One Man and One Van
All businesses must start somewhere. Like everything in life, beginnings can be humble. None more so than the experiences of John Shekell, who, thirty-seven years ago, made a decision to leave the company he had worked for and set up his own business.
“He came in and simply told his wife that he was going to be starting a company,” says Kevin Shekell of his father, John.
Kevin, his son and current president of the company, has vivid memories of being seven or eight years old and watching his father stripping out an old Ford Econoline van, removing seats and carpet to transform the van into the travelling resource that would become the foundation of J.E. Shekell.
“Shelves were installed and, quite literally, one man with one van set out in the world. The company has now gone on to become ‘the area’s largest provider of HVAC plumbing and electrical services’.
Since then, J.E. Shekell has grown significantly. It now proudly sits as one of the most forward-thinking suppliers of air conditioning, electrical and plumbing solutions in the tri-state area. Business Development and Marketing Manager Jeff Bruce believes that the diverse skill base the company has at its disposal is one of the key factors which has lead to the growth and sustainability of J.E. Shekell.
“The company, and this is one of the great benefits of our company, is that we are, for want of a better word, a one-stop-shop. We provide services and repair/replacements for residential customers on HVAC, electrical and plumbing needs.”
This diverse product portfolio, available to both residential and commercial customers, is succinctly summed up in the motto: ‘If it moves water, air or electricity then we can work on it’.
John Shekell may have been operating out of a somewhat rudimentary vehicle, however, there is little doubt however that attention to detail and a commitment to the highest standards ensured that the company was on an upward course from the first day.
“John’s focus from day one, since he decided to open his own business, was so focused on customer service and customer satisfaction. With that motto, with that effort, the company took off pretty quick.”
The business experienced growth, and John quickly responded by acquiring other companies, assimilating them into J.E. Shekell and increasing the scale of his operation.
“He purchased an engineering company, and things grew rather quick because of his focus on that customer service.”
When combined with its wide-ranging suite of products, J.E. Shekell’s in-house expertise meets the demands of all its customers. Jeff acknowledges that, due to the diverse and individual nature of each job, it is imperative that J.E. Shekell is constantly looking forward, developing and growing. By liaising closely with its vendors, it keeps up with the latest technology, and the company also places considerable value on its own development team.
“We have an in-house engineer. On every project, we do design-build. Every project has its own R&D requirements. We have a sheet metal shop and, because of this, we can do a lot of our pre-fab work, so R&D is on-going.”
Worldwide economic events of recent years have combined with increasing demand for value in every industry. This has led to a shift in the landscape of the business world. J.E. Shekell has had to ensure that “what we can do for companies is an area that we are really focused a lot more on.”
Jeff understands that, in today’s world, companies are always trying to find new ways to minimize expenses. He points out that the company has been driven to seek out value-enhancing solutions across its range of products and services.
“There are certainly ways and opportunities that we can offer value to customers through their energy savings, whether that’s changing out their fluorescent lighting or building automation into their controls. There could maybe be some areas in the building that might not be used that often so we can put motion lighting into those rooms and save energy there. Even with residential, programmable thermostats, those customers can control these remotely.”
The company has used quality solutions coupled with unrivaled customer support to build an ongoing working relationship with clients. North American Lighting, a company that makes headlights and taillights for the automotive industry, is a prime example of this. Having enjoyed a positive experience with J.E. Shekell last year, the company returned again this year when another opportunity presented itself.
“We had been over to their plant doing service and maintenance. We had to bid against other contractors, but what we provided for them was different from what they had gotten from previous contractors, and they liked it. The first job went really well, so that is how the second job came about.”
Jeff insists that an in-depth knowledge of the industry, a highly-skilled employee base and a product that is unmatched by its competitors were paramount to retaining this business with North American Lighting.
“We were able to offer them the engineering support prior to construction so they could visualize what they were going to get, and they knew what they were going to get. We had a lot of the background support that they hadn’t typically been getting from a regular contractor.”
While J.E. Shekell is clearly working to its strengths and reaping the benefits, challenges across the industry remain. Jeff argues that the scarcity of skilled individuals can limit success.
“Right now, the problem isn’t lack of work, but it is the lack of qualified people to do the work. It is a manpower issue that we are fighting right now.”
While this industry-wide challenge remains, the company refuses to drag its heels. The company recognizes the need to always strive for improvement. These improvements, Jeff says, come by pushing boundaries in both the area of technological advancements and customer service. These two pillars will help to shape the future for J.E. Shekell.
“What we want, is to stay on top of the technology, continuing to be a leader in the marketplace and continuing to find solutions for our customers, especially in relation to these energy programs.”
This commitment to improvement is apparent in the drive and determination that is prevalent throughout the company as a whole. J.E. Shekell started out of a renovated van and is now an industry leader with cutting-edge technology and an unwavering determination to provide the highest standard in solutions for its clients. It is an example of a company that has not lost sight of its founding ideal. It is also a company that is not afraid to break new ground, to deviate from industry norms and to stand alone for the good of its customers.
“It is about the leadership of the company. It is about training our technicians about the latest in technology and finding ways to best ways to serve our customers – to be on the offense and not on the defense.”