Got Tools?

Sept. 1, 2005
You can easily evaluate the commitment a service tech, installer or sales person has to their job by the tools they own. Odds are, the better the employee,

You can easily evaluate the commitment a service tech, installer or sales person has to their job by the tools they own. Odds are, the better the employee, the more complete, valuable, and well-kept the tools will be.

A good employee invests in his job. The tools are evidence of his level of commitment and give insight into how serious he is about his future in the industry. If you’re interested in evaluating the field people in your company, here’s a quick test that promises to be enlightening. Let’s call it a tool roundup.

Years ago, we had an installers meeting early one Friday morning. We asked everyone to go to their trucks, gather all their personal tools, and pile them up on the make-up benches. A few minutes later, some stood in front of their half-filled 5 gallon bucket of rusted hack tools, while others neatly laid out three or four clean canvas bags filled with well-kept, top-quality tools.

The scene was amazing. We needed no judge and jury. The guilty were convicted and hung their heads in shame. On the other hand, the well-equipped enjoyed bragging rights for the next couple of weeks. If we had ended the meeting at that moment it would have been a great learning experience for everyone.

Management clearly learned we had not adequately communicated or enforced minimum tool ownership requirements and that the company was losing a fortune due to poorly equipped installers. How could someone without adequate tools complete the daily tasks of an installer without possessing the tools needed to get the job done?

We handed out a required tool list for everyone and asked them to check off the tools they owned and circle the tools they did not have. We verified each list and scheduled time before or after work over the next few days to meet with those that needed to beef up their tool chests. Within a week or so, we began to watch productivity and the quality of the work increase.

Unless you’ve looked lately, it may be time to do a tool roundup at your company. Can you afford not to?

Set Minimum Tool Requirements

Perhaps your company has a written list of tools that each type of employee is required to own. If you do, it may be time to review the requirements and update the list. If you don’t have one, it’s a great time to start. Be assured of an increase in productivity and quality workmanship in your company.

Company Owned Tools and Instruments

Of course, some tools and instruments should be provided and maintained by the company. But this list changes from one company to the other. Regardless of where the line is drawn, several methods of accountability are used.

Often, refrigerant recovery machines, jack hammers, roto-hammers or high-priced hand tools that expedite the work may be purchased by the company and checked out to each crew to become the responsibility of the supervisor.

As system performance testing increases in the industry, many companies provide the initial instruments and pass the tools around to technicians and salespeople as needed. As the testing culture grows, more test instruments are added, and usually assigned to the salespeople or techs who are assigned to use the instruments on a daily basis. Eventually, techs typically purchase their own instruments and are rewarded by increased wages and other incentives or bonuses.

Other companies check tools in and out of a tool crib daily where they are secured and maintained. Whatever the practice, the procedures should be universal and made clear to everyone involved in the process. Policy
It’s good for the company and good for the employees to establish not only the required employee owned tools, but how they are to be purchased, paid for, and maintained.

There are many different ways to establish tool ownership. Some companies provide each new employee with a complete set of new tools and require the set to be available for inspection and well-maintained.

Most companies believe that if an employee purchases his or her own set of tools they will be better cared for and maintained. This is the prevalent practice in the industry.


Since a good set of hand tools and instruments can be a stretch for certain employees, most companies offer financial or tool accounts. Typically, a credit limit is established for each technician and they are allowed to purchase tools from your vendors through the inventory manager or other specified member of the staff. The cost of the tools is placed on the tech’s account. The cost is usually paid by weekly payroll deductions.

A set term of repayment is established, or a specific amount is determined for payroll deduction. A written and signed agreement should be kept on file that includes the employers ability to deduct any balance owing from the final check should the employee decide to leave. It’s a good idea to check with local legal council when you establish any new employee policy; some rules are pretty goofy across this great country.


When I was in my 20s, our company had a sales contest. One of the prizes was a Webber barbecue grill. I wanted to win it so badly I could taste the hot juicy steaks I would soon be cooking on it. When I won the grill at the end of the month, standing in front of the company the owner asked “Robby, how much money did you make this month?” I shouldn’t admit it, but I was surprised when he announced my earnings exceeded $10,000. All I saw was the $40 BBQ.

Contests are generous and fun, but they can also be used to build camaraderie and draw focus on the goals and ideals of the company. Companies with strong positive cultures combine contest awards with a meal or an event so that everyone wins.


Although tools ownership is a requirement, one idea is to reward compliance with a raise. A 50 cent per hour raise equals an ongoing cost per year of $1,000, so don’t be too generous. However don’t forget the company will benefit as much or more as the employee from the increase in productivity and quality of the installation and service.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company specializing in measuring, rating, improving and verifying HVAC system performance. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a no-cost list of needed tools for service techs, installers or sales people, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058.