re offering that as a free service right now. That’s a free help line that we want to call people. We’ve kind of got it limited to our own customers right now. We might open it up to the public at some point, but I’m almost positive that we’re going to continue to use the technology moving forward with the service calls because we had said this could save a lot of time. We learned this through a crisis that we’re saving tons of time doing service calls by using technology that maybe we just didn’t really think of earlier. But it’s becoming a good thing as far as trying to save time and make sure you have everything that you need. Because some of these units have so many different components in them and circuit boards, fan motors, relays, et cetera. Most of everything is an OEM part now and it’s good to see, hey, what’s the model number? What’s the serial number? I mean we’ve got a pretty good idea what that problem is once we’ve seen that through some type of a smart device. And we can pick up what we need before we go to your home. It’s saving the customer time, it’s saving us time, it’s saving everybody money. I just feel that’s going to be technology being used moving forward.
John: All right, well that’s really great information and best of luck to you and N.E.T.R. as we move forward.
Mike: Yeah. Okay, John, I want you to stay safe too, all right? Because I mean, you’ve been a big help with me and let’s all stay safe. We’ll get through this. Thank you, John.