Quality Builds the Brand at Cooper-Atkins

Dec. 1, 2014
It’s a simple concept in theory: treat others the way you want to be treated. At Cooper-Atkins, Carol P. Wallace, president and CEO, applies this theory to all channels across the board, from the employees to the distributors to the end-users; everyone is taking a part in the process and is valued and respected. Customers are partners at Cooper-Atkins, thus, the company focuses on education of contractors and facility managers to ensure product demand. The company also works with distribution partners to ensure they are successful.

Each instrument carefully assembled by hand.

Once assembled, they are tested for accuracy and inspected for quality.

Accuracy to the highest degree and manufactured in Connecticut.

Detailed work on miniature components.

Employees make the business at Cooper-Atkins in Middlefield, Connecticut, and treating everyone with respect puts the company in a great position. “This allows you to understand what is going on in the business and also to build up the trust level in an organization,” says Carol P. Wallace, president and CEO of Cooper-Atkins.

It’s a simple concept in theory: treat others the way you want to be treated. However, at times this can be easier said than done. At Cooper-Atkins, Wallace applies this theory to all channels across the board, from the employees to the distributors to the end-users; everyone is taking part in the process and is valued and respected.

Wallace became the president and CEO of Cooper-Atkins in 1994. Before joining forces with her dad who owned Cooper- Atkins, Wallace worked for a variety of manufacturers including Hughes Aircraft in California and a computer manufacturer in Boston. She also worked with KPMG-Peat Marwick on manufacturing operations. She joined Cooper-Atkins in 1991.

“While working with dad, I learned how important people are in an organization, and how they need to be respected.”

In 1984 the company made its first acquisition of electronic hand-held thermometers – the Industrial Division of (Electro-Therm) Electromedics was purchased. This acquisition was to serve the HVAC and industrial side of the business.

“That purchase moved us from analog to the digital age,” says Wallace. “When I came into the business in 1991 I saw how we were moving towards all things digital. I decided the best strategy was to keep building on the technology side. Not being the low price leader, but instead the technology leader.”

In order to achieve the goal of being the technology leader, Wallace acquired more companies. In 2001 the company acquired Atkins Technical, a leader in thermocouple instrument technology, to serve the food service side of the business. Then in 2003, the company acquired a wireless temperature monitoring company, KTG Inc., a developer of wireless enterprise solutions for temperature monitoring and food safety with hand-held PDA applications.

“The benefits of being a technology driven company are that you don’t always have to fight a battle on price; instead you fight a battle on quality and the value of technology you are bringing to customers,” explains Wallace. “Quality has built a brand for us by focusing on technology and technology leadership.”

Products, R&D

Customizing products, and research and design are main staples of Cooper- Atkins.

"We take a lot of pride in our service levels, and the quality of the products we provide,” says Wallace. “We have a new product development process, called a Stage Gate process, which allows us to introduce new products in a timely fashion while getting good customer feedback to design and develop the products. Plus, we manufacture the majority of products in the U.S., so we can control the quality.”

Some of Cooper-Atkins’ signature test instruments that are main staples in a contractor’s tool box are as follows: a popular and well known product is the SH66A, a three-zone temperature instrument used where multiple measurements are needed at the same time. Another popular test instrument is the SRH77A, a temperature/humidity thermistor instrument, which measures temperature and humidity across three zones simultaneously. And then there is the 4005i, a cordless pipe clamp probe, which was designed specifically from contractor feedback. There is also the complete line of thermocouple-based probes, which is manufactured in Connecticut.

Stay ahead of the curve

Besides utilizing end-user focus groups, Cooper-Atkins uses sales and marketing personal to research the industry and what products would be beneficial; plus, trade shows are attended in order to meet with associates and stay current. In addition, Cooper-Atkins employees are involved in organizations and associations. By being involved in the many facets of the industry, company employees help end-users articulate their needs, then take the latest technologies and dovetail the technologies with end-users needs.

Marketing is a key role at Cooper- Atkins, and according to Wallace, it is important for the company to rely on marketing to be able to develop the end users’ brand recognition.

Via brand recognition, products are pulled through distribution channel partners (because distributors handle so many products, they can’t possibly know all of Cooper-Atkins’ products), so Cooper-Atkins creates the brand by doing a variety of marketing – keeping the website updated, exhibiting at trade shows and coming out with new products that are exciting for dealers and distributors to showcase.

HVACR instruments technicians trust and rely on.

Cooper-Atkins’ marketing team also creates promotional fliers for customers and counter displays, plus, place ads in trade publications, etc. Company employees also work with young adults that are starting in the industry.

“We participate with technical high schools, community colleges and institutes,” says Wallace. “We provide our products, so they become familiar with them and know they can rely on us as a brand. Also, this gives me an opportunity to get out and let young women know that there is a place for women in this industry too, so that’s very important.”

When focusing on attracting and retaining good employees, Wallace’s mantra of treating others the way you want to be treated plays a huge role.

“Treating people as they want to be treated – as I want to be treated – has built up a good base of trust at the company,” explains Wallace. “This is great for referrals in the company … word of mouth travels, and word gets around about a quality brand and a company that treats people well. We have employees that have worked here for 45 years. Our turnover is very, very low.”

Cooper-Atkins is a part of the community, which also helps the company attract good employees, and is involved with the Chamber of Commerce and local charities, such as the United Way, Community Health Charities, etc. Employees also reach out to high schools to get the Cooper-Atkins brand out there.

“I find that the community colleges and technical high schools are all ears about what they can do to prepare students to enter the workforce,” says Wallace. “The issue with comprehensive high schools is guidance counselors don’t appreciate the career path available to people within the manufacturing environment. I think that’s an education process that can be done with guidance counselors. To get them to understand that not everyone in high school will go to college, and there are other wonderful careers people can have.”

Employees at Cooper-Atkins are also involved with HARDI and Women in HVACR. Last year Wallace spoke at the Women in HVACR conference. And Patti Ellingson, director of HVACR Sales-North America at Cooper- Atkins, is on the Board of Directors of Women in HVACR, and past president. Plus, she sits on several HARDI committees.

“We encourage people at the company to get involved in organizations applicable to their business unit,” says Wallace. “We applaud that, and we focus on educating and mentoring young women coming into the trades.”

Cooper-Atkins Corporation at a Glance President & CEO: Carol P. Wallace Chief Marketing Officer: Bill Eggers Chief Operating Officer: Gary Sawicki V.P. Industrial: Scott D’Aniello Director of HVACR Sales: Patti Ellingson Headquarters: Middlefield, CT Operations: Cincinnati, OH, Gainesville, FL & Singapore Employees: 150 Worldwide Major Product Lines: Temperature measuring instruments and systems for the global industrial, food service and healthcare markets Website: Year Founded: 1885; celebrating 130 years

Building relationships

According to Wallace, customers are partners, so Cooper-Atkins focuses on education of contractors and facility managers to ensure product demand. The company also works with distribution partners to ensure they are successful.

“We attend counter days, hot dog days and all the events that bring contractors into the distributors, then we have the opportunity to interface directly with them and to learn their issues and to be able to identify what we can introduce as new products to solve their industry issues,” explains Wallace.

Connecticut corporate facility celebrating 130 years.

At Cooper-Atkins everyone is a partner. “We have manufacturer reps that are independent contractors, and they take our products to distribution at the same time we are building the brand, so we are working as a partnership with everyone – the sales reps, dealers and distributors (this is the perspective of the manufacturer) and then we work with end-users to pull product through distributors,” says Wallace.

Best Practice

Helping customers grow their business: Cooper-Atkins prides itself on being very customer centric and designs our products and solutions to problems or challenges. We are offering solutions through our product based on specific customer needs and requests.

Definition and Example: Cooper-Atkins can help a distributor, contractor or end-user either grow or protect their businesses by providing products that solve a particular issue or regulatory requirement. Example: We offer a comprehensive line of wireless monitoring products that are designed to protect valuable inventory in markets such as Industrial, Food Service and Healthcare. From wirelessly monitoring temperatures of refrigerators that house food and pharmaceuticals to monitoring temperature-sensitive products, Cooper-Atkins has the right product and solution. We can help the distributor offer these higher technology items to the contractor and also show the contractor how to turn these offerings into a revenue stream. Everybody wins!

Significance: To create solid trustworthy business partnerships with our wholesaler base to distribute our high quality products used by the end-user and/or contractor.

Benefits: Solution-based problem solving with Cooper-Atkins product offerings in conjunction with the help of our distribution partners will keep both of our businesses top of mind to the contractor and/or end-user.

Procedure: Independent Manufacturer Rep agencies along with Cooper-Atkins personnel will travel to the contractor and end-user locations with the help of distributor outside sales account managers to educate and train customers on our products and ultimately influence buying decisions.

People Involved: Manufacturer’s rep agencies, Cooper-Atkins Corporation’s customer service department, technical support, direct sales account managers, accounting, production, engineering and IT support.

Timing: When necessary and as lead generation allows for.

Cost: Not every opportunity requires a site visit. That is why we have access to WebEx technology to conduct product demonstrations and qualify an opportunity. It really all boils down to the size and opportunity and how confident we are that the customer can make a buying decision that determines if we need to go on property. Charges are normally based on time invested and opportunity significance. By utilizing this approach, it really helps keep down our costs and we are able to pass along those savings to our customer base.

Other Considerations: We are proud to be a Woman Owned, ISO 9001:2008 compliant company. The diversification in our products and markets along with our growth in technologically advanced products has helped us grow our business, increase our sales and grow market share to better serve our global customers.


Wallace notes that E-commerce has changed the way business is done. “We see that our stocking partners are the most successful partners; we value and support them,” explains Wallace. “We provide videos, education and training, to provide to customers, so the distributors bring more education of our products to their customers.”

To ensure products get to distributors on time, Cooper-Atkins uses the Kanban system – a pull manufacturing system. When a product becomes depleted, that triggers manufacturing to create and produce more products to refill the Kanban in the warehouse.

“We have a three-day delivery guarantee for our stocked products,” says Wallace.

When asked what makes Cooper- Atkins unique, Wallace says that the company is committed to the success of its channel partners and end-user customers.

“We stand behind the quality of product we develop and distribute,” she explain. “We provide customer service that customers deserve. Everyone here is a product of the brand that we have created.”

A key company strategy for Cooper- Atkins is to provide accuracy to the highest degree.

“We listen to our customers and develop and distribute product that they need to make their job more efficient,” says Wallace. “We listen and then understand, translating that into products that fill the needs of contractors.”

Candace Roulo, senior content editor of Contractor, Green Mechanical Contractor and Radiant Living, has more than 15 years of experience in the construction and mechanical contracting industries. A recent Folio and Construction Writers Association award winner, Roulo covers the latest news, case studies and events in the industry.