For more than 80 years, Ruthrauff Service LLC has quietly maintained its mission to deliver excellent customer service in the HVAC industry. And, while 80 years is quite a milestone, it’s one the Pittsburgh-based service contractor hasn’t had time to celebrate yet, as most of the crew’s time has been spent moving into a new location this past December after outgrowing its previous space.
Though, it’s not surprising, since the company is not one to bang its own drum, according to John Sloan, president of Ruthrauff Service. In 2012, the company became one of the few to receive the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) GreenStar certification for its commitment to environmental responsibility and helping customers achieve operational and energy savings. However, you won’t see any mention of it on the company’s website — or mention of any other awards for that matter.
“We never really attempt to market ourselves in that respect — to go out and try to get awards,” said Sloan. “We’re kind of a quiet performer; we don’t pat ourselves on the back too much. It’s not about us. It’s about our customers.”
The company, founded in 1934 by Jack Ruthrauff as a refrigeration equipment distribution and service contractor, branched out into air conditioning in the 1950s. Since then, ownership has been passed to different family members and employees. In 2006, Ruthrauff was purchased by fellow Pittsburgh-based mechanical contracting conglomerate Sauer Holdings Inc. Following the acquisition, two new companies were established: Ruthrauff Service and Ruthrauff | Sauer LLC, each boasting separate locations, ownership, and leadership.
Ruthrauff Service has grown every year since 1990, according to Sloan, closing out 2014 with approximately $10 million in revenue. The company currently employs 56 people, including 35 technicians and 35 fleet vehicles.
A Stellar Reputation
Thomas Brazel has served as general manager of Ruthrauff Service for the last three years, after he and his family relocated from Florida to Pittsburgh. “Ruthrauff was a company I’d known about for years, just through their reputation in the industry,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those types of things where I put out a bunch of resumes as I wanted to come and work for this particular company. I knew its history, I knew it had a reputation of being a top quality company, and that’s what attracted me.”
Ruthrauff’s excellent reputation has helped attract dozens of employees to the company. And, once there, employees tend to stay.
“I’ve worked at a couple of different places, and one remarkable thing about Ruthrauff is the longevity and consistency of its staff,” Brazel said. “The people who come here remain with the business for a long time. There’s not a lot of turnover at all. Our average technician is here for 13-14 years. And we have a few individuals who’ve been with us well over 30 years. They don’t come here and stay six months to a year, jump ship, and go somewhere else.”
Butch Dee is one such employee. The senior technician has been with Ruthrauff since 1988.
“I was just talking to a young apprentice who works with us about how I’ve had opportunities to work elsewhere and didn’t go because Ruthrauff is a quality company,” Dee said. “We’re corporate, but it feels like a mom-and-pop shop. They value family life and respect the fact we’re working for our families and not just for them. They give you the opportunity to learn, make mistakes, and recover from mistakes. I’m a relationship guy, and the company’s truly built on relationships. For me, it’s been a great fit.
“Most people want to come here and work because the business boasts a good reputation,” Dee continued. “I think our leadership is excellent. When I first started, there were six or eight of us, and now there are 35 of us. When Sloan took over, his vision was to grow the company through sales and service, and be the best in town. I think we’ve achieved that. And, it continues today. I’m 54 years old and I hope to be here for eight to 12 more years. That’s how much I like working here.”
Sticking with Core Values
Ruthrauff reps attribute the company’s success to sticking with the same, simple objective: Provide the highest level of customer service to not only customers, but to employees, as well.
“We’ve always stuck to the same principles,” Sloan said. “When times got bad, we didn’t try to be the lowest-price contract, we just kept trying to be the best. That’s why we’re successful. Our goals have remained unchanged for 50 years — continuing to find ways to remain different from our competitors, continuing to grow, and striving to be the best.”
Unlike many of its competitors, Ruthrauff prefers to build business relationships through personal interactions, not pretentious advertising campaigns.
“We’re really not flashy. We don’t do any big advertising or big marketing campaigns,” Brazel said. “It’s all word-of-mouth. Everything we do is relationship-based. We’re not out looking to grow for growth’s sake. We’re not throwing out a press release every week or every month just to get our name out there.”
As part of its commitment to customer service, Ruthrauff Service abides by its Customer Assurance Review and Evaluation (CARE) program. The program produces printouts on a monthly basis to ensure the company is talking to customers, evaluates how it is doing, and what it can do to improve.
“It’s a constant measurement to make sure our customers are taken care of and they’re happy,” Sloan said. “I know the national average for retention of customers is less than 90 percent. Ours is hovering somewhere around 96 or 97 percent, and I attribute this to the CARE program. That’s the differentiator; it’s why our customers choose us. We’re rarely the low price; a lot of customers choose us because they know we’re going to do it the way they want it to be done.”
There’s been a large number of significant technological advances since Ruthrauff first opened its doors in 1934. And those changes are affecting the HVAC industry as well as customer expectations.
“It’s not the same industry of our fathers and grandfathers,” Brazel said. “It’s technology-driven. Now you have rooftop air conditioning units with more technology and computer power used to launch the first mission to the moon. Technology has really driven this instant gratification-type philosophy where the expectations for quality customer service are so much higher than I ever remember. The biggest thing is not only keeping up with the changes, but continuing to grow and improve. It’s going to get more and more competitive as more people are going after the same piece of pie. At the end of the day, the companies who stay committed to that personal contact and customer service, those are the ones who are going to survive and be successful.”
Dee agrees technology has been the most drastic change in the business. “When I first started, we had radio pagers. Dispatch would get on the radio and say, ‘Call the office,’ and that’s how they got in touch with us. Now, all of our paperwork and everything’s done on iPads. Air conditioning equipment has progressed the same way. Everything now has a computer built into it. It’s high-tech. As things change, it’s like a snowball effect, once it gets rolling, it just continues to change so fast.
“Regardless of how all of that has changed, our business is still about serving the customer and understanding who our customers are,” Dee continued. “That’s been the one thing that’s stayed the same.”
“I find great pride when I look at the Pittsburgh skyline and think about all of the buildings we’ve worked in and will continue to work in,” Sloan added. “We built and shaped that skyline. It’s very impressive. Eighty years is a long time. We continue to work with the same customers we’ve worked with for 40-50 years. It all goes back to customer service.”
Publication date: 3/16/2015