American Electrical Contracting Inc. is a unique entity that serves residential, industrial, and commercial customers in North Florida and Southeast Georgia with both new construction and service electrical work. Due to recent hurricane activity in the area, the fastest-growing part of the business involves installing residential generators. We spoke with Chief Operating Officer David Yencarelli to find out more.
America Electrical Contracting Inc. was founded in 2000 by President and Owner Billy Frick. It began with a handful of employees performing service work, like installing ceiling fans or repairing electrical panels. “We started as a small, residential service company. Over the years, customers wanted us to also work on their businesses, which turned into commercial service calls. We would be adding to commercial spaces, and when those companies bought a new space, we were asked to renovate them,” says David.
That renovation work soon turned into new construction commercial jobs. When it would come time to build a new home, customers who’d previously enjoyed repair services liked the work so much that the company was invited to be part of the new home building projects. This is how the firm entered into the commercial and residential construction realms.
Most of the company’s business comes from referrals or repeat customers, and it is recognized and awarded by both national and local agencies as northeast Florida’s best electrical contractor year after year. Customers who hire American Electrical for a job have found an electrical contractor for life, because the company can handle it all.
Now, nineteen years after it began, seventy percent of its business is in electrical construction projects, and thirty percent is in electrical service work. American Electrical touts itself as the one-stop shop electrical contractor because it has the personnel, training, and skills to take on any project from electrical and lighting, to audio-visual, data, cameras, smart home, marine, generators, and battery back-up solutions.
American Electrical survived the economic recession by being creative and came out of it twice as strong and with an upgrade in staff. In 2016, David took over leadership of the company and massive growth followed. This was partly due to the economy and partly to a shift in the business plan.
At its core, the company is still a service-oriented electrical contractor. This is of benefit because a lot of the builders and contractors that build houses and multi-million-dollar buildings are not used to dealing with a contractor that prioritizes the customer.
“We started as a service contractor and we bring that customer-first mentality to every job, which is why some of the bigger general contractors come to us – because they know we will take care of them,” says David. The service department accounts for thirty percent of the company revenue. In 2018, less than one half of one percent of all calls resulted in a warranty call-back, an impressive statistic.
Generators are the company’s fastest-growing division. It sold $2.3 million worth of whole-home Generac and Kohler generators in 2018. The same division sold only two units in all of 2015. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 have exploded the whole-home generator division.
“With that, ninety-five percent of the business comes from referrals. This is the key. You install one on somebody’s street, and all the neighbors want in. When the power goes off, inevitably they ask about the generator and want it installed,” says David. Another of its fastest-growing divisions at the moment works with electrical vehicle chargers for both Tesla and NovaCharge.
American Electrical prides itself on being the most multipurpose, Jacksonville-based electrical contracting company. It hires electricians with different, specialized backgrounds and then cross-trains them. It is a part of the Northeast Florida Builders Association apprenticeship program through which workers are exposed to the knowledge side of electrical work. It can be a daunting task because all the project managers have diverse backgrounds, but everybody helps each other and will assign work to the best manager for the job.
“Having those experts in the office, in different silos with that specialty, makes things easier because they know the electricians are able to work on any of the three types of electrical projects due to the cross-training. From the standpoint of getting the most production out of our people, our first option is always to send the residential field electrician expert to the residential job if possible,” says David. This way, a job is never turned down, and American Electrical is never put into a position where it cannot perform a job.
On average, its field technicians have been in the electrical trade for eleven years, and its project managers have been in for an average of seventeen years. Most companies in the industry have difficulty with finding labor, but this is not a problem here. David has created solid connections to high school, trade and technology schools in the area.
“They take high school kids and put them into a one-year electrical course. I have strong relationships with all of them with a direct pipeline to help fill gaps and bring in the next generation. The pool we have to pull from has been weakened somewhat as some programs dropped off, so this summer, I partnered with a new program called employU,” says David.
The program gives high school students summer job experience in the building trades. American Electrical has five students for the summer, and they have been very helpful. Two are in the warehouse, two in the generator department, and one on a job site.
The two in the warehouse help the contractor organize and clean, as a move is taking place in the next year. It is a matter of sorting through old items, reorganizing, and reallocating them. The two generator helpers are aiding generator technicians, and having that extra set of hands has been beneficial.
“The other individual was sent out on a commercial job site because he was over eighteen. He acted like the foreman’s assistant and was a tremendous help and took some of the burden off the employees,” says David
The hope is that these students will go back to their high schools and tell friends what was accomplished over the summer. David hopes to have opened the eyes of the five students to seeing this as a viable career opportunity. There are so many options within this industry and company.
In addition to EmployU, American Electrical is involved with the ACE Mentor Program of America, which exposes high school kids to architecture, construction, and engineering – the three disciplines that lend their initials to the name. There are several high schools in the four-county area that are part of ACE.
“We get in front of those students as well. I also go to several high schools separate from ACE and EmployU programs to talk with students in technology, trade, or electrical programs. This takes place once a semester at two of the local high schools,” says David.
Occasionally, the Northeast Florida Builders Association will have walk-ins who want to join the apprenticeship, but are not currently working for a company. The program will refer these people directly to American Electrical Contracting. There are many means to acquire good help.
Safety is a huge consideration, and seventy-five percent of the company’s staff have an OSHA-10 card at a minimum. “We have an industry-leading safety record, so our EMR is a .68. The national average is 1. We want zero accidents. We have never had an OSHA citation or a fine in our nineteen-year history,” says David.
Quality follows safety on the company’s list of priorities. At the end of a job, the project owner and architect come up with a list of items that need to be fixed, modified, or looked over, and American Electrical does not want any of its work to be on that list. “It’s a hassle for the general contractor, and that’s why we get so much repeat business,” says David.
All technicians attend monthly training to enhance and polish their skills and customer service. “We do hard and soft skill training monthly, which contributes to being the highest-rated electrical contractor in northeast Florida,” says David.
In 2016, the leadership plan was changed, and David set out two goals. The company was making $12 million to $13 million per year but set a goal to almost double in size to $20 million by the year 2020. American Electrical Contracting is on track for that, and hitting the numbers every month.
The second goal is a little further out and involves the company establishing offices near Savannah, Georgia and Central Florida. “We have total control and visibility here in Jacksonville. Once perfected, we can iron out all the crinkles and go through the rest of our growing pains here, take those lessons learned, and apply them to setting up a business strategy that works for establishing these branch offices. Then we will pull the trigger and move forward on those, with the goal being to have it done by 2030,” says David.