Rebuilding a business with an emphasis on training

July 20, 2000
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Natkin has a 30-year history in Oklahoma City, and, according to district manager Larry Beatty Jr., it was once “one of the largest independent contractors in the country.” Natkin & Co. was a big construction company, which spun off into a service division. Natkin Services eventually became its own startup company.

York purchased Natkin Services, and it is now one of 10 member companies from San Jose, CA to Tallahassee, FL. The company is a separate business division of York International.

Natkin has seen its share of turmoil over the years. Beatty said things are a lot different today than when he came on board.

“When I came back here five years ago, this office was down to three technicians and was going through some pretty hard times,” he said. “Now we have twenty technicians and do over $5 million a year. We’ve come back a lot and grown our customer base real well.”

The commercial-industrial service contractor lists several big name customers such as Lucent Technologies, Conoco, Mobil Chemical, Michelin, and Western Farmers, as well as local hospitals, colleges, and Oklahoma City government buildings.

Natkin was also there for its commercial customers when a tornado came through last year and “blew about half of the south end of Oklahoma City away,” according to Beatty. “We did a couple of million dollars in damage repair from that storm.”

Staying competitive

With a lot of commercial business available to area contractors, Natkin has been able to remain competitive with independents and consolidators. In fact, the company collaborates on some projects with a nationally recognized consolidator. “We do work for Encompass on a couple of facilities around here when they don’t have people to cover the work,” he said.

“They’ve actually hired York Services to work in a couple of their facilities,” Beatty said.

Although York has its own service division, it does not compete directly with Natkin. “We won’t chase a customer whose building is serviced by York,” said Beatty. “It would be a waste of our time.”

However, it won’t be a waste of time to continue to service and maintain commercial accounts, particularly with new competitors on the block, namely utilities and vendors.

“I believe we will see competition from utilities for service,” Beatty added. “We are also getting competition from our vendors where they are selling directly to our customers. A lot of contractors like Natkin are getting shoved aside to where we only are doing the installations.”

If Natkin is to maintain its market share, it will have to do it through installation and sales. And that means having the qualified workers to staff projects.

On its side is the York name and the years of training experience that goes with it. Although Beatty said that finding good help is a big problem, he has been fortunate to keep some of his veteran help around — thanks to an aggressive training schedule.

“York has a home-study course [STEP program] that takes about two years to complete,” he said. “It covers the whole gamut — everything you need to know to work in the field.”

Natkin also benefits from a unique training program through Okmulgee Tech, an eastern Oklahoma technical school, where contractors can sponsor students.

Unfortunately, interest in this field has dwindled dramatically. “When I got out of Okmulgee Tech in the 1970s, they were turning out 70 to 90 students per year,” Beatty said. “Last year they turned out seven.

“In order to be successful, you have to have good people. Service technicians are the key. If you have quality people and you can service your customer right the first time, you can be successful.”

NEXT WEEK: In the final installment of our Oklahoma City series, we focus on family businesses and profile two sons who are taking over their father’s contracting firms.

Sidebar: Volunteers step in to help crisis pregnancy

Stillwater, OK — Rhonda Madison had a problem — the heating and cooling system at Stillwater Life Services was not safe to use. After examining the system, William Gonzales from Advanced Mechanical condemned the furnace heat exchanger. This might not be a problem for everyone, but for a nonprofit organization like Stillwater Life Services, this sort of major expense was not in the budget.

“I was overwhelmed with concern about the cost of replacing the air conditioning system,” said Madison. “Spending that money would mean a reduction in services for our clients.”

Stillwater Life Services is a non-profit organization providing a variety of services free of charge to any single mother. These services range from no-questions-asked pregnancy tests, adoption counseling, prenatal care, and after delivery assistance with expenses.

Hearing about their plight, three RUUD Dealers from the Stillwater Oklahoma area rallied to the rescue. They were Advanced Mechanical, Breeden Heat and Air, and K-T Mechanical. They first volunteered to donate their labor, and then contacted Steve Goss of

Shirley’s J&B Supply in Oklahoma City, the local RUUD distributor. Shirley’s J&B Supply, with support from RUUD manufacturing, donated the equipment required. The volunteers at Stillwater Life Services were more than pleased with the comfort of their offices after the new equipment installation was finished.

“The new RUUD air conditioning system has made our building a place that’s fun to be in, besides being safe for our environment,” said Madison.

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