A conversation with Jody Perkins of ARC Mechanical Contractors, Inc

ARC Mechanical Contractors Inc., headquartered in Bradford, Vermont, began in 1947 as Allen Refrigeration Company. It grew from 12 people in 1987, when it became ARC Mechanical Contractors, to about 70 employees today.

ARC’s scope of services includes sheet-metal fabrication and installation, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing, mechanical piping, ductwork, controls, medical gas systems, and process piping. The company has its own HVAC apprenticeship program with the State of Vermont Apprenticeship Council.

Jody Perkins has been president of the company since 2011.

Your company offers a variety of services. What makes up the majority of your business these days?

JP: We do a lot of things. But commercial HVAC service is one-third of the total, and HVAC-related and plumbing contracting, meaning renovation and new construction, accounts for maybe another third. The remaining third is residential HVAC and plumbing, both service and contracting. But it varies from year to year.

How has ARC Mechanical changed in the time you have worked there?

JP: I’ve been here since 1992, starting as a service technician, and it’s changed a fair amount. The service department has grown. The industry as a whole has also changed a lot. All the changes in HVAC technology, the pace of work, and customers’ expectations—and the growth of the Upper Valley area—have had a big impact. Technology has completely changed, in terms of efficiency, electronics, and how end-users access their equipment, which they can now do on a smartphone from their house.

Continuing education is important to help us keep our technicians and installers up to date with new technology.

We’ve been installing ductless AC and heat pump systems for over 20 years, but cold-climate heat pumps have created another big, big shift in the industry. Making heat pump technology available in the North has been a game changer.

What geography do you serve?

JP: The hub of our work is around White River Junction, and Brattleboro is also really strong now. All along the I-91 corridor, basically.

When you expand, how do you get new clients?

JP: We have a lot of repeat business, like from GCs. Otherwise, word of mouth. We do some advertising of residential heat pumps. Our #1 marketing piece is our vehicles, actually. People tell us our trucks are very visible.

How does Efficiency Vermont factor into the work you do? How has it helped the business?

JP: No matter whether our Vermont clients are working with heat pumps, refrigeration, or something else, we always say, “Let’s look at what Efficiency Vermont has to offer for rebates for your project.” Being able to offer help and direction for a rebate certainly helps us strengthen the relationship with the customer. It shows them we care about their bottom line and not just the sale. We always point customers toward the products that Efficiency Vermont recommends and offers rebates on.

How does membership in the Efficiency Excellence Network (EEN) help ARC Mechanical?

JP: As an EEN contractor, we’re able to take part in the Heat Saver Loan Program, which is a great way for homeowners to make energy-efficient HVAC upgrades. Without the program, some homeowners would need to postpone upgrades.

What difference has the EEN made for the company?

JP: So far this year, we’ve received over 20 requests for consultations from homeowners who say they found us on Efficiency Vermont’s website. Homeowners who visit Efficiency Vermont’s website before contacting a contractor are motivated to make changes in their energy usage, so they are more likely to choose an energy-efficient HVAC solution. Being listed as an EEN contractor on the website serves to reinforce ARC’s long-established role as an HVAC expert in our region.

Tell us about your safety efforts.

JP: We want to keep our crew in good working conditions, happy, and safe. We have a safety committee that meets once a month and keeps everyone up to date on OSHA classes, etc. This past April we held our second annual Safety Day. We brought in everyone in the company, and invited consultants and vendors to teach ladder safety, fall protection, driver safety, and so on. We shut down all work in the field, had a big barbecue and raffle—we made an event of it. We’re going to do it every spring. It had a really positive effect.

I think the whole attitude toward safety has changed. Probably 20 years ago, you’d get a lot of grief for calling out a colleague for doing something in an unsafe way. But now people feel OK speaking up. The more you reiterate these messages, the more safety becomes second nature.

Where do you see the business going in the future? What will you do less of, and what will you do more of?

JP: I certainly see us doing more and more heat pumps; the number of installs and sales are growing, both commercially and residentially. Commercial is more intensive—it’s a different thought process, and we have only scratched the surface with our commercial heat pump installations.

And what might you do less of?

JP: Well, being in Northern New England, it’s important to stay diversified. We can’t specialize in, say, just residential air conditioning. Being able to do multiple things is important to all businesses around here. You’ve got to be flexible—the logistics and the population require it, and that’s the way we like it anyway.

Making Vermont more energy efficient is a collaborative effort, and would not be possible without a strong network of independent contractors. In 2014, Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in order to better support and encourage Vermont contractors to provide energy-efficient solutions in the field. There are currently over 250 members in the Efficiency Excellence Network, including ARC Mechanical of Bradford, Vermont.

Interested in becoming a part of Efficiency Vermont’s Efficiency Excellence Network? Visit this page to learn more about the participation requirements and to register for upcoming contractor trainings.