Meet Gene Neises, owner of Contractors Heating Inc. in Cin-cinnati, OH. Neises has been in the industry for 40 years, starting work with his father and now working with his own two sons. With consolidation and the natural evolution of hvacr contracting, however, Neises could be considered part of an endangered species of hvacr contractor: the very small shop.

The News met up with him on a residential new construction project in Cold Spring, KY, a little south of the Ohio border. It’s one of those jobs a contractor sometimes is asked to do, especially when he has a reputation for quality. Another guy in the trades needs work done, and recommendations wind up pointing to contractors like Gene.

Perhaps there are more contractors out there like this than we are aware of. They tend to be quiet; they don’t send out press releases, don’t seek publicity at all. They enjoy doing jobs well, and don’t understand what the fuss is all about.

Most of their work comes through referrals and repeat business. They can pick and choose their customers, and like it that way.

In some ways, Contractors Heating is following trends evident in the rest of the industry. For instance, unlike that new construction project, Gene’s work is mainly residential replacements.

“We used to do more new home installations,” he says, but that market has matured in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.

The 2,000-sq-ft home site we visited has a high-efficiency, natural gas furnace installed in a large closet off of the laundry room. Gene says it will have sufficient room for service and maintenance. The 10-SEER central air system has a 10-year warranty. There will also be whole-house humidification. That’s one of the benefits of working directly with the homeowner, especially one that knows something about mechanical systems already: The bells and whistles are common-sense items.

Fewer Small Shops

There are fewer and fewer small companies like Contractors Heat-ing, Gene observes. Several of his larger competitors have merged or sold out to competitors.

Neises says he has had offers, but he isn’t ready to sell — yet. His sons don’t seem particularly interested in running the business, so the time may come when he sells.

At one time the company was larger, but it may have been too large for its owner. “We used to do condos in 79 or 80,” Gene said. “We had a lot of people, but maybe we grew too fast.” The workload and company size are more manageable now, more to the taste of the owner.

The residential jobs he takes are generally larger than this particular new home project. The average square footage of the homes he installs systems in is 6,000 to 8,000 sq ft. The largest was a 13,000-sq-ft “home” that has the equivalent of several hvac systems.

Has he walked away from projects? Sure; some just aren’t worth the money. “If it’s not right, I don’t want to do it.”

Working independently has its challenges as well as benefits. For instance, when the phone stops ringing, there’s no one to turn to but yourself.

Gene said his company’s slowest months are February, March, and April, in between the heating and cooling seasons. That’s when he and his wife go to Florida. The sons pay bills and handle the service calls.

Tech at Heart

Like many contractors, Gene started out as a tech and probably remains one at heart. When asked what the biggest innovation is that he’s seen in more than 40 years, he passed over the consolidators, utility intrusions, and the invention of the heat pump. For him, the biggest change was the introduction of power tools in the field.

It was especially a big deal in new construction projects, he says. “To make room for duct runs, you had to saw the wood away with a keyhole saw.” Some time in the early 1950s, somebody gave him a “Sawzall” to try out.

Checket-Hanks is service/maintenance and troubleshooting editor. She may be reached at 313-368-5856; 313-368-5857 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 08/27/2001