South / Regional Reports

Texas Contractor Reaches Many Communities

January 26, 2002
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DALLAS, TX — The year was 1981. Pat Rucker, his wife Bernetta, and a partner worked for an authorized Trane service agency in Peoria, IL. They were at the crossroads of their professional careers. To ensure their future, Pat and his partner decided they needed to establish a service contracting business elsewhere.

The Ruckers headed for Dallas, determined to establish a solid mechanical contracting business.

“It was like starting all over again at the age of fifty,” Pat Rucker said. “We struggled for a year and then grew very fast.” He eventually sold the Peoria business to his partner and bought the Dallas business for himself. Last year, his company, Entech Sales & Service, had $54 million in sales.

Rucker opened up more Entech locations throughout Texas in the ensuing years, but not necessarily because he wanted to get bigger.

“We had some big customers, like Southwestern Bell, who had other buildings in Texas,” he said, “and if you want to do business in Fort Worth or San Antonio, you have to have an office there.”

Rucker likes the challenge of bringing in new businesses, but he also knows his own limitations. Despite having 350 employees, he doesn’t want to overextend.

Entech locations and services include:

  • Dallas Mechanical Division, servicing large-tonnage systems;
  • Fort Worth Mechanical Division, also servicing large-tonnage systems;
  • Dallas, rental equipment;
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, chemical and water treatment;
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, building automation; and
  • Austin/San Antonio, building automation.
Entech is one of the largest representatives of Andover Controls, a strong business segment for the company.

The News visited with the Ruckers at their Austin office, where building automation work is going strong. “The automation business is the fastest growing segment,” he said. “And within that, building security represents the greatest growth potential. People have become very conscious about security.”

WEATHER IS NEVER A FACTOR

Since the company works closely with many commercial automation and mechanical systems, they are not dependent on extreme temperature spikes to attract more business.

“Weather has no affect on us,” said Rucker. “We are busy all year around. Since we always stay busy, we’ve never had restrictions on when employees can take vacations. They can go in summer if they’d like.

“On our mechanical side, we get a good deal of people who want to work for us based on our reputation. On the automated side, it has become more of a problem. There is a real shortage of network engineers whose function is to integrate systems.”

Several division managers now own stock in Entech, including John Mattes, Bruce Long, Jerry Simmons, and Nick Kollasch. Each of these managers has specific areas of responsibility yet they also work very closely with one another. “Each of our division has strong management,” he said. “They have a lot of leeway to do what they want.

Rucker explained that there are also four husband/wife teams running company profit centers, including himself and Bernetta, which he said goes against conventional wisdom. “You’re not supposed to work with your spouse,” he joked.

Rucker said that one of his biggest satisfactions comes from watching his employees grow and mature. “I’m proud to see young people come into the industry and grow with the company,” he added.

He also touched on some of the changes that have occurred in the industry since he started with The Trane Company after getting his BSME degree from the University of Illinois.

“It has been continuous change,” he said, noting the CFC issues, consolidation, etc. “We lived through the CFC issue, when it was hard to compete against manufacturers.”

When it comes to the next issue — consolidation — Rucker, who has been courted by the consolidators, had an opinion, too.

“They all promised they would raise the bar for service,” he said. “But they haven’t done what they said they’d do.”

Rucker said there is a new concern for contractors, which goes much further than consolidation or utility competition: manufacturers.

“I’ve always been an optimist but I’m concerned about the service side of the business — where manufacturers have the ability to put together a good service department to compete with us,” he added. “They have the product and they have contacts with the end users.”

Rucker and several other mechanical contractors have established a group to “counterattack” the growing threat from manufacturers. The 19-member national group can be found at its website: www.chillergroup.com. Rucker added, “Our real concern is not with competing contractors, but with manufacturers.”

For now Rucker wants to funnel his energy into his “bread and butter” — the automation business — and notes that other contractors should see the same possibilities.

“The controls business is so closely related to the hvac business that you’d be a fool not to work in controls. Similarly, I could see that the security business was going to be very big, too.

“Automation has spurred our growth. But our plan is not to grow for the sake of growth — our plan is to take care of our customers.”

Publication date: 01/28/2002

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