Schuler-Haas Electric Corp. has gone from being headquartered in the basement of a private residence to become one of New York State’s premier full-service electrical contracting firms. The company installs, maintains, repairs, and upgrades electrical systems and covers all phases of a project, from budgeting through to design/build, development, and eventual completion. In business nearly a century, the company blends old-school values like teamwork and integrity with a focus on trailblazing technology.
Headquartered in Rochester, with branches throughout New York State in Ithaca, Corning, and Binghamton, Schuler-Haas self-performs “probably ninety-five percent of our work,” states President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Streicher.
The company serves industrial, manufacturing, government, retail, institutional, clean room, education, healthcare, data center, food processing center, wastewater treatment, and commercial markets. It has also earned a reputation for working on ground-mounted, large-scale solar power systems. Right now, healthcare and higher education are the busiest sectors.
“We’ve been involved in a lot of varied projects over the years. Solar work is obviously new, cutting-edge stuff. We do more large-scale solar than anyone in the area,” adds President and Chief Operating Officer Edward Schuler.
The company has taken on massive assignments for well-known clients. “A few years ago, we completed a project for a Fortune 100 company in the southern tier of New York State, at a research facility. Overall, it was an almost $800 million project,” he says. Schuler-Haas has also accomplished projects for General Motors and Eastman Kodak, Cornell University, State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton, countless schools, and more.
The firm was founded as an electrical contracting business in 1934 by Schuler’s grandfather and a man named Frank Morrison. This outfit, known as Morrison Schuler, was bought out in 1961 by Jack Schuler and Joyce Donnelly (Edward Schuler’s father and aunt, respectively) and George Haas.
The newly rechristened Schuler-Haas Electric Corp. was initially based in the basement of the home in Rochester where Joyce Donnelly raised her family. “She would put her kids on the school bus, come downstairs, and do all accounting and payroll work. When the kids came home, she went upstairs to look after them. She worked until she was ninety-three years old – two years ago,” recalls Schuler.
In the year 2000, Edward Schuler and Streicher bought out the company and have been running it ever since. They have retained certain principles from the very early days. First and foremost, they always strive to do the right thing: “Do the right thing for customers, your suppliers, and your communities. Dan and I have carried that along. [Do the right thing] is kind of our company motto,” states Schuler.
“We pride ourselves on our customer base, our low employee turnover, and how we carry ourselves in terms of how we do business, how we do safety, how we treat our employees and customers and our community. Ed and I are extremely proud of our reputation,” adds Streicher.
While endorsing values, such as integrity, employee loyalty, and a strong work ethic, the company likes to stay ahead of the technology curve. “Although Dan and I are not geeks, we value technology and balance it well with what’s out there and what we think we need to be successful. I’m fifty-eight and not tech-savvy, but I love technology and love what it can do for a company and a customer, and we take advantage of that,” says Schuler, with a laugh.
To this end, it uses business information modeling (BIM) programs and computer-aided design (CAD) software. The company has also introduced a new e-commerce software system to streamline internal operations.
“A while back, we came up with an idea. With the technology we have, how can we make our foremen more efficient? We came up with an e-commerce ordering system. It’s basically the same as ordering from Coles or LL Bean or Land’s End. The foremen go on their tablet and order through the tablet. [The system] eliminates phone calls and fax machines and questions back and forth. We’ve seen it drive great efficiencies throughout our company, almost to the point that there are other parties interested in the technology,” he says.
Safety and quality are twin obsessions here. Employees are required to have at least a ten-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) card, while foremen need to have a thirty-hour card. Subcontractors are required to follow the same safety protocols as employees.
Schuler-Haas Electric is part of ISNetworld, “basically, a safety clearing house,” featuring contractors that have “passed certain levels of safety. And we’ve passed every level of those requirements. We want our employees to be safe, no matter what the cost. That’s driven top-down from Dan and I. We’re very proud of our safety record. We’re on a lot of preferred lists because of our safety record,” says Schuler.
The company currently boasts an experience modification rate (EMR) of 0.73, while recording an average of 480,000 man-hours worked each year. In addition to belonging to ISNetworld, it is part of a captive insurance group.
“It’s almost like a self-insured group. We’re in with other contractors. We pool our money rather than go to a conventional insurance market. If we don’t behave and don’t have a good safety record, we get thrown out of the group. We’ve been in it five years, and for the last two years, we’ve been one of the top five companies out of the [total membership] for safety record,” states Schuler.
Project managers regularly visit worksites to review installation practices and the procedures of the foremen and field team “and basically flag any concerns, any deviation from a standard,” says Streicher. “We’re licensed. I hold electrical licenses in five different cities across New York State. In New York, you have to be licensed in the community [you work in]. New York doesn’t have one license that covers the state.”
The company attends trade shows but does not do much traditional advertising. Some promotion is achieved through community involvement and charitable contributions. Schuler-Haas supports a Rochester hospice called Isaiah House and has sponsored golf tournaments organized by the group for fundraising. The firm also supports a Special Olympics organization at Cornell University, belongs to the chamber of commerce, and backs other community and charitable endeavors.
In the end, however, the best promotion the company can offer is simply the quality of its work. “We have a good reputation,” which leads to positive word-of-mouth, notes Streicher.
Schuler-Haas Electric counts 317 full-time employees across all branches. Workers in the field are unionized and have been for decades. Schuler cites “finding qualified people,” as the biggest task facing the company at present. “There’s a huge labor shortage in all the trades. There’s going to be a mass exodus over the next couple years with electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, you name it, retiring. Our biggest challenge is getting younger people into the trades, [convincing them] of the benefit of getting a five-year training degree and not having any college debt,” he adds.
Schuler-Haas backs an apprenticeship program run by a union with which it works and encourages staff to take advantage of it. The company likes to promote from within its own ranks but is not averse to looking for outside talent either. “We keep all options open,” as Streicher puts it.
As for new hires, “We want honest people, hard-working people, people who are dedicated but who, like us, are also family-people,” says Streicher. “We want people to have a quality of life at work and at home in their personal lives.”
It is also important for prospective employees to appreciate the nature of the industry. Construction work tends to be cyclical. “Sometimes you’re really busy. Other times you’re [looking] for work. We want people who understand that’s the dynamic of the industry, and when the opportunities are there, they have to be willing to put in the time and effort necessary to help make the company successful,” he continues.
The company is fully aware that it needs to grow or risk atrophying. “Someone told me years ago, you’re either expanding or contracting as a business. It’s hard to stay just where you’re at. We’re always looking for opportunities for continued growth,” says Schuler.
Having said that, Schuler and Streicher are firmly opposed to reckless, frenzied expansion for the sake of quick profits. “We believe in slow, stabilized growth. Twenty years ago, when Ed and I took over the company, we were just in Rochester. We moved into Ithaca then Corning then Binghamton, because opportunities arose. We have people approaching us on a fairly regular basis, about acquisitions, purchases. Some of them have been viable and some haven’t,” states Streicher.
“Would we expand into other markets in the state, if it was the right mix? Yes, we would,” he continues. “Growth-wise, we feel the tele-data market will provide a lot of opportunities. We look to two to five percent growth per year. We like to keep our opportunities open.”