Case Studies

Phoenix Mechanical Piping

Mechanical and piping contractors serving New York City

Phoenix Mechanical Piping (Phoenix Mechanical) is a family-owned and operated mechanical contracting firm operating throughout the five boroughs of New York and Long Island. Bill McMorrow established the business in 1988. For more than 25 years, he and his team have brought high-quality union labor onsite for hundreds of new construction and retrofit projects in the New York metropolitan area.

Bill employs 25 people, including his son, Tim McMorrow, the company’s vice president of operations. His daughter, Colleen Cassai is the company’s office manager. Like his father, Tim is a card-carrying union steamfitter. Bill’s father, John McMorrow was also a steamfitter. Mechanical work is in the family’s blood. The McMorrows have a given talent for this challenging sector of the construction industry, as well as a passion for the work.

Phoenix Mechanical Piping

Industry involvement

While operating Phoenix Mechanical, Bill is also deeply involved with the Mechanical Contractors Association of New York (MCANY). The business owner understands what the challenges are for laborers in this industry. He started out as an apprentice, later becoming a steamfitter mechanic and working his way through the ranks as a foreman and superintendent before starting his own business. He is using this experience to help his colleagues in the industry and improving members’ market outlook and ability to compete.

Bill has served as the president for the MCANY for several years. He is also on the association’s board of directors and is the chairman of the trade board, helping members negotiate contracts with the union. His industry involvement goes even further, acting as trustee with the Steamfitters Union welfare fund and serving on the board of governors for the Building Trades Employee Association of New York City.

Making connections

Over the years, Phoenix Mechanical has established a strong reputation throughout the New York construction market. Bill and his team are known for collaborative efforts and quality labor, signature of longstanding union relationships. While the team of around 25 employees performs a range of HVAC and piping services in-house, the business works with a select group of subcontractors who offer sheet metal fabrication and insulation capabilities.

“Our emphasis is on piping and that is what the majority of our jobs center on,” Bill explains. “We have a broad target market, doing everything from new construction high rise work to public school retrofits. Our work is split pretty evenly between public and private work.” The company has strong relationships with clients, including private contractors, municipal agencies and the New York School Construction Authority. We usually have two or three major projects going at the same time- then some more mid-sized jobs.

A growing portfolio

A typical year for the Phoenix Mechanical team includes a lot of boiler change-outs for the NYC School Construction Authority. Over the last few years, in addition to school projects, the business has been involved with several new construction and change-out projects. “We recently completed work for a complete gut and rehab project at an apartment complex in Central Park West called Brewster Arms,” Bill recounts. “We put in 900 heat pump units at that building.

“We did a project for the New Yorker Hotel last year while the hotel was still operational,”  Bill adds. “We changed out more than 1,000 console units in an active hotel. That was a very challenging job. The owner kept the hotel open and did a total renovation floor by floor. Our contract was part of that. Another major project was The Amsterdam at Harborside, which was very big for us. That project is a few years old. This is a large independent and assisted living home, all new construction, where we did the heating air conditioning and piping mechanical work for the whole project.”

One of the most rewarding projects Bill says he and his team have been involved in is an ongoing project at Electchester Village in Queens. Electchester was first built shortly after World War II, the brainchild of Harry Van Arsdale, leader of the Local 3 Electric Union. This unique community is offers affordable housing for union workers and is still owned by Local 3. “This is a 32 building housing complex that offers affordable housing for union workers,” Bill explains. “We are changing the boilers out in all the buildings. We have been there since spring 2014 and we will be there through the end of 2015.”

Staying afloat

Bill and his crew have faced many challenges in recent years. In the wake of a hard recession as well as a devastating hurricane, the Phoenix Mechanical team is hanging tough despite the obstacles. “We were based in Hackensack, New Jersey, but Hurricane Sandy destroyed our office,” Bill recounts. “We relocated to Saddlebrook, New Jersey, and rebuilt our facilities.” A fairly quick turnaround in reconstructing the company’s headquarters has helped to keep the business moving.

Although most of the country is in the midst of a slow and steady recovery, Bill notes that his team still faces challenges unique to the industry. “The elephant in the room is non-union competition,” he elaborates. “A lot of the independents are getting into our market through residential new construction as well as fit-out work. We are seeing that presence more and more, which is a challenge for unions and associations. We have to find ways to be competitive in this changing market, taking on the new reality of what our competition is.” Working alongside his fellow board members at MCANY, Bill is looking for innovative ways to preserve union work and help members to stay competitive.

A reliable team

A major component of remaining competitive is managing costs. As a union contractor, labor is Phoenix Mechanical’s largest expense. This can be challenging, because this cost fluctuates by project and can change throughout the course of a project. “It is not a fixed cost going in on the job,” Bill explains. “Your estimate has to be right and you have to be able to rely on your mechanics and men to bring in a contract on time and on budget.”

Coming from a background in labor, Bill has a strong understanding of what challenges are in the field and what his employees have to contend with on a regular basis. “That helps me develop strong relationships with our employees,” he notes. “We have a lot of people who have been here a long time. My top foreman has worked with the company for 25 years, other have been here 15 or more. The loyalty goes both ways and our long employee tenure helps us build better relationships with clients.”

Bill is happy to have a strong, loyal team. As the market recovers, he keeps a positive outlook. “New York is reemerging,” he explains. “Construction is strong. There are still challenges ahead with such a competitive market, but there is plenty of work on the horizon and we expect to be part of it.” As Phoenix Mechanical approaches 30 years in business, Bill and his family remain dedicated to building success for clients, employees and colleagues in the industry.

Published on: July 2, 2015

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