Phil Harris charges into the room, his presence filled with life and energy. He’s like a giant bear, ready to bowl everyone over with exuberance, wit, and humor.
“How you doin’?” he greets my wife Trudy and I, then leads us back into his office. He plops in his chair in the middle of a u-shaped desk. There are no other chairs in his office; just a black leather reclining loveseat—something you’d see in a rec room.
We sink into it, disappearing in the squishiness.
“You want anything?” Phil asks, spinning in his chair. “Water? Soda? Beer?”
“Beer?” It’s ten in the morning.
“Sure! We’ve got two on tap from one of our company parties.” Phil pops out of his chair and shows us the room that borders his office. A kegerator sits in the corner, taps and all.
“I’m the boss, so I can have beer in the office,” he smiles. “It’s one of the perks.”
“I might take you up on that another time,” I say. Honestly, I’m envious. Who wouldn’t want two beers on tap at work?
After we finish introductions and looking over the beer, we settle back in the loveseat like we’re visiting someone’s home. Phil makes us feel like we’re the most important people in his day, and that he has plenty of time for us. Then, as he starts telling stories, he leans back and gestures broadly, weaving a tale filled with life and humor. Born and raised in Clearlake, Phil spent his youth goofing off, causing trouble, pulling pranks, having fun. “I wasn’t a great kid by any means,” he smiles. “I was the kind of student teachers didn’t want to have in class, for sure.”
He met his wife when he was in high school and she was just finishing middle school. Falling in love young can be hard; in many ways, you have to figure out things on your own. But with a baby on the way, Phil decided to turn his life around. He began working at a factory, trying to make ends meet and pay the bills. “It was a dead end,” he says to us, swiveling in his chair. “There were times I didn’t know what to do and got depressed, even to the point of thinking about suicide. My wife and child were the only motivation I had to keep going.”
But each time Phil neared the end of his resources, trying to juggle money when there were more bills than income, relief came. One day, someone bumped into him, saw his potential, and hired him in the heating and air conditioning industry. It was the start of better times, but just the start. After just two years, Phil had contributed to the transformation of that business from a small shop working out of a storage unit to a thriving leader in the county, but the owner wouldn’t give him a pay increase. While he was promoted through the ranks, still no pay increases came. He decided to acquire a contractor’s license as a backup plan.
Although he felt incredibly loyal to the company that gave him the opportunity to enter the trade, after five years he had to make the tough decision to take a position with the leading competitor in the area, a union company which paid substantially more. After a couple of years in the union and with the encouragement of his supportive wife, he took a leap of faith and started Performance Mechanical, competing with his former employer. It’s a testament to Phil’s business smarts and undeniable people skills that within a few years the company he left went under and he bought out much of their assets.
That was the beginning. After that, Phil began to grow Performance Mechanical, acquiring three other businesses and becoming the largest Daikin Ductless dealer in Lake County. One of the largest in Northern California, in fact.
“They don’t know how we do it,” he said, referring to his supplier. “In a rural area, too. But I know the secret to our success is customer service. My team is absolutely amazing and I owe the success of this business to their hard work, dedication, and above all their ability to wow our customers.”
Phil is not just a dynamic person; he also is a great employer. “Feel free to interview any of my employees,” he tells us. “They’ll tell you what we are all about.” Phil isn’t just a boss. He’s part therapist, part coach, part friend. Every few months he sits down with his employees to take a look at how they are doing. “We talk about how they feel they are doing in the past three months. Are they reaching their goals? Are they accomplishing what they want?” Are they better off today than they were yesterday?” Phil pauses, considering the process. “Then we look back six months, and then back to when they started. Several have now bought homes, new cars, etc. It feels good to have them settling down and creating a life for themselves. Their success is our success.”
“That’s incredible,” Trudy replied.
Phil continues. “Over the years I have worked with my various employees to provide financial advice, marital counseling, and mentorship. They are essentially an extension of my family.”
“So you’re not just a boss, you’re a therapist,” Trudy tells him.
Phil smiles; it’s true. But it’s not just his employees that he works to help; it’s the entire community. Performance Mechanical is either supporting or sponsoring many things: Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, the Clearlake Youth Center, and South Shore Little league. They donate to St. Jude Hospital, the Clearlake Animal Shelter, various Lower Lake High School Clubs, the Lake County Theater Company, and even have a youth racing team bearing their logo. It’s a long list, and just the ones he mentioned off the top of his head, but Phil wants to help out the county.
“I had a hard childhood with incredible economic challenges,” he says, “So I like to support things that help the youth, especially those less fortunate.”
There’s a reason that we chose Performance Mechanical to be one of our Bloom’s Best Businesses. Phil has singlehandedly created a business that not just offers quality products, but also hires and trains quality employees. On top of that, Performance Mechanical is actively working to make Lake County a better place. That’s why we believe they embody The Bloom’s Best Businesses.
If you want to experience Phil Harris and Performance Mechanical’s great service and product, here’s the information:
Performance Mechanical Heating and Cooling
14729 Lakeshore Dr.
Clearlake, CA 95422
This article first appeared in The Bloom on May 9, 2019.