Case Studies

F.W. Spencer & Son Inc.

More than 100 years of high quality mechanical services in the Bay Area

Since 1903, F.W. Spencer & Son Inc. (FWS) has been providing leading mechanical services in the area surrounding San Francisco. Namesake Fred W. Spencer founded the business, eventually incorporating with his son, William H. Spencer. The tradition has continued through four generations and is still owned by the same family. The company began as a plumbing company, evolving over the years to include more diverse mechanical services. In the 1980s, FWS opened a sheet metal shop, which has grown and supported the operation on all fronts. FWS is now a full-service mechanical contractor serving several markets throughout the region.

Bruce Bonar leads the business today as president. “I have been with the business for 26 years,” he explains. “I started out as a project manager, before joining FWS; I worked in the field as a union pipefitter and plumber.”

Today Bruce works with a strong managerial team, overseeing approximately 300 employees out of two locations in Brisbane, and Oakland, Calif. Most of the team’s work is throughout the Bay Area, though the team travels to Sacramento and Los Angeles on occasion for work.

A broad reach

The company’s market share includes commercial and institutional clients such as universities, offices, transportation organizations, municipalities and public schools. Over the years, FWS has been involved in a number of large-scale projects in the region. While the team performs most work in-house, the business relies on a network of subcontractors for tasks such as insulation, controls, engineering, fire stopping and electrical work.

“Our contracts are a combination of negotiated and competitively bid contracts,” Bonar notes. “The Bay Area is a major metropolitan area but is not a huge construction community, so we often find ourselves working with the same people on a repeat basis.”

Working with a strong team in-house, as well as with skilled strategic partners, the team has built up a strong portfolio. Recent work includes a plumbing project at the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The crew is also finishing up a major project on the new Oakland Bay Bridge that started in 2006. FWS’ scope of work on the project includes a significant amount of piping work and dehumidification, which will be completed later in 2014.

Growth in health care has been an industry trend across the country. With a changing system, many hospitals and clinics are making upgrades to better serve patients. FWS has been involved in a lot of medical industry and laboratory research work in recent years, including new hospitals in Oakland, Napa, San Jose, Santa Clara and Fremont, Calif.

Looking ahead

The spike in health care work helped FWS to stay busy throughout the recession. “We have a unique situation here in California,” Bonar explains. “There have also been recent state mandates for seismic upgrades to hospitals. The state encouraged this work, so we were in good shape over the last five or so years. We were able to shift our focus to medical industry and laboratory research work as other sectors were shrinking.”

The market is shifting again as the country recovers from the economic downturn. Bonar has seen work in health care decline, but he is not worried about it. “We are not seeing as many large health care projects now,” he explains. “We are optimistic in the Bay Area. Housing is coming back strong so there is a lot of residential work. We are also seeing office-based businesses growing. Facebook, Google and Apple all have offices here and people are building again as these businesses expand.”

The numbers look good, although Bonar says his team measures success on some alternative metrics, as well. “Obviously our business has to be profitable,” he explains. “Still, our work is very relationship-driven. A good indicator for us is employee retention. We have a very high tenure and many of our employees have worked here for 30 years or more. Our relationships with our employees are very important to us and we want them to be happy to come to work with us.”

After more than a century in business, Bonar is happy to report steady growth. FWS maintains a strong reputation in the region for high quality work. While FWS may not be the least expensive contractor all of the time, the team guarantees attention to detail and a dedication to quality rarely matched in the market. The company’s team boasts hundreds of years of collective experience, allowing FWS to turn around projects efficiently – on time and often under budget.

FWS offers value and integrity, two qualities that continue to attract clients as time goes on. The staff is motivated and supported by a strong management team. Bonar emphasizes turnkey service that customers remember. From inception to commission, the company continues to provide attentive service, professional performance and honest work throughout F.W. Spencer and Son Inc.’s many large and complex endeavors.

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Spring 2018



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