A major recession hit the U.S. in the mid-1970s. While most firms were running scared and retracted their resources, a fellow by the name of Bill Gates embarked on his dream, a company he named Microsoft. Most people know of his success story. However, a lesser-known success story also began during that recession. Bob Lima embarked on his dream, Lima Company, a commercial plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration and mechanical contracting company. The parallels between these two businessmen are multi-pronged. They noticed a need in the marketplace for their product/service, they believed in their abilities to develop their mission and they had the foresight to launch their dreams during a deep recession.
Fast-forward to 2008: Lima Company found itself in the midst of another recession. The company saw its clients shrinking, merging and deferring facility maintenance and their capital replacement projects. Lima Company’s revenue fell 30%. This type of decline forced some hard decisions. Should Lima Company managers retract their business after 32 years of steady growth or gear up for the future? Should they retract the business by scaling back payrolls, cutting marketing budgets, decreasing general overhead expenses and reducing pricing in an attempt to secure more business? No, Lima Company knew that would be the wrong direction. “When 2008 hit, we decided to double down on the team we’d built,” said Bob Lima, President & Founder. “We kept all our employees, increased marketing budgets, expanded our Client Care Team and increased our service offerings. We have great people, and they’re our greatest asset. Cutting team members was not the right thing to do.”
Today, Lima Company employs 71 people including technicians, client care specialists, service coordinators, engineers and support teams. The average team member has been with the company for 16+ years; some with a tenure of more than 30 years.
The company culture is one of caring and respect for all. The core thread running through the whole company is a willingness to serve each other.
The company culture is one of caring and respect for all. The core thread running through the whole company is a willingness to serve each other. “Client Care in our country is weak at best,” said Bob Adams, VP of Sales & Marketing. “We aim to change this. Meeting our clients’ expectations is the only thing that matters. First you must know what those expectations are, and you uncover those by actively listening to your client. They will tell you all you need to know to be successful.” “Treating a client as we would want to be treated isn’t a groundbreaking concept,” continued Adams. “We work to the best of our ability. In our business, which is 95% commercial service, success takes flexibility, a broad knowledge base and vendors you can lean on.”
Changing from hospitality to multi-family
In 2016, Lima Company won the HVAC and plumbing service contracts for Grandview Condominiums in center city Philadelphia. With it, they inherited a number of mechanical issues ranging from minor to massive.
The property owners were looking to make major improvements
to the systems that served the building, as well as reduce the building’s energy consumption. “We handled several plumbing projects and replaced a few water-source heat pumps,” said Lima’s HVAC Manager John Shoemaker. “However, the larger projects included replacing two 18-section cast iron boilers, installing a new building control system and fixing a variety of issues on the two-cell cooling tower. These projects carried a good ROI [return on investment] and proved that management was serious about making the correct improvements.”
The 17-story, 200-unit condo building was transformed from a Holiday Inn hotel 15 years ago. This conversion inevitably created a shift in some of the buildings’ energy loads, usage patterns and mechanical system demands.
“We came into the picture years after the renovation, but there were still plenty of kinks to work out within the building,” said Shoemaker. “Not the least of which was the domestic hot water re-circulation system.” Adapting to a new load Two high-efficiency volume water heaters provided domestic hot water to a 900-gallon storage tank. Hot water was circulated throughout the building via a 2″ insulated line and a five-horsepower (460/3/60), fixedspeed circulator.
Sometime after Lima Company was awarded the maintenance contracts, the circulator failed. An emergency service call ensued and Lima technicians exchanged the large pump for an identical new one that was a spare, already on a shelf in the mechanical room. Problem solved for the time being. The fact that a spare pump of that size was kept on-hand by maintenance crews was a red flag—so were the two similar failed pumps that were lying discarded on a shelf. Researching the situation further, Shoemaker uncovered the rest of the story. Water hammer was a problem in various parts of the building. The pump’s breaker would often trip overnight. The domestic hot water system had destroyed several circulators since the building was converted to condominiums.
“We typically take our pump questions to B.J. Terroni, the local Taco Comfort Solutions rep,” said Shoemaker. “Paul Silvestre [of B.J. Terroni] came right out to the job and helped us, as he always does.”
Silvestre asked Lima technicians and building maintenance staff questions to better understand the situation. After learning the building’s history, the full picture came into view. “There used to be a commercial kitchen and full-service laundry when this was a hotel,” said Silvestre. “The water hammer is an indication of too much pressure. The breaker trips overnight when there’s little or no demand for hot water, and the pumps were failing because they were constantly over-amping. When the building was converted, the domestic hot water load dropped but the pump size never did. With an oversized, fixed speed circulator, that’s a big problem.”
The in-line pumps that had been used previously provided roughly 50 gallons per minute (GPM) at 190 Ft/Hd. Silvestre worked with Joe Mattiello, Northeast Regional Sales Manager of Commercial Products at Taco, to calculate a new pump curve based on the current requirements of the building. “The issue was repeated cavitation within the pump,” said Matiello. “Excessive flow rate caused the pump to overheat, resulting in pump failure about every other year. Using a properly-sized, variable speed circulator would solve everything.”
Silvestre and Matiello found that Taco’s new 1915e light commercial ECM circulator was a good fit. It provides a peak flowrate of 120 GPM and a maximum of 65 Ft/Hd. More importantly, the 650-watt circulator is variable speed. Overnight, or during the workday when demand for domestic hot water is low, the pump throttles to match the system’s curve. Lima Company installed a stainless steel model, which is certified to NSF/ANSI standard 61 & 372 for potable water systems. Simple BMS integration is
achieved via 0-10v capability and the ECM motor offers up to 85% energy savings over a conventional circulator. “We re-piped the domestic hot water loop in the mechanical room,” said Shoemaker. “The old pump was very large. The new one is a fraction of the size, so we were able to save some space. There are nine operating modes on this pump, but we’ve had it in “proportional pressure” mode since day one. There hasn’t been a single call here for months; compare that with two per week in the past.”
Four decades of service
The solution Lima Company provided for Grandview Condominiums is indicative of the service they strive to provide for all clients. Lima Company employees give 100% effort, and when other perspectives are needed, they call upon the expertise of industry professionals outside of the company.
“We’ve been dealing with both B.J. Terroni and Taco since the beginning,” said Lima. “Starting in 1976, B.J. Terroni was one of the reps that really taught us the industry. Their in-house knowledge is second to none and they spec the products that are right for the job—not what they want or have to sell. We go to them for their people and their expertise, and that’s how I want our customers to view Lima Company.” “Our vendors and suppliers have been behind us since day one,” Lima continued. “We’ve dealt with the same manufacturers’ representatives, wholesalers and manufacturers since we began in 1976. Our employees and our vendors are the reason we’re still here, through good times and bad. I just wish I could be here to see what Lima Company can accomplish in the next 42 years.” ICM
Dan Vastyan is PR director and writer for Common Ground, a trade Communications firm based in Manheim, PA.