Alpine Mechanical Services, Sellersville, Pa., is a leading, self-performing HVAC service and maintenance provider serving commercial and retail properties throughout the East Coast. And that’s ALL they do. Not schools, and homes, and multi-story office buildings, or the corner convenience store. Just retail, the type you tend to find in malls, or as single brick-and-mortar locations. It’s a niche market that has brought great success to entrepreneur Mark Barraclough, and welcome career security for more than 100 employees.
The company started in 2003, when entrepreneur Barraclough, himself a trained HVAC technician, opened offices in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Strategic acquisitions enabled him to begin operations in the Pittsburgh area, New England, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.
In its next expansion, in 2007, Alpine Mechanical ventured into Florida, followed by Eastern Virginia, through the Chesapeake area in late 2010, and most recently into the New York City area.
Alpine Mechanical Services’ management team has more than 150 years of combined experience. Most of Its highly-trained team of field technicians are in their mid-30s, and are happy to be members of this forward-thinking company.
In the late 1980s, Mark Barraclough worked for multiple HVAC companies. He then operated his own HVAC self-performing service company for 13 years prior to opening Alpine Mechanical Services in April of 2003.
Alpine Mechanical Services had three distinct objectives in building its business and foundation for success.
“We set out to focus on one type of customer: the commercial multi-site facility market. This focused, customer-based approach provided the type of service and support that our customers desired,” Barraclough explains.
“Secondly, we focused on quality versus quantity, so we could make sure Alpine was providing the highest level of service compared to what most other HVAC companies were doing at the time.
“Third, we knew technology would be essential to our success. Our commitment to technology began with hand-held field communication technologies, to provide the utmost in customer service to our clients. This has now evolved to connecting the field to the office, and then, to customers, through our Service Linx System, a seamless communication stream for everyone.”
All of the firm’s activity—from prospecting, to acquisitions, to training, is necessarily focused on a particular type of customer.
“Many of the companies I had worked for serviced large commercial buildings, plus residential customers, plus mom-and-pop locations, plus car dealerships, all types of customers. And with many different customers come many different requirements. We found that when you stick to one type of customer, you get to know that customer —you know what they’re looking for, and they’re pretty much all the same, as far as their requirements go, especially when you’re dealing with multi-site facility properties. Consequently, you become very good at customizing your systems around that type of customer," Barraclough says.
“There are some residential HVAC companies that are extremely successful, because they’re focused on one customer base, rather than trying to ‘build revenue’ by going after many different customers. Consistently growing your business, and keeping it consistent year after year,requires focus.”
This business plan has another advantage, in that Alpine’s customers are usually one or two people responsible for all locations across the country. Streamlined communication leads to more clarity and less confusion.
“They look for contractors that cover a wide area, but more importantly, that understand their needs,” Barraclough says. “These customers want a single point of contact. They don’t want to work with 250 HVAC contractors across their portfolio. They want to deal with three. They’re looking for contractors who cover a wide area.”
There are also service advantages that come from servicing only certain types of equipment usually found at these locations.
“We find that most of these multi-site facilities tend to have the same types of equipment, so our technicians don’t need to be trained in large, centrifugal chillers or absorption chillers. They’re trained in specific types of equipment that you see used across these multi-site facilities," he says. "Generally, that means 5-ton to 150-ton rooftop units, split systems, VAV boxes, chilled water air handlers, and other systems. You’re able to fine-tune your training processes to what your specific customers have. There’s no worry over training technicians on many diverse systems, or trying to hire people with skill sets that customers don’t require. You are also able to fine tune training processes.”
The buildings housing Alpine’s customers generally have major brands on site, such as Carrier, Lennox, Trane, or York.
“We tend to inherit whatever the construction group installs at these locations, but for the most part, because they’re buying through national accounts, they tend to go with one or more of those four manufacturers.”
The innovative HVAC solutions developed by Alpine Mechanical Services include quality maintenance programs, designed to produce greater efficiencies and reduce consumption.
A “Rapid Response System” pinpoints the closest technician to our customers service need, while our web-based Service Linx System allows us to customers’ full inventory, create customized reports and automatically updates in real time. Alpine’s technologies, services and team cohesively combine to improve communication and response time, keep equipment running at peak efficiency, and decrease service, repair and energy costs.
Building that team wasn’t easy, but Barraclough is blessed to have a strong core group that has been with him for more than 20 years. Many middle managers are new to the team, but are becoming full-fledged associates willing to help the company expand.
“We try to find people with management experience, but who have an open mind about learning how we do things,” Barraclough says.
Social media is a major part of Alpine’s recruiting strategy.
“We value the significance of having an online presence, and have an employee dedicated to digital marketing to build our platforms within social media. This effort helps assist with recruiting quality technicians and our overall brand,” he says.
On the technician front, where the days can be long, difficult and hectic, there is now a field training and safety manager, whose travels to all regions 40 weeks out of the year, providing in-house training, helping to troubleshoot problems, and making sure technicians are compliant with all OSHA safety practices.
Alpine Mechanical Services hasn’t stopped growing. Barraclough recently hired a merger/acquisitions broker who beats the weeds in search of potential acquisition candidates that are in sound financial condition, in areas not presently served by the company.
“The days of organic growth are over,” Barraclough says. “Acquisitions are the only way to expand today.”