They’re Not Comfortable Until You Are
by Cynthia Logan
People love Montana for its gorgeous scenery, easy access to nature, and pristine air. Whether you’re running a trail, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, or otherwise enjoying the great outdoors, when it comes to your home, you want comfort throughout the year. Long winters demand cozy warmth, while warmer summers have made air conditioning a new necessity. While heating, ventilation, and air conditioning may not be the trending topic at a dinner party, good HVAC is essential to healthy living—and to thriving in a challenging climate. And knowing that a great HVAC team has your back can give you some serious confidence.
Michelle and Chad Dammen established Premier Systems with comfort in mind. It’s not just the servicing or installation of equipment that they insist be enjoyable—they also want every encounter, from an initial phone call to paying the bill, to feel good. At Premier Systems, customers are part of the family. “We focus on what we can do to make you feel at home in your home,” says Michelle, who mentions that humidification and indoor air quality have become a major sector in their industry. With three young children, the couple worked to help pre-schools and daycare centers reopen post-COVID. “We can eradicate COVID with air filtration/purification systems,” she states. “This is life-changing stuff.”
“We focus on what we can do to make you feel at home in your home.”
–Michelle Dammen, Founder, Premier Systems
Staying up to date with emerging technology is crucial to two of the company’s core values: Focusing on Growth and Striving for Excellence. Yet, Heart-Centered Service may be the cornerstone of Premier’s mission. “Relationships in business are everything,” says Michelle. “Whether it’s with the employee, the client, or the vendor, we put relationships first. That has really helped us retain employees and navigate supply chain shortages.” Employees are trained to ‘treat everyone like you’ve lived next to them for 10 years.’ “Our idea of marketing is your rough-around-the-edges neighbor with a heart of gold,” says Michelle. “I like the image of a guy in a cutoff jacket who rides a Harley handing a teddy bear to a kid.”
HR Specialist Kathy Morgan embraces that heart-centered focus, and absolutely loves her job. “I just think the world of everybody I work with,” she says. “In such a small company, we’re like a little family. At Premier, they truly care; they try to offer top pay, and they genuinely appreciate each person who is hired.” Candidates are well vetted; they need to be the right fit and line up with the company’s six core values, another of which is Passion & Positivity. “To be successful, everyone has to be on the same page,” says Morgan, who recently helped to welcome new hire Chloë Bartel, recruited from the West Coast. “We had a celebratory explosion (this involved a lollipop bouquet) in the corner where she’ll be working.”
Having grown up in a multi-generation Montana farming family in Kalispell, Michelle Dammen attended Montana State University, earning BS and MS degrees in agricultural relations and education. She applies her background to the business, instilling an educational approach among Premier’s employees. “We want our sales team to educate our clients,” she says. Chad, who studied architecture and worked on construction projects in North Dakota during the oil boom, is a licensed HVAC journeyman in that state. There is little regulation in the HVAC industry, and no licensing requirement in Montana, so the Dammens are creating a registered apprenticeship program for their team. The four-year curriculum will allow employees to earn a journeyman’s license.
“It’s an exciting time to be in this business,” Michelle enthuses. “At a wine tasting in Walla Walla, a vendor told me that this industry is poised to blow up. The new technology in furnace systems is just amazing.” At the same time, she mentions, “There is a shortage of folks able and willing to take these jobs. We’re playing catch up; as the older generation is retiring, it’s creating a vacuum. With nearly 40 employees, Premier recently hired a full-time in-house recruiter to keep up with the growing demand. “We’d like to be a one-stop shop, adding plumbing, electrical, and, eventually, insulation services,” says Michelle. “With more than enough work, we don’t want to tax our employees beyond a typical 40-hour work week. Our biggest asset is our crew. Hiring a trained technician is difficult, so retaining them by offering a good quality of life in addition to good pay and great benefits is our priority.”
Service Manager John Johnson has been in the industry since 1991, and with Premier Systems for two and a half years. “I love the culture here; they do things differently—it’s more about the customer and less about just getting the work done,” he says. “I tell my guys to treat the home they’re servicing as if it were their own. We come in with shoe booties and drop cloths, and if there’s a mess in front of the heater left from someone else’s job, we’ll go ahead and clean it up.” ‘Leaving it cleaner than when we found it’ was a natural fit for Johnson, who remembers when this became inculcated into his own ethic. “When my parents’ water heater had to be changed out, the technician who showed up used my mother’s washer as a ladder. The workmanship was wrong, but what she was upset about was how they had treated her home.”
“We come in with shoe booties and drop cloths, and if there’s a mess in front of the heater left from someone else’s job, we’ll go ahead and clean it up.”
–John Johnson, Service Manager, Premier Systems
Chad and Michelle sometimes find themselves being like parental figures to their millennial employees: “I have to take a step back and not treat them like children,” says Michelle, adding that, “When you have a new, younger workforce, you are parenting them in some ways in the early part of their careers.” On the other hand, she notes, “Some members of our work crew are 20 years my senior. I have to find a voice that appreciates all the experience they bring, but also keep them current with new technology and systems, which they sometimes don’t readily embrace. Taking the time to understand everyone as individuals creates a more functional, and fun, workplace.”
According to Johnson, “It is a fun company. Besides our annual Christmas party, six employees enjoy a fishing trip each year, and we have day-long team-building events, like axe throwing or heading to Georgetown for a lake day. Every three to six months we’ll do an activity as a company.”
“If they call us, we’re going to take care of it.”
–Michelle Dammen, Founder, Premier Systems
Premier System’s business model includes membership benefits such as annual or biannual maintenance, priority scheduling, a free annual diagnostic, no overtime fees, and ten percent off future repair work. Perhaps most relevant, members don’t pay extra for emergency calls. “When we get that cold snap, that’s when things start to go wrong,” says Johnson. “Prompt service is a necessity here, especially with little ones in the house,” he states.
“Premier Systems customers understand the value of what we bring to the table,” says Michelle. “If they call us, we’re going to take care of it.” While the company doesn’t promise to do every job perfectly the first time, every time, they do promise to make it right when something needs adjusting or doesn’t live up to expectations. “People are paying for an effortless experience,” explains Michelle. “We mean it when we say, ‘Demand Easy.’