HVAC Contractor Finds Stability in Service, Science, Security
Multigenerational Family Business Builds Lasting Customer Relationships
Ron Brasel has a lot to be proud of. His company, Control Services Inc., celebrated 41 years in business last summer.
His customers practically make up the Omaha, Nebraska, skyline, offering indisputable proof that, over the last four decades, the company has helped shape its hometown.
We Built this City
A full-service building automation and security company, Control Services was started in 1974 by Ron Brasel’s father Richard. Ron Brasel joined the company as an apprentice three short months later and worked his way up to his current title of president. Today, the company boasts 74 employees, annual revenues nearing $14 million, and a satellite office in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“I take great pride when I drive around Omaha and Lincoln. In Omaha, especially, the downtown skyline is populated with all the buildings we’ve been involved in,” Ron Brasel said. “We’re very blessed, and a little bit lucky, to be involved in what skyline there is in Omaha. They’re our customers and they have been our customers, for a very long time.
“Upon the horizon we see a new baseball stadium; new headquarters for the Union Pacific Railroad; new headquarters for the First National Bank of Omaha; and the University of Nebraska Omaha, its arena, and other university buildings. We take pride in being part of the community and we’re proud to see our city evolve into what it has become.”
The company, which serves the entire state of Nebraska, southern South Dakota, and western Iowa, belongs to several organizations, including ASHRAE, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), The Unified Group, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Additionally, Control Services is a Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) Green Star Service Contractor. Its Omaha headquarters became Energy Star-rated in 2013.
Forty Years in the Making
Control Services began as a service company, focused on servicing pneumatic and electric controls in commercial buildings. In 1974, Ron Brasel deemed service more of a nuisance than a requirement.
“The construction industry was booming, and everybody thought that’s where the money was,” said Ron Brasel. “If somebody had an issue, they would try to pull somebody off of a construction job to solve the problem. Of course, that brings all kinds of ugly things into the equation as far as a guy walking in with muddy boots, torn jeans, and a dirty t-shirt. Those things are not real conducive to maintaining a professional appearance.”
Eventually, the company entered into the new construction market. Expansion struck again recently as the company added a security division.
Through recessions and economic uncertainty, Ron Brasel acknowledges keeping up with technology remains the company’s grandest challenge.
“While we started out with pneumatic and electric controls, 1983 brought forth the advent of computerization,” Ron Brasel said. “Everything’s so sophisticated now; there’s been a huge change in the way buildings are controlled. Energy is important and critical. Everybody is aware that it needs to be conserved and used as efficiently as possible.”
Tim Moheng, service manager, Control Services, said building systems rarely interacted with each other when he first started in the industry. “It’s very common, if not mandated, that today’s systems communicate with one another. Temperature control systems and electrical, lighting, and room scheduling systems all need to pass data and work together in buildings being built today.”
Preparing for the Future
Ron Brasel’s current long-term goals for the company include expanding his service department so that it is equal to or surpasses the construction department in annual revenues. “Our service group contributes about 40 percent to our total revenues, and I would like that to be 50 percent or more,” he said.
Eventually, that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of his son, Jason Brasel, who currently serves as the company’s operations manager. Like his father, Jason Brasel worked his way through the ranks of the company, starting out as a salesman in the security division. Unlike his father, he didn’t begin his career with Control Services right out of college.
“It was something I had grown up with as a kid, but it’s not something I wanted to do right out of college,” said Jason Brasel. “The job I did take relocated me around the Midwest for a few years. My last relocation was home to Omaha. At that time, Control Services had started a security division, which is the field that I studied in college. So, that got me back into the family business.”
At 63 years old, the time has come for Ron Brasel, many members of his management team, and his most experienced employees to begin considering retirement. Regarding the company’s future, he carefully crafted a plan. When the time comes, Ron Brasel is confident the third-generation ownership transition will be seamless.
“I didn’t think it was fair to Jason to walk out the door and then have all of his managers traipsing in and going, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m going to be leaving in a year or two,’” said Ron Brasel. “We decided to put together a plan and strategy to bring some younger people in here who would not only have the opportunity to learn what we do, but also be mentored by the managers they would be replacing. We have a four-year program in place for these guys to get trained and be ready to step into management positions as we all mature and decide to head into the sunset.”
Many businesses experience growing pains and Control Services is no exception.
“We are definitely growing in the amount of work we are doing, but, in order take the company to the next level, we need to expand our workforce, which has proven to be surprisingly difficult,” Moheng said.
Ron Brasel believes the issue stems from a lack of trade school interest at an early age.
“Our educational system pushes college on kids starting from elementary school all the way through high school,” he explained. “We’ve gone to career days, visited schools, and tried to talk to kids about construction. We’ve also had conversations with school counselors. They just listen and say, ‘Yeah, that’s nice,’ but they’re still preaching that a college education is necessary to be successful in life, which is absolutely not true for a lot of people. There are many people who do very well in our business as installers, tradesmen, and craftsmen. Being successful in the trades takes years of apprenticeship, years of book learning, and, as fast as our industry changes, we’re constantly sending people to be trained on the latest technologies.”
The building automation industry is expanding, so the lack of personnel is the biggest thing holding the company back from growing even more, according to Ron Brasel.
“The future of building automation is tremendous,” he said. “Maintaining a comfortable and safe working environment using the least amount of energy possible will always be important. As our energy resources become smaller and prices become higher, controlling costs is imperative. A well-thought-out building management strategy, coupled with the right building automation system, is the solution.”
Part of Control Services’ business philosophy is building lasting relationships with its customers, according to Ron Brasel. “If we do a good job for them, we’ve got a lifetime partner,” he explained. In its more than 40 years, the company has gotten much of its business from repeat customers.
“We’ve had people in one building, in particular, every weekday, five days a week, for more than 39 years. They’ve been a service customer and a construction customer. We refer to them as a full-time customer,” Ron Brasel said.
“I’m proudest not of the jobs that we’ve done, but in the way we’ve gotten those jobs,” Jason Brasel said. “The majority of the jobs come as a result of building relationships — no matter how big or small. And that’s just based on our 40-year history. That was my grandfather’s belief. When he first started the service company, he’d say ‘You build your business and career on relationships, and you don’t do anything to jeopardize those relationships.’ In the construction industry, we’re never going to be the low bid. We rely on our great customer relationships around the region to get us the business that we need.”
The company also builds relationships with its employees. “The large number of long-standing employees speaks to the nature of the company and the way my father and grandfather ran it,” said Jason Brasel. “I think the more you portray yourself as a family business — walking the walk and not just talking the talk — the more you’re going to keep people motivated and wanting to stay here. We deeply care about our employees and our customers.”
Publication date: 1/12/2015