Ren Nitzsche and Everett Carroll cofounded Hill York in 1936. The pair specialized in equipment services by working with Hill refrigerated cases and York air conditioning. During World War II the company refurbished and installed used refrigerators and renamed the business by combining the two distribution brand names. In 1946 Robert S. Lafferty Sr., an oil heater salesman from New Jersey, met Ren and Everett. The three combined forces and sold the first complete air conditioning system to the Roney Plaza Hotel on Miami Beach.
The trend caught on in the warm Florida climate and more hotels followed suit. Soon business was booming, and Robert Sr. became part owner of the business. Years later, Robert Sr.’s son, Robert Lafferty Jr., joined the team.
Today Robert Jr. continues involvement as chairman of the board for Hill York. In addition, Robert W. (Chip) Lafferty, Robert Jr.’s son and CEO of Hill York, boasts the capabilities of a professional engineer. With an experienced and knowledgeable executive team, Chip leads the company as it continues its success in 2013.
Jeff Phillabaum, president of Hill York, has been with the company for 35 years. “I came here right out of college in 1977,” explains Jeff. “We focus on promotion from within, and through performance I worked my way up to president of the company.”
A third-generation, family-owned business, Hill York continues to operate under the same small-business guidelines as it did when Robert Sr. sold the first air conditioning system a half-century ago. “We have a very distinct culture here,” notes Jeff. Our priorities are faith, family and business in that order. “The longevity and success of the company has a lot to do with that.”
Hill York employs 225 people in Florida operating out of four offices that serve the areas surrounding Melbourne, Sarasota, Tampa, West Palm, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. “We pride ourselves on a high retention rate, and many employees have been with the business for years and some even decades,” says Jeff.
“We’re making a profit and having fun,” Jeff elaborates. “It’s got to be fun and it’s got to be a business where it feels good in the morning to get up and go to work.” While profitability is important, the team is focused on relationships. Hill York’s partnerships with suppliers and customers alike mirror that of the executive team and employees. Communication and a friendly attitude have taken Hill York far in the HVAC business.
The business relies on vendors for products and parts. Timely delivery and quality products are vital to Hill York’s day-to-day operations. “We want to maintain these partnerships first and foremost. It’s not about finding the cheapest supplier, but who can provide the service.”
Of course, with customers Hill York upholds the golden rule: Service is key. “The most important factor for new projects is being in touch with the owner and/or customer,” continues Jeff. “We have moved away from plan and spec, and focused more on a relationship-based customer experience.”
Services and Community Involvement
Hill York provides system maintenance, service, energy solutions and installation for a wide range of commercial heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Whether working on a new construction project, or increasing efficiency of an existing system, the team embodies the skills and experience to offer the best service and performance in the region.
Hill York was awarded TOBY for excellence in the facilities from an energy and safety standpoint in 2012, marking the second consecutive year for the business. The team was also recognized with a craftsmanship of the year award the same year. These recognitions serve to reinforce the company’s reputation as a leader in the industry, the reason many customers turn repeatedly to Hill York for major HVAC services.
Recently, the team retrofitted three dormitories for Barry University in Miami Shores. “It started as a design-build for one new dormitory,” reports Jeff. “When we finished there were two other dorm buildings that had serious problems and the administration needed to have something done before school started again in September. We put in a modular chiller plant and installed piping to all three dorms. It was a fast-track solution to a complex problem.”
While the company extends service to customers, the Lafferty family emphasizes the value of service to the community, as well. “We’re very involved locally,” says Jeff. “We support the Sheridan House, a women-in-need facility, as well as Habitat for Humanity. We want to provide more personal service and not simply make a donation. We started posting articles on our website about making a difference. We have many employees that contribute their time and effort and we want people to know about it. Check out our website and see what we are doing.”
Florida’s oldest and largest air conditioning contractor continues to grow, although the team faced challenges associated with the recession. “In 2007 to 2008 a large part of our revenues was in large new construction work, like high-rises, condos and office buildings,” says Jeff. “That market virtually dropped off the end of the earth in 2009.”
Fortunately, the business’ diverse capabilities helped to maintain Hill York through the economic downturn. The service, maintenance, retrofit and energy solutions (hygreen) divisions have steadily grown. “We restructured to allow for lower revenue during the downturn,” says Jeff. “We started to focus more on other markets and were able to survive the storm.”
Jeff sees a slow recovery in the state. Construction is still very slow in the region, so Hill York is shifting its focus to making internal improvements that will positively affect customer experience.
“We’re in the process of installing new software that will help us substantially from a business standpoint,” explains Jeff. “We’re restructuring our training program. We want to do a much better job with training from sales to operations. The No. 1 thing is the customer experience. We’ve launched the CHAMP program, which stands for caring, helping, added-value, mind-share and partner. We’re trying to show added value to the customers and get them to be advocates and partners. I think it will make a difference in customer retention.”
Hill York has used the slow economy to make changes to the business structure that offer efficiency and improved customer experience. The team’s focus on service, maintenance and energy solutions expansion has been very successful. The team at Hill York has made important reinvestments to better serve customers. This dedication to service is what keeps Hill York growing as the leading air conditioning and energy solutions contractor in Florida.
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