BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
MECHANICSBURG, PA. — The mind of Emily Hoffman is constantly whirring. The Pennsylvania contractor has been named Ernst & Young 2003 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in central and eastern Pennsylvania; one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business 2003; central Pennsylvania’s 40 under 40 award 2002; and Hoffman Mechanical was named as one of central Pennsylvania’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies for 2002.
“My controller asked me not to start any more companies,” she said, after she founded Creative Distribution Inc. to sell environmentally friendly products such as tankless water heaters and even biodegradable golf tees.
Hoffman, a master plumber with a degree in marketing, founded Hoffman Mechanical in 1998 and soon discovered that she hated being a mom-and-pop operation. The business took over her garage, basement and living room, and husband Jody came home one day with a bag of beef for payment.
“I couldn’t live like that,” she told CONTRACTOR. “Some day I’d like to take a vacation. You can’t be all things to all customers so you either make the choice to be a mom-and-pop or you want to grow something.”
She put a five-year plan in place but achieved it in two years. The business has been growing 25% a year.
“I’m making another two-year plan because five-year plans don’t cut it anymore, because change happens monthly,” she said. “I see too much opportunity and I want to take the opportunity.”
Her plans ranged from broad brush to specifics. First of all, she did not want to be a mom-and-pop shop; second, she wanted the business to be housed in its own building. She wanted salespeople and she wanted more installers. She then got into the nitty-gritty of the sales dollars she would need to support each installer.
The main part of her business is copper DX geothermal HVAC systems. She said that if she could rate systems in the order in which she believes in them, she would rank them as DX geothermal first, conventional geothermal systems second and natural gas third. She’s also a big believer in manifold plumbing systems with PEX pipe.
“I come up with ideas and then see a market that needs to be fulfilled or where nobody’s doing anything,” she said. “It’s weird how you can talk to people and get information and think about what the customers are saying or what they’re complaining about or what they want.”
She said she’s constantly thinking about where she wants to go.
“I guess it’s always about concepts driven by my beliefs and what I want to do. If I’m going to pull the cart, then it’s going to go where I want it to go.”
In five years she wants another 50 employees (she has about 50 now). She wants to set up a duct fabrication shop in Lewistown, Pa., because she knows someone there who can run it, plus it’s a Keystone Opportunity Zone where she can get tax breaks and she can hire people who really need jobs. She wants to distribute a UV light trough for water purification. The future, she believes, will be geothermal systems powered by fuel cells running on hydrogen or methanol.
“You’ve got to be part dreamer and know that nothing is going to stop you from getting what you want,” she said. “Don’t take no for an answer.”
She’s honored by all the awards but believes that her employees should be getting the awards too. She feels that the employer-employee relationship is a marriage. Both parties need to work together, compromise and be a team to make it work.
Consequently, she offers on-the-job and state-approved apprentice training programs. She provides company-paid health insurance for her employees and their families. Although it’s expensive, she said it’s necessary to show employees that the company cares about them and their families.
She also does the little things such as company picnics, bonuses and employee appreciation days in addition to charity events for the community.
She’s not making the most money she’s ever made in her life. She said that happened back in the days when she was selling for Waste Management.
“It’s not about money now,” she said. “I just can’t work for anybody else anymore.”