Commercial HVAC Leader Seaman’s Celebrates 50 Golden Years

March 1, 2011
Seaman's Air Conditioning & Refrigeration has hit the golden anniversary mark, and is as vibrant and innovative a company as ever.

Seaman's Air Conditioning & Refrigeration has hit the golden anniversary mark, and is as vibrant and innovative a company as ever.

Donald Seaman retired 25 years after he started the contracting firm in Grand Rapids, in 1961. The location and focus haven’t changed, and Seaman's Air Conditioning & Refrigeration continues to install, service and repair HVACR systems for commercial and industrial clients in the Grand Rapids area.

What has changed at Seaman's is the type of work the company is doing on a regular basis, much of it fueled by tough economic times.

"Some people say there was enough business in 2008 to flywheel into 2009, but in 2010, it became real," says Donald's son, Randy, president.

Some competitors have folded. Many of them, says Seaman, were heavily invested in new construction, where margins are low or, if they were under-capitalized, they're now in trouble.

"We've seen it all here on our home turf," adds Seaman. "Fortunately the adjustments we made brought stability and success to our firm and we're very thankful for that."

Design/Build Focus
Seaman's started as a service company, later moving into add-on and retrofit work. About 15 years ago, Seaman's sought out new construction work, while still maintaining strength in service and retrofit. Preferring to avoid bid-and-spec jobs, the company hired professionals whose focus was Design/Build work.

During the boom years of the 1990s and into 2005, the firm did well in the new construction market. With the slipping economy, however, Seaman's relaxed its preference for Design/Build to permit more bid-and-spec work, in an attempt to make it more competitive for the work that was available.

One of the company's secrets to success has been that, over the years, Randy and the management team have grown the firm deliberately and conservatively, reinvesting profits in the business and the building.

"This has been a real source of stability for us," says Patti VanKuiken, assistant general manager. "With real attention to that, we've been able to ride out the tough economy."

Service & Replacements Grow
Another valuable decision was to reinvigorate service and replacement work, a proactive shift that Seaman says has been hugely beneficial.

"Reconfiguring the business was a smart move," Seaman says.

"We're working to build a sales arm to match our professionalism in service and installation. Rick Walker, our director of business development, has been working closely with the sales and engineering team on this."

While the service department has pretty much held its own, the new emphasis is on end-users and building owners. This has also provided an opportunity to introduce building owners to the influence of advanced energy management and controls, much of it spurred by tax rebates.

For Seaman's customers, energy conservation is making a big impact now.

"Our forceful move into the 'green realm' has — to a great extent — kept us going," explains Seaman. "Though last year was horrible for our local economy, the responses to changes we’ve made have been very encouraging. Today, we're optimistic."

Green Opportunities
National media have referred to Grand Rapids as "America's Greenest City." The second largest city in Michigan, it boasts the highest number of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®)-certified buildings per capita in the U.S. In 2005, Mayor George Heartwell pledged that more than 20% of the city’s power would come from renewable sources by 2008. When the city met that challenge early, Heartwell raised the bar to 100% by 2020. That makes Grand Rapids the ideal environment for Seaman's to explore all things green while strongly influencing recent projects. Seaman's has taken on some ambitiously green installations. To read more about these projects, visit

In 2006, Seaman's was named the Commercial HVAC Contractor of the Year. Other accolades have come from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and, for seven straight years, it's been named one of West Michigan's "101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For."

"Following Don's lead, Randy knew that to grow, we'd need to hire the best associates in the industry," says VanKuiken. "They stay because the work is challenging, there are strong personal and professional rewards, and they can make valuable contributions in every facet of company operations."

A defining note for Seaman's is Randy's vision statement, one everyone has connected with on many levels: "Operate a company that others can see as being high quality, professional, honest, full of integrity, and always willing to do what is right for the customer."

To abide by and keep in step with that, Seaman relies routinely on his key management team of Patti VanKuiken; Dave Galbreath, director of operations; and Rick Walker, director of business development.

"I couldn't begin to operate this company without their input, insights, counsel, understanding and friendship," Seaman says.

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.