In the HVAC industry, staying in business for 50 years is considered an accomplishment. So you can imagine how proud the staff at Oklahoma City-based Spaeth Inc. is about its recent 100th anniversary celebration.
“If I sum it up in one word, it’s got to be ‘legacy,’” said Kevin Spaeth, president. “The legacy of the family, the traditions of family, and the quality of heritage we have is still evident in the company today. It’s very important to us that this legacy continues and that each employee understands it.
“Family companies aren’t always easy, as anybody who has been in a family company knows well. But, we have always found that when times are tough, family is who you can depend on.”
Some of Spaeth’s earliest memories come from being in the office where he, his brothers, and his cousins would help out.
“My first memory of the business was counting fittings when I was a young boy, helping the company with inventory,” he said. “I’d literally come home black from head to toe from dust from the fittings that we’d drag out of the bins. We’d count them, re-sort them, and put them back in.”
Spaeth officially started at the company in 1978, fresh out of high school and still in trade school. One day, early on, he said, the company’s lone service technician decided to stay on with General Motors after the company worked on one of its plants.
“I walked in the office one day and my dad threw me the keys to the truck and told me I was the new service technician,” Spaeth said.
And from there he progressed. He reminisced about a time he spent on top of a new Target store, spending all night on the roof with a six-pack of Coca-Cola trying to figure out the problem and, with the help of his father, he eventually did.
The third generation of Spaeths purchased the business in 1988 during an economic downturn in Oklahoma. Since then, Spaeth said, they have increased the stock value 900 percent.
“In Oklahoma City, when we had the downturn in the mid-80s, there wasn’t a crane in the sky for about five years, so the service division carried the company,” Spaeth said. “A lot of others went under during that time, general contractors and mechanical contractors alike. It was a good time to buy a company, which is when the third generation bought the company from the second generation in 1988. It was a good time to buy, but not a good time to own.”
Being in Business
Alan Loeffler, chairman of Federal Corp., routinely does business with Spaeth Inc. As part of the third generation of Loefflers to work at Federal, which has been in business since 1918, Loeffler said he and his family have been dealing with the Spaeth family for as long as he can remember.
“As much as we businessmen might think otherwise, business is still about relationships,” Loeffler said. “Over the past 100 years, four generations of Spaeths have had relationships with four generations of our people. Business moves up and down based on employees and relationships that individuals — not necessarily companies — have made.”
Loeffler was one of the participants in a special ceremony at Spaeth’s 100th anniversary celebration, where they cut a ribbon in anticipation of the next 100 years. That celebration drew dignitaries from local and state government, along with labor leaders. Jim Bartolotta, a managing partner at The Unified Group — a group Spaeth calls his company’s “strongest association” — delivered a keynote address.
“It was humbling to be invited to speak at the event,” Bartolotta said. “The way they have documented and showcased their history here, with vintage tools, ledgers, photos, and even more unique memorabilia than I could have ever thought of, is really very neat to be a part of.”
The event is something Spaeth won’t soon forget. “Having that kind of turnout meant a lot. But, most importantly, having all of our family here to celebrate the event was amazing,” Spaeth said. “We’ve lost two of the second generation in the past few years — my dad Ramon and Uncle Abe — so seeing Uncle Jim cut the ribbon on our company’s next century was quite a sight.”
Preparing for the Future
The fourth generation is rearing and ready to go. Brian Spaeth joined the company in 2005 and became part of the ownership team in 2012. Kevin Spaeth said the company has hired a business transition engineer as Spaeth Inc. leadership begins to shift from the third to the fourth generation.
“A lot of family businesses fail during transition. This will be the third time we’ve done it,” Kevin Spaeth said. “It’s very, very important to always have a plan. To not have a plan is a plan of failure.”
For his part, Brian Spaeth is dedicated to making sure he carries on the successful legacy of Spaeth Inc.
“The general public now views heat and air as a commodity and not just a capital expense, and they may be right,” he said. “As technology becomes more advanced, it allows energy resources such as heat and air to be more efficiently monitored and controlled. That is why I became Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified and why our company is looking into the most state-of-the-art controls systems. We’re looking to the future.”
Spaeth Inc. has never advertised, Kevin Spaeth said. Its 100 years of success has come almost strictly by word of mouth. When the third generation changed the focus of the company from construction to service, he knew service was about repeat customers, so having an impeccable reputation was of the utmost importance.
Even though Spaeth Inc. has enjoyed 100 years of business, Kevin Spaeth is keen to the fact there are still things left to be done to make sure another 100 years is possible.
“We’re still going to have to continually upgrade our technology,” he said. “The future is in technology. It is in our website. We just readapted our website. I’m ashamed to say it was absolutely horrible before. We have to improve our presence on the Internet and continue to upgrade the training for our technicians, so we can do more computer room work. With that level of technology, there’s a level of training that’s required. It’s not unusual for us to spend $40,000-$50,000 a year in training. It’s a big investment, but it pays off.”
Publication date: 1/6/2014