|Frank's Keith Mosing and Robert Gilbert|
More than 80 percent of the companies making ABiz's fourth annual Top 50 list boosted their revenues from 2010 to 2011.
FRANK'S CASING CREW
Taking it to the Top
Frank's Casing Crew rises to No. 1 - where it will likely sit for quite a while.
|Keith Mosing and Robert Gilbert|
FRANK'S CASING CREW
Taking it to the Top
Frank's Casing Crew rises to No. 1 - where it will likely sit for quite a while.
The chairman and CEO of Frank's International and Frank's Casing Crew and Rental Tools, Keith Mosing hasn't forgotten his first days at his grandfather's company - and those early days were nearly 50 years ago. Keith was all of 14 years old when he went to work for the family business in 1965 as a shop hand, which means he got more than just his hands dirty. "Not only did I get my hands dirty, but my face, arms and legs," says Keith, who is based out of the company's Houston offices. "We were encouraged to work hard to really know the operations at a young age."
Last year those decades of work paid off for Keith Mosing, who assumed the top executive spot at what is now the largest privately held oil and gas service company in the world, replacing his father Donald. Donald assumed the title of chairman emeritus of the board of directors. But it was back in the early 1980s when Donald Mosing's oldest son's instincts and quick action laid the foundation for an international expansion that really put Frank's on the map. That's when a potential client from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic had an emergency need for equipment and supplies and called Keith, a pilot since his teenage years, seeking assistance. "I jumped into my King Air 200 and traveled to the site, assessed the situation and arranged immediately for a shipment from Frank's Alvin, Texas, plant to remedy the situation," Keith recalls, "saving the client hundreds of thousands of dollars in downtime."
Keith, who had never before flown his plane out of the country, didn't hesitate to take control of the situation. "If I had just called a shipping broker, there's no telling how long it would have taken," he says. "The international market was started with that job," Keith continues, noting that Frank's has since landed its equipment in more than 50 countries. "We followed our clients in the oil and gas industry into every new market."
Robert Gilbert's 35-year career with Frank's happened by chance. Now the company's executive vice president and COO, which makes him the top local official at the Lafayette headquarters on Verot School Road, Gilbert says Frank's was his first real job. The new college graduate, who had been out on several job interviews, happened to sit next to Donald Mosing at LaFonda one evening. "Mr. Donald asked me what was up, and I told him that with the job offers I had, I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. He said, Why don't you come to work for me?' I said, yes' in about 15 seconds, and that began my 35-plus year career." Gilbert was the company's first mechanical engineer.
Shortly after Gilbert came on board, the company manufactured in-house its first power tong, a wellhead tool for oil drilling, and pulled off the installation job without a snag. "I had the respect and all the assistance I needed from everyone who doubted our decision to begin manufacturing our own equipment," Gilbert says. "The rest is history."
Today more than half of Frank's business is related to deep water exploration, Gilbert says, which is why it took a hit from the 2010 offshore drilling moratorium. "As with most service companies, our Gulf of Mexico work dropped off to near zero while well permits were not being issued. We lost opportunity for tens of millions of revenue," he says. "Just as important, it affected the majority of our offshore field people. We did what we could to keep them employed, but with no work, the chance to make a decent living was gone. Instead of laying off employees as many other companies did, Frank's rotated our crews from Houma to locations in Greensboro [N.C.], Pennsylvania and Williston, North Dakota. Although offshore drilling and drilling on federal land had dried up, these events enabled Frank's to develop drilling on private land, keeping our employees employed while generating income."
The industry is still recovering from those effects and adjusting to new regulations, Gilbert says. New regulations are requiring better documentation, and higher standards have increased the cost of producing equipment, along with requiring design and testing verification procedures that go beyond what Frank's already does to comply with its Quality Program and American Petroleum Institute requirements. "Another issue that we are addressing is the additional procedures and standards some of our clients are imposing over and above the new regulations," Gilbert says. "The ongoing problem is the individual excessive regulations being mandated by certain clients. Now some companies are mandating additional requirements over and above the federal guidelines, making our equipment more specialized."
Overall, however, there have been some positive developments and lessons learned from the spill, according to Gilbert. "The industry is much safer due to increased training and awareness, mandated by not only by the government, but by our customers as well as our internal continuous improvement efforts," he says.
Without a doubt, Frank's is on the grow. As reflected on this year's Top 50 list, the company's revenues increased 31 percent, rising from $650 million in 2010 to $850 million last year. Plans are under way to expand administrative and manufacturing facilities in Lafayette. "The current operational buildings are nearly 40 years old and will be addressed also," Gilbert says.
"Our growth is attributable to the new products that we primarily develop in Lafayette and the growing demand for energy," Keith says. Where does the current trajectory put Frank's in the next five years? "With the new products we are developing and if prices remain stable, we could easily see a doubling of our revenue," the CEO says. And that should be more than enough to keep this now fourth-generation business in the No. 1 spot on ABiz's list of Acadiana's Top 50 Privately Held Companies for years to come.
|Ryan Busbice, left, brother Matt Busbice, right, and father Bill|
Call of the Wild
Who knew a passion for the outdoors could be so profitable? The Busbice brothers, that's who.
The old adage - if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life - is only partially true for Ryan and Matt Busbice, the brothers who turned their love of deer hunting into a multi-million dollar business comprising several companies under the Synergy Outdoors rubric. Matt, vice president of the Broussard-based company - his brother is president - admits that although he loves what he does, it's nonetheless a demanding, sometimes daunting, task.
"It still is a lot of hard work and man hours, and being a business owner you never get away from it - you go to bed with it, you wake up with it; it never leaves your mind," the 30-year-old entrepreneur says.
The brothers have also turned their hunting enterprise into a top-rated reality show on television, Wildgame Nation, which airs nationally on the Outdoor Channel. The show is centered on big-game hunts all over the world and helps promote the company's many products - from deer feed and feeders to hunting calls and crossbows.
"Whenever you're filming a show promoting your products and it becomes more of a got-to-do list, it becomes more of a job," Matt acknowledges. "But I'm not complaining because this is my passion and I've combined it with work and we couldn't feel luckier or feel we've landed a better gig in this field. And to have success in it makes it that much more enjoyable because it wasn't an easy start - it was a very challenging start-up business."
The Busbice brothers are St. Thomas More alumni with degrees in business - Ryan's from UL, Matt's from LSU.
They grew up hunting deer on leased land in north Louisiana with their father, Bill, who financially backed his sons' business venture when they started it a decade ago. What began as a matter of self-interest - managing their own deer herds - has evolved into a successful business under the Synergy Outdoors umbrella. But Synergy is really several companies, led by Wildgame Innovations, which the brothers founded in 2002. Under the Synergy name is a host of satellite operations grown out of the brothers' acquisitions of companies within the hunting industry: Flextone Game Calls, Barnett Crossbows, Evolved Habitat, Evolved Harvest and Wildgame Attractants.
"We feel fortunate that the business has continually grown throughout this quote-unquote recession, and we have plans for more product lines and more acquisitions in the future to continuously grow," Matt says.
The corporate office in Broussard employs only six people including the brothers. Offices in Baton Rouge, Grand Prairie, Texas, Tarpon Springs, Fla., Bentonville, Ark., and New Roads cut paychecks to an additional 289, among them Shelly Moore, the company's director of marketing, who works out of Baton Rouge.
"That's what's really neat about them - it's a real family thing," Moore says of the Busbice boys. "These guys have the bull by the horns and have their hand in it every day."
Synergy Outdoors' 2011 revenues were $112 million, a considerable uptick over the $97 million the company earned in 2010.
Matt admits founding the company was a lot of hard work and as a business owner he's never "off work," but says he and Ryan, who was in China during the reporting of this story, feel lucky to earn a living doing something they love.
"I'm telling you, sometimes I hate telling people what we do because I just don't like to rub things in," he says. "I'm hunting. We're making hunting products and calling on the coolest stores like Cabella's, Bass Pro [Shop] and Academy...
"We have a Top-2 show that's doing well on a national level. So with that we have the fun of going hunting on camera. When you combine that with the business side of it being very fun and inventive and exciting, and then you get to go use it in the field, it really is a lucky, fortunate circumstance. I don't know how we landed this thing."
HUB CITY FORD
After almost 70 years in business, Louisiana's largest Ford dealership is still going strong.
Lafayette's strong economy and the notion that Ford's products are better than ever are the primary reasons Hub City Ford's 2011 sales are up 20 percent over 2010.
According to Hub City Ford General Manager Todd G. Citron, the local Ford dealership took in $125.4 million in revenue last year, an increase of more than $20 million over 2010.
It could also be the pent-up demand now that the oil industry is on firmer ground, Citron says, but whatever the reason, the 20 percent increase in new and used vehicles sales is a "pace that's held true for the past 18 months."
"I think Ford's position to not take bailout money has certainly been a key factor in pushing some customers from out of other products and into ours," says Citron. "It's something the customers mention when they come in the store. There are a lot of very patriotic people in South Louisiana, and I think they want to reward Ford for not taking the bailout money."
Citron is quick to point out, however, that such sentiment in itself "is not going to sell cars and trucks."
"The product has to be right and the product has never been better than it is today," he says. "I think a combination of Ford being a product that people are considering more than ever, but when they drive them, they buy them."
Trucks and SUVs comprise three-fourths of the dealership's sales, Citron explains, while the Ford Escape, the Ford Fusion and hybrids are among the least popular vehicles on the market in South Louisiana. "It's just the way it is. We live in the oil belt and the hybrid is such a small part of the business. Seventy-five percent or so of our sales are SUVs and trucks," he says. "But if someone is interested in the hybrid, Ford does produce the best on the market. They're coming out with an electric Focus in a year or so."
The largest Ford dealership in Louisiana, Hub City Ford has the biggest parts and service facility in its five state Ford region (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee). The service center has 76 service bays and roughly 30 certified technicians on staff.
All dealership personnel get Dale Carnegie training, Citron says. In addition, a customer just has one person they deal with in all aspects of the sale, from automobile selection to financing. "It's the thing that we do best," he says.
Citron attributes the company's success to the 150 employees who have made Hub City Ford what it is today.
"The backbone of the dealership's philosophy is that we hire and retain quality employees," says Citron. "The secret of our success is that no one ever leaves here. There's a strong loyalty between our employees and the management and ownership of the company. And in return, there's very strong loyalty between the customers and our employees. Our repeat business is extraordinary. And we feel like if we can retain the customers we've sold to the last 70 years we've been in business, and plus pick up some new ones, it's really a recipe for great success."
Hub City Ford is currently ranked 46th in the Ford Motor Company. Thanks to a long list of renovations over the past few years, the local Ford dealership on I-49's Frontage Road has become a "state-of-the-art facility."
"We haven't been ranked that high in a long time, since the oil industry days," Citron says. "It just seems to be that things are clicking on all cylinders."
|Pat Sabolyk and Dan Theriot|
What began in 1963 as a part-time, father-son venture, AGI Industries of Lafayette is now the nation's largest distributor of flow-serve pumps.
AGI Industries began as a small hydraulics service, repair and sales company in Al George's carport. Now Al George's son, David George, has taken the same company and expanded it to become the country's largest distributor of flow-serve pumps largely used by the oil and gas industry.
Al George founded Al George Inc. in 1963 as a part-time business, a venture that quickly grew into a full-time operation by 1965. Now-CEO David George recalls working there as a teenager.
"It was a one-man-and-a-boy operation," says David George, who began working full-time at the business in 1972.
The company moved the main branch to its current location on Highway 90 and experienced rapid growth until the recession in 1982, four years before David George purchased the company with his brother. In 1998, after prolonged disagreement over the company's future, David George bought his brother's portion of the company and renamed it AGI Industries.
Revenue has increased on a "steep curve" ever since the change of hands more than a decade ago, David George says, when the company's annual revenue was $8 million. Now, it's $52 million. Three entities comprise AGI industries: distributing flow-serve pumps, which AGI distributes regionally in a defined territory, including FMC, Sidewinder and Milton Roy brands; manufacturing package systems, where they place pumps with tanks, motors and valves, but are not limited globally to where they can sell; and manufacturing and distributing Hydroplex, an extremely high-pressure pump for industrial chemical injection for hydrostatic testing. AGI purchased the rights to Hydroplex and is the world's largest distributor. George says he hopes to expand the company domestically, but also expand the company's service capabilities in the event of another recession, when oil companies will want to repair old equipment instead of purchasing new pumps.
"We want to prepare for those needs. Don't get caught sleeping," says George, who emphasizes being "nimble" in the marketplace. "The economy may slow down, but it never stops. The Gulf of Mexico [oil supply] depletes at 20 percent a year. It's not an industry where we can sit back."
When the recession prompted the company to lay off 10 percent of its workforce, AGI focused on expanding its international business and has since landed projects in Nigeria, Angola, Tunisia, India, Malaysia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Vietnam. It also has upcoming projects in the North Sea, Canada and Israel. For AGI, the deepwater drilling moratorium was not a blow - it actually aided business because AGI equipment is geared toward oil production, not drilling.
"[Major oil companies] shifted those dollars over to production - upgrades and new equipment," says George, "so that that caused our business to be the beneficiary of money that would have been spent on drilling."
AGI Industries President Pat Sabolyk says the company's success is because of David George's "foresight to give responsibility down the food chain."
David George passed authority to non-family employees, a risk he was willing to take. "On the upper echelon (of the company's management), we have pretty much almost no turnover," says Sabolyk. "Businesses like us grow with the longevity and the competency of our people. That is creating a culture of employee ownership and ownership thinking."
According to CFO Dan Theriot, 17 employees in management have been at AGI for 20 or more years, and 25 have been there between 10 and 20 years. That's almost half of the company's work force, which currently stands at 109 strong (78 employees in Acadiana). AGI has branches in Marrero, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and Houston. The company also acquired a small flow-serve pump distributor in Bossier City two years ago and one in New Orleans in 1991. "Our growth is mostly organic," says George. "If it's fluid and it has to be moved, we're on it."
|Dru Milke |
The Gulf's largest privately held helicopter company has a new name, bold leadership and a big mission.
The past year has been a helluva ride for the largest privately held helicopter company serving the Gulf of Mexico. Late last year the Broussard-based group founded in 1990 as Rotorcraft Leasing Company unveiled a new corporate brand identity, changing its logo, tagline and website. Today it's simply RLC, and it's on the move.
As part of its rebranding and rebuilding, the company hired a new chief executive officer in late 2011, veteran industry executive Dru Milke, who was most recently chief financial officer at Moreno Group (now Dynamic Energy Services International). Milke then recruited Joan McCarthy, a longtime financial specialist in the oil and gas industry, as CFO; also coming on board in late 2011 was Travis Latiolais as vice president of business development. Latiolais spent the past 11 years at global helicopter services operator Bristow Group (formerly Air Logistics), most recently as sales manager of the North American Business Unit.
Right before these changes, the company announced in September that it had received a capital infusion from Boston-based Sankaty Advisors. The credit affiliate of Bain Capital, Sankaty Advisors is one of the nation's leading private managers of fixed income and credit instruments. It has approximately $18 billion in assets under management and invests in a wide variety of securities and investments. Terms of the private transaction were not publicly disclosed, but industry sources estimated the investment to be in the range of $100 million.
A newcomer to ABiz's list of the region's top privately held companies, RLC transports personnel and equipment to offshore production platforms and drilling rigs, serving high-performance energy service providers and oil and gas producers through its base offices in Louisiana (four), Texas, Alabama and California.
Milke acknowledges there is rebuilding to do, which is why he spent the past nine months laying the foundation for the newly branded RLC. According to Milke, managing the company's growth will be key to its success. "The company grew quickly from 2005 through 2009-10 by doing several acquisitions," he says. "Unfortunately, growth came too quickly for organization to adapt, and the quality suffered. RLC lost two of its major customers in 2010. Because of this, along with the slowdown from the spill, RLC saw revenues retract significantly in 2010 and 2011."
Milke was recruited to develop a team, using current and new personnel, that would turn the organization around. "To date we have been very successful and believe we have developed as one of the quality' providers to production operations in the Gulf," he adds.
RLC has signed on five new customers since October 2011 and also expanded services for several existing customers. Milke expects continued growth from within the current customer base and from the addition of one or more potential customers now considering RLC as their preferred provider.
Safety of passengers and personnel, Milke maintains, is paramount in this business. "With continued safe operations, we are focused to exceed the 2010 levels by 2013. Our plan for delivering safe, dependable service to E&P companies in the Gulf of Mexico is working. It has been systematically planned, engineered and executed to ensure the growth is coordinated properly. We are confident that we can continue this trend in the future."
|Brothers Dannie and Jimmie Bulliard|
CAJUN CHEF PRODUCTS, INC.
The Cajun palate has proven itself as a solid business model for St. Martinville's Cajun Chef Products Inc.
If you've ever found yourself dining in one of Acadiana's many delectable restaurants then you've no doubt complemented your meal with a bottle of hot sauce or a jar of pickled tabasco peppers emblazoned with a profile stamp of a distinguished chef over the backdrop of a swamp. That's the identifying mark of the Cajun Chef food processing company, and these ubiquitous Cajun kitchen staples - found on virtually every local restaurant table - are processed and packaged in our own backyard.
Cajun Chef Products was founded in 1959 in St. Martinville as a partnership between brothers Jimmie and Dannie Bulliard and has since grown to become one of the biggest Cajun food processing companies in the region, distributing its wares to Southern states from North Carolina to New Mexico and across the country.
Food processing has been a family trade for the Bulliards since the early 1900s. According to President Jimmie Bulliard, the company originally began after he, his father Dan Bulliard and brother Dannie sold their small food processing operation, Evangeline Brand, to pursue their vision of a commercialized food distributor that specializes on the unique Cajun palate.
"At first, we went into packing pickled bell peppers and cucumber pickles and of course our hot sauce," says Bulliard. But now, in addition to its many pickled items and signature hot sauce, the company offers 150 products ranging from pickled okra to gumbo file, which are all still created using the same family formula the Bulliards have held for the last 50 years of business.
Cajun Chef also maintains a strong local relationship with its community by providing a sizeable bulk of employment in St. Martinville to bolster the town's economy. "Ten years ago, we had 50 people and today we have approximately 120," says Bulliard.
In fact, the company has enjoyed a steady rate of growth from its headquarters in St. Martinville, reporting $24 million in revenues for 2011, up from $23 million in 2010.
But despite the company's local loyalty, Bulliard reveals that his aim is to expand his current regional markets. "Louisiana is very big for us but it's not our biggest market," he says, adding that the company now has "several markets that are just as big or bigger than Louisiana" that he is looking to broaden.
Current projects for the company include the construction of the Cajun Chef website, which should be up and running in a few short months.
As far as plans for the future of Cajun Chef, Bulliard says he expects to expand his nationwide distribution network and add major fast food chains to the company's distribution list. However, he says he has no immediate plans for stemming factory operations outside of the foothold his company enjoys in his hometown.
"Our family has been in the food business since 1910 in St. Martinville," says Bulliard. "That's where our roots are and that's where we want to be."
Opening Up the World
A nationally recognized professional services firm, ATC's client list includes several Fortune 500' companies and covers a wide range of industries.
With 2011 annual revenues nearing $200 million and more than three decades of professional services experience, ATC Associates is making both its inaugural and final appearance on ABiz's Top 50 Privately Held Companies list this year, an honor that comes just a few short months after the Lafayette-based environmental consulting and engineering firm completed its merger with Australia-based Cardno.
A nationally recognized firm that employs more than 1,600 people across the globe and 46 here at home, ATC began in 1982 in Sioux Falls, S.D., as an analytical laboratory that focused on water quality, lake restoration and general analytical testing. The company then added drug screening for the dog and horse racing industries as well as agricultural consulting and informational research to its list of services, eventually adapting to create the wide list of services offered by ATC today. ATC's areas of expertise include environmental consulting, building sciences, geotechnical and construction materials testing for both the private and public sector. The company's client list includes numerous "Fortune 500" companies and covers a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, utilities, infrastructure, manufacturing and real estate and development.
Driven by an increase in client requests and demand for its services (90 percent of its business was built on referrals), ATC began opening offices nationwide, with branches in New York City, Denver, Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Los Angeles. During the 1990s, ATC acquired more than 10 companies and 50 additional offices across the country.
"ATC was built upon one principle - people helping people. That principle continues to drive every aspect of our business and has been the key to our success," says ATC Associates CEO Bobby Toups, a UL Lafayette grad and Acadiana native who has served as the company's top-ranking executive for the past 13 years.
ATC opened its first branch office in Lafayette in 1997. Since relocating its headquarters to the Hub City in 2009, ATC estimates that it has provided an additional $2.6 million a year in new payroll dollars to the local economy. In 2010, ATC also opened a geotechnical and construction materials testing laboratory in Lafayette that services clients in the Gulf Coast region.
The firm has consistently appeared on the annual list of Engineering News Records' "Top 500 Design Firms" for more than 20 years, ranking 62nd overall in 2012. The trade magazine has also repeatedly included ATC on its annual list of "Top 100 Environmental Firms," ranking 56th last year. Toups expects an even better ranking next month when the 2012 list is released.
In March, Australia-based Cardno, a publicly traded professional services company, finalized its acquisition of ATC in a deal worth $116 million. By year's end ATC will operate as Cardno ATC, a division of Cardno USA. Its headquarters, however, will remain in Lafayette and Toups will remain on board as Cardno ATC's division president.
"Teaming up with Cardno has opened up the entire world to us. It's been really good for our employees," says Toups, who played a huge role in ATC's decision to relocate its corporate headquarters to Lafayette in 2009.
Cardno's CEO Michael Renshaw couldn't agree more.
"ATC's business culture and growth potential make it an ideal platform for further expansion of our combined businesses across North and South America in providing a wide range of environmental consulting services. With the addition of ATC, around 65 percent of Cardno's 6,200 staff are currently deployed or reside outside Australia," Renshaw says.
|Bobby Hanks |
LOUISIANA RICE MILL
A balance of local relationships and global demand makes Louisiana Rice Mill the state's largest miller of rice.
As CEO of the largest rice mill in the state, it's no wonder Bobby Hanks been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and on National Public Radio as an industry expert with a firm grip on both local rice farming needs and the global challenges of the rice industry as a whole.
Louisiana Rice Mill returns to ABiz's Top 50 list for a second time this year following its remarkable 2011 entry into the upper echelon of privately held companies in Acadiana, a feat that earned the Crowley company the 2011 honor of Top 50 Newcomer of the Year.
The company was founded in 1999, when Hanks and his business partners purchased a rice mill in Mermentau. Since then, Hanks and his partners have acquired the Eunice Rice Mill, Supreme Rice Mill and the Dore Rice Mill, making Louisiana Rice Mill the biggest miller of rice in Louisiana. It is responsible for producing more than 6 million hundredweights of "rough rice" per year and offers a full line of rice products, including U.S. long grain rice, rice bran, kernels for brewers, ground rice hull, millfeed and U.S. long grain rough rice.
The mill reports 2011 revenues of $196 million, up $12 million over 2010.
Louisiana Rice Mill's Crowley location is the only American Institute of Bakers certified mill in the state. Because of this distinction, the company's customer list includes some of the largest and most prestigious corporations in the country, like Kellogg for example.
"It's important for us to have a broad knowledge of global supply and demand numbers that may affect our ability to service our domestic and export customers," Hanks told Food&Drink Magazine in a recent company profile. "We really have to [be] focused on global competition. Our business is clearly a global business, so we have to be in tune with the potential threats from foreign competition as well as domestic competition."
But working alongside powerful national business interests is only one facet of Louisiana Rice Mill's operations, as the company's national and global ties to the rice industry have carried over to South Louisiana rice farmers who are able to better make a dent in an increasingly challenging market.
For Hanks, the company's success is directly linked to "supporting our growers and building strong relationships with them."
"Without the rice farmer, there is no need for rice mills, so we must continue to find better ways to work together," Hanks says.
The mill employs roughly 150 people in Acadiana and is also a major supporter of the International Rice Festival held annually in Crowley.
Hanks has served countless leadership roles within the U.S. rice industry, having served on the board of directors for the USA Rice Millers Association since 1999. He's also heavily involved with the Louisiana Agricultural Commodities Commission and the USA Rice Federation.
Looking ahead, Hanks says the company plans to launch a new retail brand in the Louisiana rice market called Supreme Rice.
"It will be variety specific premium rice grown on select farms," he says.
|Mark Haydel, Tom Butcher and Bobby Butcher|
BUTCHER AIR CONDITIONING
This Family Means Business
With the best jingle on the radio, the Butcher family operates a cool enterprise.
Nearly 63 years after Thomas Butcher took over the air conditioning branch of Butcher Brothers Appliances, the Butcher name continues to thrive as a third-generation company headquartered in Broussard. Today, Thomas and his sons John and Bobby Butcher, along with Service Manager Mark Haydel, preside over a two-part company: Butcher Air Conditioning, which deals in heating, ventilation and air conditioning retail and service, and Butcher Distributors Inc., the largest Trane distributor in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.
In September 1949, brothers Thomas, Warren and Matt Butcher broke away from their father's company, Butcher Brothers Appliances, to focus on the growing air conditioning and refrigeration business. In the 1950s their Butcher Air Conditioning became an official distributor of what is now Trane, formerly General Electric, appliances.
"In 1955, General Electric was looking for a distributor for Lake Charles and Lafayette to handle air conditioning equipment," says Bobby Butcher, general manager for the company. "And that's when we decided to get into the distribution side. Over time, GE was bought out by Trane."
Both Butcher and Haydel agree that this, along with a 1990 decision to absorb distributing territory that extended from New Orleans to Jackson and Gulf Port in Mississippi, were defining moments for the company.
"They [Trane] approached us and we had 30 days to make a decision ... and that was a great shot in the arm, which opened up a lot of opportunities," Butcher says.
Today, the company continues to grow with 120 employees, 300 Trane distributors, and nearly 19,000 service calls annually. Although a decrease in construction and various government regulations caused 2011 revenue to dip slightly, the overall outlook is positive. "Government regulations have forced us to make significant changes because the refrigerants have changed, which is going to require that everybody who has an older unit to replace it with one of the newer systems that uses newer refrigerants," Haydel says.
This is good news for Butcher Air Conditioning division, which primarily handles service and repair. Starting in 2020, units using refrigerant-22 will be replaced with refrigerant-410A - a chemical that emits less greenhouse gases. Most customers wait until their units break before converting to the new refrigerant, but in the next 20 years Haydel guesses Butcher will replace thousands of machines.
The latest evolution is Butcher's insulation division, created in 2010. It specializes in InsulSafe SP fiber glass blowing insulation, which has become more popular with increasing government regulations on energy efficiency.
While change is both beneficial and necessary, Bobby Butcher maintains that one thing at the company remains the same: quality service. "We pride ourselves on our people. You look for a personality that you can train. They are our company," he says.
Butcher's AC technicians undergo extensive training and background checks, including criminal, financial and drug tests. Once trained, they become part of Butcher's 24/7 service guarantee.
"We have six guys on call 24 hours a day, every day, holidays included," Haydel says.
"You're not going to speak to a machine," Butcher adds.
This emphasis on the customer's experience plays a key part in Butcher's newest TV commercial, which Haydel jokingly references as "Bobby's baby," which pits a Butcher technician against the "other guys" in several humorous challenges.
"It's basically showing people that it doesn't matter if it's an electric, plumbing or roofing business, everybody's going to run across a shady character," Haydel says. "When we pull up you can tell immediately who that truck belongs to. The guy has his name on his shirt and truck, as well as our name on his shirt and truck. It [the commercial] sure is popular."
But fear not, the company's jingle is here to stay. It's been a key part of Butcher's advertisement since the 1950s, and all three company executives can cite examples where customers serenaded them with the famous jingle.
"We're not going to get rid of the old identity, but we want to make a new impression when we can," Butcher says. "And that's what the new commercial is about."
|Manuel Builders' new design center won a 2012 INDesign Gold Award for commercial interior design|
Manuel Builders' staff follows the owner's lead and gets active in civic and charitable ventures.
Much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Sylvan Manuel began raising residential homes in the metro Lafayette area. In 1963 Lafayette was far from a metro area. Judice Inn was at the edge of the south side of town. The city's population was roughly 45,000. (The 1960 Census had us at 40,400 - 23,000 fewer souls than Lake Charles, if you can believe it.)
But city fathers long before that had foresight, connecting the former Vermilionville to surrounding towns via paved roads and highways - the spokes that made Lafayette the Hub City. And along these spokes, like elsewhere in the U.S., a suburbia of ranch houses, groomed lawns and young families began to grow and prosper, propelled by a burgeoning oil industry. Manuel Builders has prospered with it.
The resurgence of Lafayette's housing market is reflected in MB's earnings: $14.4 million last year compared to $11.1 million in 2010. The company employs 20 people, all of them locally based.
Sylvan's son, Greg, took over the business in 1986 and, unlike many builders in South Louisiana, managed to weather the oil bust that hung over the decade like a wet, sooty blanket.
Tim Guilbeau, the company's vice president - Greg Manuel was on vacation during the reporting of this article and unavailable for comment - says MB struggled like many companies through the housing slump a few years ago.
"It affected us," Guilbeau says. "In 2007 we really began to feel what the rest of the nation had felt, and through 2008 it was really slow. Beginning in 2009, starting there and every year after that we've seen a really good rate of increase - from between 25 to 30 percent every year."
Also like virtually every builder in Lafayette, MB is keeping close tabs on the Comprehensive Master Plan, which will likely affect zoning and building codes in the Hub City.
"Greg is actually part of the [Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee]," notes Guilbeau. "It's definitely something that he felt was very important to be at the table during this conversation, so he's engaging himself in every way possible."
This spring the company's in-house architect, Kevin Stewart, was a recipient of an INDesign Gold Award in Commercial Interior Design from ABiz's sister publication, The Independent, for the company's design center and office spaces on Pinhook Road. The center/office offers MB customers a one-stop-shop for what is one of the most monumental decisions they will make - building their dream home.
Manuel Builders also updated its image, refreshing its brand with a new logo and tagline, "Where Doing it Right Still Matters."
But this is more than a simple rebranding. Owners and employees are involved in a host of civic and charitable endeavors that include Habitat for Humanity, the Children's Shelter, Bridge Ministries and, most recently, Compassion International.
"One thing we've tried to do here is basically take the model of getting everybody involved in charitable contributions," Guilbeau says. "Typically in the past we had the owner making the contributions but the rest of the staff didn't get to participate in that."
For Compassion International, the company donates the equivalent of one year's sponsorship to the nonprofit's Unsponsored Children's Fund, which helps children in poverty access quality educational opportunities and positive social activities. That comes to about $450 for every home sold, Guilbeau says.
"What's neat for our employees is that link: Every time we sell a home this is happening," Guilbeau adds. "It's a one-to-one relationship that we thought was critical in getting our employees engaged.
"Greg really believes in giving back. I think there's a bigger picture in mind for him than just dollars."