In December 2016, Upchurch Companies gave 48 employees at Hermetic Rush Services Inc. a meaningful Christmas gift: job security at a stressful time of year.
Hermetic Rush Services provided commercial and residential HVAC services to the Jackson, Mississippi, area for decades, but toward the end of 2016, its owners decided to sell. They approached Upchurch Companies, which agreed to acquire the company and keep all of its employees. With the holidays just ahead, the peace of mind that December announcement provided couldn’t have been timed better.
Over the years, Upchurch Companies has acquired several businesses, and as a result, it has grown and diversified to become a “one-stop shop” that provides mechanical, plumbing, HVAC and electrical contracting. It has an automated sheet metal fabrication shop, and it provides industrial services, lining and coating for underground pipes and manholes, commercial flooring installation and disaster mitigation.
Most of the company’s work is in the southeastern U.S., and while it will travel outside that footprint, the company’s treasurer, David Upchurch, jokes that it prefers to stay in “SEC Country,” a reference sports fans are partial to.
After 47 years, what’s perhaps most important to the company is that it now provides jobs for approximately 600 people.
“It’s satisfying to put a smile on somebody’s face and earn their trust,” David says. “They know we’re going to bat for them or we’re going to help them take care of their families, so it’s a big deal. It’s not just about the money. It’s a people business.”
From small jobs to casinos and prisons
The company got its start in 1970, when Vennis Upchurch launched Upchurch Plumbing Inc. in Greenwood, Mississippi. For its first 25 years, Upchurch Plumbing focused on small commercial and design-build projects in Mississippi, including schools, health care facilities and manufacturing plants.
In the mid-90s, Vennis passed away unexpectedly due to cancer, and his four children—Robert, Mike, David and Cindy—stepped up to run the business. Around that time, Upchurch Plumbing took on casino projects that were popping up around Mississippi. It worked with big-name casinos, like Harrah’s® Lady Luck and Hollywood Casino, and entered hyper-growth mode, doubling in size three years in a row.
When the casino business slowed in the early 2000s, Upchurch Plumbing shifted gears and began to take on federal contracts. It contributed to several federal prison projects and started traveling out of state, taking work in Louisiana and a couple of private prison jobs in Arizona.
In 2013, the federal projects slowed too, but by then, Upchurch Plumbing had diversified.
A growing business umbrella
The Upchurch Companies umbrella now includes eight divisions or DBA, “doing business as,” companies. But David says Upchurch Companies didn’t set out looking to grow. Rather, each of those entities, like Hermetic Rush Services, came to Upchurch Companies looking to sell.
“I think it’s just timing, what people brought to us,” David says. “… We had a lot of opportunities, and we took advantage of some opportunities that were given to us.”
In 2004, for instance, a friend of the Upchurch family, William Hux, approached Upchurch Companies and asked it to join forces with Moses Electric, which Hux was a part owner of. Upchurch agreed to acquire Moses Electric and sealed the deal on its first of many acquisitions.
In 2006, a commercial services company in Memphis, Tennessee, was going out of business. The company’s top two salesmen approached Upchurch Companies, which agreed to bring the sales and office staff over to Horn Lake, Mississippi, and create Upchurch Services LLC.
In 2013, Upchurch Companies was introduced to Vincent Matlock, a division president for a national mechanical company located in Jackson, Tennessee. Both parties wanted to build on the reputation that Matlock had and expand Upchurch into Tennessee, so Upchurch Companies launched Jackson-based Upchurch Mechanical and made Matlock president of that DBA.
Again and again, similar offers have come to Upchurch Companies’ doorstep.
Upchurch Companies acquired Jones Brothers Inc., which now operates as Upchurch Industrial; Lining & Coating Solutions LLC, which repairs, lines and coats pipes and manholes; Craft Croswell, which installs commercial flooring; and Pro Clean Services, a division spun out of Craft Croswell to provide fire and water damage repairs, carpet cleaning, tile and grout repairs and janitorial services.
Putting the right people in place
Upchurch Companies is careful to partner only with people who will uphold the company’s commitment to quality and safety and its reputation for being a down-to-earth, fair company. “We have a good name and great reputation, and we’re proud of that,” David says.
The Upchurch siblings are also careful not to micromanage. Instead, they give their business managers autonomy.
“We’re approximately 600 employees between all the companies, and we’re still in the business and very hands on, but we put the right people in place and give them opportunities to succeed,” David says.
For instance, Steve Palmer, who now runs Lining & Coating Solutions LLC, first asked to start a linings and coatings division within Upchurch Services. Steve and David talked it over and decided it would be better create a separate LLC, or limited liability corporation.
Now, Steve “feels like he’s running his own company,” David says. “He’s really stepped up, [and] he’s got more freedom to run it like he would run it, versus just working for Upchurch Services.”
Celebrating the diamond club
That approach seems to be working. Vennis Upchurch started a program to reward employees who worked for Upchurch Plumbing, uninterrupted, for 25 years, with an engraved diamond ring and a cash bonus. More than 30 people have earned that recognition.
In 2006, Upchurch Services started a similar program, adding the names of employees with 10 years of uninterrupted service to a plaque in the office. The plaque already has 16 names on it.
Upchurch Companies has a “family first” mentality, and each year, Upchurch Plumbing hosts a company picnic to celebrate employees and help them get to know their co-workers’ spouses and children.
“Don’t get me wrong,” David says. “We’ve done well, and you definitely work to make money and provide, but [we] just get a lot of joy out of feeling like you’re responsible for approximately 600 families and it makes a difference.”
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