Decisive Leadership for a Turbulent Market
Meyer’s Companies Inc. weathers the storm and builds business resilience
Meyer’s Heating & Cooling was established by Harvey Cleland in 1951. He ran the Northwest Indiana-based heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical contracting business for five decades.
By 2003, reports in the Northwest Indiana Times quoted Cleland saying that although his company had earned millions in sales over the past year, because of high outgoing expenditures, the business was only breaking even. During a meeting with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Cleland was quoted as citing rising insurance costs and competitors severely undercutting their bids as two reasons for the decline in his business’ profit margins. He spoke about the need for local government to give better support to small businesses.
By 2006, a seasoned Cleland was ready to retire and allow another generation to tackle the highs and lows of running a construction business in an ever-changing industry. Joe Yothment, bringing a background in heating and plumbing, and his partner Paul Starcevich, with a background in electrical, purchased the business from Cleland and renamed it Meyer’s Companies Inc.
Pushing Through the Crash
As fate would have it, only a few short months after the purchase, the economy had collapsed.
Northwest Indiana, which at the time relied heavily on the steel mill industry, saw steel production drop to record lows as construction came to a standstill. The outlook looked bleak for Meyer’s Companies Inc., and the two owners had a tough decision to make.
“You can either fold your cards, or you can reinvent yourself. We reinvented ourselves,” Yothment says.
Meyer’s Companies Inc.’s reinvention was quick and multifaceted. First, the company responded to the slowdown in the residential market by expanding into other industries. They shifted their priority to doubling down on efforts to win commercial business.
Next, they significantly expanded the service arm of their business, setting up distinct service departments in each of their key areas—heating, plumbing and electrical.
“We realized that to compete we had to diversify what we offered, but we also had to be highly specialized in a number of different trades,” Yothment says.
While many contractors and service companies operate in the Northwest Indiana area, very few of those companies provide both specialties under one roof. Not only does Meyer’s Companies Inc. install furnaces, plumbing and electrical, its 24-hour service department is able to maintain those services on an ongoing basis for both residential and commercial clients.
The company has formed long-term relationships with clients through rolling service contracts. This security of income has helped the business to moderate the up-and-down nature of the economy and the fluctuating levels of supply and demands in the construction industry. Meyer’s Companies Inc. now has over 3,000 individual customers enrolled in its annual maintenance program.
Diversity of Skills, Services
Over the past 14 years, the changes implemented by Yothment and Starcevich have paid off. They have managed to grow and build the resilience of the business through the decisive changes that they implemented.
“We’ve doubled the volume of business we do since we bought the company,” Yothment says.
Most recently, the company has gone even further to streamline its service delivery and build client intelligence. Meyer’s Companies Inc.’s technicians carry tablets with them to each job, capturing important data about each of their clients’ installations and service statuses. The use of new technology and specialist training for their staff has allowed them to better serve a wide and ever-growing client base.
Meyer’s Companies Inc. now has 50 employees over two locations in Northwest Indiana, covering a 25-square-mile area. The company’s teams include plumbing contractors who install water heaters and sump pumps during construction. These installation specialists work alongside service plumbers, who undertake a range of different tasks such as sewer routing. Their heating, ventilation, air conditioning installation teams install new and replacement HVAC units. They work alongside dedicated HVAC service teams. Across the company’s service groups are individuals with specialized and unique skill sets and tools.
A Model Employer
To retain this highly specialized workforce, Yothment and Starcevich work hard to ensure that their employees are always working in clean and safe working environments. They provide competitive salaries with benefits that include major medical coverage and company-wide investments in 401(k) plans. They encourage their employees to take much-deserved time off to recharge and enjoy holidays.
As factory-authorized dealers, Meyer’s Companies Inc. has to make sure that their employees are fully certified and that they complete the necessary continuing education credits needed to maintain that certification every year. All of the company’s plumbers are licensed in the state of Indiana. The business is licensed, bonded and insured in all of the counties where they do work.
“We’re proud to say that we have employees who have worked for the company for over 40 years. They’re our employees but they’re also our friends,” Yothment says.
Evolving Client Base, Economy
The diversity of the team’s expertise is reflected in the diversity of the company’s client base. Northwest Indiana’s close proximity to downtown Chicago has meant that a portion of Chicago’s diverse workforce choose to commute to family homes that they’ve purchased in subdivisions located in Indiana. This influx of residents from Illinois has driven business growth for Meyer’s Companies Inc. and the local construction industry as a whole.
“Northwest Indiana is a melting pot. We are 25 miles from downtown Chicago, and there are subdivisions being built up from people who are coming from Illinois over to Indiana,” Yothment says. “That’s what makes our business grow; there’s an influx of new people coming in all the time.”