Ace Electric Company Inc.
Allen Berkley Pickels Sr. “Allen” and his wife Frances founded Ace Electric Company Inc. (Ace) in 1966 as a small, family-run business in Richmond, Va. Post-World War II, non-union laborers began to fill in a growing need for electrical services in the area, specifically working for companies, such as W.L. Wachter Electric. As time went on, skilled technicians broke off into subsidiary or independent companies. Allen was one such contractor, who worked with others as a business community.
He has since passed away and now his son, Allen Berkley Pickels Jr. (Berkley), operates the business. “I grew up with a lot of the children of other electricians in our area,” explains Berkley, current president of Ace. “Many of them are in the industry today, as well and we share that family background of working in the electrical field. I grew up in the business. When I was six months old, my father tied a piece of Romex around my waist and I went crawling under the house.”
Berkley has been running the company since 2000 with Kerry Edwards, co-owner and vice president; he works with a team of 50 professionals throughout Virginia, Maryland and occasionally North Carolina. The team works out of a single office in Richmond, Va., with a majority of work in-state. “We used to travel more than we do now,” Berkley notes. “We have reeled that in over the last few years.”
Ace serves all markets, including commercial, residential and industrial. “We are a class-A licensed electrical contractor,” Berkley elaborates. “We perform a wide range of electrical work, wiring homes and businesses, as well as installing generators, LED lights; you name it.”
However, the team’s largest market share is in the commercial sector. Surrounded by universities in the Richmond area, Ace has established relationships with many of the general contractors who work on new buildings, retrofits and expansions for the higher education institutions. “Many of these general contractors are people we have worked with for more than 30 years,” Berkley explains. “We have worked alongside them at University of Richmond, Virginia Union University and Virginia the Commonwealth University over the years.”
The company has several ongoing projects at said schools and in other locations. Ace is currently working on the new Living and Learning Center at Virginia Union University. The team is also busy installing electrical components at the Westmoreland County Courthouse building. On the residential end of the business, Ace is working for private homeowners in the Richmond area and as far away as the Deltaville-Whitestone area.
Staying ahead by working together
While the recent economic downturn presented challenges to nearly all industries, Berkley and his team have pushed through the worst of the recession by utilizing resources efficiently. “The Yellow Pages is full of electrical contractors,” he explains. “Service is the only thing you can really offer in this market to set yourself apart, whether commercial, residential or industrial. We’ll come to your home and change a light bulb and we will also work on a huge installation for a 25,000-square-foot home. We want to offer the same level of service to both customers. Every project where we leave a satisfied customer is rewarding for us.”
Part of what allows the company to provide leading service is a high value on relationships. Within the company and externally, Berkley focuses on people power. “One strong point for us is that we have very little turnover,” he explains. “The first helper my father ever hired in 1966, who was 17 at the time, still works here; so does his son. My vice president has been here since 1980. Our head estimator has been here since 1977. Some of our superintendents have been here since the late 1970s, and our service manager has worked with us since the late 1980s.”
Because Ace performs most work in-house, Berkley and his team rarely have to rely on subcontractors except for specialty trades, such as excavation or boring. When a job is just a little too big, he reaches out to other local contractors.
“I can borrow the labor to get my job finished,” he explains. “It helps other contractors when their work is slow. They do the same for us, so it’s a win-win situation. We have some really great relationships that we have established through the Central Virginia Electrical Contractors Association.”
As Ace approaches 50 years in business, Berkley is looking ahead; it is evident that he takes great pride in the experience and professionalism of his team. Berkley also knows that the relationships he has established will continue to draw business for an increasing backlog of small and large projects. The company continues to stand out as a small, family-owned business with capabilities comparable to much larger firms. No doubt if Allen and Frances Pickels were alive today, both would be very proud of how Ace Electric Company Inc. has grown and will continue to grow in the future.
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