Eckhardt & Johnson Inc.
Henry Eckhardt and James Johnson founded Eckhardt & Johnson Inc. (E&J) in 1917 as a small residential plumbing and heating company. For nearly a century, the business has continued to grow and diversify, introducing commercial and industrial services to clients in the 1950s.
E&J has been passed on to a limited number of individuals over the years, all of which have had a long service with the company. Two families have had an interest in the business since its inception, including James Johnson and Henry Eckhardt, who passed the company along to Elmer Dalquist, which eventually led to the subsequent leadership of Russell V. Bell, Ronald Clair, Russell S. Bell and to E&J’s current leader, Daniel Clair.
Currently, as majority stockholder, Clair runs the operation with six long-standing minority stockholders. A strong management team, as well as dedicated office and field staff, allow the company to continue its legacy of quality in workmanship, carving out a niche in commercial and industrial work.
Today, E&J employs more than 70 people, working from a single location in Manchester, N.H. The company self-performs plumbing, HVAC and sheet metal installations, as well as a 24/7 service division. E&J also performs in-house design and 3-D coordination services. “We have stayed focus on the work we do best,” Clair explains. “We have the staff, experience and expertise to do almost any type and size of plumbing and mechanical project, but we try to take on projects that suit our expertise and resources.”
Building a Rapport
E&J has developed working relationships with contractors, schools, property managers, medical partnerships and manufacturers, among others. “We like to work on projects where our employees can display their craftsmanship and commitment to quality,” Clair explains. “We have the capabilities to work on small or complex plumbing and mechanical systems, boiler replacements, chillers, rooftop replacements, certified pipe welding and medical gas systems.”
While no project is a cake walk, the team really shines on a tight schedule. E&J has completed numerous projects with demanding schedules. The team knows what to do from a mechanical standpoint, but also excels at coordinating schedules, even while working with a number of other trades. The business utilizes the latest technology to plan and implement contracts.
“Our design and coordination departments use the latest AutoCAD software to perform 3-D coordination drawings on complex projects, this process helps keep our projects on track,” Clair notes. “This process allows us to identify and resolve conflicts before we even get on site. From there, we can prefabricate many of our components to save time on the installation portion of a project.”
Recognizing the importance of streamlining operations, particularly in a difficult economy, Clair and his team have done some restructuring over the last year to make operations more efficient. “We are focusing on controlled, steady growth with our design-build work and expanding our service department,” he elaborates. “In 2013, we added a full-time plumbing and mechanical designer to our staff. That has allowed us to come one step closer to bringing our design-build projects 100 percent in-house. We know that this can add value for our clients. We have always had a reputation for performing quality installations and standing behind our work. Now we can further incorporate the products, equipment and designs that we have had success with over the years into these projects.”
Furthermore, Clair goes on to explain that an in-house design staff allows E&J to perform the team’s due diligence when an existing or new client requires a proposal or has an issue with an existing system. “We use our design staff almost as a third-party to give us an objective view of the project,” Clair continues. “We want to make sure the equipment and design selected is the best fit for the current building and its use. A building may have undergone several changes and modifications since it was built and the equipment was installed, such as energy upgrades, insulation or new windows and doors. We want to make sure the replacement equipment is sized and designed properly for the current building. We also want to take into consideration the fuel and electrical efficiency of the new equipment. There would be nothing worse than to install a new heating plant or other system, have the workmanship look nice but find out that it is over or undersized or not the right equipment for the application. That’s not how we build lasting relationships.”
Clair notes that the best compliment he can receive is when an owner says they can tell his employees take pride in their work. This feedback has been repeated over and over throughout the years, as E&J tackles large and complex projects throughout the region. In 2013, the team completed several such projects with focus and integrity.
Working as a design-build subcontractor under ProCon Construction, E&J completed a contract for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies in Northfield, N.H. The client is a major sealing technology specialty firm, serving customers all over the world. As Freudenberg expanded its manufacturing capabilities, the business needed more room to grow. E&J worked closely with the owners and ProCon Construction from autumn 2013 through January 2014.
“One of the largest challenges on this project was overcoming heat-generated loads and vapors off the production equipment while maintaining comfort cooling and indoor air quality,” Clair recounts. “These issues were addressed through the use of outside air to provide year-round cooling, a DDC control system that modulates outside air intake dampers based upon return air temperature and a VFD exhaust system monitored by pressure differential.”
By utilizing the heat already produced by equipment to control air temperature, E&J was able to reduce energy costs for the client. The owners were so satisfied with the project that E&J was requested to work on future expansion work at Freudenberg.
The team is currently involved in a number of contracts, including the construction of a new residence hall for St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. E&J is working with Eckman Construction on the project and the combined team began work in October 2013.
“Right now we are working on domestic water plumbing and HVAC work,” Clair notes. “One challenge that was confronted was coordinating the layout of the heat piping, water piping, waste and vent piping and the ductwork along with the electrical and sprinkler trades. We did not have the time to coordinate using our AutoCad technology. This was resolved by working closely with the general contractor and other trades in coming up with a workable solution and change in layout in the field.”
E&J has worked with both Eckman Construction and ProCon Construction on a repeat basis, as well as many other trades and general contractors in these and other endeavors.
A Simple Philosophy
E&J takes an innovative approach in order to ensure quality performance. With current software for design, such as AutoCAD and Navis Works, as well as estimating and accounting, it’s a modern business. The team is equipped with smart phones and tablets on-site to stay connected. Despite all of these gadgets, at the heart of the business is a very classic attitude that has carried E&J through decades of growth.
First and foremost, the team values relationships. Whether with customers, vendors, bankers or other strategic partners, E&J employs the golden rule: “We treat others as we would want to be treated,” Clair explains. “Our reputation is everything to us. We take pride in our work and we do the job right the first time. If you can’t take the time to do something right, don’t do it at all.”
According to Clair, the past six years has proven to him once again that sound business practices, quality work and standing behind what he does, works. “We say that we want to make a fair profit over the long haul,” he details. “We certainly have not had record profits these past several years, but we are still here and still moving forward. The recession has probably made us better in a few respects. The most important is reminding us that we are only as good as the people we have working for us and that we need employees that buy into the same philosophy and values the company has. Once we find these employees we need to treat them fair and be willing to invest in them through education and training; they are the most valuable asset we have.”
In the years ahead, Clair and his team plan to continue on the same axis: building relationships while developing a strong professional team. “Our continuing goal is to design and build a project, service the client and be there to replace the equipment when the equipment has served its useful life,” he explains. “In order to do that, we keep up with current business practices, new technology and we are always looking for ways to be better at what we do.”
With a strong foundation, E&J is looking at a projected 12 to 15 percent growth over the coming year. As always, the team strives to perform quality work and build lasting partnerships across the board. As the company approaches 100 years in business, clients and strategic partners can continue to rely on Eckhardt & Johnson Inc. for quality, innovation and integrity as always.
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