Keeping Buildings at Their Best

Campbell Mechanical Services, Inc.

As building technology advances, maintaining buildings and their infrastructure gets more challenging. Ohio-based Campbell Mechanical Services, Inc. has serviced and upgraded HVAC, plumbing and electrical infrastructure for over 50 years.

Still proudly in the family, Campbell Mechanical Services traces its origins to founder Ken Campbell, who started a small plumbing operation in 1968. “My grandpa started the company in his garage in Sylvania, Ohio, and my grandmother was a teacher,” recalls current Principal and Owner Kris Campbell.

Yet despite its origins in plumbing contracting and its subsequent expansion into a full-service construction firm, Campbell eventually switched the company’s focus to service and preventative maintenance. The beginnings may have been humble, but Campbell is now an established industry leader in HVAC, plumbing, and building efficiency throughout the central Great Lakes region.

The low price myth
For Campbell’s leadership, the decision to switch from installation to maintenance was simple. Chief Executive Officer Bob Eaton says, “In the construction business, you’re dealing typically with low price.” Eaton displays strong feelings on the matter. “Low price typically wins the work, and that’s not a good long-term strategy for the customer.”

He explains that Campbell has never focused on ‘lowest bid’ contracts, or moved from one project to another. Instead, the company wants to develop long-term relationships with its customers. “When you look at our business, we’ve got several customers to this day that we have service agreements with, and I’ve been here over 31 years now,” he reports proudly. “We’ve got several customers that we’re still doing business with, from a service and preventative maintenance standpoint.”

Campbell switched from construction to service and preventative maintenance in 1982, officially closing its construction division in 1992. In the intervening years, Campbell has thoroughly grown into its role. In Eaton’s mind, the present-day operation is a far better model for customer satisfaction and retention: “The customer gets to focus on their core business, as opposed to worrying about their HVAC or mechanical systems.”

Long-term view
Chief Financial Officer Pete Vavrinek, who was hired by Ken Campbell and has worked with all three Campbell Generations, agrees that Campbell’s maintenance focus enhances its development of long-term relationships with customers. “We are investing in these businesses,” he explains. “It’s very different from ‘build and walk away.’ We are committed and working alongside our customer base.” Pete continued that the company offers guaranteed contracts, including installation, service and repairs in one price. “That’s the partnership,” he sums up. “We want it to run, because it costs us money if it doesn’t, and you want it to run, for your operation.”

Despite its impressive maintenance track record, Campbell has concentrated on working within its existing customer base. “The one thing that we focus on here is doing what we do best,” Kris explains. While having established a firm customer base, Campbell is now enhancing its building automation offerings and advancing its plumbing services, including more specialized plumbing contracts such as drain-line jetting and other innovative procedures.

Steady growth
On top of its steady organic growth, Campbell recently acquired the Cleveland-based Enterprise Corporation. Both companies are part of the Linc Service™ network, a collection of more than 150 HVAC contractors across 13 countries. Linc Service is itself part of construction and maintenance giant ABM. This mutual membership has allowed the companies to develop a close working relationship over decades. “My father knew their owner, I knew their owner, the previous owner even knew my grandfather,” Kris Campbell recalls. “We’ve always had a connection.” So when the owner of Enterprise was ready to retire, Campbell stepped up.

With such a historically close working relationship, the acquisition came naturally to Campbell. “It was a natural fit because of how we run our business,” Kris explains, describing how Enterprise has long employed business practices similar to Campbell’s own. “It just made a lot of sense.”

In addition, he says the company was once again ready for expansion, having last done so with its facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1992. “We wanted to do more.” Thanks to the two companies’ close working relationship, the acquisition has been smooth and largely painless.

New success
In addition to this acquisition, Campbell is enjoying new success with its ongoing projects. Through its parent agency, ABM, Campbell landed a large contract with the City of Fremont, Ohio, to install updated water meters in over 5,000 residential and commercial buildings. With the greater efficiency of these devices, plus more advanced LED lighting, variable-frequency drives (VFDs), high efficiency boilers, equipment retrofits, and controls upgrades, Campbell helped the city improve its infrastructure yet still stay within budget – just a small demonstration of Campbell’s capacity and professional expertise.

One of Campbell’s most recent and proudest successes was reengineering a geothermal heat pump for Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative that was not operating as designed since original installation. Campbell is also heavily invested in new technologies such as building controls and new applications for VFDs that allow building operators to reduce energy waste. “That’s the drive pushing our industry,” says Kris, describing how Campbell increasingly performs energy assessment and energy audits on new and existing buildings to increase energy efficiency.

Planning for the future
Campbell also helps its customers budget for the future. Many of its customers currently use R-22, or Freon, in their refrigerated facilities. As R-22 is being phased out and will no longer be manufactured after 2020, this presents an obvious problem for Campbell’s customers. “They’re not really in trouble today, or necessarily tomorrow, but they do need to start planning for the phase-out or replacement of that equipment,” Eaton says. “We’ve been proactive in that area, helping customers budget for equipment replacement.”

Having enjoyed over a half-century of steady operational growth, Campbell credits its continued success to its mission statement and clear cohesion as a family-owned business. Like his father and grandfather, Kris Campbell and his management staff practice a policy of transparency and accessibility. “We’re here, we’re visible, we’re out in front of things,” he explains, “so I think we try to bring that family feel to the company.”

Indeed, management at Campbell attributes at least part of its success to its strong family traits. “One of the things our employees have told us over the years is they really like the feel of the family atmosphere, and being part of a family,” Eaton says. “I think if you’d ask that question of our employees today, they’d tell you that it’s something that’s part of our mission statement and our business.”

Trades and training
Yet despite Campbell’s long history and proven service expertise, the company is still being hit by the current shortage of skilled laborers industry-wide. “Back in the day when my grandparents were growing up, everybody was in the trades,” Kris recalls. “It’s been a real struggle to get young adults interested in the trades and understand what type of career, lifestyle, benefits and earnings they can make.”

He says that the mindset of many students has shifted away from the trades. “That’s a real challenge for all of the trades – to challenge that mindset. I think it got lost somewhere along the way.” He also affirms the company’s drive to keep pace with rapidly advancing technology.

It’s who you know
To address both challenges – the shortage of skilled labor and the wildfire expansion of modern technology – Campbell relies on its peers in the Linc Service™ network and ABM group, and its Local 50 plumbing and pipefitting labor union. In addition to the unions in Toledo, the company also enjoys membership of local unions in its satellite locations in Ohio and Michigan.

Finally, Campbell is part of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), which serves over 2,500 firms nationwide. Through all of these memberships, Campbell is acting to educate students and emerging workers about the benefits of a trade career, as well as taking advantage of annual training programs to place employees at the cutting edge of technological development.

Thanks to these memberships and Campbell’s own background and cadre of experienced employees, the company’s future looks bright. The company is determined to remain in the lead in service and maintenance of existing buildings and infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. Driving for sustainable growth, Campbell will continue to seek and foster superior standards of expertise and service in everything it does for its customers.

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August 11, 2020, 2:32 PM EDT