Filling a Need and Earning the SEAL of Approval

Aug. 1, 2014
This is not the Good Housekeeping Seal, but rather it’s the legion of HVACR contractors and technicians who count on the sealants they need to service equipment. Houstonbased RectorSeal doesn’t dwell on the glamorous side of the industry, but its products are considered the high-end, high-quality answers for sealants, lubricants and accessories. Another fine profile by Michael Maynard.
RectorSeal Corp. is the company that makes the products that enable installing contractors, service technicians and refrigeration service engineers to do their jobs easier and allows HVACR equipment to last longer and run more efficiently. They don’t make the equipment, but they make the parts and accessories that often go unnoticed by everyone except for the professional HVACR tradesmen, which is all that matters to this Houston-based company that has been in business since 1937.
Sean Holloway

“People know that our products are going to work,” says Sean Holloway, RectorSeal’s national sales manager for HVACR wholesale distribution. With more than 75 years in the business of developing and manufacturing those not-so-glamorous, meat-and-potatoes kind of products, this manufacturer has earned its stripes among customers, resulting in healthy and consistent growth over its history.

RectorSeal got its start when the Rector Well Equipment Co., which made wellheads for drilling equipment in the oil fields in the 1930s, needed a product that would improve the function and performance of the legendary “Rectorhead” wellhead. The chemistry was developed to seal the Rectorhead’s pipes and fittings. That sealant became known as Rector Seal, and a separate company was born.

As the post-World War II construction boom created greater demand for better performing plumbing applications, RectorSeal flourished as a standard for plumbing professionals everywhere. However, it was not until the 1980s that the company truly expanded into the HVACR market with new products and later, strategic acquisitions. Today, HVACR has become RectorSeal’s biggest and fastest growing market.

With so many great products in their lineup, RectorSeal’s brands are often more recognizable to HVACR professionals than the original company name. Some of these staples for the tradesmen include Novent® locking refrigerant caps, Acid-Away® compressor oil neutralizer, Kickstart® hard-start kits, Safe-T-Switch®, Aquaguard sensors, Goliath drain pans, EZ-Trap®, Airtec® ceiling diffusers and, of course, Rectorseal #5 thread sealant. “Our strategy has always been to preserve those brands because they stand alone – contractors recognize them and know that what they are buying is going to work, and that they can trust the performance of the products with those names on them. For example, Renewz® is a trusted brand of premium condenser coil cleaner, but not all contractors who use it would necessarily know that it is manufactured by RectorSeal.

RectorSeal’s products, Holloway adds, are “ever present” in the HVACR and plumbing supply houses around the country, and many are must-haves for contractors and technicians. “Quality” and “reliability” are how customers usually characterize their products. “We pride ourselves on maintaining a premium performance reputation for many of these products, which are mostly low-tech items. We haven’t done well at being a low-price provider or an economy brand.” He likens the RectorSeal name in the HVACR industry to the luxury car brands Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz. You may pay more for these brands up front, but you know that they are going to perform and that you’ll be satisfied.

“Contractors know that our products work,” Holloway says. “Our mechanical products, accessories and chemicals are not inexpensive, but for what they do, they are often the best.” RectorSeal does maintain active and ongoing relationships with their wholesale distributors through their network of independent reps. Promotions include in-store merchandising displays, co-op advertising, mail-in contractor promotions and dealer incentives. “But our overarching way of how we stay top of mind in our category of products with our customers is providing quality to the tradesman.”

RectorSeal at a Glance President: David M. Smith Vice President Sales & Marketing: Larry Kaiser Headquarters: Houston, TX Operations: Houston, TX; Fall River, MA; Boise, ID Major Product Lines: Novent® locking refrigerant caps, Safe-T-Switch®, Aquaguard, EZ-Trap®, Goliath drain pans, Kickstart®, Airtec™ diffusers, Fortress & SlimDuct lineset covers, Acid-Away®, thread sealants, coil cleaners, plastic solvent cements and Aspen Pumps Website: Year Founded: 1937

RectorSeal prides itself on finding simple, low-tech solutions that deliver premium performance. “With our research and development, we’re always looking to make great products that people need. We haven’t ever really been that successful at simply making things cheaper, but some of the products we manufacture have completely changed the way professionals tackle certain applications,” Holloway says. “We’re looking for whole new markets instead of just getting a bigger slice of an existing pie. We want to create whole new businesses for things that no one has ever even thought of.” If RectorSeal were in the cellphone business rather than HVACR, they might be the makers of the best holster or protective cover but not the phone itself.

Holloway cites Acid-Away as a product without peer, which cemented RectorSeal’s reputation in the HVACR market as a trusted specialty chemicals manufacturer. “Acid-Away is now known, almost universally, as the product that solved a problem for which there was previously no good solution for contractors,” he says. “We became known as a laboratory company that did its homework, research, field testing and solved a very big problem – compressor burnouts. To this day, Acid-Away is a product that has never had one complaint or one return to the factory. No one has ever sent us back a bottle of Acid-Away and no one has ever told us that it didn’t work. That’s incredible when you think about it.”

Holloway compares Acid-Away to an antacid tablet, actually neutralizing the acid molecules that can form in air conditioning and refrigeration systems, instead of just capturing them mechanically in a filter drier alone. Acid-Away circulates quickly through the system and chemically neutralizes acid molecules. What really made Acid-Away famous among HVACR professionals was the elimination of burnouts in the replacement compressors, which were installed after a bad burnout. “Technicians and equipment manufacturers alike quickly embraced this product because prior to its development, many new compressors were being ruined by residual acid that wasn’t cleaned up properly after the first burnout. Perfectly good compressors were then being sent back to a factory after being falsely condemned as defective,” Holloway says.

As the HVACR industry manufacturers bring new equipment into the market, RectorSeal is looking for ways to provide value to contractors installing and servicing those products, to help preserve the life of that equipment and to make contractors’ jobs simpler. The rise of the ductless mini-split market is a good example of RectorSeal providing niche products that have helped fuel the company’s growth in recent years. Holloway says RectorSeal offers a wide line of mini-split installation accessories that include “almost everything but the equipment itself.” Since 2008, these accessories have taken off among contractors installing mini-splits for residential and commercial buildings.

RectorSeal’s lineset covers provide attractive fittings that hide the unsightly linesets and provide protection for the insulation around the copper. Fitting neatly over the piping, these plastic lineset covers give contractors a great way to provide extra value to the homeowner or building owner. RectorSeal also supplies mounting equipment for HVACR equipment.

Best Practice

Reliability is the Hallmark of RectorSeal’s Quality Assurance

Since the 1930s, RectorSeal Corp. has gained a sterling reputation for manufacturing very high quality sealants. Protecting the reputation of that brand has been very important for RectorSeal, and through the decades, it has blossomed into the culture of their manufacturing and quality control processes for all of their products.

“This is one of the reasons why our prices aren’t cheap,” says James Bowman, national technical manager for HVACR products. “It costs us a lot of time and money to check these products throughout the manufacturing, assembly and testing processes, but it is part of our business model to make sure that the contractor can know that if it has our name on it, it has been tested and would not have made it out of the RectorSeal factory if it wasn’t going to work.”

RectorSeal tests 100 percent of many of the product lines it manufactures and distributes, so that if there are any product problems, they catch them at their facility before shipping to the distributor. “With Safe-T-Switches, the number of failures is so low that we end up just throwing them away if they fail inspection and test. Unless we get to the point where we see more than one or two failures out of 10,000, we don’t bother looking for a gremlin,” says Lou LaRoche, national accounts manager.

When you sell RectorSeal products, you can know that their reliability did not happen by accident.

Check out RectorSeal’s website for more information, or call your local rep or factory manager.

So how do the folks at RectorSeal come up with the ideas for its products? Holloway says the company is in constant research and development mode. In addition to acquisitions, their business development teams are at trade shows where they talk to contractors and service technicians who have great ideas but may not have the interest, the manufacturing capabilities or the marketing ability to turn their ideas into reality. Some are inventors who they end up working with, and some are “the guys doing the work in the field – they always have the best ideas for making something better,” says Holloway. Many new products were originally conceived with a small and simple statement from a contractor telling them, “It sure would be nice if you could do it this way,” or “What if RectorSeal would design a product that could do this for me?”

Code requirements are another catalyst for RectorSeal’s R&D team; they work closely with code officials and inspectors as mechanical codes and building codes are continually updated. During the past decade, code inspectors have been focusing on a dangerous trend called refrigerant huffing. Thieves, often young people looking for the sensation of an intense and cheap high, will open a service valve and use a plastic bag to quickly capture and breathe in refrigerant. It’s a trend that is costly to the equipment owner and can prove deadly for the thieves. It became a big enough problem that the International Code Council took action.

“Code officials realized that the unauthorized access and use of refrigerants had to be halted, for several reasons,” Holloway says. RectorSeal acquired the company that came up with the solution: the Novent® locking refrigerant caps that fit over the valves and can only be opened with a special key sold only through professional HVACR distribution to licensed contractors. The 2009 version of the International Mechanical Code started requiring the locking caps for new installations, and the requirement will become even stricter in the 2015 version, Holloway predicts. By sometime around 2017, this version of the IMC probably will be enforced by many jurisdictions in the U.S., and locking caps will be required to be installed not only on all new equipment but on any unit on which the refrigerant circuit is accessed or serviced. “Five years from now, even the wholesaler’s neighbors who are not in the HVACR business will know what locking refrigerant caps are,” Holloway says.

RectorSeal’s distributors are their “windows to the contractor,” Holloway points out. Coca-Cola can’t get its products to consumers without grocery stores stocking inventory, and RectorSeal can’t get its products to contractors without wholesale distribution, he adds. “Our distributors are our lifeblood to the contractors; no question about it.” Their ability to know their customers, their markets and what they’re going to need depending on the time of year, is what allows RectorSeal to have the right products manufactured, in place and ready to ship to the branch. “Although our products are used by contractors, our only customers are really our wholesale distributors. Everything we do is to fulfill our role as a servicing corporation to supply our distribution partners with the ability and the products they need, to fulfill their customers’ needs. We can’t do that part because our distributors are on the ground in each territory dealing with that extreme sense of urgency in getting the tradesmen their products immediately,” Holloway notes.

Because RectorSeal produces so many niche products, no single competitor is really a major issue for them. “Of course, wherever the barrier to entry for a product is the lowest is where we have the most competition,” he says. “But, some of the biggest and most successful areas in which we are thriving are those where we have the most competition. It keeps us on our toes, for sure.”

While the company prides itself on having a wide line of products, Holloway says they go through their complete offering on a regular basis to consider discontinuing items that are either not the best of breed in their class or, for whatever reason, did not succeed like they thought they would. “Sometimes we are surprised at how well a new product does after we introduce it, and sometimes we just have some duds, despite all of the information gathered before the development, telling us to move forward,” Holloway says. “But, we don’t try to be all things to all people, and there are some things that we just don’t belong in. We’re just trying to find a few new things to do each year that other people either weren’t willing to do, didn’t think of or didn’t have the capability of doing, and we want to do them very, very well so that we can be proud of them and so that they will do justice to the trusted RectorSeal name and that beautiful, red, diamond logo.”

So, what’s ahead for RectorSeal? As long as there are contractors who aren’t satisfied with the status quo and believe someone should come up with a better way to do something in HVACR, RectorSeal will surely be nearby, searching to find a way for a simple and commonsense solution.

Michael Maynard is a contributing editor based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].