ST. CHARLES, MO — This suburb of St. Louis is home to family-owned Jerry Kelly Heating & Cooling. The small, quaint community is home to old businesses and old buildings, and is enjoying a healthy business renaissance.

Older structures house modern businesses. Jerry Kelly Heating & Cooling resides in a former funeral parlor, where some of the stained glass parlor doors remain.

It seems a fitting community to grow and nurture a family business, and this hvacr contractor fits that mold.

The business was formed 23 years ago by Jerry Kelly. Kelly, along with his son-in-law Steve Miles, is among six family members (out of 38 employees) who run the $4 million residential/light commercial service company. Miles is a familiar face, serving as a member of The News’ Contractor Consultants panel.

Kelly said the consolidation movement in his area has been silent.

“Everybody seems quiet,” he added. “I’m not sure consolidators are going to be major players in our area. They haven’t succeeded to date.

“This is more a regional area [as opposed to a national market] and there isn’t a lot of room for a national consolidator.”

Healthy Competition

Miles thinks that the presence of a consolidated company has a positive effect on independent contractors. “It woke us up and made us realize that we had to be more professional,” he added. “It has forced contractors to work more on their image.”

Miles believes that although consolidated money gives former owners the opportunity to grow their business, there still seems to be a catch.

“The same management is no longer motivated, because they have sold out.”

Miles disputes the claim that working for a consolidator allows greater freedom of movement for employees.

“Any qualified service tech can get up and go anywhere they want and find a job the next day,” he added. “They don’t need to work for a consolidator to achieve that.”

Miles said that his company offers competitive salary and benefits, thanks in part to its membership in Excellence Alliance, Inc. (EAI). All workers are treated like family, according to Miles, and he believes family ownership is the key to success.

“In the end it’s not the customer lists that matter, it’s the relationships you have with them,” he said. “It is difficult to provide one-on-one service with all of the bureaucracy of being a consolidator.”

Kelly said he plans on keeping the business in the family with one future owner possibly being two-year-old granddaughter Amanda. Miles agreed, although he said that nothing is ever etched in stone.

“We’d look [at a consolidator’s offer] and sell the business if they gave us a lot of cash,” he joked. “Then we would buy the business back after they ran it into the ground.

“Consolidators thought they would run us off but it hasn’t worked. I just tell them, ‘Come on in, the water is warm.’”

And five years from now? “I think Butch [Welsch] and I will still be here,” Kelly remarked.

Publication date: 09/25/2000