The Do-It-All Business
By Bob Schwed, Senior Editor, Commercial Refrigeration Business/Contracting Business, August, 1998

For many who serve the food marketing industry, the term commercial refrigeration contracting is way too restrictive. It only describes a part of what these companies actually do for their customers. Often they're capable of literally designing and constructing the entire interior of a supermarket from the drywall to the floral department. They supply complete refrigeration and air conditioning packages and even insulated panel enclosures to house the mechanical and electrical equipment outside the store.

The Hattenbach Company in Cleveland, OH, is just such a company. From its beginnings in 1941, when it began selling, installing, and servicing refrigeration systems, and building shelving for grocery stores, the contracting firm's history has paralleled that of the grocery industry.

Harry A. Hattenbach, represents the third generation in the company started by his grandfather. He now serves as president of the multifaceted firm, located in a 60,000-sq.ft. Industrial building on Cleveland's near east side.

As the sophistication of the grocery business grew, the Hattenbachs never missed a beat. It was in the late 1950s and early 1960s when grocery stores began to rapidly evolve.

At the same time the stores were developed into "supermarkets," Hattenbach was evolving into a do-it-all "super contractor." At each stage of the development of the food marketing techniques we now take for granted, Hattenbach was ready to help its customers implement them.

Full Service

According to Harry Hattenbach, the company's goal has been to be a turnkey provider to its customers. Hattenbach takes total responsibility for a store, including design, installation of equipment, service, repair, preventive maintenance, and energy management system installation and monitoring.

Because perishables are involved, Hattenbach Company service is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After hours, the company uses an answering service which notifies a technician of the problem. Using a computer the technician attempts to first analyze and correct the problem over the phone, before actually going to the facility with the problem.

With a professional engineer on staff, Hattenbach provides complete planning guidance, prints, elevations, and interior decor design, including lighting. Whether it's a complete renovation of a store, or a single department makeover, the company provides the operator with complete cost estimates. Harry explains that, "Operators have a pretty good handle on what it should cost." But, with his company's customers, cost is not the only issue. He says, "If you deliver on time with the quality they expect, you'll have a satisfied customer." Harry Hattenbach credits that fact as part of the reason the majority of his company's commercial refrigeration business is with repeat customers.

On the food service end of its business, Hattenbach has done kitchens, commissaries, fast-food restaurants, tablecloth restaurants, and bakeries.

Growing Pains

As its northeastern Ohio home base began to rapidly develop in the 1960s and 70s, with urban sprawl in full swing, it was a natural for Hattenbach Company to take its refrigeration and air conditioning expertise and apply it to other types of buildings as well. The firm gradually expanded its work scope to include HVAC systems in high rise office buildings, shopping centers, industrial and food processing plants, and food service facilities other than grocery stores.

At one point, employment at the firm reached a high of 185 people and its workload was split evenly between HVAC and refrigeration. In the 1980s, however, a recession and the realization that the company needed to again emphasize its core business, caused Harry Hattenbach to retrench and redirect the company. Today, it has 65 employees and 75% of its business is in supermarket design, refrigeration, and cabinetry. Hattenbach Company also refurbishes and sells used supermarket equipment.




The Do-It-All Business article.

Now that its core business is on a firm footing, the company is again putting more emphasis on the commercial HVAC side of its business.

The Hattenbach Company is capable of supplying everything from five-ton rooftops to 500-ton chillers. In the supermarket area, the firm is capable of demolishing a store to the bare walls and replacing everything inside it. Even when supermarket chains have their own design departments, they often call on companies such as Hattenbach to do the actual installation, Harry Hattenbach explains. And even some who are going to do their own construction call on Hattenbach for design advice.

Looking Ahead

According to Hattenbach, the trend toward "power centers" will continue. In the next 10 or so years, he predicts stores will continue getting larger, eventually having everything that can be found in a small strip shopping center under one roof, similar to the giant office supply or do-it-yourself superstores. As some stores have already begun to, they'll house full-fledged floral shops, pharmacies, extensive beverage centers, photo shops, dry cleaners, and video stores. Their prepared food sections will be huge as more people opt for already prepared meals.

While this trend may severely dampen the growth independent markets have enjoyed over the years and even put some out of business, Hattenbach believes the best will survive.

"Good independents that work hard to maintain quality and service will become more desirable, since the massive stores won't be able to provide the personal service and quality that's necessary to keep many customers happy. "There's still room for good independents in this market, and there always will be," Hattenbach adds, "that's because of the effort they know they have to put forth to continue to do business."

Because of the overhead costs of maintaining skilled trades people, the Cleveland contractor doesn't fear competition from stores establishing their own service departments. "Most have tried it at one time or another, and they've found that the good, sophisticated, and talented people would rather work for a contractor. We probably get paid a little more, but since we go to various customers we can spread the cost. And, if it isn't done right the first time, no matter what the price, if it has to be done over, it's too expensive."

On the equipment side Hattenbach sees an immense amount of specialty display cases being developed to market prepared foods. "Home meal replacement," he says, "is growing faster than any other area of case manufacturing." Whatever the development, it's a cinch The Hattenbach Company will be there to implement it.

Copyright © 1998 Penton Media, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio 44114