Hoffman & Hoffman Grows by Following Their Customers, Staying Flexible


06/18/2024

In Spring 2024, Chiller & Cooling Best Practices Magazine interviewed Chuck Honeycutt and Brad Davis from Hoffman & Hoffman to discuss best practices in chiller and cooling tower sales and system design. This article will explore how the company has expanded into new areas during its 75-year history. It will also explore a large cooling tower installation at a Colorado biotech in the attached sidebar.

 

Hoffman & Hoffman Headquarters in Greensboro, NC.

 

“We’ve gotten a lot better at helping customers figure out how to meet their sustainability goals,” says Chuck Honeycutt, vice president of Hoffman & Hoffman. “It's easy to say, ‘I'm going to reduce my carbon footprint by 30% by 2030.’ When somebody asks how, that's when it gets complicated. Yes, they could go buy carbon credits. That's the easy way. But if they want to do it within their own system and save energy while doing it, Hoffman & Hoffman has a lot of success helping customers meet those goals.”

Hoffman & Hoffman was founded by brothers Harry and Louis Hoffman in 1947, as a rep firm, and now carries leading brands EVAPCO, Atlas Copco, Daikin Applied, and many more. The Hoffman family of companies includes Hoffman Building Technologies, which offers building management system and maintenance services; Hoffman Mechanical Solutions, which services commercial HVAC and hydronic equipment; and Hoffman Hydronics, which focuses on commercial hydronics and engineered plumbing for commercial buildings. The company is based in Greensboro, North Carolina.

 

Company founders Harry and Louie Hoffman.

 

“Like a lot of companies, we started out as a rep firm and grew from there,” Honeycutt says. “The reason we grew is the early leadership managed their resources well, and so the customer base expanded. And as customers grew, they pulled us along with them. We also had manufacturing partners we did well with that would call us and say, Hey, have you guys ever thought about opening up shop in Knoxville? We'd like to have you represent our product in Knoxville. And so we did.”

That openness and flexibility led to organic growth, taking the company from a manufacturer’s rep business to adding a controls business in the 1980s. Next, it added a service business so it could properly support the start-up service and warranty the equipment it sold. It later added groups specializing in critical projects including large industrial plants, data centers and electric vehicle manufacturing sites.

“We cover the lifecycle of a project,” Honeycutt says. “We have applied and airside equipment, building automation, service, parts supply and distribution. Often in our business, companies are limited to DDC [direct digital controls]. At Hoffman, we have both PLC [programmable logic controller] and DDC controls capability. PLC controls are primarily used in the industrial sector, and, with the trend of onshoring of manufacturing, our PLC controls capability has been of great benefit to many of our current clients, as well as new ones.”

 

Employee-Focused, Customer-Committed

Hoffman & Hoffman became employee-owned in 2016. With its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), employees are able to share in the company’s growth.

“Our saying is, ‘We hire you to retire you,’” Honeycutt notes. “Our investors are our employees, not private equity, not Wall Street. That drives great teamwork, as well as longevity within our business.”

Since the company isn’t publicly traded, it’s free to make investments that might take years to pay off. Whatever it sees as good business, it can do.

Today, Hoffman & Hoffman has 21 locations across the mid-Atlantic. It counts over 900 employees, 200 sales positions, and 200 service technicians. It also has 4 training centers and 3 warehouses (with a promise of another coming later this year and up to 3 in 2025).

Hoffman & Hoffman has multiple ways of supporting the engineering firms it works with. It meets the needs of busy consulting engineers by hosting seminars where they can keep up to speed with the latest ASHRAE recommendations and code regulations, all while earning PDH credits.

 

Chuck Honeycutt attended an open house at the Hoffman & Hoffman Charlotte location. Customers, engineers and manufacturing partners were able to tour the facility and earn PDH credits.

 

It also supports engineers through the design process. “Design engineers understand systems really well, but our expertise is critical to ensure they’re aware of all the different cooling and heating technologies out there,” Honeycutt says. “Our goal is to be a technical trusted advisor to our engineers and help them design the best systems possible.” That means going beyond upfront costs and keeping an eye on installation complexity, long-term maintenance and lifecycle costs.

 

Decades of Cooling Tower Experience

As a longtime employee of Trane, Honeycutt learned to appreciate EVAPCO well before he worked with the company.

“We didn't have cooling towers. We sold the equipment the cooling towers connected to. I would see EVAPCO on job after job after job, and I always assumed that it must be a pretty good tower since so many people were using it,” Honeycutt says. “Now that I've got it, I can see why: They're a great engineering company. They have great quality. Their selection software [called SPECTRUM] is fantastic.”

 

Finding Ideal Heat Rejection Solutions for Industrial Plants

The Greenville, SC office for Fluor Enterprises, a global engineering firm approached Hoffman & Hoffman to create a custom installation for the heat rejection needs of an expanding biotech plant in Colorado. According to field engineer Brad Davis, several variables made this a uniquely challenging job. The site is 5,000 feet above sea level and local regulations limited how much water could be used. 

Brad Davis, Sales Engineer, Hoffman-Hoffman. 

DESIGN CONDITIONS

  • Application: heat rejection for high-lift water-cooled centrifugal chillers supplying chilled water for processes and HVAC
  • Required GPM: 7,700 gpm
  • Required MBH: 2,316 tons
  • Wet Bulb Temperature = 64.7°F
  • Dry Bulb Temperature = 94.6°F
  • Hot Water Entering = 110°F
  • Cold Water Leaving = 100°F
  • Range = 10°F 
  • Approach = 5.4°F
  • Barometric Pressure = 24 inHg

EQUIPMENT SPECIFIED

  • (7) 3-fan EVAPCO EAW-DD CTI-certified double stack dry coolers each 12’x39’x19’ rated for 1,100 gpm
  • Material: 304L stainless steel coil and shell, heavy-gauge aluminum fins
  • Belt-drive fans, with high-temperature, high-elevation NEMA motors 

Delivered ahead of schedule on a 20-week lead time, installation has been completed, and is awaiting the plant expansion completion for startup. The parties also decided to switch the process fluid to a water/glycol mix with 47% propylene for freeze mitigation.

An EVAPCO EAW-DD double stack dry cooler prior to shipment.  

Delivered ahead of schedule on a 20-week lead time, installation has been completed, and is awaiting the plant expansion completion for startup. The parties also decided to switch the process fluid to a water/glycol mix with 47% propylene for freeze mitigation. 

 

Like Hoffman & Hoffman, EVAPCO is also employee-owned, giving the two companies a shared culture. EVAPCO doesn’t look at things transactionally, Honeycutt says, but focuses on building long-term relationships with customers.

“Cooling towers are more complicated than I thought when I was just a ‘chiller guy,’” Honeycutt says. “We encourage all of our salespeople, whenever they do cooling tower selections, to call EVAPCO's applications group, show them the model and system you recommend and challenge them to give you a better selection than the one they came up with. EVAPCO expects and encourages that, and they offer world-class factory support. If we call and show them we've gone from a hundred different options and we're torn between two or three, they love that. They're very helpful.”

 

A cooling tower installation Hoffman & Hoffman completed at a local hospital in Greensboro.

 

Hoffman & Hoffman has a four decade relationship with Daikin, as well, repping Daikin Comfort and Daikin Applied, selling everything from commercial rooftop units to large air- and water-cooled chillers. That area has seen robust sales growth in the last three years.

Looking to the future, Hoffman & Hoffman’s biggest challenge might be finding enough skilled labor to handle its growth. With manufacturing growing in the U.S. and many facilities planned for the mid-Atlantic, growing a quality workforce is an effort.

 

Employee Janice Lytel assisting a customer at Hoffman & Hoffman’s Greensboro warehouse.

 

“As Covid got under control, plants began moving faster than most manufacturers of HVAC systems could support. They're not asking for you to build one air handler in six months. They want you to build 80 or 100. So these projects are like nothing I've ever seen in my 26-year career. The nice thing for Hoffman is we have an extensive line card and long-term relationships with these manufacturers.”

Staying flexible and meeting the needs of each customer – even if it means creating new solutions – is how Hoffman & Hoffman will continue. It’s the same kind of organic growth that’s gotten the company this far.

“We got involved in a battery plant, a large one, biggest construction project I've ever seen in my entire career about a year-and-a-half ago. If you remember from high school chemistry, lithium is highly reactive to moisture, and not in a good way. In battery plants, keeping humidity levels at ultra-low atmospheric dew point conditions can be critical. We didn't have a product that could do that in November, but by January we did. We went out, researched partners, and found one in Covington, Georgia, Innovative Air, a respected company specializing in commercial and industrial dehumidification.

“That would be difficult to do at a larger company with internal politics at play. The ability to be agile and adjust our offerings to support our customers by providing a one-stop solution is a big advantage for us.”

All images courtesy of Hoffman & Hoffman.

 

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