Member Spotlight - Huckestein Mechanical Services redefines their business model for success!

Huckestein has been a respected name in the mechanical contracting industry for more than 70 years. Huckestein began operations in 1948 as the C. L. Fallon Corporation and was primarily a sheet metal fabrication and installation company. In 1978, James E. Huckestein, an active member of Steamfitters Local Union 449, expanded the business under his name to include mechanical contracting in addition to its sheet metal work. In 2004, Mr. Huckestein sold the company to an investment group. This began a 6-year decline in profitability, reputation, and quality of work. The economic downturn of 2009 created further challenges, and the owners decided to sell. 

Upon purchasing the company in January 2010, Wendy Staso inherited a strong tradition of technical excellence. She also inherited nearly $1 million in legacy trade payables, a $1.2 million line of credit that had reached its limit, several underwater construction projects, lacking processes, a bloated staff, and a badly damaged brand. The only way to save the company was to re-invent it. 

In the following years, Ms. Staso laid out and implemented a strategic plan for recuperation. She made the difficult decisions to downsize and relocate in order to run lean. She surrounded herself with the best talent available to address the deficiencies, better educate herself and further the goals of her business.  She changed the business from the traditional mechanical contracting model that focused mostly on low margin construction projects with a sideline of higher margin service, maintenance, and special projects, to a niche provider focused on design build projects, service, maintenance, and value-added services such as energy audits directly to owners and end users. 

Concurrent with redefining the business model, Ms. Staso launched many positive business development initiatives. The Company received several diversity certifications, positioning it to capitalize on changing legislation and industry trends. In addition, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission named Huckestein Mechanical Services, Inc. as a PA Act 129 Conservation Service Provider (CSP), approving the company to assist both utilities and end users in achieving Act 129 energy consumption reduction goals. As a signatory with local trade unions, Huckestein has both the technical depth and practical experience to provide customized solutions to achieving energy reductions through energy-efficiency equipment,

By 2014, Ms. Staso’s plan to grow the company was being realized. Revenues were trending toward $10 million and gross margins were nearly 25%. Huckestein entered the Marcellus Shale market, having received nearly $2 million in contracts. The company had stopped merely surviving and was growing on a solid foundation. 

Service customers have always been the life-blood of the company, so to better serve them, in 2015 Ms. Staso invested in new accounting and operations software. This system provides for complete and thorough documentation and asset tracking with customer access through a secure web portal. 

In 2016, Huckestein was relocated operations to a new building on the North Side of Pittsburgh, consolidating previously separate office and warehouse locations. This new facility is central to both vendors and customers, and has allowed far tighter control over the operations of the business. 

2017 and 2018 saw the company expanding its geographic footprint with the award of an $8 million ESCO project to replace the mechanical equipment at the PA State Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, PA.

As the owner of Huckestein, Ms. Staso observed a very broken construction delivery model. Bid drawings were incomplete, contradictory, and sometimes completely inaccurate. and change orders were rule rather than the exception. She decided there had to be a better way. Huckestein has long been at the forefront of delivering mechanical energy efficiency projects, especially working with Energy Service Companies (ESCOs). These projects were delivered via a Design-Build model with no change orders permitted or the financial payback wouldn’t work. If this model could work for these projects, why couldn’t it work for all mechanical construction projects? Huckestein’s engineers had perfected the practice of producing quality, construction-ready blueprints for their own projects. Why not offer that same service to architects and owners even if Huckestein did not install the project? 

Thus Sustainable Engineering Solutions LLC was born:  To deliver MEP designs and drawings that meet owner requirements and are complete, easy to read, and construction-ready, to minimize or eliminate the chance for change orders, to enable contractors to bid the entire project, not guess at what is missing from the drawings, to educate owners on the true cost of their project, not under-estimate and wait for the numbers to come in over-budget, sometimes double or triple what the owner expected, to have all the information up-front, and to live by the principle: Measure twice, cut once.

Staso is an innovator who works to solve industry problems. With a dedication to honesty, efficient, and quality service, she uses comprehensive industry experience and innovative thinking to bring sustainable solutions to her clients. Since purchasing Huckestein, she’s led the company to record improvement, growth, profitability and recognition. The company consistently ranks among Pittsburgh’s fastest growing companies and was recognized in 2018 as one of the Smart 50 Most Sustainable Companies in the region.  Staso was a Business Woman First awardee and was a finalist in the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards in 2014.