SEA BRANCH LAKE, Fla. — Elliot Sokolow, who helped spearhead one of the first of the national contractor consolidations three years ago, toldThe Newshe has retired.

“I’m tired,” said the 56-year-old contractor, citing the weekly commute between his home in Florida and ARS headquarters in Houston. “The last few years have been pretty rough.”

In September 1996, the Florida-based contractor, joining six other contractors from his ACCA Mix Group, sold his $14 million hvac business to American Residential Services. The company went on the New York Stock Exchange, with an IPO price of $13.

The stock price reached a high of $25 but lingered in the $4 to $5 range, the result of poor earnings.

Two months ago, ARS agreed to be purchased by ServiceMaster, a $6 billion service company whose units include TruGreen-ChemLawn and Terminix. ServiceMaster will pay $5.75 per share for ARS stock, representing $92 million in cash.

ServiceMaster is committed to expanding its presence as an hvac contractor, Sokolow said. “Their corporate philosophy is to be number one in every industry they get into.”

Sokolow, a former national president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, said he will be a consultant with ServiceMaster; “a real consultant,” he added, “not the usual fired executive.”

The formation of ARS was the beginning of a roll up of just over 100 hvac contractors around the country, taking the company to its $525 million sales. One month before ARS went public, Service Experts made an initial public offering of shares priced at $14, and now does about $800 million in annualized sales.

Later, two other consolidated contractors went public, GroupMAC and Comfort Systems USA, both in the $1 billion-plus category.

The four consolidators have combined sales of more than $3 billion, and have acquired more than 500 contractors.